PHOENIX – At first glance, the acquisition of closer Paul Sewald is considered a significant addition to the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen. Over the past two seasons, Sewald stepped forward as the late-inning stopper for the Seattle Mariners and rose to elite status.
There is no question the recent floundering of the Diamondbacks in the National League West is attributed to an abysmal bullpen. Trying to ascertain a productive closer and efficient set-up reliever, field manager Torey Lovullo faces a significant challenge nearly every night.
So uncertain was the personnel that up the final moments of the trade deadline at 6 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, Mike Hazen, the club’s general manager, sought to ship Andrew Chafin and Joe Mantiply, a pair of lefties, whose ability to contribute came into severe questions. As the final sands filtered through the trade deadline cylinder, the Diamondbacks did indeed deal Chafin, and the veteran lefty was off to join the Milwaukee Brewers.
In return, the Diamondbacks picked up right-hander Peter Stzelecki, who was 3-5 in 36 appearances and posted a 4.54 ERA with the Brewers. After the trade, the 28-year-old was optioned to AAA Reno.
Perhaps the most significant moment was Chafin’s implosion on July 5 in a game against the Mets at Chase Field. Coming into the ninth with a 1-0 lead, he surrendered a homer to catcher Francisco Alverez, a game-winning triple to Mark Canha, and took the loss. With Arizona this season, the 33-year-old posted a 4.19 ERA with eight saves in 34.1 innings. In recent outings, Chafin showed management an inconsistency which made him available.
In the end, the Diamondbacks made four trades at the deadline. In addition to securing Sewald, infielder Jace Peterson was acquired from Oakland. Chafin was moved to Milwaukee and veteran outfielder Tommy Pham was acquired from the New York Mets.
“Look, I don’t know how I did in over an overall evaluation of what we did,” Hazen told a group on Arizona media immediately following the trade deadline. “I know what this team went through the past few years, and I don’t want to be part of that again. The first four months were encouraging, and we wanted to give the players a little jolt of energy.”
Yet, the ability to attempt to solidify the back end of the bullpen remained a significant objective.
Within the perspective of needs, Hazen focused on pitching, While the Diamondbacks were unable to acquire a starting pitcher, there was a vital more to strengthen the closer slot.
Over the past few weeks, the emergence of lefty Tyler Gilbert, Hazen acknowledged, made Chafin expendable.
Now, Sewald arrives in the desert as the first significant closer for Lovullo in seven years. That’s when Fernando Rodney picked up 39 saves in 2017 and Archie Bradley emerged as an important set-up reliever. Arriving in the desert, Sewald appears to be walking a tightrope and that’s because Lovullo has no set-up reliever.
Sewald’s value, while significant, could be compromised. If the middle of the Arizona bullpen and if Miguel Castro or Scott McGough cannot step forward and embrace the challenge of the setup reliever, then Sewald’s ability to both enter games and shut down the opposition could be compromised.
“We addressed areas of concern,” Hazen said in evaluating the day. “We wanted to improve the back end of the bullpen and we did that. There were definitely more buyers than sellers and that is good for the game.”
Now, the Diamondbacks enter the final two, critical months with a bullpen, Hazen hopes, capable of getting outs in critical moments. In concert, the addition of Pham, a strong right-handed bat and leader in the clubhouse, should complement the productive seasons of right-handed hitting Christian Walker and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
Sewald and Peterson reported to the club in time for Tuesday’s game in San Francisco. The club recalled lefty Joe Mantiply from AAA Reno. Also, pitcher Cole Sulser was designated for assignment.