Over the offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks took a hard look at their roster and figured that, sure, Paul Goldschmidt was easily the best homegrown player the franchise had ever had, but the team just wasn’t quite good enough to make a real run, so they traded him to the Cardinals.
The team, though, didn’t fall apart. On the morning of July 31, they found themselves exactly at .500, still right in the thick of the wild card race and with a positive run differential. The front office, taking a hard look at the realities of the roster, said to themselves, “Hmm, we should trade our best pitcher,” so they sent Zack Greinke to the Astros.
And yet today, somehow, the Diamondbacks are not out of it. They’re not in an ideal position — 3.5 games back, and in fourth place for the second wild card — but they’re three games over .500, and they are, we regret to inform you, in this thing.
How have they done it? First off, they’ve gotten an MVPish season from Ketel Marte, who is currently hitting .328/.389/.594 with an rWAR of 6.8 and an fWAR of 6.9. He’s not going to win, because of Cody Bellinger, but Marte is having a ludicrously great season that is replacing (and more) the loss of Goldschmidt.
They’re also getting contributions from Nick Ahmed (.261/.325/.443, 4.5 rWAR, 2.6 fWAR), Eduardo Escobar (.270/.321/.529, 3.9 rWAR, 3.6 fWAR), and Carson Kelly (.250/.353/.504, 1.9 rWAR, 2.0 fWAR in just 331 plate appearances), making the lineup a deep one that’s tough for opposing pitchers to navigate.
Before he was traded, Greinke was by far the team’s best starter, though Robbie Ray has had a nice year, and before he got hurt at the end of May, Luke Weaver, acquired in the Goldschmidt deal, was a co-ace with Greinke. Since the Greinke trade at the deadline, Zac Gallen has stepped up with 38 innings of a 2.61 ERA, but the rotation is still a question mark, and it is the biggest hurdle between the Diamondbacks and the wild card game.
Would Arizona be in a better position this year if they hadn’t traded Goldschmidt and Greinke? If they still had Greinke, certainly; assuming they don’t trade for Mike Leake on July 31 without trading Greinke away, they’d replace 41 innings of a 5.88 ERA with what Greinke has done for Houston, which is 43 innings of a 3.32 ERA (I am aware of park effects; this is just an easy way to describe how much better Greinke has been than Leake). That difference in production is easily worth one win, and maybe two, which would put the Diamondbacks right behind the NL Central non-leader for second place in the wild card.
With Goldschmidt, it’s a little trickier. He’s been worth about two and a half wins this year by both fWAR and rWAR, which is fine, but not great. Luke Weaver was worth a little under two wins all by himself through two months this year, and Christian Walker, who replaced Goldschmidt at first base, has been a two-win player. That slight downgrade at first base, since it resulted in a big upgrade in the rotation for two months, may have actually been worth it in the short term, which is amazing since it was a trade for the long term.
The Diamondbacks, despite trading away their best players multiple times over the last year, are still in contention (They’re also in contention for a move to Nevada, but that’s beside the point here). There’s something impressive about that, even if, from a fan’s perspective, you’re continually watching the players you’ve grown attached to getting shipped off to other teams.