NL contenders: D-backs bet future on Mark Trumbo

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NL contenders: D-backs bet future on Mark Trumbo

We spent last week previewing the NL East, but the strength of the Nationals and Braves means that the Phillies likely have a better shot at the playoffs by winning a wild-card, something they’ve never done. In the coming days, we’ll break down the Phils’ top competition for the two NL wild-card spots.

Up next: Arizona Diamondbacks

2013 record: 81-81

Additions: OF/1B Mark Trumbo, SP Bronson Arroyo, RP Addison Reed, C Henry Blanco

Subtractions: CF Adam Eaton, SP Tyler Skaggs, 3B Matt Davidson, RP Heath Bell, OF Juan Rivera, C Wil Nieves

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The Diamondbacks traded away two key pieces of their future to upgrade immediately, so anything less than a playoff berth in 2014 will be a huge disappointment.

Arizona dealt 25-year-old centerfielder Adam Eaton (a potential defensive whiz and leadoff batter who hit .348 in 1,560 minor-league plate appearances) and 22-year-old lefty Tyler Skaggs (a top-10 MLB prospect by MLB.com prior to 2013) in a three-team trade that brought back slugger Mark Trumbo.

Worth it? We’ll see. Places loads of pressure on Trumbo to protect Paul Goldschmidt. The opinion here is that Trumbo’s an overrated home-run hitter. From 2011-13 he averaged 32 homers and 94 RBIs. He also hit .251 with a .300 on-base percentage and struck out 457 times. The most alarming sign? His strikeouts have increased from 120 to 153 to 184 the last three years.

And the Diamondbacks acquired the 27-year-old Trumbo just as he’s about to start getting expensive. He made $4.8 million in his first year of arbitration, which could result in his making about $23-25 million the next two years.

Top offense?
The projected Diamondbacks starting lineup looks like this:

Gerardo Parra (L) - CF
Aaron Hill (R) - 2B
Paul Goldschmidt (R) - 1B
Mark Trumbo (R) - LF
Miguel Montero (L) - C
Martin Prado (R) - 3B
Cody Ross (R) - RF
Didi Gregorius (L) - SS

That’s a pretty good lineup. Parra is one of the most underrated players in baseball -- he hit a deceptively low .268 in 2013 with 43 doubles and 10 homers, played all three positions and won a Gold Glove.

Hill’s hit .298 with an .860 OPS since joining Arizona.

Goldschmidt led the NL in homers, RBIs, slugging, OPS and intentional walks last season and finished second in MVP voting. He’s a big, powerful first baseman who hits good pitching and can run and steal bases. My pick for 2014 NL MVP.

Montero was terrible in 2013 but is still one of the top-seven offensive catchers.

Phillies fans remember just how complete a hitter Prado is, and just how difficult he is to deal with when runners are in scoring position. Ross gives you power out of the seven-hole and Gregorius will compete with top prospect Chris Owings for the shortstop job.

If everyone stays healthy, Arizona could have one of the three best offenses in the National League. It looks like a better offense, on paper, than any NL East team boasts.

All No. 3s
The Arizona rotation is solid but unspectacular. There is really no ace, unless you think lefty Patrick Corbin is the guy who was 12-2 with a 2.24 ERA at the end of July and not the guy who went 2-6 with a 6.05 ERA the final two months.

After Corbin comes Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Bronson Arroyo and Wade Miley. Nobody in this rotation is a strikeout pitcher. Cahill relies on groundballs, Arroyo relies on deception and McCarthy relies on pinpoint control.

The bullpen will go as far as Addison Reed and J.J. Putz take it. Reed, the 25-year-old closer acquired from the White Sox this offseason, had 40 saves but eight blown saves and a middling 3.79 ERA last season. You never know which Putz will show up from year to year.

Brad Ziegler and hard-thrower David Hernandez have some skills.

The prediction
Arizona loses a lot of games to the Dodgers because it isn't built to beat them. L.A.’s rotation will negate the D-backs’ biggest strength.

Colleague Ben Davis is picking the Diamondbacks to win one of the two wild-cards, but I’m predicting they go 84-78, miss the playoffs and finish tied for second place in the NL West with the Giants.

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the 2016 season was winding down, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin surveyed his low-scoring club and made public an offseason wish list that included “two professional hitters.”

So far this winter, he’s gotten one — Howie Kendrick.

Is that going to be enough to satisfy the skipper?

“You know what, I'm happy that we acquired Kendrick because we needed a solid, professional hitter,” Mackanin said at the winter meetings Tuesday. “Howie Kendrick is one of those guys. He knows how to give you good at-bats, grind out at-bats.

“We have guys like (Maikel) Franco and Freddy (Galvis), to name a few, who really need a better plan at the plate. I think Howie is going to help them out just by watching him take at-bats and go about his business. I think that's going to help a lot of our guys improve.

“I would like to get another guy. You can always use more hitting, more pitching, better players. But I'm pretty happy with Howie.”

