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Arizona Diamondbacks: 10 Things We Learned During Spring Training

With Opening Day quickly approaching, only three National League teams have a better winning percentage than the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, they sit in the middle of the Cactus League standings. Wins say a lot during the regular season, but we need to look deeper to find meaning in those numbers during spring training.

Want proof? The Kansas City Royals are 22-6, with the Los Angeles Angels at just 8-17. No, records don’t really matter in spring training.

For the Diamondbacks, there are many other things we’ve learned during spring training that hold more value. Let’s take a look at 10 of them.

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Complete Arizona Diamondbacks 2013 Season Preview

The grass is cut, the skies in Arizona are clear and the temperatures are perfect. It’s time for baseball again in the valley of the sun, which means the Arizona Diamondbacks can put a disappointing 2012 season behind them and start fresh for 2013.

The landscape of the National League West has changed, with the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers expected to compete with the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The Diamondbacks can’t be counted out of the equation, though.

They have a deep and talented pitching staff, and a good combination of youth and veterans who know how to get the job done. It was just two years ago that this team won 94 games and the National League West crown.

Let’s get to the season preview.

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Arizona Diamondbacks: Predicting Five Breakout Players of 2013

The Arizona Diamondbacks are primed to make a run at the defending MLB champion San Francisco Giants and the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. 2012 was a letdown, but 2013 is going to be a major rebound year.

At 81-81, the Diamondbacks fell well short of expectations in 2012. They aren’t expected to win the National League West in 2013, but they are expected to be in the race.

They’re deep at starting pitcher, with more help in Daniel Hudson on the way later in the year. They’ve got a deep bullpen with multiple closer options, so they can sustain injuries and continue on. 

The offense was No. 6 in the National League in home runs and batting average in 2012, which they would certainly take again in 2013. Let’s take a look at who’s going to breakout and lead the Diamondbacks back to the playoffs.

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Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton and the No-Trade Clause Killer

The struggle between players and management has gone on since the beginning of the sports world. Each side wants to have leverage when the inevitable split occurs. The “no-trade clause” is one of the biggest assets a baseball player can have, and Justin Upton just used his to really affect the Arizona Diamondbacks.

When a contract is signed between team and player, it is supposed to bind them together for the duration of the contract. Unless of course, the player gets traded. The team generally holds that leverage, because they can change a player’s life by exiling them to a rebuilding team or a franchise with no intentions of using the player how they want to be used.

The Seattle Mariners are a rebuilding franchise in a wonderful city. However, they were also one of the four teams on Upton’s “no-trade list.” That means he holds veto power over any trade to that franchise. Why he’d want to avoid Seattle at this point is irrelevant, but he does.

After the Arizona Diamondbacks and Mariners agreed to a trade that would have sent a multitude of young talent to the D’Backs, Upton invoked his no-trade clause and nixed the deal.

This puts Upton in a terrible place. He’s already been the recipient of many criticisms from management and fans in Arizona. While it is his right to veto this trade, it also represents him standing in the way of progress.

Upton is like the lone homeowner who won’t sell so that 10 other homes can be built. He’s stubbornly using his clout (which he earned) to create a situation he feels is better for himself and his family. What he’s going to end up doing is hurting the franchise.

Now that Upton has done this, other franchises know what he’s capable of. Now, he becomes less desirable. Who wants a player that is going to do that? If a franchise had 25 men who all acted this way, they’d never get anything done.

From Upton’s standpoint, he’s just using the terms that the team agreed to at one point. He isn’t against any rules. He shouldn’t make a decision that would be best for the franchise, he needs to make one that is best for him. Yes, he makes more money than he’s worth. However, would anybody give money back in his spot? Of course not.

If things continue to be ugly between the Diamondbacks and Upton, the figurative heat will fall squarely on Upton’s shoulders. The Diamondbacks are trying to better their situation by trading a player that is owed $38.5 million over the next three years.

Upton’s contract is an albatross at this point and he hasn’t come close to living up to it. He’s a good player, but the Diamondbacks would rather spread that money out to those providing more production on and off the field.

No-trade clauses are the worst. Nobody comes out looking good. The Diamondbacks had a great deal on their hands and could have bolstered their farm system. Instead, they’re stuck in this marriage that neither side wants.

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Minnesota Twins: Why Joe Mauer Doesn’t Need to Change His Hitting Style

Joe Mauer is a terrific hitter for the Minnesota Twins, but despite his smooth stroke, he still gets a lot of criticism for his lack of power. Some argue that a team’s best hitter should have a slugging percentage higher than Mauer’s .423 this year. His career numbers align with Wade Boggs. That’s not so bad, is it?

