Greinke deal puts Arizona squarely in NL West race
2015 ERA leader joins NL's second-best scoring offense
Three times in the past four years, the top two teams in the National League West have been the Dodgers and Giants, in one order or another. For weeks, the top two finalists in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes have been rumored to be Dodgers and Giants, in one order or another.
On Friday night, the D-backs shocked baseball by jumping in to take Greinke away from both of the NL West's heavyweights. So is it fair to wonder if they might be shocking baseball again in October by taking the NL West as well? Is this the move that finally tilts the balance of power away from Los Angeles or San Francisco? Well, sort of. We can't call the D-backs the favorites quite yet, but we can say with certainty that what's long been a two-horse race in the West has clearly found a third contender, and to be honest, that was partially true even without Greinke.
Arizona improved by 15 wins over 2014's last-place finish, and it led the non-Colorado NL teams in runs scored, with 720. Paul Goldschmidt is arguably the best first baseman in the entire game; A.J. Pollock has become a certified stud in center field. You probably still don't know David Peralta, but he hit .312/.371/.522. You probably still don't know Ender Inciarte, but he hit .303/.338/.408 with 29 Defensive Runs Saved, second highest among all outfielders behind only Kevin Kiermaier. Nick Ahmed didn't hit, but he did tie with Brandon Crawford for the second-highest DRS among shortstops. There's a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, enough that (via DRS) the D-backs led all of baseball in defense to go along with all those runs.
That's a great core, but you'll notice those are all hitters. The best returning D-backs starter is Patrick Corbin, who was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery, but also pitched just 85 innings. Robbie Ray was also productive (ignore that 5-12 record), but only pitched 127 innings, and while both were promising, neither one had an ERA below 3.50. Rubby De La Rosa made it 188 innings, but with just a 4.67 ERA. To say that Arizona needed help in the rotation is an understatement, and it's why it made a big offer to Johnny Cueto last week.
It's that lack of rotation depth (along with big questions at second and third bases) that made the pre-Greinke D-backs an intriguing team, but not a potentially dominating one. It's too early to have 2016 postseason odds up yet, so what we can do instead is look at the projections, and we'll borrow from FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement charts for that. Due to those questions, the D-backs before Greinke were still in the bottom third, in a range with the Orioles and Tigers. Greinke alone launches them into the middle of the pack, around 15th, very close to the Giants and Rays.
Projections based on WAR aren't perfect, of course, but that's both a big improvement and something that feels right -- not to mention whatever value you want to add on for denying the Dodgers their second ace to pair with Clayton Kershaw. The D-backs have a great core with some remaining big holes, and adding another starter (Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir) would be meaningful because it wouldn't mean they were relying on Archie Bradley or Zack Godley. They need to figure out what to do with Yasmany Tomas and Aaron Hill, and if Chris Owings is part of the future. This is a great and stunning first step; there's more to do.
Signing Greinke doesn't, by itself, hand Arizona the NL West. You know the Dodgers are going to react with force by signing Cueto and/or Samardzija and/or Ben Zobrist and/or trading for Carlos Carrasco, and you know the Giants are going to add at least one starting pitcher. Remember how much talent is still out there, and remember how quickly things will move at the Winter Meetings next week.
It certainly makes it a three-team race, though. That's not something that could have been said about the NL West in a while. The D-backs, owners of one above-.500 season in the past seven years, with only one playoff series victory since winning the World Series in 2001, have hope.