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Here’s the latest on the Diamondbacks’ managerial situation:
- Sources tell CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman Turner Ward, the Diamondbacks’ assistant hitting coach, is a finalist in addition to the previously reported Jim Tracy, Phil Nevin, Chip Hale, and Sandy Alomar Jr.
- Diamondbacks President/CEO Derrick Hall, Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa, GM Dave Stewart, and Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations De Jon Watson will meet tonight to discuss the new manager hire and Stewart says “we should have this thing done, probably we hope, by [Monday],“ reports MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. Gilbert adds the Diamondbacks would need permission from MLB to announce a new manager this week because of baseball’s preference for the focus to be on the playoffs.
- The D’Backs appear to have completed their interview process, meaning that Wakamatsu and Bundy won’t receive interviews as previously scheduled, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports. The two coaches’ busier schedules (the Royals are still going in the playoffs and the Dodgers were just eliminated) seem to be to blame, and Arizona is eager to get moving on the hiring process from within the pool of nine candidates who have already been interviewed. A team official tells Gilbert that, contrary to Nightengale’s earlier report, no finalists have been identified from the nine candidates.
- Tracy and Nevin could both be hired by the Diamondbacks, Nightengale tweets. One would serve as manager and the other as bench coach in this scenario.
- Jim Tracy, Phil Nevin, Chip Hale, and Sandy Alomar are the finalists, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. A decision will be announced on Monday.
- Jim Tracy’s interview with the D’Backs was yesterday and went well, sources tell Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link).
- Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Rangers have granted the D’Backs permission to interview Bogar. As he notes, this is a bit curious, as Bogar is seen as one of the favorites in Texas’ own managerial search.
- The Diamondbacks have now also received permission to interview A’s bench coach Chip Hale and Dodgers third base coach Lorenzo Bundy, the team announced. They also announced that they’ve asked the Rangers for permission to interview interim manager Tim Bogar.
- The D’Backs now announce that they’ve received permission to interview Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu for the position as well. Wakamatsu formerly managed the Mariners and recently interviewed for the Astros’ managerial opening before Houston hired A.J. Hinch.
- McEwing has also been officially cleared to interview, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted and the club confirmed on Twitter.
- The club has announced (Twitter links) an initial candidate list that includes Sandy Alomar Jr. and Jim Tracy in addition to Bell, Green, Nevin, and Ward. That list will be added to once interview consents are received for personnel under contract with other clubs.
During their third consecutive season without a playoff appearance, the Diamondbacks shook things up from top to bottom. With a very different regime in place, Arizona figures to make some serious changes this winter.
- Miguel Montero, C: $40MM through 2017
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: $30.5MM through 2018
- Trevor Cahill, SP: $25MM through 2015 (including buyouts of 2016 & 2017 options)
- Aaron Hill, 2B: $24MM through 2016
- Bronson Arroyo, SP: $14MM through 2015
- Cody Ross, OF: $9.5MM through 2015
- Brad Ziegler, RP: $6MM through 2015
- Oliver Perez, RP: $2.5MM through 2015
- Josh Collmenter, RP: $1.4MM through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players (Service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Cliff Pennington (5.114): $3.3MM
- David Hernandez (5.095): $2.125MM
- Mark Trumbo (4.027): $5.7MM
- Wade Miley (3.044): $4.3MM
- Addison Reed (3.027): $3.8MM
- Jordan Pacheco (3.005): $1.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Pacheco
- Nolan Reimold, Bobby Wilson
The writing was probably on the wall for General Manager Kevin Towers when the Diamondbacks hired Tony La Russa to oversee the front office in the spring. Towers, of course, got the ax last month and weeks later La Russa appointed his former ace Dave Stewart as GM and plucked De Jon Watson away from the Dodgers to serve as the senior VP of baseball operations. While some expect the Diamondbacks to take a step back before moving forward, Watson says that won’t be the case.
“I don’t see this as a complete rebuild,” said Watson, according to MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. “I think we had some bad health, a little bad luck. This club is going to be better than most people are thinking they’re going to be going into next year. So I’m excited about coming back into Spring Training, I’m excited about this upcoming winter and going out and try to find upgraded talent to add to what we currently have in-house.”
