Beefed-up Diamondbacks ready to push for playoff return

Beefed-up Diamondbacks ready to push for playoff return
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo, newly acquired Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner puts on a jersey after being introduced during a team availability in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks added a handful of veteran free agents during the offseason, including Bumgarner, outfielder Kole Calhoun, catcher Stephen Vogt and reliever Héctor Rondón. The left-handed Bumgarner — a four-time All-Star and 2014 World Series MVP — was the marquee signing, joining the rotation on an $85 million, five-year deal. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Diamondbacks hope the addition of a few new players to a promising young core can push the franchise back to the playoffs.

The Diamondbacks won 85 games last season, but finished well behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 106 games and finished on top of the National League West for a seventh consecutive season. Arizona hasn’t made the postseason since 2017.

The D-backs added a handful of veteran free agents during the offseason, including starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, outfielder Kole Calhoun, catcher Stephen Vogt and reliever Héctor Rondón. The left-handed Bumgarner — a four-time All-Star and 2014 World Series MVP — was the marquee signing, joining the rotation on an $85 million, five-year deal.

Arizona also recently added veteran outfielder Starling Marte in a trade with the Pirates.

“I can’t wait to get started and see where we can go,” Bumgarner said. “Because I know where we can go, I just want to help us get there.”

Bumgarner and the others join an Arizona roster that kept most of its major contributors from last season, including Ketel Marte, who had a breakout season in 2019 and was a first-time All-Star selection while hitting .329 with 32 homers and splitting time between center field, second base and shortstop.

NEW LOOK

The D-backs added some significant pieces without losing much. The team hopes Bumgarner’s presence helps a rotation that already includes holdovers like Robbie Ray, Mike Leake and Luke Weaver. Calhoun and Starling Marte add some pop to the outfield — Calhoun hit a career-high 32 homers last season while Marte hit a career-high 23. Marte can also play center field, which could move Ketel Marte back to the infield for the majority of his playing time.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

A lot of the top D-backs prospects are still a few years away from the big leagues, but others like catcher Daulton Varsho, first baseman Seth Beer and pitchers Jon Duplantier and J.B. Bukauskas could be in Phoenix soon.

THEY’RE SET

The D-backs feel good about their offense and it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Calhoun, Ketel Marte, Starling Marte, 2B/3B Eduardo Escobar, LF David Peralta and 1B Christian Walker are the core of a lineup that should have ample speed and power. Escobar’s coming off his best season after setting career highs with 35 homers and 118 RBIs.

THEY’RE NOT

Archie Bradley was the D-backs closer during the final months of last season and performed well, finishing with a career-high 18 saves. The right-hander starts spring training as the favorite for the job in 2020 but GM Mike Hazen has said the job is still open to competition. There should also be an intriguing battle for the final spots in the starting rotation, which could go to Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly or a handful of others.

ON DECK

There’s a lot of optimism around the Diamondbacks this spring after the team was active in the free agent market. Bumgarner will be the main attraction but there will be other good story lines, including the evolving role of Ketel Marte. Arizona starts the season on March 26 with a four-game home series against the Atlanta Braves. After that, it’s three more home games against the San Francisco Giants, Bumgarner’s former team.

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