The Diamondbacks remained in contention longer than most expected in 2015. GM Dave Stewart, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and senior VP of baseball ops De Jon Watson will look to supplement the club’s core of exciting young position players this winter.
- Yasmany Tomas, OF: $52.5MM through 2020 (Tomas can opt out of the final two years, $32.5MM)
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: $27.5MM through 2018 (including buyout of 2019 club option)
- Aaron Hill, 2B/3B: $12MM through 2016
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR)
- Daniel Hudson (5.117) – $2.0MM
- Jhoulys Chacin (5.045) – $1.8MM
- Jeremy Hellickson (5.045) – $6.6MM
- Josh Collmenter (5.000) – $2.8MM arbitration projection; has a $1.825MM club option.
- Matt Reynolds (4.046) – $800K
- Welington Castillo (4.009) – $3.6MM
- Patrick Corbin (3.105) – $2.3MM
- Randall Delgado (3.100) – $1.0MM
- Rubby De La Rosa (3.097) – $3.2MM
- A.J. Pollock (3.052) – $4.3MM
- Non-tender candidate: Hellickson, Chacin, Reynolds
- Brad Ziegler, RHP: $5.5MM club option — exercised earlier this week
- Josh Collmenter, RHP: $1.825MM club option — exercised earlier this week
From a pure payroll standpoint, the Diamondbacks look to be in excellent shape moving forward. Arizona has just $32.68MM committed to five players for the 2016 season (including the exercised options on Brad Ziegler and Josh Collmenter), and one of those commitments (Aaron Hill) will be shopped this winter. If the club tenders all of its arb-eligible players, that’d bring the total commitment to just over $58MM, and it’s possible that a few of those names will be non-tendered. Jeremy Hellickson is listed as one such candidate above, but he could also be traded to a club in need of innings. The former AL Rookie of the Year has now struggled for three straight seasons. A team without the financial wherewithal to spend much more than that might look at Hellickson as a reasonable roll of the dice, but he’s no longer the inexpensive upside play the Diamondbacks acquired last offseason, and Arizona arguably has more intriguing (or at least more affordable) internal options.
With that in mind, the pitching staff will be Arizona’s top priority this offseason. Patrick Corbin returned from Tommy John surgery and was highly impressive, so he figures to be a lock for the rotation. Another lefty, Robbie Ray, figures to have nailed down a rotation spot after posting a 3.52 ERA with solid peripherals in 127 1/3 innings of work. Chase Anderson and Rubby De La Rosa each posted ERAs well north of 4.00, though in De La Rosa’s case it’s worth noting that he utterly dominated right-handed hitters and was crushed by lefties. The D-Backs probably aren’t ready to go this route yet, but he seems very capable of becoming a late-inning bullpen weapon if he’s unable to find a third pitch to help him keep lefties off balance. Anderson, while his results weren’t outstanding, has looked the part of a capable fourth/fifth starter for two straight seasons now. Arizona also has Jhoulys Chacin, who delivered solid results in Triple-A and the Majors and could, at the very least, serve as a swingman for a reasonably affordable price tag.
Top prospect Archie Bradley had a difficult season. The right-hander suffered a fractured sinus when a rocket off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez came back up the middle and hit him in the face. It was a gruesome, frightening scene, but Bradley was back on the hill less than a month later. That return was short-lived, as a bout of shoulder tendinitis sidelined him for more than two months. Bradley, presumably, is still a big part of Arizona’s future, but he’s yet to deliver on the hype that made him one of the Top 10 prospects in baseball prior to the 2014 season. Other intriguing, upper-level arms include Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair. Both righties rank in the Top 100 prospects, per MLB.com, and both could arrive in 2016. That gives Arizona the option of letting the kids audition for rotation spots or packaging some upper-level talent to make a run at a proven rotation upgrade.
GM Dave Stewart has made no secret of his desire to add rotation help this winter. The D-Backs courted James Shields last offseason and figure to be in on the second tier of free agent arms this offseason as well. Mike Leake‘s name has already been mentioned in connection with the team on more than one occasion, and considering the fact that the longtime Reds hurler played his college ball some 10 miles from Chase Field at Arizona State, the former Sun Devil may very well have interest in signing on as a Diamondback.
If Stewart and his staff want to aim for more upside, Jeff Samardzija has inconsistent results but top-of-the-rotation potential. Scouts love Samardzija’s frame and pure stuff, and Arizona is a heavily scouting-driven organization in an age of increasingly analytic-minded clubs. Stewart has also shown a willingness to spend on the international front (Yasmany Tomas, Yoan Lopez), so if Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda is posted this winter, look for the Diamondbacks to show interest. Jordan Zimmermann is somewhere between the very top of the pitching market and that second tier, and he could conceivably be of interest as well. Additionally, the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro recently listed older veterans that will command shorter-term deals, such as John Lackey and Hisashi Iwakuma, as excellent fits for the D-Backs — a notion with which I firmly agree.
Any of those pitchers could command north of $15MM on an annual basis, but the Diamondbacks’ lack of long-term commitments on the books should make them relatively easy to fit into the picture while also presenting the opportunity to backload some contracts a bit to add more talent in 2016. The team does face some increasing arbitration salaries, but Ziegler, Hill, Hellickson and Hudson are all slated to come off the ledger next winter, lessening the risk of backloaded signings.
The bullpen is another area of need, and the team made an effort to upgrade in the most dramatic way possible over the summer by pursuing Aroldis Chapman. With just one year of control remaining, Chapman strikes me as an imperfect fit, to say the least. Some reports have indicated that the goal is to acquire and extend the flamethrowing lefty, but Chapman would, assuredly, command a record-setting contract for relief pitchers. Great as Chapman is, a lengthy commitment to a relief pitcher doesn’t seem like an optimal way for the D-Backs to maximize their long-term financial flexibility.
If the Diamondbacks are set on trading for a relief ace, I’d submit that a more reasonable trade target would be the Phillies’ Ken Giles. Philadelphia isn’t likely to consider Giles a building block due to the volatile nature of relievers, and his most valuable (i.e. least expensive) seasons will be, in some sense, wasted in Philadelphia as the club looks to rebuild. In a similar vein, Milwaukee’s Will Smith is a highly appealing relief arm on a rebuilding team that will begin to get expensive this winter via Super Two status. As such, the Brewers may be open to trading him even though he’s controlled through 2019.
Wiser still may simply be to make some short-term investments in free-agent relief help. Ryan Madson had a dominant rebound season with Kansas City and should receive, at most, a two-year commitment. Shawn Kelley is coming off an impressive year in San Diego after multiple seasons of strong peripherals but less-impressive bottom-line results. At least one lefty reliever should be added in some capacity, as well. Antonio Bastardo and Tony Sipp make for attractive targets, having stifled both left- and right-handed hitters in recent years.
Turning to the lineup, the D-Backs have little work to do. The outfield is strong, with David Peralta, Ender Inciarte and the grossly underrated A.J. Pollock comprising a solid starting unit. Tomas could factor into a corner position and provide the lineup with some thump, but his 2015 struggles and the team’s depth could allow him to start in the minors if he has a poor spring showing. Pollock is an extension candidate, albeit an older one at the age of 27. It’ll be tough to balance out the team’s desire to buy free-agent years and Pollock’s age, as he’s currently slated to hit the open market entering his age-31 season. Delaying that much more significantly dampens his earning power, so the options are probably a three-year deal to buy out his arb years (giving the team financial certainty), a four-year deal to delay free agency by one season (in the Michael Brantley mold, perhaps) or a significant six-year deal that rewards Pollock handsomely up front while dampening his mid-30s earning power.
The acquisition of Welington Castillo proved to be a huge victory for Stewart and his staff, as Castillo would go on to out-produce the man for whom he was traded — Mark Trumbo. (There were, of course, four other players in the deal, but Castillo was the most immediate piece of help Arizona received.) He should be the team’s regular catcher in 2016, though because he’s a not a great defender, adding a veteran, defense-first backup option isn’t a bad idea. Slugging prospect Peter O’Brien reportedly will give catching another try, but the powerful righty switched to the outfield earlier this year after developing issues with his throws back to the mound. Few scouts have pegged O’Brien as a catcher, and the outfield, first base or (following a trade) DH might be a more realistic future for him.
In the infield, Paul Goldschmidt ranks among baseball’s most elite all-around players, but the rest of the group isn’t as certain. Jake Lamb is a potential regular at third, but he hit just .249/.313/.358 with a 26.5 percent strikeout rate from June through September after returning from a stress reaction in his left foot. Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed have the defensive chops to be a stellar middle-infield duo, even if Ahmed won’t ever hit much. However, Owings is supposed to be known for his bat but instead posted an anemic .227/.264/.322 batting line with only four homers. Owings was plagued by shoulder issues in 2014 that eventually required surgery, and those troubles lingered into 2015. He has an outstanding Triple-A track record, so there’s hope for a turnaround, but he’s far from a sure thing.
Prospect Brandon Drury can handle both second base and third base, making him a candidate for the Opening Day roster given uncertainty surrounding Lamb and Owings, but the D-Backs seem like a strong candidate to pursue a versatile infield piece. Mike Aviles, Clint Barmes and old friend Cliff Pennington all make some sense in that regard, and Asdrubal Cabrera represents a higher-upside option that could move around the infield. He’d probably command starter money, though, which may be more than Arizona cares to spend, as the hope is that the cheap, young, in-house infielders figure it all out.
The elephant in the room (or in the infield, as it were) is Hill, who is owed $12MM next season in the final year of his contract. Drury’s presence means that Hill is even more redundant than he was in 2015. He’s been an obvious trade candidate for quite some time, but no takers have materialized due to his high salary and eroded production. The D-Backs will try to move him and may ultimately have to release him, but his situation creates opportunities for other clubs.
Arizona has already shown a willingness to part with prospect value as a means of shedding payroll, doing so blatantly in the Touki Toussaint/Bronson Arroyo trade with the Braves and doing so somewhat less blatantly earlier in the 2015 campaign by essentially trading a Competitive Balance draft pick to Atlanta in exchange for salary relief on Trevor Cahill‘s deal. A rebuilding team with holes around the infield — think Phillies or Brewers — could offer to take on some or all of Hill’s contract in exchange for prospect value from the D-Backs.
That, of course, isn’t an ideal scenario for the D-Backs, but if the $12MM were able to be reallocated toward an immediate boost in the rotation or in the bullpen, then the team would be receiving much more apparent benefit than in the midseason trade of Toussaint. Shedding Hill’s salary would leave Arizona with just $46MM in 2016 commitments, which would be enough flexibility to pursue virtually any free agent on the market. That doesn’t mean fans should expect a run at David Price or Zack Greinke, but dealing Hill would create room to add a pair of second-tier free agents in addition to two relief upgrades and possibly some infield depth.
The D-Backs have some work to do, but their excellent outfield, the presence of Goldschmidt and a full year of Corbin in the rotation form a great start to a contending roster. If either Lamb or Owings breaks out and the team leverages its wide-open payroll capacity to make a few legitimate pitching upgrades, it’s not hard to envision meaningful baseball in Arizona sooner rather than later.