Watson isn’t just being a sunny optimist – the Diamondbacks really did get hit hard by the injury bug in 2013. Left-hander Patrick Corbin was one of several young, talented starters who underwent Tommy John surgery in March, ending his season before it started. Reliever David Hernandez, who was looking to build off a strong finish to the 2013 season, also underwent Tommy John surgery prior to Opening Day. Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt‘s season ended in early August when a fastball from Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri fractured his left hand. When considering those injuries plus the ones suffered by Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock, and pricey winter addition Bronson Arroyo, it’s easy to see how the Diamondbacks wound up losing 98 games.
The D’Backs now need to figure out who will lead the turnaround effort from the dugout. The club is casting a wide net in their managerial search with out-of-house options like Jim Tracy, Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar, and Sandy Alomar. Jr. alongside internal candidates Triple-A Reno manager Phil Nevin, Double-A Mobile manager Andy Green, and big-league hitting coach Turner Ward. If there are bonus points to be had for La Russa ties, someone like McEwing could have an advantage in the process.
After that, the Diamondbacks’ first order of business will probably be to address their starting rotation which has plenty of candidates but a greater number of question marks. Corbin may not be back in action until June and Arroyo will probably be sidelined for a few months thanks to his July Tommy John operation. As it stands now, the D’Backs have Wade Miley to head the rotation alongside rising sophomore Chase Anderson and Vidal Nuno. Josh Collmenter could be a consideration as well, though he may wind up in the bullpen rather than the starting five. Trevor Cahill will look to get back on track, though that is far from a given after his disappointing season. Prospects Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin also figure to get long looks but how ready they are remains to be seen.
The best fix, arguably, would be to go after top free agent arms like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields. However, Stewart and Watson expressed doubt that they can work those kinds of guys into the budget in a recent chat with Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Don’t count on a blockbuster, either. Stewart doesn’t seem to have the trading bug like his predecessor did and he indicated that a trade of minor league talent to acquire an established pitcher is unlikely.
So, where does that leave us? With a bevy of young starting pitching talent and a limited budget, the D’Backs could look to sign veteran arms to short, affordable deals. Thanks to his age and a career path that has been anything but linear, Aaron Harang might be available at a reasonable price. As I wrote earlier this week, Harang has some similarities with Arroyo including age and the ability to eat up a lot of innings, though he should cost a lot less than Arroyo did at $23.5MM guaranteed over two years. Names like Roberto Hernandez and Kyle Kendrick could also get a look if the D’Backs are looking for affordable pitching, and on a one-year deal, they could be moved come summertime when the staff should be back to full health. If Arizona is willing to take on more pitchers coming back from injury, Chad Billingsley, Brett Anderson and Gavin Floyd shouldn’t cost much, and each offers some upside.
While it’s lower on the to-do list than the rotation, the D’Backs may also look to add a piece or two to their bullpen. The Diamondbacks aren’t expected to target top relievers, but notable names like Jason Frasor, Matt Lindstrom, and Matt Belisle could get looks as the D’Backs seek to improve on their 3.92 bullpen ERA from last season, the eighth-highest in the majors. Stewart unfortunately faces the unenviable task of trying to lure free agent pitchers to a one of the game’s most hitter-friendly environments just months after his team finished with the worst record in baseball. Because of that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see their bullpen signing come down after the New Year when some relievers are left hanging.
While Towers wanted to add an outfield bat, that’s one area that we can safely expect Stewart & Co. to leave alone. “I think that A.J. (Pollock) in center, (David) Peralta played well, (Mark) Trumbo will probably be in the outfield mix with (Paul) Goldschmidt being at first base and being healthy again,” the GM explained to The Arizona Republic’s Zach Buchanan. “It’s a pretty solid outfield, in my opinion.” Like it or lump it, outfielder Cody Ross will also be there in support thanks to his $8.5MM salary.
Arizona will leave their depleted farm system alone, but there are trade chips to work with on the varsity squad, particularly in the infield. Second baseman Aaron Hill is no stranger to the pages of MLBTR and he could, in theory, be moved this offseason. Hill will be 33 come Opening Day and is still owed $24MM through 2016, but he plays a position of need for many other clubs. Shortstops Cliff Pennington and Nick Ahmed could also be trade candidates. Pennington posted a .253/.346/.358 batting line to go with his usually solid defense but they might choose to move him and his $3.3MM projected salary. With several teams looking for a shortstop, including the Mets, Arizona could find a ripe market for their shortstop surplus. If Arizona installs Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius in the middle infield full-time and reallocates that money elsewhere, it’ll give them much more flexibility.
