For A.J. Pollock, it’s like he blinked and six years suddenly passed. He is thankful those years were spent with one organization. He knows his time could be nearing an end.
Pollock, the Diamondbacks’ longtime center fielder, is entering his final season before free agency. He hopes to stick around but knows that could be out of his control. It’s made him more wide-eyed than in the past.
“I’m definitely going to cherish this year, for sure,” Pollock said. “I’m excited about being a part of this team, being a part of this group. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen.”
Pollock is not the type to spell out contract demands or sell others on his market value. All he’ll say is there are no ongoing discussions about an extension. Judging by events of the offseason, he could be in line for a sizable payday.
Despite a slow-moving market, Lorenzo Cain commanded a five-year, $80 million deal from the Milwaukee Brewers. Cain and Pollock have much in common.
Both are fleet-footed center fielders known for their defensive prowess. Both are right-handed hitters with similar career numbers. Pollock has a .286/.343/.464 career batting line; Cain’s is .290/.342/.421.
Both have had issues staying healthy, though Cain has averaged 129 games over the past five seasons, 30 more than Pollock. Cain entered free agency after his age-31 season. Pollock will enter after his age-30 season.
With the Diamondbacks’ payroll increased to a surprising range this season – they are north of $125 million, approaching $130 million – it figures they could afford to keep Pollock.
The question becomes whether General Manager Mike Hazen and his front office decide doing so is in the club’s best interests. Hazen isn’t tipping his hand.
“We love him and we’re glad we have him,” Hazen said. “It’s kind of tricky when you get into this range of time left, with a year before free agency. We’ll probably see where the year takes us. You never know.”
Asked if the rising payroll might enable the Diamondbacks to retain more of their core than was assumed at, say, the start of the offseason, Hazen said he wasn’t sure. There are too many unknowns, he says, to speak with much certainty. But he said the payroll isn’t so small as to prevent them from exploring their options.
“We’ve talked about finding ways to extend our window if we can,” Hazen said. “Small deals here or deals that give us more years of control, we’re going to continue to do those things. Signing guys (to extensions) could be a function of that, too.”
Pollock played in 112 games last season, missing more than six weeks due to a groin strain. The year before, he missed nearly the entire season with elbow and groin injuries. He missed three months in 2014 with a fractured right hand. It is no coincidence that his best season in the big leagues was also his healthiest; in 2015, he hit .315 with 20 homers and 39 steals while winning a Gold Glove and making an All-Star team.
Pollock believes not missing time is essential to his production — and he means it in more ways than just the obvious sense. That is, days out of the lineup means days he’s unable to keep his swing in proper working condition.
As an example, he cites his struggles last August when he hit .183 with a .613 OPS – the worst month, statistically, of his career – and he thinks it was a function not just of the time he missed earlier in the season but of the downtime in 2016.
“Making certain outs in baseball can give you some feedback, lets you know you have to clean this up, clean that up,” Pollock said. “I had a full season where I didn’t play, so I didn’t get that feedback.”
The struggles were informative, he said, and he took those lessons into the offseason, during which he worked with the club’s new hitting strategist, Robert Van Scoyoc. He said he’s excited not just about how his swing feels but about he meshes with Van Scoyoc and the club’s primary hitting coaches, Dave Magadan and Tim Laker.
“I think being more comfortable with these guys, too, being able to talk to them and have another year under our belt, I think that’s going to be a huge deal,” he said. “Then you add Robert to the mix, too, is pretty cool. I’m excited to see how it goes.”
Where that will leave him come next winter remains to be seen. He’s seen enough teammates come and go via trades that he compares real-life baseball to transactions in fantasy football.
“You know, it’s like, ‘You, you and you, you’re going there and they’re coming here,’” Pollock said. “I’ve been able to stay here for some reason. I feel very fortunate about it.
“My contract is up after this year. It just means I’m going to really, really be soaking it in and enjoying the teammates I have, the coaches, the organization. You never know. I don’t know if I’m going to be here or somewhere else but I’m really going to enjoy the season.”
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Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.