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After surprising many by earning a wild card slot and advancing to the NLDS last season, the Diamondbacks will juggle a large arbitration class and several key free agent decisions while trying to return to the postseason.
- Zack Greinke, SP: $126.5MM through 2021
- Yasmany Tomas, OF: $42.5MM through 2020 (final two seasons are player options)
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: $11MM through 2018 (club option for $14.5MM in 2019, $2MM buyout)
- Jeff Mathis, C: $2MM through 2018
- Daniel Descalso, IF/OF: $2MM through 2018
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Patrick Corbin (5.105) – $8.3MM
- Randall Delgado (5.100) – $2.5MM
- A.J. Pollock (5.052) – $8.5MM
- Shelby Miller (4.166) – $4.9MM
- J.J. Hoover (4.153) – $1.6MM
- Chris Owings (4.027) – $3.8MM
- Chris Herrmann (4.001) – $1.4MM
- T.J. McFarland (3.165) – $1.0MM
- Taijuan Walker (3.142) – $5.0MM
- David Peralta (3.120) – $3.8MM
- Nick Ahmed (3.054) – $1.1MM
- Jake Lamb (3.053) – $4.7MM
- Andrew Chafin (3.020) – $1.2MM
- Robbie Ray (3.007) – $4.2MM
- Non-tender candidates: McFarland, Herrmann, Hoover
- J.D. Martinez, Fernando Rodney, Chris Iannetta, Jorge De La Rosa, David Hernandez, Gregor Blanco, Adam Rosales
It only took one offseason for first-year GM Mike Hazen to get his team back on the winning track, though in fairness to the former Tony La Russa/Dave Stewart-led front office, the 2017 D’Backs were blessed with much better health and far more breakout performances than the unfortunate 2016 squad. Since the team is now perhaps a bit ahead of schedule in terms of returning to contention, however, Hazen now faces an interesting offseason of trying to fill various roster holes while still keeping the payroll in check.
The Diamondbacks project to owe just over $114MM to 19 players next year (the five guaranteed deals and the whopping 14-player arbitration class), and that number rises to the $120MM range if you factor in the key pre-arb players who will certainly be on next year’s team. While some money could be saved via non-tenders, the D’Backs still project to have the largest Opening Day payroll in the franchise history. There isn’t going to be much, if any, of a payroll increase, according to team president Derrick Hall, who also recently stated that the D’Backs will “have to get creative in a few spots financially if we’re going to get aggressive in certain areas.”
With this in mind, it doesn’t seem like there’s much chance of a reunion with J.D. Martinez, especially given Martinez’s reported asking price of a staggering $210MM. Team management hasn’t closed the door on the chances of Martinez returning, though even if he and agent Scott Boras settle for “only” the six years and $150MM projected by MLBTR, that will leave the D’Backs committing well over half their payroll to just two players: Martinez and Zack Greinke. And that doesn’t even factor in possible extension talks with Paul Goldschmidt, as the star first baseman is only controlled through the 2019 season.
So, how could Hazen and company “get creative” in finding a way to bring Martinez back? The three cited non-tender candidates would account for $4MM, though more money could be saved in that department if Shelby Miller or Randall Delgado were also non-tendered. The D’Backs would have to be pessimistic about Miller’s recovery from Tommy John surgery or Delgado’s flexor strain to consider dumping either pitcher, though as Welington Castillo could tell you, Arizona isn’t shy about making surprising non-tender calls.
Other possibilities include shopping Patrick Corbin or A.J. Pollock, both of whom are free agents after the 2018 season. Pollock missed virtually all of 2016 due to a fractured elbow and was limited to only 112 games in 2017 due to groin and quad injuries, though he was still an above-average run creator and center field defender last season. Several teams looking for center field help would have interest in Pollock if he was made available, though given the superstar ceiling he exhibited in 2015, Arizona probably sees a healthy Pollock as a way to help fill the offensive hole left behind if Martinez departs.
After a bullpen demotion in 2016, Corbin re-established himself as a starter with a solid 3.0 fWAR season, posting a 4.03 ERA over 189 2/3 innings. He’d be a good trade chip to teams looking to add pitching, and the Diamondbacks can potentially afford to part with Corbin given how the rest of their rotation emerged as a strength last year. Even without Corbin, the Snakes would still have a nice core of Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, and Zack Godley, with Miller scheduled for a midseason return and prospects Anthony Banda and Taylor Clarke knocking on the door to battle for the fifth starter’s job. A low-cost veteran could also be brought in if the D’Backs prefer Banda and Clarke as Triple-A depth to start the year.
Of course, the boldest move would be to trade Greinke, who just turned 34 in October and is still owed $138.5MM over the next four years. Greinke rebounded from a disappointing 2016 to display his usual excellent form last season. While the D’Backs are certainly more comfortable paying Greinke that much if he pitches like an ace, the fact that he accounts for such a significant portion of the payroll means that the team has to at least keep an eye out for trade possibilities. (Greinke has some control over his destiny in the form of a 15-team no-trade clause.) The D’Backs were reportedly trying to unload all of Greinke’s contract during trade talks in the summer of 2016; this still seems like a long shot now, though Greinke’s strong year will aid in getting more of his salary off Arizona’s books.