All in all, it’s hard to say how much breathing room the D’Backs will have this winter as they survey the free agent market. Arizona already has ~$67MM committed to the roster with arbitration raises due for Miley, Pennington (if tendered an offer), David Hernandez, Addison Reed and Mark Trumbo. One month ago, Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall said that he payroll will likely scale back from $112MM to about $100MM, but La Russa has since said that it could be anywhere between $80-110MM, depending on whether or not there is value to be found. Value or no value, it’d be a surprise to see the team under $90MM if they truly want to compete next year.
It’ll take some creativity for the D’Backs to get back into contention in 2015, but then again, this is the franchise that was creative enough to invent the title of “chief baseball officer.”
Kevin Towers considered another front office job with the Diamondbacks after being fired as the team’s general manager, but Towers told AZCentral.com’s Zach Buchanan that he chose to leave rather than possibly make things awkward for new GM Dave Stewart and his staff. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to be that elephant in the room when they’re making roster decisions or maybe letting people go,” Towers said. “‘I know K.T. likes him…’ I didn’t want them to have to worry about that.” Towers said he’s spoken to a few teams and thinks he’ll be in a new job before the year is out, also hinting he likely wouldn’t return to one of his other ex-clubs (the Padres, Yankees and Pirates).
As we enjoy two LCS games today, here’s some news from around baseball…
- With offense dropping around the game and a number of top-tier pitchers available in trades or free agency this offseason and next, this year’s free agent aces may find their markets slightly diminished, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (ESPN Insider subscription required).
- Also from Olney’s piece, he reports that rival officials feel Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will test the free agent market when he is eligible after the 2015 season. Zimmermann’s long-term status in Washington will be one of the biggest questions facing the Nats this winter.
- Alex Rodriguez “is the most expensive mystery in baseball history,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The Yankees currently have no idea if A-Rod will be able to handle third base on a regular basis, provide first base depth, hit well enough to earn DH at-bats or be healthy enough to play whatsoever. This makes the team’s winter planning rather difficult, as just releasing Rodriguez would mean the Yankees have no way of recovering any of the $61MM remaining on his contract via insurance payments.
- First baseman Dan Johnson is looking to add to his skillset by learning the knuckleball, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. “Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.” Johnson, best known for his dramatic Game 162 homer for the Rays in 2011, recently elected to become a free agent after the Blue Jays outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
- MLB.com’s Corey Brock profiles Dan Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native who rose from a teenage internship (mostly handling Mark McGwire’s fan mail) with the Cardinals to becoming the club’s scouting director.
- The Astros are next up for Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel in his rankings of each team’s top prospects and their overall farm system depth.
Here’s a roundup of coaching-related items as several teams look to revamp their bench staffs for 2015…
- The Braves considered Jim Thome for their vacant hitting coach position, but the retired slugger wasn’t interested in the job, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Atlanta’s list of hitting coach candidates includes such names as Milt Thompson and Rick Eckstein, while ex-hitting coach Terry Pendleton will likely stay as first base coach rather than return to his former position.
- Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman has spoken to the Astros about becoming the team’s bench coach, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Hillman could also be a candidate to be the Yankees’ new first base coach or infield coach.
- The Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long and first base/infield coach Mick Kelleher won’t return in 2015. Newsday’s Erik Boland speculates that former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette (one of Joe Girardi’s best friends) could be a contender to take over as hitting coach. Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey, a long-time former Yankee bullpen coach, has been rumored to be on his way back to New York to resume his old job, which could set off a shuffle of other moves — Boland says current bullpen coach Gary Tuck could become the bench coach, while Tony Pena would move from bench coach to the open first base job.
- Long will at least be discussed as a candidate for the Mets‘ hitting coach job, a source tells Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).
In a lengthy and interesting piece, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times looks at the potentially fractured relationship between the Mariners and Michael Saunders following some comments made by GM Jack Zduriencik at an end-of-season press conference. Asked at the time what he felt about Saunders’ future with the team, Zduriencik said, “…It’s up to Michael. … He was playing well, got hurt, came back, got sick, came back again and did some nice things. But I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.’ … some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he put himself in a position where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”
Divish spoke to Saunders himself, who declined to comment on the situation. Saunders’ agent, Michael McCann, said it was both “shocking” and “very disappointing.” Said McCann: “These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.” Part of the trouble, Divish writes, is that Saunders had never before had his work ethic or preparation questioned by the Mariners, and to have that done in a public forum was hurtful. Zduriencik clarified that the comments he made could be applied to any player, and he was adamant to Divish that the organization is not planning on moving on from Saunders. However, he has previously identified corner outfield as a potential area to add some offense. Divish speculates on an offseason trade, though he also notes that even if Saunders is pushed to the role of fourth outfielder, his low salary (he should earn less than $3MM via arbitration) would be an acceptable price for that role, especially given his upside. Over the past three seasons, the former top prospect has batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals. I should note that Divish’s entire piece is well worth the read, as this brief write-up doesn’t capture nearly all of the quotes and information he compiled.
Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…
- The Diamondbacks should give strong consideration to moving one of their young shortstops if it can bolster the rotation, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. The Snakes finished the season with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed all on the roster, but no room to play all three of them with Aaron Hill being owed $24MM through 2016 and prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury both looking like third base options in the near future. (Lamb already received a taste of the Majors in 2014.) The team seems to view Owings as the best of the bunch, given his greater offensive ceiling, but both Gregorius and Ahmed have value to other clubs. Piecoro spoke to rival executives about each shortstop, with one stating that while Gregorius might not bring back “a Matt Harvey or a Jacob deGrom,” he could be worth someone such as Rafael Montero of the Mets. Another evaluator told Piecoro that his club actually prefers Ahmed to Gregorius, so both could seemingly have good trade value.
- Though he’s been a popular managerial candidate this year, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will not be interviewed by the D’Backs for their own managerial vacancy, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Lovullo interviewed with the Astros prior to their hiring of A.J. Hinch, he’s already interviewed with the Rangers and will reportedly interview with the Twins as well.
- Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune that they have “definitely expanded our international focus under [new GM] A.J. [Preller].” Lin examines whether or not that could mean a legitimate run at Yasmany Tomas, though as he notes, that would be an unprecedented move for the Friars. In fact, last season’s signing of Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5MM contract was the largest free agent expenditure in franchise history, Lin points out. The largest contract in franchise history, he adds, is Jake Peavy‘s old three-year, $52MM deal. Tomas could cost double that amount, but the Padres have just $40.5MM committed to next year’s payroll, and the $90MM Opening Day figure from 2014 could rise, ownership has said.
- After losing hitting coach John Mallee to the Cubs, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow spoke highly about Mallee’s work to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich points out that Mallee deserves some credit for the success of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter in 2014, although skeptics could also point to the strikeout problems some of the other team’s young hitters had. Luhnow said he hopes to have a finalized coaching staff in place by month’s end, and as Drellich notes, only pitching coach Brent Strom is a guarantee to return at this point.
As outrights pick up pace across the league, here are the latest minor moves:
- After outrighting him yesterday, the Phillies have released righty Sean O’Sullivan, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. O’Sullivan was set to become a minor league free agent anyway, so this just moves up his appearance on the open market.
- After seeing three players fail to clear waivers today, the Diamondbacks did manage to get another trio through. Per the PCL transactions page, outfielder Brett Jackson, lefty Joe Paterson, and catcher Bobby Wilson have all cleared and been outrighted to Triple-A. Jackson, a 26-year-old former top prospect, had another disappointing season at Triple-A, posting a .208/.299/.350 line in 271 plate appearances. Paterson, 28, again posted solid numbers in Triple-A (2.95 ERA over 42 2/3 frames) but failed to return to the regular MLB pen role that he had in 2011. And Wilson, 31, saw his first MLB action since 2012 with the Angels, but spent most of his time putting together a .267/.324/.341 slash over 299 trips to the plate at Triple-A.
- Also clearing waivers and being outrighted was Jeff Bianchi of the Brewers. Bianchi, who turned 28 on Sunday, struggled in limited MLB action this year. The utility infielder owns a lifetime .534 OPS through 402 plate appearances in the bigs. Over three seasons at Triple-A, he has posted a more attractive .299/.349/.428 line.
The Angels have claimed outfielders Alfredo Marte and Roger Kieschnick off waivers from the Diamondbacks, the club announced. In a corresponding move, the team has designated catcher John Buck and outfielder Brennan Boesch for assignment.