There’s no doubt that Mackanin would like to add another hitter to an offense that ranked last in the majors in runs scored (610) and second to last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385).

“Yeah, it would be nice,” Mackanin conceded. “We have to improve offensively.”

General manager Matt Klentak has spoken often this winter about the quandary he’s facing. He would like to add another bat in a corner outfield spot, but not necessarily at the cost of taking away an opportunity from a young player such as Roman Quinn or blocking the ultimate ascension of Dylan Cozens or Nick Williams. This is the tightrope that the GM of a rebuilding club must walk.

There are several corner outfield bats (J.D. Martinez, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier) available in potential trades and others (such as Michael Saunders) on the free-agent market.

“It’s about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time,” Klentak said.

Mackanin understands all this. But he’d still love to have another bat.

Does he think he’ll eventually get one?

“That's hard to say,” he said. “Obviously I would like to have a solid hitter for the team, for the fans, for everybody. We would like to win more games. I think it would be very important, obviously, to improve our offense. … I think we owe it to the pitchers to create more offense so that they are in more games. Everything is still up in the air. It's early. Deals may be made in January or in spring training when things happen. So one move might create an opening in another. If we trade a pitcher, we get a position player. A lot of things can change, so it is a little too soon to think too much about that.”

Contract talk
Mackanin is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2017. He has a club option for 2018.

Will the Phillies pick up Mackanin’s option before spring training to prevent a lame-duck situation?

Klentak was noncommittal on the subject Tuesday.

“We have time to do that,” he said. “Obviously last year we talked about his status in spring training and I’m sure the time will come when we’ll sit down and talk about it again.”

In March, the Phillies gave Mackanin a two-year contract with a club option for 2018.

“I hope they pick it up but that's not up to me,” Mackanin said. “That's up to them. I feel that when it's time for them to let me know, they let me know.

“But in the meantime, I'm not consumed by it. Hopefully it will happen, but it doesn't help me thinking about it.”

Phillies set stage for a spring-training closer competition

Phillies set stage for a spring-training closer competition

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies on Tuesday announced the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit and with that set the stage for some spring-training drama.

Who will be this team’s closer in 2017?

Benoit figures to be one of three candidates, joining Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. Heck, you could even throw Edubray Ramos into the mix because he has the stuff to close, though his time might come further down the road when he's gained more experience.

“As we sit here today, I think we’ll probably enter spring training with a competition,” general manager Matt Klentak said of the closer role.

Phillies relievers had a 5.01 ERA last season, which ranked 28th in the majors. Klentak is trying to build a complete bullpen, not just find a closer. However, the closer role is the headline grabber in the bullpen and it’s difficult to settle upon other roles until a closer is anointed. So this will be one of the more interesting storylines in spring training.

Gomez fell into the job after others failed early last season and had a very nice five-month run. He recorded 37 saves before struggling badly down the stretch and giving way to Neris, whose fastball-splitter repertoire allowed him to strike out over 11 batters per nine innings last season. 

Neris could be the favorite coming into camp with Gomez sliding back into a seventh-inning or even multi-innings role. Ramos and lefty specialist Pat Neshek, picked up in a trade with Houston earlier this offseason, will be in the mix to pitch in the late innings and it would not be surprising to see Benoit emerge as the eighth-inning guy. Of course, this is all subject to change. There’s a lot of offseason left and it would not be a shocker to see Klentak trade one of his relievers in the right deal. But for now, Klentak believes he has an improved bullpen.

“We feel better today than we did a few days ago,” he said. “We have several players in our bullpen that can compete for the ninth-[inning job], the eighth, the seventh, the sixth. We’ve made our bullpen better.”

The Phillies are Benoit’s seventh big-league team. The 39-year-old right-hander has been one of the game’s workhorse relievers for more than a decade, recording a 3.79 ERA in 712 games in his career. He saved 25 games for Detroit in 2013 and had a 2.81 ERA in 51 games as a setup man for Seattle and Toronto last season. He struggled with the Mariners but was brilliant after a trade to Toronto in July. With the Mariners, he had a 5.18 ERA and 1.438 WHIP in 26 games. He walked 5.5 batters per nine innings and struck out 10.4 per nine. With Toronto, his control improved — he walked 3.4 per nine — and so did his ERA. He had an 0.38 ERA in 25 games with the Jays, allowing just one run in 23 2/3 innings.

“He really was two different guys,” Klentak acknowledged. “But as we drilled down into the data — strikeout rates, walk rates, batted-ball tendencies — there are some underlying things that he’s always done in his career that we think make him a pretty good candidate to have another good year. This guy has been really consistent for the better part of a decade.”

Over the last seven seasons, Benoit has posted a 0.98 WHIP. That ranks third among major-league relievers during that span behind only Kenley Jansen (0.89) and Craig Kimbrel (0.98).

Benoit will make $7.5 million in 2016. The Phillies are still a rebuilding club and they are not expected to contend in 2017. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see them turn Benoit into a prospect through a trade in July. This is contingent on Benoit pitching well, of course.