Author Archives: Zach Links

Cafardo On Moore, Cespedes, Markakis, Giants

If the Royals win the World Series it would be difficult to imagine GM Dayton Moore leaving for the Braves‘ vacancy.  However, those who know Moore well say that he felt comfortable in Atlanta, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes.  On top of that, the Braves would offer Moore a bigger budget to work with.  More from today’s column..

  • Word is spreading that the Red Sox could make Yoenis Cespedes available.  The slugger will make $10.2MM in the final year of his deal and his desire not to play right field or work on his defense could spell the end of his time in Boston.  A Cespedes deal would allow the Sox to make room for Mookie Betts or add a left-handed hitter.
  • The Giants are a team to watch when Nick Markakis hits the open market as expected.  Even though they’re enjoying Travis Ishikawa‘s work, they are unlikely to commit to him as an everyday left fielder.  The Mets could also be in the mix.
  • One agent believes Jake Peavy has turned his next contract from a one-year, $7MM deal into a three-year, $36MM deal based on his second half with the Giants.  Cafardo notes that the Giants won’t re-sign Ryan Vogelsong and with little help coming from Triple-A, they’ll likely have to bite on a Peavy deal.
  • There have been preliminary talks between the Red Sox and Koji Uehara about staying in Boston,but the sides aren’t close to a deal.

Free Agent Profile: Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera might not be the player that some envisioned he would be four years ago, but he still holds a ton of value as he gets ready to explore the open market.  Save for Hanley Ramirez, Cabrera arguably stands as the winter’s most attractive free agent shortstop option.

Strengths/Pros

At just 28 years old (29 in November), Cabrera has youth on his side, especially when surveying the rest of the available talent pool.  Cabrera also boasts four consecutive years of mostly good health with an average of 144 games per season over that span.  Of course, that 2011 season was more than just the start of Cabrera’s good fortune in the health department, it was his true coming out party.  That season, Cabrera slashed .273/.332/.460 for the Tribe, earning his first All-Star selection and his first Silver Slugger trophy.MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies

In 2012, Cabrera earned a second All-Star nomination thanks in part to another strong showing at the plate (.270/.338/.423).  The following two years didn’t bring the same kind of accolades and praise, but Cabrera continued to produce.  Cabrera’s breakout year was his best to date, but the last three years have shown that he can deliver ~15 homers (he had 16, 14, and 14 the last three years) with some speed on the basepaths.

Cabrera also offers more than just shortstop experience, he also has 1773 2/3 innings of career experience at second base.  He mainly plied his craft at shortstop from 2010-2014, but he returned to second this season upon joining the Nationals, so some of the rust from the change should be gone.  His ability to play either middle infield position should help increase his market and will also provide his next team with a bit of flexibility.  This also isn’t a strong second base market on the whole, so his versatility is a positive.

Weaknesses/Cons

Defensively, Cabrera leaves much to be desired.  For his career, Cabrera has a -10.6 UZR/150 rating at shortstop, putting him well below your average defender.  His most recent campaigns haven’t helped either as he posted -16.8 and -10.5 marks in each of the last two seasons.  His body of work at second base is better, according to UZR/150, but still far from great.  He has a lifetime -2.5 UZR/150 at second and turned in a -5.3 rating in 432 innings for the Nats.  Looking for a second opinion?  Defensive runs saved has Cabrera as a -10 defender at second base in 2014 and -7 at shortstop.  The career total is more favorable for second base (2), but even less so at shortstop (-22).

At the plate, it’s impossible to overlook the drop off that Cabrera has experienced over the last two seasons.  In the All-Star years, he slashed a combined .272/.335/.443 with a 118 OPS+, well above the league average.  In the last two seasons, he has produced a .241/.303/.394 batting line with a slightly below-average OPS+ of 96.  Cabrera’s 2014 walk (7.7%) and strikeout percentages (17.1%) are in line with his career averages, which is to say they’re alright, but not great.

Personal

Cabrera and his wife, Lismar, have two children and this winter they’ll welcome another member of the Cabrera clan into the world.

Of course, Cabrera spent his entire big league career in Cleveland before the midseason trade that sent him to the nation’s capital.  While he didn’t stomp his feet over being dealt to the Nationals, he was upset to leave what had become a second home for him, telling reporters it was “like [he] grew up” in Cleveland.  That feeling was reciprocated in the front office.

It’s another tough day for a number of us personally because of how much Asdrubal meant to our team and our organization,” General Manager Chris Antonetti said, according to The Associated Press. ”He’s a guy who has impacted two postseasons for us. We’ll obviously miss Asdrubal a great deal.”

In his downtime, Cabrera enjoys being on his farm in Florida where he tends to his horses every morning.  Back in Venezuela, he’s a fan of taking his boat out on the water with family and friends.

Market

Even though he prefers the shortstop position and his second half in Washington didn’t produce his finest work, Cabrera has said that he would welcome a return to the Nationals.

It depends. A team like this team, a good team that want me to play second, I would love to stay here. I just want to win. I’ve got eight seasons already. I want to be in the World Series one day,” Cabrera said, according to MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko.

That desire to win could, theoretically, lead to a discount for the incumbent Nats.  Recently, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider expertly summed up the Nationals’ dilemma at second base.  If they want to prioritize offense at the position, then Cabrera is the better choice to make than giving the defensively strong Danny Espinosa an opportunity to take back the job.  Our own Jeff Todd suggests that a platoon between Cabrera and Espinosa, who can hit against lefties and serve as a strong defensive replacement, would make sense.  The Nats can also use that duo to fill the void if Ian Desmond leaves in free agency next winter.  However, it’s not a given that the Nats will be willing to get in the ballpark of what other clubs will offer Cabrera.

If the two sides can’t get on the same page for a reunion, there should be plenty of interest from teams in need of middle infield help.  The competition at second base is thin, though Cuban defectors Jose Fernandez and Hector Olivera have added some depth there.  At shortstop, Cabrera will have to vie with Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie.  As noted in Jeff’s recent poll asking the MLBTR commentariat to choose the best option from the trio, Ramirez could be seen more as a third base option than shortstop and the year’s best potential option, J.J. Hardy, is already spoken for.

Teams like the Padres, Reds, and Mets could be interested in signing an impact shortstop, though none of them look the part of a Las Vegas championship favorite for 2015.  The A’s and the Blue Jays could both be in the market for a second baseman.  The Yankees, meanwhile, are on the lookout for a shortstop and, depending on how things play out, could have a need at second as well.  Martin Prado is currently penciled in to fill that role, but if he’s needed elsewhere, the Bombers could look into someone like Cabrera for second.

Expected Contract

The dearth of quality free agent middle infielders is something of a double-edged sword for Cabrera.  On one hand, he has less competition.  On the other, as evidenced by the lack of intriguing available options, a lot of teams are already set, particularly at second base.  There are also a few teams with surpluses in that area like the Rangers, Cubs, and Diamondbacks, which could draw attention away from the free agent market.

Ultimately, while he enjoys playing shortstop more, his best bet at winning and cashing in could come as a second baseman.  The Nationals should at least have some interest in working out a new deal, even though they didn’t get a redux of Cabrera’s best work.  The Yankees, if they shift Prado, can be expected to show interest as well.  Because of his age and his ability to play both middle infield positions, I predict that Cabrera will land a three-year, $27MM deal.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Orioles, Hernandez, Royals, Giants

Blue Jays star outfielder Jose Bautista was born on this date in 1980.  The 34-year-old has made five consecutive All-Star appearances for Toronto and slashed .286/.403/.524 in 2014.  He’ll look to extend that All-Star streak to six consecutive seasons and help the Blue Jays get back to the playoffs in 2015.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.



Free Agent Profile: Michael Cuddyer

Despite an injury plagued 2014, Michael Cuddyer figures to be amongst the more heavily pursued free agent position players of the winter.  The 35-year-old (36 by Opening Day) played in just 49 games in 2014, but his offensive numbers are more in less in line with his 2013 output and there’s always a market for effective bats with some pop.  His last trip through free agency netted a three-year, $31.5MM contract and he’s now in position to land yet another lucrative deal.

