Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo have worked together since 2017. Theirs is one of the longest current partnerships in baseball for a head of baseball operations and manager.
Only the Dodgers (Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts), Guardians (Chris Antonelli and Terry Francona), and Mariners (Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais) have been together longer, and that’s only by one season.
It’s a testament to their friendship, which goes back to 2003, when Hazen was assistant director of player development with Cleveland and Lovullo was managing High A Kinston.
“It’s a long time,” said Hazen, who left the Red Sox in 2016 to run baseball operations for the Diamondbacks, then hired Lovullo two weeks later. “But the relationship has changed over time in a good way. Professionally, too.
“The benefit for us is the ability to have conversations that you may have to tiptoe into with other relationships. We don’t have to do that. Nothing ever lingers. And we have more aggressive conversations than probably the average GM and manager have. It is a business; we need to win.”
There’s plenty to talk about. Arizona has lost 198 games over the last two seasons, but Hazen sees a team ready to turn the corner.
Arizona has a solid lineup that should improve as young outfielders Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas, and Daulton Varsho improve. Hazen could trade from his outfield to improve at catcher, third base, or the bullpen.
Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are a potent top of the rotation. Madison Bumgarner proved to be a disastrous free agent signing, but he did pitch well in the first half of last season and is only 33.
The Diamondbacks also need shortstop Nick Ahmed back in Gold Glove form after playing only 17 games last season because of injuries.
What’s not lacking is the organization’s desire to compete. Arizona hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017 but also hasn’t torn everything down in the face of the Dodgers.
“Whenever we’ve been in a position to go for it — ‘17, ‘18, and ‘19 — we’ve pushed the payroll and gone out at the deadline and acquired Eduardo Escobar [in 2018] and J.D. Martinez [in 2017],” Hazen said. “We’ve made some big moves.”
But the team has changed. Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke, A.J. Pollock, and Patrick Corbin are gone. Now there’s a younger team that needs a firmer hand from its manager.
“We need more than we did in 2017,” Hazen said. “A different type of leadership. The team we’re going to move forward needs a lot from a manager.”
That is the crux of his discussions with Lovullo, who was the bench coach under John Farrell with the Red Sox before joining Hazen with Arizona.
“His teams always play hard; they’re always prepared. We don’t have those types of conversations,” Hazen said. “It’s more when things aren’t working great to have those conversations with players and making some changes quicker.”
Arizona was fortunate when pitching coach Brent Strom, one of the best in the business, decided he had enough with the drama surrounding the Astros and wanted to be with a team closer to his home in Tucson.
At 74, Strom is changing how the Diamondbacks develop their pitchers.
“I don’t know that it’s anything revolutionary. I think what it is, he’s got the mind and the energy of a 20-year-old,” Hazen said.
“He’ll send us text messages at 2 o’clock in the morning on random mechanical stuff he’s going to do the next day with a pitcher. Honestly, I wake up and he’s sent a long text and video. Then there’s the application to the player. They know he cares. That energy is infectious to players who are struggling.
“What it says to them is that this guy is doing everything he possibly can to help me. So there’s a lot of buy-in because of that. And he’s not afraid to try things, either. That’s a tricky dynamic on the major league level because if you do something and it doesn’t work it comes back on you. But you can’t be afraid to try.”
Hazen first heard of Strom years ago when he was farm director of the Red Sox.
“That’s all our pitching guys ever talked about, Brent Strom,” he said. “I had never met him before. He was in St. Louis at the time. We love him. He’s like the Energizer Bunny; he never stops.”
Are the Diamondbacks ready to compete with big spenders such as the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres? Maybe not yet. But the expanded playoff format gives them a chance.
“I feel good about where we are,” Hazen said. “There’s still work to be done but there’s confidence about the direction.”
TAKING A CHANCE
Red Sox have deals to make
Under president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves have made it a habit of signing their best young players to long-term contracts before they reach arbitration or free agency.
