July 7th, 2018: Arizona Sports are Saved

Alright, so a lot happened on Saturday, and I’m here to tell you about it.

 

  1. Devin Booker Extension

Five years. $158 million. All five years guaranteed, no options. This is the nature of the extension of the Phoenix Suns’ franchise player. Devin Booker, after holding out due to Tyler Ulis miscommunication, signed his extension on July 7th, 2018. For the next five years, he is a Sun, and he won’t even be in the prime of his prime when that extension ends. He’ll be 26! And when that contract expires, THEN he’ll be in his prime and the Suns can sign him to something even better! That’s amazing news, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

  1. Deandre Ayton did some cool stuff

21 points and 12 rebounds was the name of the game for Deandre Ayton in game 2 of his Las Vegas Summer League tenure. His first half looked very lackluster, as he was getting beat in the post by Harry Giles, a man who has undergone two ACL surgeries. He was trying to post up by standing straight up and down instead of trying to dig into his defender, and he wasn’t slashing strongly after setting screens. He ended the half with 4 points, and Marvin Bagley looked to be his superior. But, in the second half, something changed. He was setting tough on-ball screens, he was passing out of doubles effectively, he was catching the ball over the top of his defender, and he really started to dig in. By the end of it all, he was efficient, strong, and using his size extremely well. Deandre Ayton looks good.

 

2b. Mikal Bridges did things too

In the last two games of Summer League, Mikal Bridges is 5 for 8 from three and 6 for 10 in general. That’s impressive. He looked great defensively on Saturday, and he had a nice steal and slam to cement himself as a decent defensive talent with athleticism. He’s proving he’s worth the trade-up on draft day, and that’s good.

 

  1. Masked Josh Jackson happened

Need I say more? That block is plastered all over every highlight page online. He stood over him and taunted him! He taunted the 2nd overall pick! Don’t elbow Josh Jackson in the face. He will kill you.

 

  1. The Diamondbacks scored 20 runs in a single game

That’s a franchise record. Wow. Alex Avila had 3 RBIs. That’s really all you need to know about that. He’s hitting .148 and he had THREE RBIs. The Padres are very bad.

 

Well, there you have it, folks. Arizona sports are saved and everyone can rejoice as Phoenix becomes a great sports city once again. (But, seriously, it was a good day. There’s a lot for the Suns to build on, and the Diamondbacks might finally get back into the groove they were in to start the season. I’m very happy about these results. Thank you for your time.)

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Paul Goldschmidt is Finally Good Again, and That’s Good

My fellow Sideline Intel writer and somber Orioles fan Ryan Sharp wrote about Orioles first baseman Chris Davis having a historically bad year. He’s at a -1.8 in fWAR (Wins Above Replacement). He’s hitting .153, and he’s only got four home runs on the season. That’s bad. I’m really sorry Ryan has to watch that. Chris Davis is usually very good, and this year, he has been very bad.

On the other side of the country, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul “Goldie” Goldschmidt has, up until the last couple of weeks, had a pretty bad year too.

His last at bat of the 2017 season was the last at bat of the Diamondbacks season, where he struck out swinging at a bad pitch out of the strike zone against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS. That seemed to stick with him coming into 2018, as he started out barely swinging the bat at all. His shift to a reserved style saw him taking walks more often at the start of the year, but it didn’t do his team, his stats, or his fans any favors.

The month of May was absolutely awful for Goldschmidt, and it brought many to question if his Golden (ha) Years were behind him. He had 8 RBI in 27 games in May, 7 home runs on the year entering June, and was batting .209. It was an awful month for the whole Diamondbacks team as well. It started with their first series loss of the season against the Nationals, and snowballed into an 8-19 month with a series loss to the Mets. The Mets! When Goldie ain’t batting, ain’t nobody batting.

 

Fast forward to June. Goldie has, as of June 10th, increased his batting average to .254, has 10 RBI, hit 2 home runs in 2 straight games, and led the DBacks to win 7 of their last 9 games and reclaim the division title from the Colorado Rockies, whom they outscored by a total of 15 runs in this week’s series. It seems like Goldie’s energy radiates through the entire team. As he’s continued to hit well, guys like Ketel Marte (who had 10 straight extra base hits!), John Ryan Murphy, and even Chris Owings have contributed at the plate lately.

Special shoutout to utility-infielder-turned-slugger Daniel Descalso. I see you, Daniel. You’re putting in work. Keep it up. (.261/.360/.510 is absolutely incredible for him, his .510 slugging percentage is .086 higher than his career average, which was in 2016.)

The Diamondbacks also added outfielder Jon Jay, who has yet to break the seal on his first hit despite hitting .307 upon being traded to the team. Once his bat fires up, Pollock gets healthy, and the pitching staff heals, the Diamondbacks look to be a series threat in the National League. But, there’s still 99 games of baseball left to be played, and a lot of uncertainty down that stretch of time.

All we can say for certain is this: Paul Goldschmidt is good again, and that’s really really good. Hopefully he has time to make a very late All-Star bid and join AJ Pollock in Washington, D.C.

Writer’s Note: As basketball starts to hit a slow point, you’re all gonna see some more MLB content coming from me this summer! But don’t worry, the Suns still do things, and I’m going to let you know about every single one of them.

 

Manny Machado to Arizona makes a lot of sense

Manny Machado could be the biggest name moved during the 2018 season.

 

The Baltimore shortstop has gotten off to the best start of his career. As of June 2, his 17 home runs are just one behind the league lead. His OPS is also fifth best at his career high 1.024.

 

The Baltimore Orioles, besides their three-time All-Star, have been disastrous thus far. They are already 21.5 games back in their division with a 17-40 record, the worst in the MLB.

 

Machado is an upcoming free agent, and he can most likely get his desired salary in a place where he can compete for the postseason somewhere else.

 

That said, Baltimore trading him sooner rather than later for young assets seems to be the most logical action.

 

There is a plethora of teams that are looking to load up for a playoff run. Machado’s ability to play shortstop and third base makes him versatile enough for more teams to fit him into their lineups.

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Plus, his expiring contract will make it so the Orioles will have to compromise as many teams surly will not be willing to deflate their farm systems for a possible rental.

 

One team that could possibly be a good fit for him could be the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 

Heading into June, Arizona is 1.5 games back of NL West leading Colorado, and hitting has been a massive struggle in 2018 for the DBacks.

 

Arizona has scored the second fewest runs in the league and are dead last in team batting average.

 

To make matters worse, their best hitter this season, A.J. Pollock, is on the DL for breaking his thumb.

 

Inexplicably, former five-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt has had a horrendous 2018 thus far, batting just .209 with seven home runs in 54 games.

 

Third baseman Jake Lamb and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. (30 home runs each in 2017) have battled with injuries all season long. They have played in just 15 and 14 games respectively.

 

Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte have spent the most time at shortstop, but combined the two infielders are batting under .210.

 

Yet despite these offensive problems, the Diamondbacks are still above .500 and near the top of the NL West. Adding Machado could lead to a powerful lineup if the team can get healthy and Goldschmidt snaps out of his season-long funk.

 

Arizona made a similar move last season when they traded three prospects for former Detroit slugger JD Martinez. With his offensive dominance, the DBacks scored the fourth most runs in the NL and made it to the NLDS before falling to Los Angeles.

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Baltimore desperately needs pitching for the future, so a higher end pitching prospect like Taylor Widener (2.74 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 49.1 innings in Double-A this year) and a couple of mid-level prospects could do the trick to get Machado to the desert, and possibly make Arizona the team to beat in the NL West.

MLB Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

After an impressive 93-69 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks found themselves as the winners of the National League Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies early last October. It was a storybook season for the Snakes, who defied expectations time and time again on their way to their first playoff appearance since 2011.

But it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who, in a flash, ended the Diamondbacks’ season after a 3-game sweep in the National League Division Series. A season that was so magical – one in which star-first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished in the top three in NL MVP voting and first-year skipper Torey Lovullo won NL Manager of the Year – was ripped away like candy from a child, and Arizona was left to wait until 2018.

But the Diamondbacks are ready to make a run at the playoffs again, and they don’t expect anything less of themselves. According to breakout-reliever Archie Bradley, they can do just that, too.

This article has been broken down into three parts: the returners, the newcomers and the sleepers. We’ll kick it off with the key returning members of the Diamondbacks’ squad who could help them reach their second consecutive postseason for the second time in franchise history.

The Returners

Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had one of the best seasons of his career last season. With the exception of September, “Goldy” was the driving force of the Diamondbacks, slashing .297/.404/.563 with 120 RBIs. Goldschmidt tied his career high in home runs with 36 in his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign in 2017 and should not disappoint in 2018. Throughout his career, Goldschmidt has been susceptible to minor injuries throughout his career – the most recent being a sore right elbow that sidelined him for a week in September – but as long as he stays healthy, the Diamondbacks will roll. With Giancarlo Stanton’s departure to the New York Yankees and the American League, I might even go as far to say that Paul Goldschmidt could win his first career Most Valuable Player this season – he’s only lost out three other times.

