Behind the curve: GM Mike Hazen, Arizona Diamondbacks playing catch-up following World Series run

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, left, and general manager Mike Hazen collaborate to ensure the organization maintains momentum after a World Series appearance. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE – Playing October baseball was a novelty for the Arizona Diamondbacks and advancing to the 2023 World Series was even more unfamiliar. However, the longer the season went, the more the Diamondbacks fell behind on offseason duties – another unique experience the organization had not dealt with since the club’s 2001 run to the Fall Classic.

Evaluating the team’s inevitable offseason changes was put on the back burner – and for good reason, as Arizona made a magical run through October before losing the World Series in five games to the Texas Rangers. But despite the postseason success, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen feels extremely behind in preparing for a shot at redemption in 2024.

“We’re just coming out of the coma right now,” Hazen said Wednesday at MLB’s general manager meetings in Scottsdale. “Just trying to get our arms around the market, the players’ availability of both trade and free agencies. … We’re just starting to have conversations now.

“Typically in the past we would have had a lot of conversations in October. At least initial ones to know who might be available, I didn’t really have any of those conversations, so we’re just starting that stuff out now.”

Even with the unprepared feeling that lingers, Hazen understands there are many areas the Diamondbacks need to build on. Despite their World Series bid, Torey Lovullo’s ballclub finished the regular season with only 84 wins and were outscored by 15 runs.

Entering the postseason with only four starting pitchers, it was clear this season that bolstering the rotation was a struggle. Hazen said pitching always rules the game and the Diamondbacks will be aggressive in pursuing new additions to the team.

“We’re looking to add to the talent on our roster,” Hazen said. “I’m not exactly sure how all that’s going to come together. We have multiple things that we need to satisfy, we are going to be looking at the starting pitching market.

“We have two top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers, and we think Brandon Pfaadt has the ability to get into that mode. … Given that we have more been on the defensive base running profile for the position player group, the pitching is a major hand-in-hand component to that, so it’s so important for us.”

Acquiring veteran players is another priority considering the roster featured 14 players under age 26. Hazen gives credit to the veteran players this season for maintaining a strong clubhouse atmosphere and helping the younger players bounce back in Games 3 and 4 of the National League Championship Series against Philadelphia.

Outside of pitching and veteran leadership, Hazen said that third base and catcher are also positions they will be aggressive in trying to acquire more depth. The team is open to adding players through multiple avenues – high school, college, free agency, trades and the draft.

“This draft is going to be really important for us,” Hazen said. “If Corbin (Carroll) can win Rookie of the Year, that will enhance that even more. We could end up with three picks in the top 36, I think, which would be awesome.”

While the future is full of potential with the Diamondbacks primed for a strong draft, the organization is also focused on keeping the core pieces of this year’s deep run around for some time.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who had one year left on his deal, received his second contract of the season – a two-year reward through 2026.

Hazen also received a five-year contract extension, with a club option in 2029, in October. In March, Carroll, Arizona’s sensational rookie outfielder, received an extension worth up to $134 million that keeps him on the team for the next eight years, with a club option in 2031.

Hazen, who said the Diamondbacks strive for consistency, believes Lovullo excels at maintaining chemistry, honesty and accountability in the clubhouse.

“If you’re not demonstrating those things (honesty and accountability) to the players, I don’t see why you should expect the players to give you that in return,” Hazen said. “I think that’s what Torey (Lovullo) does with the players, I think he’s honest and he’s very communicative and I think they (the players) appreciate that.”

Hazen described his relationship with Lovullo as an “old married couple” who knows what the other is thinking and finishes each other’s sentences. Joining forces for the first time in 2017, the last time the Diamondbacks made the playoffs, the duo has different personalities but play off each other for better and worse.

“(Our relationship) helps us cut to the chase when we have contentious conversations,” Hazen said. “It never gets personal. We have arguments all the time, we fight every day about everything. … We’re able to have honest dialogue, feedback around it and I think that’s healthy. I like to work in that environment because I think it helps you get to the truth more often and quicker.

“We work in a fast-paced environment … there’s a lot of down moments during the season. You win 84 games, you lose a lot of games too. And to be able to move past that pretty quickly I think is an important characteristic of that relationship.”

Lovullo and Hazen had talked about the possibility of a contract extension for Lovullo in early May, and Lovullo left the choice up to Hazen if he wanted to revisit the conversation at the end of the season – which he did.

Hazen called Lovullo the day the season ended, and with Lovullo needing a few days to decompress, Hazen remained consistent in his efforts to get the deal done as soon as possible. Within the next 24 hours, after speaking with his wife, Lovullo came to an agreement with Hazen.

“I am grateful and very thankful to (Diamondbacks principal owner and managing general partner) Ken (Kendrick) and (Diamondbacks president and CEO) Derrick (Hall) for showing the faith in me,” Lovullo said via Zoom. “And the belief in me that I could run things from the dugout level despite some very rugged circumstances. I’m just honored by their generosity and their trust in me to continue moving this ball forward.”

Lovullo said that players reached out to him after his extension to congratulate him, which meant more to him than they would know. He appreciates his relationships with his players and describes it as “precious and protected.”

Although Hazen believes Lovullo deserves the contract extension, Lovullo doesn’t necessarily think that about himself.

“I know a lot of what’s been said about the pressure of having to deal with one-year contracts year after year,” Lovullo said. “And quite frankly I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve to be considered beyond tomorrow and that’s the mindset that I had. So I was just pushing along just the same way as the players do. It’s all you know, it’s all you want to do every single day.

“But, you know, finally getting a little bit of the stability and being able to push forward in a different way is going to change my point of view. I don’t take anything for granted in this game, I’ve been in it a long time and I know how quickly things can change.”

Lovullo said he wakes up every day with the mindset of impressing Hazen, Kendrick, Hall and the rest of the front office and proving to them they have the right person for the job. He understands the growth that has occurred within everyone in the organization and hopes to continue that evolution to get to the top and stay there.

Hazen said he recognizes the importance of making Arizonanas feel a part of the Diamondbacks franchise. He mentioned the energy the fans kept throughout the World Series and how the organization sees an opportunity to capitalize on their support.

“That means us doing our job and putting a team on the field that is worthy of the fans coming and supporting it,” Hazen said. “That’s on us as an organization, me to put a team together, to have players that are exciting to come watch, that they want to come watch.

“I think having young star players is a part of the recipe for that, I think having veteran star players with name recognition is a part of that. And having a team that wins consistently is a part of that.”

With Hazen, Lovullo and Carroll being a consistent puzzle piece for the Diamondbacks and for the next few years, at least, there’s plenty of optimism in downtown Phoenix.

“I want to spend the rest of my career here in Arizona,” Lovullo said. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Sabrina McClain(she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sabrina McClain expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism.