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.”