Strengths/Pros

Over the last three seasons in Colorado (280 games), Cuddyer owns a .307/.362/.525 batting line with 46 homers.  His best work in Colorado came in the sandwich year of 2013 when he was NL batting champion with a .331 average at the plate.  And, while Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly park in the majors, it wasn’t just the home altitude that helped Cuddyer knock 20 homers and post the NL’s fourth-highest slugging percentage (.530) in that season.  The veteran hit eleven homers at Coors and nine dingers on the road in 2013.  Meanwhile, his wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus, explained masterfully by Fangraphs here) of 138 was the best showing of his career at the time, putting him well ahead of the league average and 14 percentage points above his previous watermark from Minnesota in 2009.  In a smaller sample, he topped that with a wRC+ of 151 this past season.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Diego PadresSomewhat surprisingly, Cuddyer consistently posts average or better marks in baserunning value, according to Fangraphs.  Cuddyer has a strong career BsR of 8.3 and his recent marks of 0.0, 1.1, and 1.3 in the last three seasons would indicate that he has been at least an average runner.  At this point in his career, he’s probably not the fastest guy out there, but the numbers would suggest that he’s smart on the basepaths.

Cuddyer offers some versatility as he could be slotted in as a first baseman or an outfielder.  He also won’t have a qualifying offer attached to him and won’t require the forfeiture of draft picks.

Weaknesses/Cons

Cuddyer averaged roughly 150 games per year in his final three seasons with the Twins, which helped lead to his big payday in Colorado.  Unfortunately, he’s averaged ~93 games per season since and saw time in just 49 games in 2014.  In 2012, an oblique injury cost him the majority of August and all of September.  He played 130 games in 2013, but a neck injury shelved him for two weeks in May.  Last season, a painful shoulder fracture and a pair of strained hamstrings led to Cuddyer being mostly out of commission.  Teams are sure to be wary about that as he approached his age-36 season.

Cuddyer has experience at multiple positions but he’s not Gold Glove material at any of them.  For his career, Cuddyer has a -8.0 UZR/150 rating in right field and his -4.4 rating at first base also leaves much to be desired.  Unfortunately, Cuddyer’s shaky defense has watered down his significant offensive contributions, especially in recent years.  In 2013, despite his strong performance at the plate, he registered a rather pedestrian WAR of 2.4.

Personal

Michael and his wife, Claudia, have three children.  When he’s not on the diamond, Cuddyer likes to indulge in his own favorite childhood pastime: magic.  In 2012, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com asked an audience member for his take on Cuddyer’s skills.

He’s blowing guys’ minds here,” Jason Giambi said of Cuddyer. “[The tricks] are as good as any I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I live in Vegas and I get to see a lot of those shows. They’re pretty incredible.

As Cuddyer told Crasnick, he used the tricks as an icebreaker with his teammates when he arrived in Colorado.  Then-GM Dan O’Dowd spoke highly of Cuddyer as a positive figure in the locker room.

Not only is he a good player — and will be for a significantly long period of time — but if you talk to anybody in the game, he innately just ‘gets it.’ He challenges people in his own way to be all about the team,” O’Dowd said.

Market

Cuddyer loves being in Colorado, owner Dick Monfort wants to keep him, and manager Walt Weiss hopes that he’ll return since he “means so much to [the] club, in ways that go beyond the stat sheet.”  Unfortunately, monetary constraints will probably get in the way of a reunion.  Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post recently wrote that it’d be hard to see the Rockies paying even $4-6MM for Cuddyer next season.  You never know for sure how the market will break, but that probably won’t get it done.

The Pirates, Brewers, and Marlins are among the teams that are expected to shop for a first baseman and the Padres could be added to that list if they don’t have confidence in Yonder Alonso‘s abilities.  Meanwhile, the Astros and Mets will be shopping for a corner outfielder and Cuddyer could fit within their budgets.  Cuddyer also holds appeal as a DH so we could see a return to the American League in that role.

Expected Contract

If Cuddyer was coming off of something resembling a full season, his contract outlook would be quite different.  Given his age and health issues, a one or two-year deal seems likely but another three-year deal probably isn’t in the cards.

