D-backs take aim at next-level success
Arizona eyes more after reaching NLDS last season
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In many ways, the D-backs had a magical season in 2017 when they flipped their record and won the top National League Wild Card spot with a 93-69 mark.
A lot of pleasant memories were created, but when they reported to Salt River Fields last month, the team was firmly focused on 2018.
"It doesn't mean that you can just go up to the starting line and run the race and expect to win," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said of last year's success. "We've got to get back to who we believe and know that we are."
What's the goal?
Making the postseason last year was great, but this year the goal is to go further, if not win it all. The D-backs were the quickest expansion team to win a World Series when they beat the Yankees in the 2001 Fall Classic in the franchise's fourth year of existence. Since then, the D-backs have won one postseason series and one NL Wild Card Game, and they are eager for more.
Managing general partner, Ken Kendrick, has shown ownership's commitment to winning with an Opening Day payroll of around $130 million, easily the highest the team has ever had.
"It's definitely a competitive window for us," D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "We know that. We've got guys who seem to be coming into their peak years. That plays a part. We know that it's a good time for us to win."
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What's the plan?
General manager Mike Hazen is working on balancing a pair of priorities, and one word you'll hear him utter often is "sustainability."
First, Hazen wants to try and field the most competitive team he can have right now to maximize the presence of outfielder A.J. Pollock, who can become a free agent after this year, and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who can do likewise after 2019.
Hazen also knows that to win in a market like Arizona, he has to have a pipeline of talent coming up from the Minor League system. So while he is priming his team for a run in 2018, he's also trying to make sure he isn't depleting an already mid-tier farm system any further.
What could go wrong?
The D-backs settled on a closer, with Brad Boxberger beating out Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano for the job, and the back end of the bullpen appears to be in good shape provided Boxberger stays healthy.
The rest of the 'pen still has much to prove, and with the versatile Randall Delgado starting the year on the disabled list, the D-backs will need others like Andrew Chafin, Jorge De La Rosa and T.J. McFarland to step up as well as veteran Noel Salas to maintain his performance from the spring.
Who might surprise?
When the D-backs lost both of their shortstops -- Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings -- to injury prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline last year, they dipped into their Minor League system for Ketel Marte.
Marte solidified the shortstop role and showed flashes of being a top-tier performer.
"I would say he was in the category of player that if he doesn't come up and do what he did, we probably would not have lasted as long and gone as far in our playoff chase," Lovullo said.
The D-backs rewarded Marte this week with a five-year contract extension that includes an additional two club options. Marte projects to see most of his time at second base, but could eventually move defensive whiz Ahmed off of shortstop.