4:02pm: In addition to discussing catchers, as noted below, Stewart also discussed the club’s payroll and his interest in James Shields with Piecoro. Stewart notes that the addition of Cuban righty Yoan Lopez could push the club to make cost-cutting moves. Lopez received an $8.25MM signing bonus that, after accounting for the penalties incurred due to exceeding their bonus pool, will cost the D-Backs about $16.3MM, Piecoro writes.
Stewart says he isn’t sure how the D-Backs will trim payroll, but they’re currently looking at about $106MM, and he’d like to be under $100MM. “I would like to be (under $100 million),” he tells Piecoro. “I’ve not been told to be, but I would like to be.” One player the club isn’t interested in dealing, according to Piecoro, is Mark Trumbo.
Despite the plainly stated desire to shed payroll, the D-Backs remain interested in Shields, Stewart says. The D-Backs have spoken with agent Page Odle to “work on groundwork,” according to Stewart, who thinks that the team’s old-school mentality will appeal to Shields. “I think James is a throwback guy by the way he goes about his business and the innings he pitches,” says Stewart. “I think the fact that Tony (La Russa) is here and that we have more baseball people — he probably sees us as a true baseball team vs. some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things.”
Stewart’s comments are interesting, particularly due to the fact that La Russa said after the departure of former GM Kevin Towers in September that he hoped to “beef up” the club’s usage of advanced metrics (via MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert on Twitter). Additionally, the club hired a new director of analytics just this past November, though they’ve done little else from a baseball operations standpoint to alter their image as a member of baseball’s old guard.
1:59m: GM Dave Stewart says that he has decided not to pursue an upgrade behind the plate, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. Instead, the club will rely on the continued development of recent trade acquisition Peter O’Brien while also utilizing some combination of Tuffy Gosewisch and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez.
Piecoro quotes Stewart:
“I’ve decided that I’m not going to pursue another catcher. I talked with my people and my coaching staff. They believe that O’Brien is going to be around sooner than later. If that does happen, there’s no need to go out and get another guy. We would have had to trade somebody we didn’t want to trade to make it happen. We’re going to be patient and allow the progression of O’Brien to take place and stand pat on that.”
O’Brien, 24, came to Arizona in the Martin Prado deal and only had time for four games in his new organization. A bat-first catcher, the question remains whether O’Brien’s glove will be good enough to keep him behind the dish. Piecoro reports that Arizona was impressed with his work in the AFL, and notes that the team has had a chance to watch him over the last few days as well. Of course, it is far from clear that O’Brien will be ready to contribute at the big league level this season, leaving the team with quite a thin group at the position.