Anthopoulos has made deals with right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., second baseman Ozzie Albies, center fielder Michael Harris, first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Austin Riley, and righthander Spencer Strider.
The Red Sox made a similar move in April when they locked down righthander Garrett Whitlock for at least four seasons and as many as six.
As Triston Casas, Brayan Bello, Marcelo Mayer, and other promising young players work their way on to the roster, signing them to extensions will likely be a priority. Or at least it should be.
That the Sox failed to do this with Rafael Devers after the 2018 or ‘19 season was a huge organizational failure. Now he’s a year away from free agency and has more leverage.
It’s a risky proposition for both sides. The team is banking on a young player producing for years to come despite his newfound wealth, and the player is taking the risk he will outperform his contract.
If it works, the team has cost certainty for a star player and the player enjoys financial security.
Anthopoulos said the Braves did careful statistical analysis of the players trying to project their future performance. But that only influenced his decision to some degree.
“It’s impossible to know,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s the person. The more I do this, you’re buying the person. You know what the ability is and the talent is. If you’re right on the person, for the most part, that should be a pretty good guidepost.
“You’re betting on a person and his character. It’s a long-term commitment. It’s a guarantee and there’s a lot that comes with that. You have to talk to the people around them. You ask as many people as you can. I’m not necessarily going off my interactions.
“If I had to pick one [factor], I’ll go with the person.”
That will be the challenge for the Red Sox front office with Casas and the rest. That Casas has a great approach at the plate is evident. Can he succeed in Boston for years to come? That’s the question.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Given all the Sox have to accomplish this winter, a segment of the fanbase gets aggravated when small deals such as signing lefthanded reliever Joely Rodriguez get announced. But adding to the bullpen is part of Chaim Bloom’s job, too, and the peripheral statistics suggest Rodriguez can be a helpful piece.
The idea is to make the right moves in the offseason, not the fastest ones.
▪ With MLB awarding the 2024 All-Star Game to the Rangers and new Globe Life Field, the Red Sox are now shooting to host the 2027 game at Fenway Park.
The 2025 game has a number of potential hosts, including Atlanta, Baltimore, and Toronto, and the 2026 game is already committed to Philadelphia as part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
That puts 2027 on the table as a possibility for Fenway.
▪ The Sox made a schedule change and will play a split doubleheader against Tampa Bay at home on June 3, and June 5 is now a day off.
The Sox otherwise would have played 16 days in a row and the Rays were amenable to the change as it broke up what would have been 17 straight days for them.
▪ Team Puerto Rico will hold a training camp at Fenway South before the World Baseball Classic and play the Red Sox at JetBlue Park on March 8.
Casas and Red Sox utilityman Kiké Hernández are playing for Puerto Rico. Red Sox first base coach Ramón Vázquez is on Puerto Rico’s coaching staff. Christian Vázquez, fresh off helping Houston win the World Series, also has committed to play for Puerto Rico.
New schedule boon for AL East teams?
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman believes MLB’s decision to change the schedule to 52 divisional games (as opposed to 76) starting next season will help the American League East teams.
“It’s good. I think we have the best division in baseball. I also think it’s the best advance scouting/game-planning division in baseball,” Cashman said.
“Believe me, we have very sophisticated opponents. They have amazing staffs both in the front office and coaching ranks in terms of game-planning for your individual hitters. Everybody has it locked down and wired, and it comes down to execution.
“I’m not going to miss being neutralized more than normal. But the travel will be worse, so we’ll see how that plays out.”
AL East teams won 58 percent of their nondivision games last season. The AL West was at 48 percent and the AL Central at 45 percent. That the Blue Jays and Rays were two of the three wild-card teams was no surprise.
In addition to the 52 divisional games, teams will play 64 intraleague games and a whopping 46 interleague games (up from 20).
