PHOENIX - There’s no getting around the fact the Arizona Diamondbacks were a bad baseball team in 2021. Very bad. Nearly historically bad.
The worst part is they thought they were going to be pretty good.
In MLB’s current era, teams often tear down their rosters so they can do a total rebuild. Sometimes, that results in a few tough seasons. The Orioles, Rangers and Pirates all lost at least 100 games this season and fit into that category.
But the Diamondbacks — who finished 52-110 and narrowly avoided the worst season in franchise history — were expected to compete in the NL West. They had an interesting core of veteran hitters including Ketel Marte, David Peralta, Eduardo Escobar and Kole Calhoun. Their rotation looked promising with Madison Bumgarner, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.
Obviously, things didn’t go as planned.
Injuries and bad luck certainly were an issue for the franchise, but in the end, the Diamondbacks just weren’t very good. The process of changing that continues this offseason.
General manager Mike Hazen acknowledged on Oct. 4 that the organization might be in the midst of a multi-year rebuild, especially with the Dodgers, Giants and Padres spending loads of money at the top of the division.
But Hazen does expect a significant step forward in 2022. He believes at least some of that improvement will come from within and that the growth of younger players in the organization will be key.
"Making up 30 games on our win total is probably going to be somewhat challenging," Hazen said. "But I look at our roster and I think there were a number of years where guys struggled. And I think there are some things we need to tackle to get our guys to perform at a better level than what we saw this year individually."
Lovullo will be back for a sixth season after his contract was extended through 2022.
Lovullo was the 2017 NL Manager of the Year and led the Diamondbacks to the playoffs that season but the team has been on a steady decline since. Even so, he’s popular with the players and with the front office.
The 56-year-old said Monday that he’s greatful for another chance to lead the team.
"I’m not an idiot, I know what happens to managers who win 52 baseball games," Lovullo said. "I really appreciate the trust they’re placing in me to continue going in the right direction with this team."
The Diamondbacks did get some encouraging performances from young players. Marte is still just 27 and hit .318 with 14 homers this season despite missing considerable time with injuries.
Catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho looks like a future cornerstone after providing speed, good defense and power. Josh Rojas developed into an everyday player and was arguably the team’s most consistent hitter. Pavin Smith hit .268 in his first full season.
Others like Josh VanMeter had some highs and lows. VanMeter ended the D-backs’ season on a rare happy note, hitting a walk-off homer on Sunday to beat the Rockies.
Hazen said in next year’s spring training, he envisions "a lot of competition."
"I don’t really envision feeling like on a 52-win team, there’s a lot of jobs that aren’t going to be discussed, as far as who has a lockdown position on this ballclub," Hazen said.
The Diamondbacks have a few roster decisions, including whether to exercise team options on Calhoun, reliever Tyler Clippard and Kelly.
The 33-year-old Calhoun — who is from the Phoenix area and played in college at Arizona State — led the team with 16 homers in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but had just five homers this season. He struggled all year with knee and hamstring injuries and played just 50 games. The Diamondbacks could keep him for $9 million, but they might choose another direction.
"I would definitely love to be back here," Calhoun said. "I was born and raised here. I was a Diamondbacks fan probably before anyone else in this organization was."
Four-time All-Star Madison Bumgarner was the team’s most reliable starter for much of the second half of the season, finishing with a 7-10 record and a 4.67 ERA.
Those aren’t amazing numbers, but it’s way better than 2020, when Bumgarner had a 6.48 ERA.
The bounce-back season gives the D-backs some hope the $85 million, five-year deal they gave the pitcher before the 2020 season won’t be a complete waste. If he can give Arizona a 2022 like his 2021, the franchise will definitely take it.
The Diamondbacks were 10-31 in one-run games this season.
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