2016 Arizona Diamondbacks: Why Dave Stewart may not be all wrong

On deck: General manager Dave Stewart has traded three of the Diamondbacks’ last four No. 1 draft picks, but Braden Shipley is the only one he’s kept. Given the reaction to most of Stewart’s moves, that might not be good for Shipley. He went 15th in the first round in 2013, and has reached AA, where he had a 3.50 ERA in 156.2 innings last year. More concerning than Shipley’s retention is his strikeout rate. He fanned a batter an inning in 2014 — 127 in 126 — but had nine fewer last year (118)  despite pitching 26.2 more innings. Like a lot of things with the D’backs, draw your own conclusion.

2015 Stat: Rubby De La Rosa led Diamondbacks’ pitchers with 150 strikeouts, or 1 less than Paul Goldschmidt led Diamondbacks hitters with. No Diamondbacks pitcher had ever led the staff with so few. The previous low was Andy Benes with 164 in 1998, their very first season.

What he said: Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa on signing free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke: “One reason we thought we had a chance, if we didn’t think we had the money, was that he made comments to coaches on the Dodgers. He had made comments to some of our guys. So part of the reason he’s here is he has looked at the talent and the commitment these guys have made to playing the game correctly.” What he meant: “He knew we were crazy enough to give him all that money.”

Outlook: Stewart said the Diamondbacks were built to win now, and he meant it. They’re 18-4 in spring training. Too soon?

No GM has been criticized recently more than Stewart for trying to win quickly at a time when so many teams — Brewers, Braves, Reds, Phillies — are being criticized for not trying to win at all.

The criticism of Stewart, who trades his prospects as if they’re renewable, has merit: he gave up too much talent for Shelby Miller and Jean Segura, and he has too little interest in analytics or modern metrics.

But he took over a bad team at the end of the 2014 season, improved by 15 wins last year, and with the addition of Miller and Grienke and additional production from young third baseman Jake Lamb, one of espn.com’s Keith Law’s candidates to have a breakout season, the Diamondbacks could easily improve enough to contend and win the West.

Winning isn’t cheap. And it would be a rare departure for a franchise that came into the league in 1998, won 100 games in its second season and a World Series in its fourth.

It isn’t that easy, and the Diamondbacks haven’t won much since; they had four winning seasons in their first six but just three in their last 12.

When you don’t win much, maybe the price of winning isn’t the biggest concern.

Stewart was clinging to his pitching career at age 29, traded once and released, with just 30 major-league victories. Then La Russa and the Athletics signed him and he won 112 games over the next eight years. He knows there’s more to major-league success than pedigree.

It helps, though, and Stewart’s critics think the man nicknamed Smoke inhaled more of it than he threw.

Stewart has traded three of the last four Diamondbacks top picks, including shortstop Dansby Swanson , whom he picked. Give the man credit for not showing bias. He also sent 2013 No.1 Aaron Blair with Swanson for Miller, and 2014 No. 1 Touky Toussaint with Bronson Arroyo for debt relief.

It might be true that Stewart is building a contender, only in Atlanta in 2019 rather than Arizona this year.

But Stewart was roundly panned after the Toussaint trade; in 10 starts for the Braves in low A after Stewart traded him, Toussaint had a 6.10 ERA and 33 walks in 48.2 innings. That would be Stewart’s prima facie defense.

It might be that Toussaint, not yet 20, will mature or move to the bullpen and succeed. There’s plenty of time in his career. But maybe the $10 million or so the Diamondbacks saved was enough to help them sign Greinke (though when you benefit from billion-dollar TV contracts, 10 mill doesn’t seem prohibitive in pursuit of a free agent to boost ratings).

Maybe there’s a method to what Stewart is doing, going against the culture with his management style as he once did with his pitching style. Maybe he’s as wild a GM as he once was a reliever, not sure where the next move, like his next pitch, is going.

He has the Diamondbacks in position to contend in 2016, and we’ll find out if it’s easy to sustain an organization as his trades indicate he thinks it is.

In the meantime, it’s entertaining as hell.

 Team Song: Ian Drury: There ain’t half been some clever bastards

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