Still, there will be plenty of teams willing to give Cuddyer a substantial sum of money and it could even rival the average annual value of his three-year, $31.5MM Rockies contract.  I predict Cuddyer will land a two-year, $22MM deal this winter.  If he stays healthy, it may not be his last big payday either.


Rays Ponder Life Without Andrew Friedman

With Andrew Friedman heading west, the Rays are confident that the newly-promoted Matthew Silverman can continue to work creatively with a limited budget to field a competitive team.  At the same time, it’s clear that Friedman will be sorely missed on both a professional and personal level.  Silverman, still just 38 years old, got the promotion of a lifetime, but he isn’t exactly doing cartwheels down the aisles of Tropicana Field tonight.

It’s a difficult day for me,” the former team president and new president of baseball operations admitted on today’s conference call.  “It’s one filled with sadness as one of my best friends in life has moved away and taken a different job.  That’s the primary emotion, though I’m sure I’ll feel differently a few days or a few weeks from now.

For those of us outside of the Rays and Dodgers organizations, whispers that Friedman could leave for Los Angeles only surfaced late last week when Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times reported that he would be the Dodgers’ top target if Ned Colletti was ousted.  Rays owner Stuart Sternberg indicated that talks started up earlier than that, though he declined to “put a timetable on it.”  The Rays will receive no compensation from the Dodgers for their top exec thanks to Sternberg’s no-contract policy for the upper crust of club officials.  I asked Sternberg if he ever considered altering his policy for Friedman considering the interest he could garner from rival clubs.

That’s our policy, for better or for worse.  There are positives with it and negatives with it,” Sternberg said, emphasizing that most employees within the organization have contracts, just not the top baseball people. “It’s a unique situation with Andrew and Matt and [new team president Brian Auld]…I put my reputation in their hands and they in mine as well and we have a real level of trust.  When it comes to the contract that’s what it’s really all about and it was never really a consideration with Andrew.”

When asked if he fears Friedman taking other Rays employees with him to L.A., Sternberg referred back to the level of trust that they share.  Whether it’s through a handshake or just a tacit understanding, both Sternberg and Silverman expressed confidence that Friedman won’t poach anyone from Tampa Bay.  That extends to manager Joe Maddon who told the owner that he wants to stay on board despite Friedman’s departure.  “I don’t expect anyone to be joining him in L.A.,” Sternberg flatly stated.   Reading between the lines, it appears that the owner doesn’t have poaching protection in writing.  If that’s the case, he doesn’t sound the least bit concerned about it.

Sternberg will miss Friedman, whom he entrusted with the GM role at the age of 28, and Silverman learned that watching your best friend move to a new town doesn’t get any easier when you’re in your late 30s.  Still, the Rays aren’t throwing themselves a pity party.  Sternberg knew that, eventually, a team with deeper pockets would whisk Friedman away.  When the Dodgers came calling, he didn’t think about looking out-of-house for a second.  All along, he knew that he had a highly capable understudy in Silverman who was ready to take the reins.


Offseason Outlook: San Diego Padres

After another season as also-rans in the NL West – their fourth-straight year with a sub-.500 mark – the Padres have installed a new GM in hopes of turning things around in short order.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (Service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

Back in June, the Padres relieved Josh Byrnes of his duties amidst reports that his relationship with ownership had deteriorated.  There were candidates aplenty at the outset but Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller emerged from a final four that included Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, and league executive Kim Ng.  The 37-year-old has his work cut out for him in a division that includes the Giants and the big-budget Dodgers, but ownership might be willing to make things easier by loosening the purse strings.

The quickest fix for the Padres’ offense might be spending big on hotly pursued Cuban talent Yasmany Tomas.  The soon-to-be 24-year-old is said to boast tremendous power and is surprisingly agile for his size, as Tim Dierkes recently noted.  Still, there are questions about Tomas.  Over the summer, Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote that Tomas appeared to regress in Cuba and even lost playing time in the latter part of the year.  And, of course, we know very little about Tomas when compared to the rest of this year’s free agent class, but then again, fellow countrymen Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, and Yoenis Cespedes rose from relative obscurity to make colossal impacts at the major league level.  Will the usually cost-conscious Padres splurge to land Tomas?  Based on what we know today, the answer is a definitive maybe.

