MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Hazen, Lovullo aim to win while building

New D-backs GM, manager want to exceed expectations

Hazen, Lovullo aim to win while building

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Torey Lovullo has been everywhere in baseball. And on Saturday, he was exactly where he has always wanted to be. Lovullo was seated in a folding chair adjacent to the D-backs' dugout, a rookie manager watching his team play its first Cactus League game.

"I'm like any fan right now,'' Lovullo said. "I'm like anybody else that is getting a chance to watch our team. I can't wait to watch today's game.''

While Lovullo focused on Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Jake Lamb and Shelby Miller, the D-backs' new general manager, Mike Hazen, was watching from the team's box. But his attention was divided, as it will be for the next few years. Hazen is replacing Dave Stewart, whose two-year tenure was marked by the signing of Zack Greinke to a $206.5 million contract and the trade that sent first overall pick Dansby Swanson to Atlanta for Miller.

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Hazen's mandate is to upgrade the D-backs organization from the ground up, while immediately delivering a competitive team to Arizona fans. He may be the perfect guy for that daunting assignment, having either worked for or alongside Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, Neal Huntington, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski in Boston and Cleveland.

D-backs look ahead to 2017

Hazen learned the most watching Epstein build the scouting and player development operations that have given the Red Sox and the Cubs young talent that should sustain success. But that doesn't mean he can accelerate the process.

"I don't think there are any shortcuts,'' Hazen said. "There weren't any shortcuts in Boston and I doubt there were any shortcuts in Chicago. That's probably one of the things with Theo that comes to mind, first and foremost. Every decision we make is going to be important. Every step we take is going to be important. That's going to take time.''

D-backs owner Ken Kendrick and president Derrick Hall gave Hazen a four-year contract in October, and shortly afterward, Hazen hired the 51-year-old Lovullo, who had served as John Farrell's bench coach with the Red Sox.

Lovullo on commitment to winning

While Hall of Famer Tony La Russa transitioned from chief baseball operator to chief baseball analyst, Hazen overhauled the front office that La Russa and Stewart put together. He imported Amiel Sawdaye from Boston and Jared Porter from the Cubs, hiring them as assistant general managers.

Hazen beefed up his staff by creating positions for data wizard Mike Fitzgerald, who had played a big role in the Pirates' innovative use of defensive positioning in recent years, and recently retired 153-game winner Dan Haren. The latter joins Burke Badenhop and J.J. Putz in analyst roles as Arizona looks for ways to help pitchers thrive at Chase Field.

"We need to make sure our process around decision-making is strong; that we have the best scouts, the best player-development staff, the best Major League coaching staff,'' Hazen said. "Those things are going to take awhile to build. We have a lot of good people in place already, which is great.''

The D-backs have only 14 homegrown players on their 40-man roster, 10 fewer than the Giants, who won three World Series between 2010-14. That's the base that Hazen hopes to build.

"Whether you agree with [rankings or not], wherever we rank in organizational talent, we're probably not in the top half,'' Hazen said. "That's got to be a focus for us moving forward. In order for us to be successful long-term, we have to build from within.''

Arizona looked like one of the best teams in the Cactus League a year ago, going 24-8 after the Greinke signing shined the spotlight on the club. But Pollock fractured his elbow three days before the season opener, and a 12-18 start got the ball rolling downhill to a 69-93 season.

Lovullo, Hazen on bullpen usage

Pollock and right fielder David Peralta, who played only 48 games because of a wrist injury that required surgery, are healthy. The roster has been shuffled, with Hazen making pitching and defensive moves that included the trade of National League hits leader Jean Segura for right-hander Taijuan Walker and the addition of skilled pitch-framers Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta to replace Welington Castillo.

Most analysts are picking the D-backs for fourth in the NL West, but they could surprise us.

What would be a good season?

"Being able to tell the best story possible,'' Lovullo said. "That goes in a thousand different directions. I feel like we have a very strong core of players here that is going to help us be competitive every single night, and where will that take us? … We'll hopefully have more good moments than bad moments, and hopefully that takes us to having a happy ending.''

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.