Marte and Kieschnick have each seen fairly minimal time at the MLB level over the last two years, and neither has been productive in those short samples. But the 25-year-old Marte is fresh off of a .319/.407/.519 campaign at the Triple-A level, his best line as a professional. And while Kieschnick, 27, was less impressive in his first season in the D’backs organization (.260/.317/.461), he put up two productive Triple-A campaigns in the Giants system in the years prior.
Meanwhile, Buck was slated to become a free agent after the season. He signed on with the Halos after losing his backup job with the Mariners, with whom he signed a one-year, $1MM deal before the season. On the year, Buck slashed a meager .225/.289/.281 in his 97 big league plate appearances. Boesch, who could have been controlled through arbitration, will also get a slight head start on free agency. After joining the Angels on a minor league deal, Boesch struggled in 79 plate appearances with the big club but did tune up the PCL with a .332/.381/.636 slash over 407 plate appearances.
The Blue Jays have claimed righty Bo Schultz off waivers from the Diamondbacks, Toronto announced via press release. With the move, te Jays have two open slots remaining on their 40-man roster.
Schultz, who just turned 29, saw his first MLB action last year with Arizona, allowing seven earned runs on 13 hits and one walk (with five strikeouts) over eight innings of relief. While that limited sample does not say much about his future, it did allow Pitch F/X to get a look at his offerings. Schultz averaged just over 95 mph with his fastball, and relied on a slider and change as his primary off-speed offerings.
Schultz spent most of his time at Triple-A last year as a starter, scuffling to a 6.18 ERA over 135 1/3 frames with 5.5 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9. He threw 19 2/3 innings at the highest minor league level in 2013, with results that were just as poor in the earned runs department. But Schultz had nearly twice the strikeout rate in that stretch, during which he worked exclusively from the bullpen.
The Rangers top priority is finding a manager. Their other top priority is building a rotation, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The Rangers aren’t expected to “play in the top end of free agency,” according to GM Jon Daniels, but they will need to locate some external rotation help. Even if staff ace Yu Darvish is pronounced healthy and ready to resume throwing in November, the club needs a mid-rotation pitcher to slot after Derek Holland. Grant assumes Colby Lewis will be re-signed (I agree) and the final spot will likely fall to Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez. Martin Perez is a mid-season option as he works back from Tommy John surgery, and Matt Harrison could potentially slot into the rotation if he recovers from spinal fusion surgery. My own two cents: in order to avoid a repeat of 2014, the Rangers need at least one more viable major league starter than Grant suggests.
- The Pirates would like to re-sign catcher Russell Martin, says Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The issue – he’s arguably outperformed peers like Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, and Brian McCann in the seasons leading up to a new contract. Molina signed for $75MM, Montero for $60MM and McCann for $85MM. Martin’s combination of defensive value and stealthy offensive prowess makes one wonder if Molina’s five-year, $75MM deal could be in play. If so, it would be hard for Pittsburgh to flex the muscles necessary to retain him.
- We haven’t heard much from newly minted Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart, but he seems to be a fan of Mark Trumbo, according to Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona. With Paul Goldschmidt set to return to first base in 2015, Trumbo will either slot in left or right field. Arizona brought in Trumbo to provide a double threat with Goldschmidt in the middle of the order. While some have looked to him as a trade candidate, it sounds like Stewart is inclined to see what he can do when healthy.
After being replaced as the general manager of the Diamondbacks, Kevin Towers has declined an opportunity to stay on in another capacity, the club announced today. The club has also decided not to renew the contract of assistant GM Billy Ryan.
Towers had been waiting to consider the new role after talking it over with new GM Dave Stewart. He took over the club’s baseball operations in 2010. After initially finding success, the D’backs have sputtered in each of the last two years. The seat increasingly heated up as a series of high-profile trades (and, to a lesser extent, free agent signings) backfired on the veteran executive.
Towers first hit his stride in a front office capacity with the Padres, starting out as their scouting director and ultimately taking over as the GM. A long tenure ended after the 2009 season, leading Towers to work as a special assignment scout with the Yankees for one year before heading to Arizona.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Towers. Many have speculated that he could move back to San Diego in some kind of advisory capacity to newly-hired GM A.J. Preller, though there are no indications to date that anything is in the works.