On the heels of an NL-worst 52-110 showing, the Diamondbacks are generally expected to be in for a quiet winter. Last month, Arizona GM Mike Hazen frankly acknowledged that competing in a loaded division in 2022 looked unlikely, and he sounded slightly more open than he’d been in the past to considering trades that would send away marquee members of the roster.
Still, Hazen pushed back against the possibility of a full rebuild at that time, and assistant general manager Amiel Sawdaye took a similar stance yesterday when speaking with reporters (including Zach Buchanan of the Athletic). Asked about the possibility of moving high-caliber, controllable players like Ketel Marte, Zac Gallen and Carson Kelly, Sawdaye reiterated that the D-Backs hope to build around what he called “cornerstone-type players.” Just as Hazen has on a few occasions, Sawdaye said the Snakes would “never say never” on any possibility, but he also didn’t sound anxious to tear the roster to the studs.
“We go into every season with the idea that we want to put the best possible team out there that’s going to go out and compete,” Sawdaye said (via Buchanan). “I don’t think we ever wave the white flag and say, ‘Well, we’re going to give up on ’22.” Sawdaye instead suggested the D-Backs would look for external upgrades, pointing to the bullpen and third base as areas of need.
The Diamondbacks had plenty of issues this past season, but it’s arguable that the relief corps was the biggest culprit. Only the Orioles and Nationals had a worse bullpen ERA than Arizona’s 5.08, and D-Backs relievers ranked dead last in both SIERA (4.56) and strikeout/walk rate differential (9.7 percentage points). Since the end of the season, they’ve already picked up a pair of relief options (Zack Burdi and Edwin Uceta) off waivers, but it seems they’ll scour the free agent market for additional options. Sawdaye didn’t suggest the D-Backs would play for top-of-the-market arms like Raisel Iglesias or Kendall Graveman, but the front office has plenty of lower-cost candidates to choose from. The Snakes can add at least add some veteran stability to the middle innings, since they’re only returning one reliever (Sean Poppen) who worked at least ten innings with a sub-4.00 SIERA in 2021.
On the position player side, Sawdaye called third base “the clearest need on our infield.” Eduardo Escobar and Asdrúbal Cabrera soaked up the bulk of the innings there this year, but both players were moved to contenders before the end of the season. The D-Backs could theoretically make another run at either player now that they’re free agents, but Escobar seems likely to price himself out of their market and Cabrera didn’t play particularly well. Beyond Kris Bryant and Kyle Seager, the free agent market offers mostly utility types at the hot corner.
Interestingly, Sawdaye suggested the D-Backs could try to pick up a controllable third base option via trade. Even if Arizona doesn’t wind up trading long-term assets, they could move someone like starter Merrill Kelly, who’ll make just $5.25MM in his final year of team control. Perhaps a Kelly deal could bring back a controllable infielder, and Sawdaye also floated the possibility of a “prospect-for-prospect-type deal” eventually coming together. The D-Backs themselves were part of perhaps the most notable trade of that kind in recent memory, when they picked up Gallen from the Marlins for Jazz Chisholm Jr. at the 2019 trade deadline.
There seems to be a bit of room on the books for the front office to make some upgrades, even if none of Sawdaye’s comments portend a pursuit at the top of the market. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource projects the D-Backs’ 2022 commitments around $80MM at the moment, and non-tenders of players like Christian Walker, Noé Ramirez and Caleb Smith could knock a few million dollars off that mark. Arizona entered the 2021 campaign with a payroll just shy of $96MM, in the estimation of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. If owner Ken Kendrick is willing to spend at that level again, then Arizona could be more active than one might expect in augmenting the roster around the margins.