Since his entrance into the league in 2014, fans had been searching for the results Jake Lamb promised while he was ascending through the minor leagues. In 2017, he finally delivered and cemented himself as Arizona’s third baseman of the future. Lamb notched his first All-Star appearance in July after posting 20 home runs and 67 RBIs before the break. He cooled off in the second half of the year, but proved to manager Torey Lovullo that he belongs at the hot corner and will likely remain there barring any unforeseen circumstances. I expect another brilliant year from Lamb in the desert and predict he will remain one of the elite third basemen in a stacked National League field.

Another breakout year came from starting pitcher Robbie Ray, whom the D-backs acquired in a three-way trade with the Detroit Tigers and the Yankees. It’s often referred to as, “the Didi Gregorius trade” in Arizona, but I strongly believe that with Ray’s talent outbreak it should be Tigers fans mourning the loss of Ray. The 26-year-old fireballer posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 218 hitters, good for third in the NL behind the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob DeGrom – and that’s with Ray having missed significant time after getting nailed in the head with a line drive on July 29. Make no mistake, Robbie Ray is molding himself into an ace and one of the best left-handed pitchers in all of baseball. That showed last year when Ray appeared in his first All-Star Game. It won’t be long before we see him atop the Diamondbacks’ rotation, but for now he’ll serve as their No. 2 with ace Zack Greinke still throwing the ball as well has he ever has. He finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting last year, and should contend for the title as long as he continues to dominate with his electric fastball and equally-astounding slider. For the second straight year, he should compliment the right arm of Zack Greinke beautifully.

Speaking of the Arizona ace, Greinke was also an All-Star last season, his fourth time. His contract looms over the D-backs front office, as he’s owed $138.5 million over the next four years, and likely is the reason general manager Mike Hazen couldn’t bring back slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez. Greinke had a superb 2017 campaign – with a 17-7 record and a 3.20 ERA – and should be expected to do the same entering his age-34 season. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Diamondbacks fans were talking about Ray more than Greinke nearing season’s end.

The Newcomers

The departure of J.D. Martinez to the Boston Red Sox hurt for Arizona baseball fans and players alike. Just ask Archie Bradley, who showed his reaction to Martinez signing a 5 year/$110 million contract with the BoSox on Twitter.

But the Diamondbacks’ front office did a fantastic job filling Martinez’s void quickly after the 30-year-old outfielder signed his new deal.

Just 2 hours and 46 minutes after, Mike Hazen made a splash of his own by bringing in outfielder Jarrod Dyson on a 2 year/$7.5 million deal. Dyson offers something the D-backs have never possessed: elite speed. Over the course of his eight-year career, Dyson has rightfully earned the nickname. “Mr. Zoombiya,” swiping 204 career bags. Since 2012, he averaged 30 stolen bases per season with the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. Dyson offers a great fourth outfielder option for Torey Lovullo – he can play all three outfield positions with ease, utilizing his speed to cut down would-be doubles in the gap. Look for his speed to be key in late-game situations as well, as Lovullo will likely use Dyson as a pinch-runner when in search of a late offensive spark.

The next day, Hazen pivoted his attention to the trade market and acquired outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal that also included the Yankees. Hazen sent infielder Brandon Drury to New York and top pitching prospect Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay in the swap, with two players to be named later heading to the Rays as well. It was an incredibly cerebral move by the Diamondbacks’ front office, and here’s why: Souza Jr. will make $3.5 million this season and won’t be a free agent until 2021. The trade saves Arizona – for those of you without a calculator in front of you – $106.5 million and gives the D-backs an extremely important power bat in the middle of their lineup to hit, likely, behind Paul Goldschmidt. In 2017, Souza Jr. slashed .259/.351/.459, which may not seem eye popping to some. But, his 4.2 WAR, 121 OPS+, 30 home runs and 78 RBIs speak for themselves. Oh yeah, and that WAR? Better than Martinez’s 4.1. He’ll patrol the outfield with A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, two defensively proficient players that Souza Jr. will only add to. This trade will end up working wonders for the Diamondbacks in my opinion, and I expect Souza Jr.’s home run tally to climb in the thin desert air at Chase Field.

You want relief pitching? The Diamondbacks have it. New additions Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano will help bolster the back of Arizona’s bullpen. Boxberger was acquired via trade with Tampa Bay (separate from the Souza Jr. deal) and is under club control through 2019. The 30-year-old righty led the American League in saves in 2015 with 41, and sports a career 3.19 ERA. Hirano, also a right-hander, comes to the desert on a 2 year/$6 million contract from Japan, where he played with the Onix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan’s top pro baseball league). Word on the street is that Hirano has a nasty splitter, which he’ll look to use throughout the spring while competing with Boxberger and Bradley for the closer’s role.

