With the lockout officially behind us, teams are again allowed to pursue major league transactions. There’s still plenty of free agent and trade possibilities for clubs, and it’s expected we’ll see a flurry of activity in the coming days.
Diamondbacks team president/CEO Derrick Hall met with reporters (including Steve Gilbert of MLB.com) this afternoon to discuss the club’s post-lockout outlook. He pointed to the addition of another bat and further upgrades to the bullpen as particular areas of priority for general manager Mike Hazen and the rest of the front office.
That aligns with pre-lockout expectations, as the front office had signaled a desire in November for help at third base and in the relief corps. Arizona has yet to address the position player group in meaningful fashion, so adding at third base probably remains a goal. Kyle Seager has since retired, taking one notable free agent option off the table. The D-Backs aren’t likely to sign a star like Kris Bryant, leaving players like Jonathan Villar and Josh Harrison as the most realistic options for the Snakes if they look to the open market for infield upgrades.
The Diamondbacks made one big pre-lockout addition to the bullpen. They added veteran closer Mark Melancon on a two-year deal, fortifying the ninth inning. There’s still plenty of room for upgrades in the middle to late innings, though. The only returning Arizona bullpen option who had above-average strikeout and walk numbers last season (minimum 20 innings pitched) is swingman Caleb Smith. Melancon, Smith, Noé Ramirez and Joe Mantiply are the only pitchers with an ERA below 3.50 who are heading back to the desert. Adding another arm or two to bridge the gap between the rotation and Melancon at the end of games makes sense.
Free agency offers plenty of relief options coming off quality 2021 seasons. It seems likely the D-Backs will add at least one veteran bullpen arm on a big league deal, and Hall indicated the club has a bit of payroll flexibility with which to work. “I see us being aggressive and being active,” he said. “And if you’re asking if we’re gonna get [the payroll] to north of $90 million — 100, 105 — I could easily see that.”
At present, the D-Backs have around $88MM in commitments for the 2022 campaign, including projected salaries for arbitration-eligible players (via Jason Martinez of Roster Resource). Hall’s comments suggest there’s at least a few million dollars remaining in the coffers for Hazen and company, and it doesn’t seem out of the question the Snakes could add an extra $10MM or $15MM to this year’s books if the right opportunity presents itself.
Some may surprised to hear the D-Backs are planning to add on the heels of an NL-worst 52-110 showing. However, Arizona brass has been resistant to the idea of a full rebuild. The D-Backs didn’t move key controllable players like Ketel Marte or Zac Gallen either at last summer’s deadline or earlier in the offseason. Their first big move of the offseason was to sign a veteran closer. They’ll face an uphill battle in an NL West that looks to be one of the most challenging divisions in the league, but it doesn’t seem the D-Backs are interested in punting on 2022.