For 2012, Mauer is ninth in the AL in batting average (.307), second in on-base percentage (.411) and sixth in walks (37). It’s not like he’s out there stranding runners left and right. He does lead the AL in double plays grounded into with 14, but that’s really the only negative statistic to see.

During Boggs’ best years, he hit in the .360s with on-base percentages in the .450s. He walked much more than he struck out and even led the league in grounding into double plays.


It’s not like Mauer doesn’t hit well with runners on base

With runners in scoring position, Mauer hits .368 with a .500 on-base percentage. He’s walked 15 times and struck out just eight in 72 plate appearances. He’s only hit one home run, but can’t singles and doubles be strung together as well?

The double plays that he’s hit into have almost exclusively come in the same situation. With a man on first only, he hits just .231 and has grounded into 12 of his 14 double plays.

Couldn’t coach Ron Gardenhire put the runner in motion more often in that situation? Shouldn’t he take some of the criticism in that situation?


Mauer is extremely important but can he really be blamed?

As Mauer goes, so do the Twins. In their wins, he hits a remarkable .418 with a .545 on-base percentage and a .620 slugging percentage. In losses, he hits just .243 with a .309 slugging percentage.

It makes sense that the best player on the team would be so instrumental to his club, but what doesn’t make sense is how the rest of the team seems to go to sleep when Mauer isn’t performing. They deserve and should share the blame.


The only thing that needs changing is the players around him

Denard Span and Ben Revere have done a reasonably good job getting on base in front of Mauer. They have .351 and .349 on-base percentages, respectively. The concern for me comes from the players behind Mauer.

While Trevor Plouffe is crushing the ball right now, he’s still only hitting .240 with a .315 on-base percentage. That’s better than former MVP Justin Morneau, who’s hitting .240 with a .311 on-base percentage.

Baseball is a team game. Yes, Mauer makes a ridiculous amount of money and is expected to produce more than anyone else on the roster. Could you imagine how prolific Mauer would be on a team like the Texas Rangers?

It’s not Mauer’s fault. He’s playing a great brand of baseball and shouldn’t change a thing. Hopefully, management can work hard to develop players to play behind Mauer who can hold up their end of the bargain.

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Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill Rejuvenated and Ready to Mash Again?

Aaron Hill came over in a mid-season trade last year to help offset the loss of Stephen Drew and provide some veteran leadership. Hill hit .315 for the Diamondbacks but only hit two home runs in 124 at-bats to bring his season total to eight in 520 total at-bats.

2012 didn’t start as planned for Hill. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against the Giants on Friday night. Game two of the season turned around for Hill as he hit home runs off Madison Bumgarner in both the first and second innings.

It took Hill just eight at-bats to match his home run total from 124 last year. Some might think it’s an aberration, but take a look at Hills’ career stats. It show that he’s been here before.

Hill hit a combined 62 home runs between the 2009 and 2010 seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays. Granted his batting average (.286 and .205) were not something to get too excited about, but if Hill can take direction from Arizona hitting coach Don Baylor and put pieces of those seasons together, he could really make something happen.

This is an even bigger deal with the impending free agency of Stephen Drew. If the Diamondbacks feel comfortable letting him go and allowing Hill to move to SS they could free up enough money to keep fan-favorite Miguel Montero in Phoenix.

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Stephen Drew and the Arizona Diamondbacks Have One More Year Together

Stephen Drew is penciled in to be the Diamondbacks opening day starter at shortstop. The reason for this is more of a depth issue than anything else. Truth be told, the Diamondbacks don’t have a shortstop on the team who can provide the kind of production needed at the Major League level.

Drew will make $7.7M this year and, at age 29, he is closer to leaving his prime than entering it. In 2013, Drew is slated to make $10M but it is a mutual option, meaning either side can opt out and with a $1.35M buyout, it could save the Diamondbacks a lot of money.

A closer look at Drew’s statistics show he is a very good defensive shortstop who gets a lot of triples. Curiously, he doesn’t steal very many bases, which tells me he takes advantage of the cavernous Chase Field to earn those triples.

His range factor is actually below average at shortstop (4.16 versus a league average of 4.41). However, anything above .970 for a fielding percentage as a shortstop is sterling, and Drew’s .978 career places him sixth among active shortstops.

Aside from the triples, Drew just doesn’t do a whole lot offensively. A career .270/.330/.442 hitter doesn’t scream $10M a year to me. The Diamondbacks would be happy with that production from a backup or from a platoon player, but not the highest paid Diamondback offensive player.

Yes, Drew makes more than Jason Kubel, Chris Young, and Justin Upton this year.

Drew is going to need a breakout year if he is expected to stay with the Diamondbacks in 2013. He would again be the highest paid Diamondback and if he duplicates his 2011 numbers before he got hurt (.252/.317/.396), that’s just way too much money.

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