Tracy Ringolsby

Greinke, Miller vault D-backs into contention

Greinke, Miller vault D-backs into contention

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The D-backs made a statement last week with the signing of free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. They added the exclamation point Tuesday, acquiring right-hander Shelby Miller from the Braves.

Miller slides into the No. 2 slot in Arizona's rotation, behind Greinke and ahead of left-hander Patrick Corbin and right-hander Rubby De La Rosa.

And the D-backs? They are no longer an afterthought in the National League West. They have joined the Giants as legitimate challengers for the division title.

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With the loss of Greinke and now the uncertainty of a possible trade to add closer Aroldis Chapman, the Dodgers are vulnerable.

D-backs trade for Miller

While the Dodgers scrambled to fill a rotation void created by the loss of Greinke with the signing of right-handed free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, who turns 35 in April and was limited to 20 starts by a strained lat last season, the Giants addressed a rotation need by signing Jeff Samardzija, making it clear they plan to be a factor in 2016.

Then there are the D-backs.

A non-factor in Greinke talks initially, they weighed in last week with a pre-emptive offer the Dodgers balked at matching, and Greinke said yes to the D-backs' six-year, $206.5 million offer that gives him the highest annual average salary in big league history.

Now Arizona has put together an impressive package of talent to land Miller from Atlanta, denying Los Angeles another opportunity to make up for the loss of Greinke.

The D-backs did pay a price to get Miller from the Braves: shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick in last June's Draft and top-rated prospect in Arizona's Minor League system; right-hander Aaron Blair, the third-ranked prospect in the system; and big league outfielder Ender Inciarte.

This isn't about what could develop down the road in the Valley of the Sun. This is about what the D-backs want to get done in 2016.

Neither Swanson nor Blair projected into the plans for the coming season. And by moving Inciarte, they open up a regular spot for Cuban import Yasmany Tomas, who never did adapt to the efforts to install him at third base last season.

Most important, Arizona has created a formidable rotation, which was a glaring deficiency a year ago when it finished in third place in the NL West, four games below .500 (79-83) despite having the most productive offense in the NL that made its home below 5,280 feet.

The D-backs scored 720 runs and had a .414 slugging percentage, second in the NL to only the Rockies.

MLB Tonight on Miller to D-backs

The rotation, however, was a combined 51-56 with a 4.37 ERA, which ranked 11th in the NL, more than a full run higher than the Dodgers (3.24). De La Rosa led the team in wins (14-9), but had a 4.67 ERA, which ranked 37th out of the 38 NL pitchers who worked the 162 innings necessary to qualify for an ERA title.

Enter Greinke, who not only was 19-3 with the Dodgers, but led the Majors with a 1.66 ERA, lowest by a big league pitcher in 21 seasons and fourth lowest since the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969.

Add in Miller, who may have been 6-17 for the Braves but had a 3.02 ERA and suffered a loss or no-decision in 16 starts in which he allowed two or fewer earned runs.

Then there is the return of Corbin, who after undergoing Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2014 season, rejoined Arizona last July and was 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 16 starts.

Suddenly De La Rosa finds himself pushed back from the top of the rotation to the No. 4 spot.

And the D-backs find themselves armed to make a run at the three-time defending NL West champion Dodgers and a Giants team that has won three of the past six World Series.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.