- Robbie Ray has been a fixture in trade rumors for the better part of a year, and the Diamondbacks southpaw told MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert that “I thought I was as good as gone” heading into last summer’s trade deadline. “We were in it, but we were far enough behind where it looked like it was a real possibility that I was going to go somewhere. I was hearing it every single day,” Ray said. As it happened, the D’Backs instead unloaded an even bigger arm (and a bigger contract) by dealing Zack Greinke to the Astros, though Ray still felt he was a trade candidate during “the first part of the offseason…and then we made the moves that we made.” Acquiring Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte, Kole Calhoun has now made the D’Backs into a popular choice to reach the postseason, leaving Ray now comfortable that he will remain in Arizona as long as the club is in contention. Ray is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season.
- Speaking of Bumgarner, the southpaw’s secret identity of rodeo team-roper “Mason Saunders” was publicly revealed today by Andrew Baggarly and Zach Buchanan of the Athletic (subscription required). Bumgarner’s participation in rodeo events has been something of an open secret for some time, though he has used the fake name to avoid extra publicity. Saun…er, Bumgarner competed in two events as recently as December, prior to signing his five-year, $85MM contract with the Diamondbacks. It isn’t known whether that agreement allows the left-hander to continue roping in organized events, as GM Mike Hazen said he was “not going to get into discussing specific contract language.”
Leiter missed all of the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March. Given the normal 12-15 month timeline for TJ recovery, Leiter might not yet be ready to pitch even if the D’Backs did want to put him on their Opening Day roster, though he could also continue to recover and ramp up in the minors until he is ready for a potential big league return. Assuming good health, Leiter provides the Diamondbacks with a versatile depth arm who has worked as both a starter and reliever.
Most recently a member of the Blue Jays roster, Leiter (who turns 29 next month) became a free agent after the season. The righty has a 5.53 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 2.47 K/BB rate, and 48.2% grounder rate over 114 career MLB innings, all with the Phillies and Blue Jays in 2017-18. While some ERA indicators (4.37 xFIP, 4.23 SIERA) hint that Leiter’s real-world ERA is unduly inflated, Leiter hasn’t helped himself by allowing 25 home runs over his 114 frames of work, averaging out to an untenable 1.97 HR/9.
Diamondbacks closer Archie Bradley won his arbitration hearing against the team, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports (via Twitter). He’ll earn the $4.1MM salary figure submitted by his representatives at the BBI Sports Group rather than the $3.625MM sum proposed by the D-backs. That’s a $2.27MM raise over last season’s $1.83MM salary. Bradley will be eligible for arbitration for the final time next winter before becoming a free agent in the 2021-22 offseason.
The 27-year-old Bradley, the No. 7 overall draft pick back in 2011, never quite panned out as a starter but has found his groove in a relief role. The righty has gradually been entrusted with increasing amounts of high-leverage innings and eventually supplanted Opening Day closer Greg Holland as Arizona’s top ninth-inning option in 2019. Overall, he pitched to a 3.52 ERA with 18 saves, 10.9 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9 and a 45.2 percent ground-ball rate. He’s the clear favorite for save opportunities heading into the 2020 season.
Since moving to the bullpen full time in 2017, Bradley has helped to anchor the Arizona bullpen with a 2.95 ERA (3.24 FIP) and 10 strikeouts per nine inning pitched over the course of 216 1/3 innings. He’s appeared in at least 63 games and pitched at least 71 2/3 innings in each of those three seasons. As it stands, he’s slated to hit the open market in advance of his age-29 campaign, so if he continues on his current trajectory without incurring a significant injury, his age should put him in position for a relatively handsome payday.
With Bradley’s victory and this morning’s last-minute settlement by Phillies closer Hector Neris ($4.6MM with a 2021 club option), all of this year’s arbitration cases have now been resolved. Teams rushed out to an early 4-0 lead over the players but ultimately wound up at a more balanced 7-5 when all was said and done. Now that all of this year’s cases are in the books, you can see the full slate of pre-trial agreements, extensions and hearing outcomes in MLBTR’s 2020 Arbitration Tracker.
- Thanks to a productive 2019 season at the Double-A level, Diamondbacks first base prospect Pavin Smith has a chance to make his major league debut sometime this year, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic observes. Smith was the seventh overall pick of the Diamondbacks in 2017, and while he hit well in low-A ball that year, he provided little to no power (zero home runs, .097 ISO). He then didn’t produce at a particularly impressive clip at the high-A level the next season, but Smith turned it around last year. In his Double-A debut, he put up a .291/.370/.466 line with 12 homers and almost as many walks (59) and strikeouts (61).
Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick and president Derrick Hall held court on several topics with the press yesterday. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported on the session; we’ll cover a few salient points here.
Kendrick had lofty praise for recently extended GM Mike Hazen, saying the top baseball ops decisionmaker has “done a remarkable job of transitioning from what he inherited to what we now have,” referring to the strides made in building out the farm system and compiling a competitive and cost-efficient MLB roster.
We’re accustomed to the notion of ownership setting payrolls that are never quite as robust as a baseball operations department might prefer. But Hazen has actually counseled against certain added cash outlays, Kendrick relays. “I’ve had a willingness to personally commit more money than [the front office] feels is the smart thing for us to do,” he says.
In the long run, Kendrick says, he anticipates that payroll will continue to rise along with the team’s revenue streams. It wasn’t quite clear whether he meant to suggest that his organization anticipates gaining ground relative to the rest of the league, though that’s certainly possible.
The D-Backs are, after all, still working on ways to make more cash from their stadium situation. Hall says the organization is focused at present on maximizing the opportunities at Chase Field, which the team gained added control over after sorting out some elements of a dispute regarding maintenance with municipal authorities.
With positive initial returns on efforts to take care of the facility and put it to non-baseball uses, Hall says “there’s not such an urgency to figure out that next step.” Indeed, things went so well last year that the organization sees some spillover onto the baseball side. “It does provide us with new resources from a revenue standpoint that we can invest back into the team,” Hall explains.
It does seem there’s still an inclination to pursue a new ballpark — or, perhaps, a major revamp of the existing facility. Kendrick posited a rather confusing analogy of Chase Field to a “classic automobile;” in both, he says, one might like some of what’s outwardly visible but might also “find things sometimes you wouldn’t wish to find.” Kendrick seemingly suggested that maintaining the facility might ultimately not be feasible, thus requiring a new one altogether. It seems odd that a ballpark that opened in 1998 would have been constructed in such a manner. While it’s understandable enough that the team is desirous of maximizing its earning opportunities — particularly after seeing a few peer organizations pull off fancy multi-use, publicly-funded projects to replace perfectly useful existing structures — building new ballparks every quarter-century really isn’t a reasonable overall strategy.
An MRI revealed a small fracture in Mike Leake’s left wrist, though the veteran right-hander told reporters (including Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic) that he is still hoping to be part of the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster. Since his pitching arm wasn’t affected, Leake said he will play catch (without return throws) over the next two weeks to keep his right arm loose while his left wrist heals. In keeping with the annual Spring Training tradition of players suffering injuries under unusual circumstances, Leake said he injured his wrist while chasing after one of his dogs, as Leake slipped and fell on his basketball court while in pursuit of the disobedient pet.
After being acquired from the Mariners in a trade deadline deal last July, Leake posted a 4.35 ERA and 3.38 K/BB rate over 60 innings (10 starts) for Arizona, though with a 4.1 K/9 and a whopping 2.3 HR/9. Leake is tentatively penciled into the fifth starter role for the D’Backs this season, as the club hopes that he can provide his usual durability at the back of the rotation — the 32-year-old has averaged 188 innings pitched over the last nine seasons.
Some more from the desert….
- Stephen Vogt talked to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link) about Vogt’s decision to sign with the Diamondbacks, with the catcher citing both logistical and contractual reasons. Vogt liked being able to spend eight months in Arizona for both Spring Training and the season itself, and the D’Backs separated themselves from the Giants in contract talks by offering Vogt a vesting option for the 2021 season. The Giants offered Vogt more in guaranteed money than the $3MM Vogt will receive from the D’Backs, though if his option vests and Vogt hits his contract incentives, he can earn up to $7MM over the two-year span.
- Archie Bradley’s arbitration hearing has been set for February 18, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports. Bradley is seeking a $4.1MM salary for the 2020 season, while the D’Backs filed for a $3.625MM number. The 2019 season saw Bradley increasingly deployed as a closer, as he recorded 18 saves after having only four saves on his career ledger heading into the year. Players haven’t had much luck going to hearings this year, as arbiters have ruled in favor of teams in five of the six arbitration hearings that have already taken place this month; the Dodgers’ Pedro Baez is the only player who has won his arb hearing. You can follow along with all the results in MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker.