The Twins are 22 games under .500 over the last two seasons, a considerable letdown given their talent base and justifiable expectations. But president of baseball operations Derek Falvey isn’t overreacting. “When we look at it, we lost the most actual value — wins above replacement, whatever — to the injured list,” he said. “We led baseball in that. Thirty-something percent of our expected preseason quality was gone. If you use WAR calculations, it’s 10 wins on the IL.” That the multitalented Byron Buxton has missed 171 games because of injuries has a lot to do with that. Underperformance is an issue, too. “It’s hard to divorce assessing our team from the injuries but that can’t be the only excuse,” Falvey said. Nonetheless, the Twins fired head athletic trainer Michael Salazar after the season and lured the well-regarded Nick Paparesta away from Oakland as a replacement … Like the Red Sox, the Twins canceled their fall camp for prospects in Fort Myers, Fla., because of the damage in the area from Hurricane Ian. The Twins have a dorm at their complex and turned it over to FEMA to house out-of-state workers for several weeks … Andrew Benintendi missed the final 30 games of the regular season and all of the postseason for the Yankees because of a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist. The free agent is now healthy. “He was a nice one to get. I wish we could have deployed him when it counted the most,” Cashman said … What are the Angels doing? Ostensibly, they’re trying to win by trading for Gio Urshela and Hunter Renfroe, and signing Tyler Anderson. At the same time, general manager Perry Minasian knows the team is up for sale and that Shohei Ohtani is entering his walk year. Ohtani is on record saying he wants to play for a competitive team after five consecutive losing seasons. The Angels need a shortstop and that could be their next trade … Albert Pujols was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year. But what exactly did he come back from? Pujols played 109 games for the Angels and Dodgers in 2021, then played 109 games for the Cardinals. Per the MLB.com story, “He signed with the Cardinals only 10 days before Opening Day and proceeded to turn back the clock in his 22nd and final big-league season.” So he came back from having a short spring training? MLB might want to consider having one award for both leagues. Justin Verlander, who made one start the previous two seasons, was the AL winner. That’s an actual comeback … For a team such as the Pirates, do the expanded playoffs shift their timetable? “It does a little bit. It changes the math on probability if you game it out and look at what win total do your playoffs odds start to decrease,” GM Ben Cherington said. “We have a ways to go to get there, but you don’t have to be a 95-win team to have a chance.” … The Giants put Aaron Judge in touch with Stephen Curry as part of his recruiting visit to San Francisco. Curry has a four-year, $215.3 million deal with the Warriors, so perhaps there’s plenty to talk about. But what the Giants really have to sell is Oracle Park. Judge was booed off the field at Yankee Stadium when he grounded out to end the ALCS and what for him was an MVP season. That’s rough. If the money is a wash, Judge might prefer the friendly atmosphere alongside McCovey Cove. Curry, by the way, is a longtime Red Sox fan. He took in a Sox-Astros game at Minute Maid Park in 2016 and grabbed a photo with David Ortiz in the clubhouse during the game … A full postseason share for the World Series-champion Astros was worth $516,347. That’s only $183,653 less than rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña earned for the entire season … First baseman Grant Lavigne of Bedford, N.H., is an interesting Rule 5 possibility. The lefthanded hitter was the 42nd overall pick of the 2018 draft by the Rockies. He has not shown consistent home run power but had a .379 OBP last season and hit well in the Arizona Fall League (.328/.409/.557). At 23, Lavigne has played only 57 games above Single A, but his on-base skills have value … Happy birthday to José Tartabull, who is 84. His nine-year major league career included 255 games for the Red Sox from 1966-68. Tartabull was a light-hitting Cuban outfielder known for his speed on the bases and in the outfield. He made one of the biggest defensive plays of the 1967 season, throwing out Ken Berry of the White Sox from right field when he tried to tag up from third base in the first game of an Aug. 27 doubleheader. The double play ended the game. Tartabull hit only two home runs in 1,857 career at-bats. His son, Danny, had 262 during his career from 1984-97.