- The Diamondbacks optioned Ketel Marte to Triple-A on Tuesday, meaning they’re primed to divide shortstop between Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings. Manager Torey Lovullo isn’t sure which of the two will get the lion’s share of playing time at short, though “he sort of intimated” Owings will be in the lineup everyday at various positions, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (Twitter links). Since debuting in 2013, Owings has seen action at both middle infield spots and center field.
- Righty Tom Wilhelmsen and lefty Jorge De La Rosa have both been added to the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster, the team announced, though only the latter is an Article XX(B) player. They’ll both join the bullpen for the start of the season. Wilhelmsen posted better numbers in the second half of 2016, but still wasn’t quite his former self. Meanwhile, De La Rosa is set to transition to the bullpen after serving mostly as a starter over his 13-year MLB career.
The Diamondbacks have claimed first baseman/outfielder Christian Walker off waivers from the Reds, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer was among those to tweet. The move opens a roster spot for the Reds’ addition of infielder Scooter Gennett. Arizona has designated reliever Evan Marshall to create roster space, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets.
It’s not the first time that Walker has changed hands over the offseason. He bounced previously from the Orioles to the Braves before moving to Cincinnati. Though he hasn’t seen much MLB time, Walker has hit fairly well at Triple-A. In what amounts to about two full seasons at the highest level of the minors, he owns a .260/.324/.429 slash with 42 home runs.
The trouble is, Walker hasn’t quite hit enough to push out an established big leaguer from a first base job. And he is new to the outfield, leaving it unclear just how he’ll fit on a National League roster. While Arizona had previously parted with a similarly hard-to-fit player in Peter O’Brien, the club now evidently felt there was roster space to spare.
As for Marshall, who’ll soon turn 27, the results have just not been there over the past two seasons. He turned in a high-quality 2014 season (2.74 ERA with 9.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9) that seemingly made him a long-term piece. But while his velocity has largely stayed consistent, he tumbled to an 8.8% swinging-strike rate in 2016 and was hardly dominant during his time at Triple-A. In his 5 1/3 spring innings, Marshall had permitted only two earned runs, but did allow nine base hits while compiling three strikeouts to go with one free pass.
TODAY: The D-Backs have indeed re-signed Blanco to a new minors deal, per a club announcement. It contains the same terms — a $1MM potential base salary and $2.7MM in available incentives — as the old one, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (via Twitter).
YESTERDAY, 9:29pm: Arizona would like to re-sign Blanco, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (Twitter links). With an oblique injury slowing Blanco, the club wasn’t “comfortable making the call on him for the Opening Day roster tomorrow” (the Article XX(B) deadline), thus leading to tonight’s move.
9:11pm: The Diamondbacks have released veteran outfielder Gregor Blanco, per a team announcement. He’ll return to the open market in search of another opportunity after failing to crack the team’s Opening Day roster.
The 33-year-old Blanco was an Article XX(B) free agent, meaning the club would have had to pay him a $100K roster bonus to keep him in the minors (assuming he’d not have opted out at that point). Though it seemed entering camp that Blanco would have a reasonable shot at making the team, he hit just .225/.295/.400 in spring action.
Blanco’s offensive production tanked last year, as he scuffled to a .224/.309/.311 slash. But he had been quite a steady performer over the four preceding seasons with the Giants, often as a semi-regular player. Blanco slashed a solid .264/.343/.367 with 18 homers and 69 stolen bases in 1,565 trips to the plate from 2012 through 2015.
- The Diamondbacks do not have shortstop Nick Ahmed on the market, Rosenthal reports. Ahmed has two minor-league options and is therefore useful to a Diamondbacks team that faces a reasonable amount of uncertainty at the shortstop position, where they also have the largely unproven Chris Owings and Ketel Marte. The Yankees, meanwhile, feel they don’t need Ahmed — Didi Gregorius is set to begin the season on the DL with a shoulder injury, but the Yankees prefer to get through the first several weeks of the season with a combination of Ronald Torreyes, Pete Kozma (a somewhat similar player to Ahmed, Rosenthal points out) and Tyler Wade at short.
