The Arizona Diamondbacks are coming off of an excellent season that most have probably already forgotten. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Brewers but it was in the bottom of the 10th inning in game five of the NLDS. There’s no shame in that. Manager Kirk Gibson had a fantastic inaugural season, leading Arizona to a 94-68 record, good enough for first in the National League west and to win him the National League Manager of the Year award.
The Diamondbacks also had two legitimate candidates for the MVP and Cy Young awards. Justin Upton, who will be just 24 years old on opening day next season, hit .289 with 31 homers and 88 RBI’s and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting behind Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder. On the mound the Diamondbacks rode surprising ace Ian Kennedy to an incredible 21-4 record. Kennedy did average 6.12 runs per game of support but he did post a 1.09 WHIP, 2.88 ERA and 198 strikeouts, which ranked sixth, seventh and eighth in the NL respectively. Kennedy also finished fourth in Cy Young voting behind Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
Arizona wasn’t a fluke last season. Though it has become custom for NL West teams to rotate between the top of the division and the bottom from year to year, the Diamondbacks have a strong young core. Despite the fact that they had they were the oldest team in the league on average last season, Arizona’s core group of Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, Chris Young, Paul Goldschmidt, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson are all under the age of the 30, with Young (28) being the oldest. And they’ll be even better if Aaron Hill can produce like he did in 2009-2010 with the Blue Jays.
The Diamondbacks took another step forward as a team yesterday when they agreed to a trade with the Oakland Athletics that will bring starting pitcher Trevor Cahill and left-handed specialist Craig Breslow to the desert in exchange for top prospect Jarrod Parker. Parker is definitely a tough player for the Diamondbacks to trade – he’s considered one of the 15 to 20 best prospects in baseball by almost every scout – but Cahill is better right now and there’s always the risk that Parker doesn’t develop into a second or third caliber starter.
The trade gives Arizona a top three of Kennedy, Hudson and Cahill in their rotation and a much needed left-handed reliever. Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter are nice pitchers but both played above their heads last season and will likely regress in 2012, making them better suited for the back of the rotation – and if they don’t regress, Arizona will have some pretty nice depth at starting pitcher. Cahill regressed last season after going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in 2010 as his ERA ballooned to 4.16 and he finished with a 12-14 record. That said, there is still a good chance reproduces his 2010 numbers this season. Cahill increased his strikeout numbers while keeping his homeruns allowed the same.
Cahill isn’t a franchise player right now but he is just 23 years old and his contract lasts through 2017 (worth $55.2 million) if Arizona chooses to pick up a few options. Diamondback fans should enjoy watching Cahill this season as his signature pitch is the sinker, the pitch same that Brandon Webb had tons of success with in Arizona. And in a ballpark like Chase Field, that is a very valuable skill to have.