Diamondbacks set course forward

PHOENIX – In an attempt to decipher one of the most disastrous seasons in franchise history, Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo, the field manager, put forward a litany of reasons for the club’s demise. Sounding more like an inventory of excuses, this collective explanation was more convenient as realistic.

Among the factors cited, there was a lack of a consistent offense, a porous defense, a bullpen that was an unmitigated disaster, and a starting lineup each night that seem to constantly change. In reality, Hazen and Lovullo could have stood side-by-side, and each tossed a number of darts into a circle of these explanations. Wherever a particular dart landed, that was a significant area of concern. For this team, which finished with a record of 52-110 and 55 games behind the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants, the ruin was total and complete.

Meeting the media after Josh VanMeter ended the season with a walk-off homer against Colorado on Oct. 3, Hazen and Lovullo, collectively, said neither wants to experience anything like the 2021 season. As the season unfolded, each bore responsibility for the outcome, and each said they held to a full account.

“You can’t imagine what it was like each day,” Lovullo said. “I won’t sugar coat this. It was tough, very tough. At this point, we need to build resiliency and find a way to have winning moments.”

As someone once said, “what was, was,” and now Lovullo and Hazen, putting the failure of 2021 in the rear-view mirror, face a dark and long winter. In an attempt to improve the club, Hazen is realistic enough to recognize he will not deal with strength. More importantly, the Diamondbacks had the third-lowest payroll in the National League (behind the Marlins and Pirates) and were not in any position to produce a blank check to attract free agents.

In playing the cards which were dealt, the Diamondbacks will likely move forward from a core of promising young players. Hazen, who rarely identifies any player by name, refers to Dalton Varsho as one from which the club could build. Another is Josh Rojas, who told Lovullo many times during the season, he is comfortable in the infield or outfield.

That leaves the pitching staff in a quandary. The rotation clearly underachieved, and the bullpen was “missing in action.” From the beginning of the off-season, Hazen must find a closer and set-up reliever. In post-season comments, Lovullo pointed out the core foundation of any winning baseball team is pitching and defense. Both failed the Diamondbacks miserably in 2021.

On the field, the team committed 100 errors and that was the second most, behind the Marlins’ 122 in the National League. Plus, receivers were not getting hitters in late innings to swing-and-miss, and could not gain strikeouts in critical situations, Overall, the Diamondbacks finished last in the National League with 1,238 strikeouts. By metrics, the club was 29th in fastball velocity.

“One goal we have is to have pitchers allow fewer balls in play during the late innings,” Hazen said. “Plus, we did not get many swings and issues out of the bullpen and that has to be addressed.”

Because the organization is considered deep in starting prospects, Hazen indicated that several could wind up in the bullpen. One who did was Taylor Widener, who appeared in 23 games, started 13 but ended the season in the bullpen. For 70.1 innings, Widener turned in a reasonable 4.35 ERA.

“Guys will get their feet wet in the bullpen,” Hazen said. “Plus, we have other areas of concern. I would say we’re looking for a third baseman, and perhaps a center fielder and right fielder. I want us to remember where we are and don’t want to be there again. We did not set a course for this level of play and I am very disappointing the ways turned out.”

Coming into the off-season, it is clear the Diamondbacks can not compete, economically, with the payrolls of the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres, all NL West division rivals. The method to get this franchise back on their collective feet will likely begin with a core of young players and whatever magic Hazen can work with free agents in the coming months.

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