- Diamondbacks right-hander Mike Leake is undergoing an MRI after experiencing soreness in his left wrist following a fall at his home, manager Torey Lovullo told reporters today (Twitter links via The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan). Lovullo described the MRI as precautionary in nature, so it doesn’t seem as though the organization is overly concerned at the moment. Leake, 32, landed in Arizona following a deadline swap with the Mariners and pitched to a 4.35 ERA in 60 innings (10 starts). Leake fanned just 27 hitters in those 60 frames but was quite stingy in terms of issuing free passes as well, surrendering just eight bases on balls. The ever-durable righty made at least 30 starts for the eighth consecutive season in 2019, eating up 197 innings between Seattle and Arizona.
The D-backs are bringing one of their first-round picks back to the organization, signing right-hander Aaron Blair to a minor league contract, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter link). He’s repped by PSI Sports Managament.
Blair, 27, was a supplemental first-rounder out of Marshall University in 2013. He ranked among baseball’s 100 best prospects per Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus in both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 offseasons. But while Blair was a fast riser who thrived during his first extended looks at Double-A and Triple-A, his career stalled out upon reaching the Majors.
Arizona included Blair in the franchise-altering trade that also sent Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte to Atlanta in exchange for Shelby Miller. He made his MLB debut with the Braves in April 2016, but from 2016-17 he combined to allow 64 earned runs with a lackluster 49-to-39 K/BB ratio over the life of 73 innings.
Blair eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn capsule in his pitching shoulder in April 2018 — a procedure that wound up sidelining him for not only the 2018 season but all of the 2019 campaign as well. After pitching just 2 2/3 innings between the Majors and Triple-A over the past two seasons, Blair will face an uphill battle in pitching his way back to the big leagues, but he’ll do so in his original organization — one where he had more success than he did at any point during his Braves tenure.
An action-packed day in MLB, as Mookie Betts, David Price (and Joc Pederson) are officially Dodgers, Kenta Maeda is officially a member of the Twins, MLB is considering radical changes to the playoff structure, a former pitcher and trash can victim is suing the Astros, and the Diamondbacks lock up Nick Ahmed. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd makes sense of everything in our latest video:
The Diamondbacks have announced a long-term deal with shortstop Nick Ahmed. Ahmed will earn a guaranteed $32.5MM over the four years covered by the deal, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports on Twitter.
Ahmed and the Snakes had been engaged in an arbitration standoff, with the player seeking $6.95MM and the team at $6.6MM. This new deal will therefore tack on three further seasons and over $25MM in new commitments. Ahmed had been due to reach free agency at the end of the 2020 season. He is a client of Meister Sports Management.
The structure includes a $1.5MM signing bonus, per Zach Buchanan of The Athletic (Twitter links). Ahmed will earn $6MM for the coming season, take home $7.5MM apiece in 2021 and 2022, and receive $10MM in the final year of the deal. There’s also a $500K escalator for each Gold Glove award that Ahmed wins, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
At first glance, it’s a heck of an outlay for a player who’s entering his age-30 campaign without so much as a single league-average offensive season under his belt. Ahmed is a career .236/.289/.387 hitter through 2,209 plate appearances at the game’s highest level.
Then again, depending upon one’s perspective — and, as ever, the way things actually play out — this could be a bargain. It seems safe to say that the Diamondbacks do not put much stock in the UZR metric, by which Ahmed has been a good but hardly remarkable performer at short. By measure of Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average, on the other hand, Ahmed is an exceptional performer with the glove. He has also earned the National League Gold Glove in each of the past two campaigns.
But that’s only touching the surface of the intrigue when it comes to Ahmed. Long a marginal performer with the bat, he trended up to a career-best 92 wRC+ last season. Ahmed cracked the .300 OBP barrier for the first time and drove 19 balls out of the park. It’s probably not reasonable to anticipate much beyond league-average offense (if that) going forward, but the arrow is obviously pointed in the right direction given that Ahmed has been able to improve both his plate discipline (career-best .46 BB/K ratio) and power (career-best .183 ISO) at the same time.
So, what’s the total package worth? Even after the offensive uptick last year, Ahmed was only a 2.4 WAR performer by measure of Fangraphs’ UZR-based valuation. But Baseball-Reference, which utilizes DRS, pegged him at 4.5 WAR. If indeed Ahmed truly wields an elite glove and provides anything approaching the league mean with the bat, he could handily out-perform the contract. If things really click at the plate, this could even turn into a truly high-value pact. Of course, there’s also equivalent downside if Ahmed’s offensive/defensive out-making trends reverse course.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.