PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks open spring training with the kind of realistic optimism they haven’t known for years.
The addition of Zack Greinke will do that.
The Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world by signing the former Los Angeles Dodgers ace to a six-year, $206 million contract, then they further upgraded the rotation by acquiring Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves.
Arizona was a respectable 79-83 last season, the first under manager Chip Hale. The Diamondbacks were second in the National League in runs scored. They also were among the best on defence.
But pitching was a problem, particularly the starting rotation. Arizona chief baseball officer Tony La Russa was expected to try to upgrade there, and the Diamondbacks certainly did that with the signing of Greinke, who was 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA last season.
Entering spring training, the team is poised to rise from its also-ran status in the NL West.
"We liked our position players going forward and felt like with our young arms, a rotation leader was the No. 1 thing that could help us," La Russa said. "We were fortunate to get one like Zack."
Newly signed reliever Tyler Clippard certainly believes he's joining a contender.
"They've proven this off-season that they're taking the steps in the direction of becoming a championship organization," he said, "which was something that was very high on my radar as far as the teams that I wanted to be with."
Pitchers and catchers report to the team's spring training facility in Scottsdale on Wednesday. Here are some things to look for with the Diamondbacks this spring.
FILLING THE ROTATION: With left-hander Patrick Corbin two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Diamondbacks believe they have a strong 1-2-3 punch in the rotation. The final two spots will be determined this spring. Rubby De La Rosa (14-9, 4.67 ERA) and Robbie Ray (5-12, 3.52) have the inside track but the Diamondbacks haven't given up on young Archie Bradley, Bradley made the team last season and looked good until he took a line drive to the face. He struggled in the minors and eventually was shut down with right shoulder inflammation.
INFIELD QUESTIONS: With the loss of Ender Inciarte in the Miller trade, the Diamondbacks thought they needed to try to make up for that loss of offence so they acquired shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with Milwaukee. The deal puts the role of slick-fielding, weak-hitting Nick Ahmed in question. And there is competition at second base, where Aaron Hill is gone but Chris Owings will have to fend off Phil Gosselin and rookie Brandon Drury. Segura is an option at second, too. Jake Lamb appears to have a solid hold on third base.
BULLPEN OPENING: With the acquisition of Clippard, Arizona seems to have one opening, maybe two, in the bullpen. Six spots look like they have been filled by closer Brad Ziegler, Clippard, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Chafin, Randall Delgado and Josh Collmenter. Matt Reynolds, Silvino Braco, Enrico Burgos, Jake Barrett and Matt Koch are among the contenders.
OUTFIELD SWITCH?: As spring training opens, David Peralta is in left field and Yasmany Tomas in right. But the Diamondbacks are thinking about having them switch positions. Tomas, who enters the second year of a six-year, $68.5 million contract, originally played some at third base, but that didn't work out. So he was shifted to right field. The outfield defence is diminished with the departure of Inciarte. Peralta is considered the better fielder than Tomas and might be the best choice to play right. Tomas would use spring training to adjust to playing in left.
LEADING THE OFFENSE: Arizona has two of the best hitters in the game in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and emerging centre fielder A.J. Pollack, and Hale will decide where the two fit best in the batting order. Goldschmidt hit .321 with 110 RBIs and 33 home runs last season. Pollock had a breakout season, batting .315 with 76 RBIs and 20 home runs.