Last week, I kicked off MLBTR’s Three Needs series by taking a high-level look at the Rockies. As we move down the list of non-contending clubs that are highlighted in this series, we’ll turn to the Diamondbacks, who presently trail the Dodgers by 10.5 games in the NL West and find themselves 11 games back from the second Wild Card spot. As I noted in the Rockies piece, these are mere overlooks of teams, and we’ll go into far more detail on all 30 clubs in MLBTR’s annual Offseason Outlook series. That said, three needs that the D-Backs should look to address this winter…
1. Sort out the rotation. Patrick Corbin’s going to be in, and Chase Anderson has probably done enough to warrant a role at the back of the starting five. The same goes for Robbie Ray. Anderson’s never topped 153 innings in a pro season, though, and both him and Ray will probably finish the 2015 season around that mark. Corbin threw 200+ innings in 2013 but missed the 2014 season (and much of 2015) recovering from Tommy John. Rubby De La Rosa dominates righties and gets lit up by lefties; he’s been durable, but he’ll need to iron out his platoon splits by honing a third pitch if he’s to remain in the rotation long term. Randall Delgado spent most of the year in the bullpen already. Hopes are high for Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair, but none has done much (if anything) in the Majors yet. Allen Webster was a consideration at one point, but his ERA is a stunning 8.37 at Triple-A this season (in 71 innings). Jhoulys Chacin has an opportunity to prove himself, but he’s a one-year option at best, as he’ll have six years of service time following the 2016 season if he spends next year in the Majors.
In the end, the D-Backs have upside but virtually no certainty in the rotation. They could attempt to patch it together, of course, but the lineup has become a fairly complete and cohesive unit, and there are enough interesting arms to fill out the bullpen behind Brad Ziegler and Daniel Hudson’s suddenly upper-90s arm. With the rest of the team coming together, the rotation certainty takes on greater priority.
Rather than pursue a trade of Aroldis Chapman, as reports have indicated, the D-Backs are better off leveraging this crop of talented-but-unproven arms and their infield depth to pursue rotation stability with some team control. Granted, that’s easier said than done, but the Indians will probably be listening to offers, and one can imagine that the Rays, once again, will be open to the notion of moving pitchers. Mid-level free agent starters make some sense here as well.
2. Find a taker for Aaron Hill’s contract. The D-Backs have long had a glut of infield options, but the logjam is beginning to clear up. The trade of Mark Trumbo put Yasmany Tomas where he belongs (in the corner outfield). Nick Ahmed’s glove is an asset at shortstop, and while Chris Owings can play there and has more offensive upside, he’s better suited defensively at second base. Jake Lamb looks like a potential regular at third base. That’s the best infield alignment for the Snakes, and while Hill can theoretically bounce between second and third to spell Owings and Lamb, so, too, could the younger Brandon Drury. (As noted above, that infield depth could also be used for trade purposes, and the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro recently alluded to as much.)
Hill didn’t fit the team’s roster all that well heading into 2015, and he definitely doesn’t heading into 2016. He’s earning $12MM, and while the D-Backs have shown a perhaps misguided willingness to package valuable assets (e.g. Comp Picks, or prospects such as Touki Toussaint) with undesirable contracts in order to shed salary, that’s probably not the best route for a team in their spot. Swapping him for a different unfavorable contract — Hill and White Sox lefty John Danks have similar salaries and are free agents after 2016, for instance — is a better option than sacrificing even more future value for immediate payroll space. If no trade can be reached, releasing Hill to free the roster space and to give him an opportunity for a change of scenery could make sense as well.
3. Pursue a long-term deal with A.J. Pollock. There’s a case to be made that Pollock is the most underrated player in baseball — a star on both sides of the ball that receives nowhere near the attention he deserves. Pollock is hitting .315/.366/.497 over the past two seasons with 162-game averages of 18 homers and 38 stolen bases. A right-handed hitter, Pollock certainly handles left-handed pitchers better than right-handers, but he’s carried an OPS north of .800 against righties dating back to Opening Day 2014. He’s also an elite center fielder and one of the game’s best baserunners. Depending on your preferred version of WAR, Pollock has been the seventh (Fangraphs) or ninth (B-Ref) most valuable player in baseball this season. The former first-round pick is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter and is in the midst of his prime. Arizona controls him for three more seasons, but they’d be wise to seek a lengthier pact.