We have definitely expanded our international focus under A.J.,” Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler said in an email to Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego last week. “That said, we will continue to be balanced in looking at all opportunities.”

At this stage, it appears the Padres will have to vie with the Rangers, Giants, Phillies, Mariners, and, for some reason, the Dodgers, who already have plenty of outfielders.  Despite the competition and an expected price tag that could exceed Rusney Castillo‘s $72.5MM deal with the Red Sox, the Padres have scouted Tomas three times in three weeks, so they’re obviously serious about the young slugger.  Where they might tap out in the bidding process remains to be seen, however.

Tomas would look great in the outfield but how the club approaches him will be largely dependent on what they do with the guys that are already in-house.  Preller might want to move Carlos Quentin, but he’d have to eat most of his $8MM salary to find a home for him thanks to his .177/.284/.315 batting line in 2014 and unfortunate injury history.  Quentin also has a no-trade clause, a condition he demanded upon signing a (then) team-friendly extension, but he was reportedly open to waiving it over the summer.  With two years to go and $16MM guaranteed on his deal, the once-promising Cameron Maybin will also be a tough sell.  Will Venable, who regressed in 2014 and is owed $4.25MM in ’15 doesn’t hold a ton of trade value either.   In a perfect world, the Padres might find two new outfield mates to go along with Seth Smith, but that’s easier said than done.  If the Padres can trot out an outfield of Smith, the defensively-solid Maybin, and another corner outfielder with pop, they’ll probably be high-fiving at Petco.

The Padres would like to shake things up in the infield as well and that could be an easier task.  First baseman Yonder Alonso is due a bump from $980K to an estimated $1.6MM in arbitration.  He may not be worth it when considering his iffy production and health woes, though his capable defending, youth, and former promise would make that a difficult choice.  Ditto for Everth Cabrera (.232/.272/.300 in 90 games last season) who has a history of off-the-field troubles on top of his poor hitting and hamstring injury, though a non-tender seems less likely for him.  Veteran first baseman Michael Cuddyer had his own health issues in 2014, but he could be an upgrade at first if he fits in the budget.  Notable shortstops on the open market include Asdrubal Cabrera, Jung-ho Kang, and Jed Lowrie, but teams like the Cubs and Diamondbacks could have shortstops to spare.  The D’Backs are a particularly interesting match if the divisional rivals can get on the same page as they need pitching, something the Padres have in spades.  Alternatively, the Padres could roll with Alexi Amarista as their starter if they have enough confidence in him.

This season, the Padres finished dead last in runs scored with 535, a full 38 behind the next-to-last Braves, and slashed .226/.292/.342 as a team.  But, as usual, their pitching was solid as they finished top five in both runs allowed and team ERA.  Predictably, the consensus is that Preller will have to deal some of his arms to get the offense up to speed.  After all, we can’t expect that great of a payroll bump when considering that last year’s $90MM invoice was a franchise watermark.

First-time All-Star Tyson Ross was one of a few bright spots for the Padres in 2014 but he could be in play as a trade candidate if the Friars want to land a big bat.  The 27-year-old posted a 2.81 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 and is under club control through 2017, so there would be no shortage of interested clubs, but San Diego would demand a substantial haul in return.  Andrew Cashner, 28, battled injuries but still managed to have a strong showing in ~123 innings and has two years of club control remaining.  Though, by the same token, trading Cashner this winter could be selling low given his recent health troubles.  Ian Kennedy, who pitched to a 3.63 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9, is projected to earn $10.3MM in his final trip through arbitration, so the cost-conscious Padres may be willing to move him, even if his return wouldn’t be quite as heavy as that of Ross or Cashner.

San Diego also has an interesting trade chip in reliever Joaquin Benoit.  Benoit was dominant in 2014 but he’s 37 and will earn $8MM in 2015.  That’s a big salary for a team like the Padres, but that wouldn’t be hard to swallow for team with a larger payroll.  On top of that, his $8MM team option for 2016 makes him more than just a one-year rental.  Teams that don’t want to give David Robertson a potentially record-setting deal or gamble on the next tier of available closers will want to take a good look at Benoit.  In the event of a Benoit deal, the Padres can also be expected to look into late-inning options, though they could have a solid closer already in Kevin Quackenbush.