Another under-the-radar move Arizona made was signing catcher Alex Avila to a 2 year/$8.25 million contract. The D-backs lost Chris Iannetta to the division-rival Colorado Rockies, so Avila will likely plug in as the everyday starter, with Chris Herrmann and Jeff Mathis on the roster as well. Avila hit .264/.387/.447 in 2017 while driving in 49 runs for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. In recent years, moves involving catching have been made with defense in mind. Avila threw out 31% of potential base stealers last season and has done so 29% of the time throughout his career.

The Sleepers

As previously alluded to, Diamondbacks’ reliever Archie Bradley believes that Arizona will reach the playoffs once again in 2018. He’s probably one of the bigger reasons why after his stellar outbreak in 2017 in which he started the year expecting to be a starter. Torey Lovullo ruled Bradley as the odd man out and moved him to the ‘pen, where he recreated himself as a lockdown set-up man and a smooth segue to the ninth inning. This year, he’ll compete for the closer’s role, and his statistics from last season leave no reason to believe he won’t get it. A 1.73 ERA in 73 innings made Bradley a staple coming out of the bullpen for the Diamondbacks. He even received an NL MVP vote! With the dominance he showed in 2017 – and you heard it here first – Archie Bradley will be in the All-Star Game in 2018.

The trade of Brandon Drury to the Bronx means one thing for the Diamondbacks: 24-year-old Ketel Marte is the future of the D-backs’ middle infield. Acquired by Arizona with righty Taijuan Walker on Thanksgiving Even in 2016, Marte platooned with Drury, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed in a crowded 2017 middle infield. In 73 games, Marte hit .260 and shined defensively. It speaks volumes that Marte was Mike Hazen’s only untouchable middle infielder during trade talks in the offseason. They fully expect him to be a large part of their future. He had a three-hit, two-triple performance in the NL Wild Card Game. With a contact-speed skillset, Marte could prove to be just what the D-backs want in 2018.

At the back end of the Diamondbacks’ rotation sits right-hander Zack Godley. He had a sneaky good 2017 with a 3.37 ERA and 165 strikeouts. Most analysts were surprised by his output last year and expect more of the same this season. His trademark sprint to and from the mound allowed for 155 innings pitched, and as long as Godley stays healthy, the D-backs should be set with a solid rotation that will compete for the best in all of baseball. Last season, it did the same but with the progression of Godley and Taijuan Walker, this Arizona rotation could be one opponents dread.

Diamondbacks acquire Steven Souza Jr. in three-team trade

The Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays pulled off a big three-team trade Tuesday afternoon. FanRag Sports’ Robert Murray first reported a trade between the Rays and Yankees, and FRS’ Jon Heyman later reported the Diamondbacks were also a part of the deal.

The Rays acquired left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda from Arizona and second-base prospect Nick Solak from New York. Arizona landed Steven Souza Jr. from Tampa Bay and the Yankees acquired Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks.

The trade is the latest in a theme of Florida fire sales, as it seems the Rays are following in the footsteps of the Miami Marlins.

Anthony Banda, Arizona’s No. 4 overall prospect last season according to MLB Pipeline, struggled in the time he spent in the minor and major leagues last year. With Triple-A Reno, he recorded a 8-7 record with a 5.39 ERA in 22 games. He struck out 116 batters and had a WHIP of 1.40. During his abbreviated stint with the Diamondbacks, Banda appeared in eight games, starting four, and had a 2-3 record with a 5.96 ERA. He will try to improve upon those numbers in Tampa Bay next season as he will join a rotation under the leadership of ace right-handed pitcher Chris Archer.

The acquisition of Souza Jr. appears to be the Diamondbacks’ backup plan after free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez signed a five-year/$110 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Last season, he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs. He will be a cheaper option for the Diamondbacks than Martinez, and Arizona can expect the same production from Souza Jr. as well. Martinez had a 4.1 WAR last season, compared to Souza Jr.’s 4.2.

Brandon Drury, just 24 years old, had a solid season in the desert last year. He slashed .267/.317/.447 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs. He had a park-adjusted OPS+ of 89, below league average, and posted a 1.6 WAR. After the departure of Chase Headley and Todd Frazier, the trade gives the Yankees more flexibility and control at third base, as well as the middle of their infield. This move also means that Ketel Marte will likely assume a full-time position at second base in Drury’s absence.

Nick Solak, the Yankees’ No. 8 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, will give the Rays more infield depth after franchise cornerstone third baseman Evan Longoria signed with the San Francisco Giants earlier this offseason. Solak, a career second baseman, split the 2017 season in Class-A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton. He hit .297/.384/.452 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in his second professional season.

Look for the Rays to continue their teardown throughout the rest of the offseason and into the start of spring training, as they still have valuable trade chips in center fielder Kevin Keirmeier and starting pitcher Chris Archer.