Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall met with the media in Arizona tonight, and among the topics addressed was the status of center fielder A.J. Pollock, whose name has frequented the rumor mill in recent weeks, most prominently in connection to Braves right-hander Shelby Miller. As Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes, however, Hall more or less shot down any plausibility of Pollock being dealt to another team in a trade.
“It’s clear that every team knows that [Paul Goldschmidt] is off limits,” Hall told reporters. “It’s almost time to send a message that A.J. is off limits. … It’s no surprise that he’s the first name that comes up, really in every conversation we have. It’s like Goldy two or three years ago. He came up in every conversation. I think it’s safe to categorize him as almost untouchable.”
Not only are the Diamondbacks strongly opposed to discussing Pollock’s name in trades, according to Hall, they’ve also had discussions about trying to work out a long-term contract with the standout center fielder. Talks to this point have been internal, Hall said, but he added that it makes sense for the D-backs to consider an extension given “who he is, what he means to this team, where he is right now service time-wise.”
Pollock’s service time could make an extension difficult to reach, as the D-backs don’t have the same leverage they’d have with a younger player that was still years from arbitration. Pollock has accrued more than three years of Major League service, thus making him arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. With a projected payday of $4.3MM (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), Pollock has achieved a small amount of financial security (well, “small” relative to his veteran peers) and probably doesn’t feel as much pressure to take a long-term deal as he would if he had to get through another pre-arb season or two before earning much more than the league minimum.
Also factoring into the discussion is Pollock’s age; with his 28th birthday around the corner (Dec. 5), Pollock currently projects to hit free agency entering his age-31 season. If he continues his current trajectory — Pollock has batted .311/.363/.498 with 27 homers, 53 steals and elite defense in 232 games since 2014 — he could be in line for an enormous six-year contract. On the flip-side, if he takes a long-term deal that affords immediate financial security but also delays his free agency by a year or two (something Arizona would surely want to achieve in a theoretical extension), Pollock would be hitting the open market at 32 or 33. While that’s not to say that he couldn’t still be paid handsomely, teams would be more reluctant to commit to a longer term at an advanced age — especially for a player who derives much of his value from plus center field glovework.
It’s possible, perhaps, that the two sides could merely work out a three-year deal to lock in Pollock’s arbitration salaries, giving him advanced financial security and giving the D-backs a slight bit of savings and cost certainty over their payroll through the 2018 season.
Cost certainty may not sound like a sizable advantage, but it’s beneficial for clubs as they look to map out their next several years and can make it easier to spend on more expensive free-agent options. Hall’s comments on right-hander Johnny Cueto are a testament to that. Cueto reportedly rejected a six-year, $120MM offer from the D-backs, and Hall said on Thursday that it’s “difficult for a team like ours to even go six years,” adding that even five-year commitments are a challenge for the D-backs, who have traditionally operated with a mid-range payroll. (Although, the Diamondbacks did ink a new $1 billion TV contract earlier this year.) While the D-backs reportedly aren’t out of the mix on Cueto entirely, Piecoro notes that Hall did hint at the fact that the team might be moving on to other options.
“It’s debatable,” said Hall. “Look, we’ll see. We’ll cross that bridge. There’s Plan B and Plan C, and if we move on, we probably couldn’t revisit it if we move on to those other moves.”
While Hall, naturally, left “Plan B” and “Plan C” to the imagination, it’s probably safe to assume that one fallback plan for Cueto is Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda, who we now know will be posted for MLB clubs this offseason. GM Dave Stewart publicly voiced his interest in Maeda last offseason and said this winter that the team has continued to monitor him. Arizona has also been connected to right-hander Mike Leake, an Arizona State grad, on multiple occasions. Given the payroll parameters within which the D-backs typically operate, it stands to reason that signing Maeda, Leake or a similarly priced free agent would indeed, as Hall alluded to, prevent them from further bolstering their rotation with an increased offer to Cueto.