The Padres could package in prospects from their highly-regarded farm system, but teams will be hard pressed to pry away talents like right-hander Matt Wisler, outfielder Hunter Renfroe, or catcher Austin Hedges.

Even though the Padres sound inclined to give Preller a bit more in allowance than Byrnes had, much of San Diego’s offseason shopping is likely to happen on the trade market.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


East Notes: A-Rod, Rays, Nationals, Braves

The Yankees have a mess on their hands as they look to assemble their 2015 roster and the presence of Alex Rodriguez complicates matters, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Bombers hope that A-Rod can contribute at third at least on a part-time basis and serve as a solid DH option. If he can do neither, they’re unlikely to cut him due to his three-year, $61MM deal. Not only would it look bad for ownership, but A-Rod needs to fully show he can’t play if there is any chance of recouping some of that money through insurance. More from the AL and NL East..

  • If the Dodgers come calling for Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the opportunity will have appeal, but it’s not a given that he’d go, as Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Friedman enjoys the challenge of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox with fewer resources and is loyal to Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg. By the same token, the challenge may not motivate him the same way forever.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times agrees that Friedman has a comfortable situation with the Rays.  When considering his relationships with Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has something in Tampa Bay that few other decision makers enjoy.
  • Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider looks at the Nationals‘ second base options for 2015. If the Nationals wants to stick with what they know, they can re-sign Asdrubal Cabrera or give Danny Espinosa another shot at earning the job. Otherwise, they’ll have to go out of house.  The free agent market is rather thin at the position, especially if the Rays pick up Ben Zobrist‘s $7.5MM option.  However, teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs are deep with middle infielders and could be potential trade partners.
  • The time is now for the next wave of the Braves‘ homegrown talent like Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Alex Wood, Shae Simmons, and Chasen Shreve to step up and become bigger contributors in 2015, opines Bill Ballew of Baseball America (subscription required).

Offseason Outlook: Arizona Diamondbacks

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.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (Service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

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.”


NL West Notes: Friedman, Dodgers, Ishikawa

One of Jeff Bridich’s proudest accomplishments likely didn’t come up when he was bumped from senior directior of player development to GM of the Rockies.  As a junior at Harvard, Bridich hit a two-run homer over Fenway’s Green Monster against UMass.  Even though the Crimson ultimately lost 13-12, it remains a cherished family memory for Bridich, writes Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post.  “Hitting a homer at Fenway was cool, but it’s more special because my dad did the same thing when he played for Harvard,” Bridich said. “He hit his to almost the same spot. Of course, my father did it with a wood bat, so that’s a little bit more impressive.”  Here’s more out of the NL West..

  • If the Dodgers move on from General Manager Ned Colletti, their top target appears to be Rays GM Andrew Friedman, according to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times.  A lot of great things happened under Colletti’s watch, including Clayton Kershaw becoming a Cy Young Award winner and Dee Gordon becoming an All-Star, but the new Dodgers owners view him as someone who gave away too much money to older players and built a shoddy bullpen.
  • While toiling away in Triple-A last season, Giants first baseman Travis Ishikawa spent just two weeks with his family between February 1 and September 1.  With little hope of getting back to the bigs, he nearly gave up on baseball to spend more time with his family back home, writes Alex Pavlovic of The Mercury News. “I thought about retiring.  I was trying to figure out something else where I could be home and make money…Thank God I stuck with it,” the Giants’ unlikely hero said.
  • Bridich understands the value of catching and Saunders wonders if that could affect his offseason plans.  Russell Martin would be a tremendous get for the Rockies, but he’ll be a very hot commodity after the season he had in Pittsburgh.  While the Rockies have Wilin Rosario and Michael McKenry behind the plate, there are limitations to what they can do.

Cafardo On Peavy, Martinez, Samardzija

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal.  The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him.  For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
  • If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties.  The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
  • Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding.  No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
  • First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base.  However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield.  He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
  • While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB.  Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing.  There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.