D-backs thinking big heading into 2016

D-backs thinking big heading into 2016

PHOENIX -- Based on the 15-game improvement they showed in 2015, the D-backs already were optimistic about 2016.

But when you throw in the offseason additions of right-handers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, the D-backs are now counting the days until they can get the 2016 season underway.

"If we play baseball and play as we're capable of playing and do the things we're capable of doing, we'll make it tough, anyway," D-backs general manager Dave Stewart said. "To say we're favorites? You've got to play. And I've got to be respectful of the Dodgers, and you've got to be respectful of the Giants, and the other teams in our division. It's going to make an interesting division. It's going to be a lot of fun."

The D-backs made big commitments to get the pair of pitchers, but felt it was something they needed to do with All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock entering the prime of their careers and under club control for at least the next three seasons.

In Greinke's case, it cost them dollars. Lots of them. The six-year deal is worth $206.5 million, which is far and away the biggest deal in franchise history.

For Miller, the D-backs had to deal outfielder Ender Inciarte, Minor League right-hander Aaron Blair and last year's No. 1 overall Draft pick, shortstop Dansby Swanson.

Miller on D-backs, 2016 season

"Quite frankly, we think that it's time to try to take it to the next level," Stewart said.

In no particular order, here's a look at five storylines that could determine whether the D-backs reach that next level in 2016.

1. The rest of the rotation

Beyond Greinke and Miller, there are plenty of question marks in the Arizona rotation. Left-hander Patrick Corbin will be two years removed from Tommy John surgery when the season opens, but the team will still need to monitor his workload. Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray appear to be the front-runners for the final two spots in the rotation, but there will be plenty of competition from Chase Anderson, Zack Godley, Archie Bradley and possibly even Daniel Hudson, among others.

Are the D-backs contenders?

2. Can Brad Ziegler continue to close?

Ziegler was outstanding in the closer's role for the D-backs last season, collecting 30 saves in 32 chances. Despite that success, there are questions about whether Ziegler is truly a closer. That's because he throws from a submarine delivery and doesn't have an upper-90s fastball. The D-backs have seen enough from him over the years to believe that he can handle the role, so much so that they elected not to pursue a closer this offseason.

3. Will Yasmany Tomas step it up?

Prior to Greinke's deal, the six-year, $68.5 million contract that the D-backs signed Tomas to last offseason was the largest in franchise history. The D-backs tried Tomas at third, but realized that he was better served in the outfield. His numbers were not bad for a rookie, but he did not display the power numbers that some expected. In fairness, Tomas did not receive much physical conditioning in Cuba, and spending the offseason in Arizona this year, where he can work with team personnel, should help him be in far better shape when Spring Training opens. The D-backs could sure use him to step up and be the middle-of-the-order bat they were hoping he'd be.

Tomas' solo homer

4. Can they stay healthy?

After missing significant time in 2014, both Goldschmidt and Pollock stayed healthy throughout last season. The team will need them to do so again in 2016, as they are the key components of an offense that was second in the National League in runs scored. Others will need to step up as well, because D-backs manager Chip Hale is going to have to find a way to get both Goldschmidt and Pollock more time off. Goldschmidt seemed to tire in September, as he appeared in 159 games, while Pollock checked in at 157. Keeping the pair fresh will be key to keeping both players healthy and productive.

5. How does the infield shape up?

The D-backs have a host of options at third, short and second, with Jake Lamb, Brandon Drury, Phil Gosselin, Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings and Aaron Hill. Ahmed was outstanding defensively at short, but the team would like to see him hit more. Owings, meanwhile, struggled at the plate, though the team feels he will bounce back now that he will be more than a year removed from left shoulder surgery. Drury will push Lamb for the starting job at third, while Hale will have to figure out how to get enough at-bats to keep Hill productive. Gosselin impressed the staff after coming over from Atlanta in a trade last season, and his versatility is a plus.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.