The Diamondbacks went into the 2020 campaign aiming for a playoff spot, but they wound up going 25-35 and finishing last in the National League West. The D-backs nevertheless had a rather modest offseason and now look as if they’ll extend their playoff drought to four years in 2021.
Major League Signings
- Joakim Soria, RHP: One year, $3.5MM
- Tyler Clippard, RHP: One year, $2.25MM
- Asdrubal Cabrera, INF: One year, $1.75MM
- Total spend: $8.5MM
Trades And Claims
- Traded LHP Travis Bergen to Blue Jays for cash considerations
- Claimed RHP Humberto Castellanos from Astros
- Traded RHP Zach Pop to the Marlins for a player to be named later
- Claimed RHP Rogelio Armenteros from Astros (later lost on waivers to the Nationals)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Anthony Swarzak, Heath Fillmyer, Ben Heller, Chris Devenski, Ryan Buchter, Bryan Holaday, Seth Frankoff
With last season on the verge of concluding, Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall suggested to reporters that the club was unlikely to make significant changes on the roster, in the dugout or in the front office. He also called it “far-fetched” that Arizona’s 2021 payroll would match the $124MM that it was projected to spend last year before the pandemic sliced 102 games off the schedule. Hall wasn’t kidding. The Diamondbacks made little in the way of notable moves over the winter, and they’re set to enter this season with a payroll of $98MM, according to Jason Martinez of Roster Resource.
Right-handers Joakim Soria and Tyler Clippard, two of the three major league free agents the Diamondbacks signed, will play important roles in their bullpen this season after signing low-cost one-year deals. It’s no surprise the Diamondbacks made improving the unit a priority, as it finished 18th in the league in ERA and 25th in K-BB percentage in 2020. Soria and Clippard – a Diamondback in 2016 – are up there in age (36), but they carry quality track records and didn’t show any clear signs of slowing down last season. They and holdover Stefan Crichton look like the top three relievers in a righty-heavy Arizona bullpen, while experienced minor league signings Ryan Buchter, Anthony Swarzak and Chris Devenski are among those vying for spots behind them.
Arizona’s bullpen did struggle in 2020, but its rotation was even worse. Even though the group logged an unappealing 5.04 ERA, the Diamondbacks didn’t make any outside pickups during the offseason.
They’re stuck with Madison Bumgarner, who bombed during the first season of his five-year, $85MM contract, and left to hope he’ll return to something resembling his San Francisco form in 2021. They’ll also need a rebound from Luke Weaver, who was outstanding in 2019 before forearm issues cut him down that season. The 27-year-old recorded a hideous 6.58 ERA in 2020, but that did come with a better SIERA (4.52) and career-high fastball velocity (94.1 mph). Caleb Smith walked almost eight batters per nine during a brief 14-inning season between Miami and Arizona, yet he’s slated to open the season in the D-backs’ rotation after coming over in the teams’ Starling Marte trade over the summer. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are also sure bets, and deservedly so in light of the production they offered in 2020. However, Kelly’s season ended in early September when he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, which is never an easy procedure for a pitcher to overcome. Nevertheless, having exercised Kelly’s $4.25MM club option at the beginning of the offseason, the Diamondbacks seem confident he’ll bounce back.
The Diamondbacks’ offense didn’t fare much better than their pitching in 2020, as they finished 19th in runs and 26th in wRC+. Right fielder Kole Calhoun may have been their best hitter then, but he’ll miss the start of the season after undergoing knee surgery. Furthermore, before temporarily losing Calhoun, Arizona didn’t do much of anything to improve its offense. Lone free-agent newcomer Asdrubal Cabrera will provide versatility around the infield and give the Diamondbacks a switch-hitter who’s capable of roughly average offense, both of which are pluses, but he isn’t someone who’s going to move the needle much for the club.
To a large degree, the Diamondbacks are betting on rebound efforts and breakouts to lift their offense this year. Center fielder/second baseman Ketel Marte was an MVP-caliber player in 2019, but he was merely ordinary last season. Meanwhile, third baseman Eduardo Escobar and catcher Carson Kelly registered disastrous numbers after impressing in 2019. Calhoun, first baseman Christian Walker, shortstop Nick Ahmed and left fielder David Peralta each put up above-average production last year, though there’s no fearsome presence in that group. The lack of standout talent could leave room for some of the D-backs’ less experienced hitters (e.g., Josh Rojas, Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith) to establish themselves this season. Rojas has thrived this spring, albeit over a small sample of at-bats, and has a chance to start 2021 as the team’s No. 1 second baseman. Varsho and/or Smith could claim a roster spot with Calhoun on the shelf.
In looking at the Diamondbacks’ roster and division, there’s a strong case general manager Mike Hazen & Co. should have sold, not sit on the fence, during the offseason. PECOTA projects Arizona will win 79 games, which appears to be a reasonable figure and would place them a distant third in the NL West behind Los Angeles and San Diego – both of which are legitimate World Series contenders. Of course, if the Diamondbacks are out of contention as the trade deadline approaches, they could at least shop some of their veterans (Soria, Clippard, Kelly, Cabrera, Calhoun and Escobar, to name several) in an effort to further bolster a farm system that ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranks 10th in the game.
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