The Arizona Diamondbacks won without rotation staple Patrick Corbin this season, and they will attempt to do it again without ace Zack Greinke in 2020. Rotation churn can be a mid-market staple, even in the TV money age.
As the Diamondbacks look to put together a rotation that will challenge the seven-time NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers next season, the cupboard is not bare, just somewhat untested. There are plenty of arms o choose from.
Left-hander Robbie Ray will be the nominal No. 1 next year after setting career highs with 33 starts and 235 strikeouts, assuming he remains. (More on that later.)
Trade deadline acquisitions Mike Leake and Zac Gallen seem set going forward, and rookie Merrill Kelly had a solid first season. If Luke Weaver (forearm strain) and Taijuan Walker (Tommy John surgery, shoulder capsule strain) return to health, the rotation candidates would go six deep, and that does not include Alex Young and Taylor Clarke, who were asked to step into the breach and made significant contributions this season.
Given that, the rotation is the least of the Diamondbacks’ concerns entering the trade/free agent marketplace, so expect them to go with what they have or maybe make a slight tweak for depth.
An offensive addition or two is a must, and if that comes in the former of a center fielder, they could move Ketel Marte back to second base, where he is a truly elite defender and in combination with shortstop Nick Ahmed givess Arizona arguably the best middle infield defense in baseball.
Archie Bradley emerged as the closer in the final two months of the season, but the bullpen was erratic, and relievers will be targeted.
So big moves for the offense, medium moves for the bullpen and relative stability for the rotation.
Which gets back to Ray. Given the proactive history of the current front office, his return is not a given. Ray was the subject of trade speculation at the July 31 deadline, and he is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility before he would become a free agent in 2021. The Diamondbacks traded Jean Segura and Paul Goldschmidt in those exact contract circumstances, and also have several other near-arbitration eligibles in Nick Ahmed and Jake Lamb to consider this winter.
The trade speculation at the deadline was intriguing, Ray admitted after striking out 10 in his final start Saturday, but he said he has not considered it since.
“I’m still trying to process how this season has gone, and once the offseason starts and everything is kind of settled, I’ll start thinking about stuff like that,” said Ray, who has been traded twice in his career.
“You understand that it is a business. It was a situation (at the deadline) where I was probably going to go to a contending team at the time, so a little bit of excitement there. But when it didn’t happen, I felt like the trades that we did make the guys that we had in there, I feel like we had a really good chance of making a run at it.”
Those pieces will be back. Leake has a full no-trade clause in his contract that expires after next season, and he lives in the Valley. He is going nowhere. Kelly won 13 games, second-most among NL rookies, while going 4-1 in September. He logged a team-high 183 1/3 innings, also second among NL rookies.
Gallen may have be the best under-the-radar get at the trade deadline, given early indications. He cost only minor league shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who was without a position behind Ahmed. Baseball America named him the Triple-A Pitcher of the Year for his time in the Miami organization.
Gallen was 2-3 with a 2.89 ERA in eight starts with the Diamondbacks before being shut down in mid-September because of an innings limit, and he will enter the 2020 season with a streak of 15 consecutive games giving up three runs or fewer. Only Montreal’s Steve Rogers (19) had a better run at the start of his career. Gallen averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
“If you project it, it is easy to say that are going to have a lot starting pitching,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “I’m totally fine with that. It seems like every year we have issues when we go deep in the system. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I would be extremely happy if we had the same group of starting pitchers back.”