Losing Greinke rather than Corbin is obviously a much bigger blow to the rotation, though if a Greinke trade did become a reality, the D’Backs could still shop for more pitching. Consider that MLBTR projects Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb to find free agent deals this winter that combined won’t match what Greinke will earn over the next four seasons. Dealing Greinke and then signing Lynn or Cobb would be a downgrade at the front of the rotation but a major dose of payroll relief.
(Obligatory Shohei Ohtani mention: the D’Backs will certainly join every other team in baseball in trying to gain the attention of the Japanese superstar if and when the bidding begins on Ohtani’s services. It’s probably safe to categorize the Diamondbacks as a less-likely candidate to sign Ohtani, though they have been in the mix for high-profile Japanese players in the past.)
Turning to the relief side of the pitching equation, Arizona has some holes to fill with closer Fernando Rodney, Jorge De La Rosa and David Hernandez all hitting free agency. None of this trio would be particularly expensive to re-sign if the D’Backs simply wanted to get the band back together, though some upgrading will be necessary depending on what happens with the likes of Hoover or McFarland in arbitration. Archie Bradley could potentially take over the closer’s job from the somewhat shaky Rodney, though the team may feel he is more valuable as a multi-inning pitcher who can be deployed at any point in a game. Given their other needs and lack of payroll flexibility, expect the D’Backs to again target low-cost relief signings in the hopes of succeeding as they did with Rodney, De La Rosa, and Hoover last offseason.
Speaking of winning signings, Chris Iannetta more than delivered on his one-year, $1.5MM deal from a winter ago, as he hit .254/.354/.511 with 17 homers over 316 plate appearances. Arizona could try to re-sign Iannetta, or perhaps look to take advantage of what could be a somewhat quiet free agent catching market. The Rockies are the only contender with a clear need behind the plate, with the Nationals, Athletics, and White Sox all speculative candidates to look for catching help. With Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Avila, and Castillo as the big names on the market, a relative lack of suitors could bring one of these catchers into the Diamondbacks’ price range, or at least allow Iannetta to be re-signed on another relatively inexpensive deal. Castillo probably isn’t a candidate given that the D’Backs just parted ways with him last offseason, though Lucroy or Avila could add more pop from the catcher position if the Snakes don’t feel Iannetta can replicate his 2017 numbers.
Looking elsewhere around the diamond, the D’Backs are set at first base (Goldschmidt), third base (Jake Lamb), center field (Pollock), and right field (David Peralta). Yasmany Tomas is still penciled in as the left fielder, though he was plagued by injuries in 2017 and he has yet to show much consistency at the plate over his three-year MLB career. Socrates Brito looks like an interesting fourth outfielder candidate who could earn more playing time as Tomas’ late-game defensive replacement or even platoon partner. A Pollock trade would obviously shake things up considerably in the outfield; depending on the return in that deal, the D’Backs would then be in the market for center field help, perhaps a veteran like Cameron Maybin or Jarrod Dyson.
The D’Backs are also more than set in the middle infield in terms of sheer numbers, though they’ll be hoping for more production at the plate. Ketel Marte and Brandon Drury are the respective favorites at shortstop and second base, with Nick Ahmed also in the mix at short and Chris Owings available at both positions in his multi-position utility role. Veteran Daniel Descalso, whose 2018 option has already been exercised by the D’Backs, will also be back in a utilityman role.
This surplus of infielders capable of playing multiple positions makes the D’Backs a good trade partner for teams looking for infield help, such as the Blue Jays, Angels, Brewers, Red Sox, Rays, Mets, and Giants. No trade is likely to approach the scope of the Jean Segura deal from a year ago unless an infielder is included as part of a larger trade package, though the Snakes can certainly address at least one need depending on which infielder is traded. Drury and Owings have the most trade value but are also the two the D’Backs would probably most like to keep, particularly since Lamb still needs to be spelled against left-handed pitching.
This is just my speculation, but Lamb could also be a trade chip if Arizona is looking for players that could bring back a decent return. The 27-year-old has delivered a lot of pop over the last two seasons, though he also has some significant flaws — an inability to hit southpaws, below-average third base defense, and a tendency to fade after the All-Star break. Lamb is arb-eligible for the first time this winter and is controllable through 2020, so while the Snakes would miss his power, they could deal Lamb to address another need and then look for a third base alternative (or move Drury to the hot corner). Speculating further, the D’Backs could also try packaging Lamb and Tomas as a way of getting at least some of Tomas’ contract off the books.
Hazen decided against cleaning house in his first offseason as Arizona’s GM, and his relatively quiet winter was rewarded by a postseason trip. A busier offseason seems to be on the horizon now, however, as while Hazen is still looking to better position the team for the future, there is more pressure to win in the aftermath of 2017’s good results.