Mike Hazen No Longer Needs to “Get Creative” By Necessity

Since day one of Mike Hazen’s tenure as Diamondbacks general manager, he’s been getting questions about Zack Greinke and his lofty contract.

Since day one, Mike Hazen has been supportive of his pitcher, saying that the team and fans shouldn’t take for granted the kind of pitcher Greinke is.

But having an ace in Major League Baseball means having to pay  for an ace.

Greinke was owed $34.5 million this year and $35 million the following two years of his contract. This season, his contract makes up 28 percent of the Diamondbacks’ payroll.

Which is why one of the first questions when news broke the Diamondbacks had traded their ace – presumably after “What?!?!” and “What prospects are coming back?” – was how much money the Snakes would pay of the $77 million remaining of his contact.

Turns out, it is a very palatable $24 million of the next three years.

Pair that with the four prospects heading Arizona’s way, three of which were among Houston’s top five prospects, and this deal opened up the front office to work with a freedom they haven’t had since joining the franchise.

“Trading out a #1 pitcher is not something we took lightly,” Hazen said after the trade deadline passed. “It’s very difficult to replace that player. I felt like we needed to take that opportunity to strengthen the organization and ultimately the major league team eventually and i felt like this was going to do that.”

We’ve seen Hazen and his crew bring in veterans via trade, like JD Martinez, Ketel Marte, Taijuan Walker and Eduardo Escobar. We’ve seen him start to revamp the farm system with solid drafts the past few years.

But the Diamondbacks haven’t been able to bring in big-time free agents since the Hazen & Lovullo era started. Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock were never really thought to extend or re-sign contracts with the Diamondbacks because they outplayed the price range the club could presumably afford. I imagine the Snakes would feel those similar handcuffs if Paul Goldschmidt reached the end of his contract with the club. 

That could be due, in part, to the money tied up with Greinke.

Instead, Hazen had to get “creative,” a term that seemed to pop up in each of the past two offseasons consistently as the GM tried to improve a playoff (and near-playoff) roster while not breaking the bank. 

He’s had some success with that creativity. In 2016, Daniel Descalso, Fernando Rodney, Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis headlined the free agency group. The 2017 season brought Jarrod Dyson and Alex Avila. This year, Merrill Kelly and Adam Jones signed for a very reasonable $5.5 million combined and Greg Holland had been a steady part of the bullpen up until a few weeks ago.

Very few of these players moved the needle when they were signed, but they made the Diamondbacks a more complete ball club. But let’s not kid ourselves: Free agency was a fight with 29 other clubs and Mike Hazen was entering the ring with one hand tied behind his back.

“We understand what it’s going to take to beat the teams in our division,” Hazen said. “You go around all four teams and it’s pretty impressive the work they do, unfortunately, and we need to compete with that.

“I think having a 25-man roster that is as talented as possible is our way of figuring out a way to get on top of that. But we’re not there today, and we have a lot of work to do.”

Now, the gloves are off and Diamondback fans should be excited to see what Hazen can do with actual money to spend. The club has moved on from deals made by previous regimes that hindered the the team’s success for one reason or another. While Greinke’s performance on the field did not add to that hindrance, his contract did.

Mike Hazen is going to continue to be creative with how he puts this roster together, but that creativity is now a luxury, and that will make it all the more effective.