- The Diamondbacks will keep an eye out for bullpen help as Opening Day approaches, perhaps pursuing players who don’t make other clubs’ 25-man rosters. In the meantime, though, the Snakes like what they see in Tom Wilhelmsen and J.J. Hoover, both of whom they signed to minor-league deals.
The Diamondbacks drafted both Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock in 2009 and the two have been teammates for years, but they might not remain in the same organization for long, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. If the Snakes don’t contend this season — and that doesn’t appear particularly likely after a disappointing 2016 — the team could begin considering dealing Goldschmidt, Pollock or Zack Greinke. Dealing Goldschmidt or Pollock would give the Diamondbacks a head start in a rebuild, an organizational route of which new GM Mike Hazen seems to see the benefits. “Picking first is a lot better than picking fifth,” Hazen said earlier this month. “From a long-term building standpoint, there are clear advantages to being in those positions over a period of time. The majority of your superstars, by and large, are going to come in those areas of the draft and the international market.” Here’s more from the National League.
The Diamondbacks have released right-hander Kevin Jepsen, as per a club press release. Jepsen signed a minor league deal with Arizona last month that would have paid him $2.25MM in base salary if he reached the big league roster.
The 32-year-old suffered through a rough 2016 season with the Twins and Rays, posting a 5.98 ERA, 6.3 K/9 and 1.67 K/BB rate (career worsts in all three categories over a full season) in 49 2/3 innings. A big spike in home runs allowed and a .321 BABIP contributed to the problems, though Jepsen’s peripherals numbers also weren’t strong, including a 37.5% hard contact rate that was way above his 28.8% career average.
Jepsen’s struggles continued into the Diamondbacks’ spring camp, as he owned an ugly 12.27 ERA over 3 2/3 innings. Despite the recent downturn in form, Jepsen isn’t far removed from a solid track record as a bullpen arm, posting a 2.93 ERA over 215 1/3 innings for the Angels, Rays and Twins from 2012-15. One would think he’d get some looks on another minor league contract from other teams looking for relief help as Opening Day approaches.
- The division-rival Diamondbacks have settled on their own starting five, as MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports. That grouping — Zack Greinke, Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray, Shelby Miller, and Patrick Corbin — contains no surprises, but manager Torey Lovullo did note an interesting decision on another hurler. Former top prospect Archie Bradley will open the year in the major league bullpen. The 24-year-old has struggled in his MLB opportunities over the past two seasons and has allowed 13 earned runs on 23 hits over 14 2/3 innings this spring. While he could still factor as a long-term rotation possibility — Bradley has produced quality results of late at Triple-A — the club will see whether the move to a relief role helps spur some positive momentum.
The Diamondbacks have returned righty Tyler Jones to the Yankees, the clubs announced. Taken in the Rule 5 draft, Jones evidently wasn’t going to crack the Arizona active roster; instead, he will head to Triple-A after the Yankees accepted him back.
Jones, 27, enjoyed something of a breakout season in 2016. Working at Double-A Trenton, he turned in 45 2/3 innings of 2.17 ERA ball with an excellent 13.2 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9. That wasn’t enough for New York to put him on the 40-man, but evidently caught Arizona’s eye. The D-Backs took him with the seventh pick in last December’s Rule 5 draft, meaning they needed to keep him on the MLB roster all year to take over his control rights.
Jones didn’t do enough in camp to earn a shot at the majors, but did rack up eight strikeouts without a walk in his 6 2/3 spring frames. With no other organizations electing to take over the Rule 5 rights given up by the D-Backs, Jones will have to try to master the highest level of the minors and wait for an opportunity to open in the Bronx.
- J.J. Hoover is looking like a good bet to break camp with the Diamondbacks, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Hoover signed a minor league deal with the D’Backs in January that will pay him a $900K base salary if he cracks the big league roster, which seems like a distinct possibility given the righty’s solid spring numbers and Arizona’s wide-open bullpen competition. Hoover posted solid numbers out of Cincinnati’s bullpen from 2012-15 before taking over as the Reds closer and suffering a disastrous 2016 season.