- Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza, Jr. is back to running at full speed, the 30-year-old himself tweeted. It’s a good sign, as Souza missed all of 2019 after tearing multiple ligaments in his left knee in spring training. That followed up a disappointing debut in the desert, in which Souza slashed just .220/.309/.369 in 272 plate appearances. Coming off back-to-back lost seasons and projected to make $4.125MM in arbitration, Souza could be a non-tender candidate this offseason. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently explored, the Diamondbacks have quite a few difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks to sort out their outfield mix.
The Cubs have free-agent center fielder Shogo Akiyama “on their radar,” reports Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required), and Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen acknowledged his own club’s interest in the 31-year-old at this week’s GM Meetings (link via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Repbulic).
Akiyama, a longtime Seibu Lions star, is hoping to make the jump to Major League Baseball this offseason. Unlike countryman Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who was posted by the Yokohama BayStars earlier today, Akiyama has nine years of service time, making him a true free agent who isn’t subject to the MLB-NPB posting system.
Akiyama has topped 20 homers in each of the past three seasons and swiped 15-plus bags in each of the past five years. In all, since the 2015 season, he’s a .320/.398/.497 hitter. He’ll turn 32 next April, so in addition to the standard questions on the extent to which a player’s output in NPB can be approximated in MLB, Akiyama will also deal with teams wondering when he’ll begin to decline. Although he’s been clear about his desire to challenge himself by playing in the Major Leagues, that doesn’t guarantee that he’ll make the switch. Akiyama is a star in NPB, so he should be able to land a multi-year deal to remain in Japan if he doesn’t find offers from MLB clubs to be suitable.
It’s not terribly difficult to see why the Cubs would have interest in Akiyama. Albert Almora hasn’t developed into the quality regular they’d hoped when he was a highly regarded prospect, and Cubs center fielders posted a dismal .232/.305/.388 line on the season as a whole. Both Almora and Jason Heyward, who shifted to center field frequently in 2019 (largely due to Almora’s struggles), posted negative center-field marks in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating.
The D-backs don’t have a glaring need in center, although that’s partially due to the flexibility that Ketel Marte affords the front office. Marte can capably handle either center field or second base, leaving Hazen and his staff free to explore a number of possibilities. Still, via Piecoro, Hazen specifically acknowledged that the Diamondbacks “think [Akiyama] is a good player.” The Diamondbacks, under Hazen, haven’t been shy about rolling the dice on players who’ve had success overseas; Arizona has signed right-handers Yoshihisa Hirano and Merrill Kelly to low-cost deals over the past two years.
Chicago and Arizona won’t be the only clubs that gives some consideration to Akiyama this winter. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has already acknowledged some interest, and the dearth of center-field options available in free agency only enhances the likelihood that he’ll garner additional MLB interest.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here to read the other entries in this series.
The Diamondbacks feature quite a few roster chameleons, giving the team plenty of options this winter as it seeks to pursue immediate competitiveness without muddying the long-term outlook.
- Ketel Marte: $21MM through 2022 (including buyouts of 2023-24 options)
- Yasmany Tomas: $17MM through 2020
- Eduardo Escobar: $14.5MM through 2021
- Mike Leake: $6MM through 2020 (Cardinals & Mariners pay remainder of contract, including $9MM of salary and $5MM buyout of 2021 option)
- Merrill Kelly: $3.5MM through 2020 (including buyout of 2021 option)
- Diamondbacks also owe $20.667MM of salary to Zack Greinke through 2021
- Taijuan Walker – $5.025MM
- David Peralta – $8.8MM
- Steven Souza Jr. – $4.125MM
- Nick Ahmed – $7.0MM
- Jake Lamb – $5.0MM
- Caleb Joseph – $1.2MM
- Andrew Chafin -$3.2MM
- Robbie Ray – $10.8MM
- Archie Bradley – $3.6MM
- Matt Andriese – $1.4MM
- Abraham Almonte – $900K (already outrighted)
- Non-tender candidates: Peralta, Souza, Lamb, Andriese, Almonte
- Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, Wilmer Flores (declined $6MM option in favor of $500K buyout), Yoshihisa Hirano, Adam Jones, Blake Swihart
We heaped on the praise when the D-Backs announced they had re-upped GM Mike Hazen, and for good reason. He came into a tough spot and has both produced a competitive MLB team and improved the team’s talent pipeline. Shrewd moves abound — chief among them: acquiring and then locking up Ketel Marte before his breakout — even if they haven’t all been winners.
The Diamondbacks have played generally winning baseball in a wholesome and sustainable manner. That’s nice. But they were swept out of their 2017 postseason appearance and haven’t been back since. The Dodgers may not have swum in the Snakes’ pool of late, but they still haven’t let anyone join them in the NL West deep end since they splashed around Chase Field in 2013. And it isn’t as if the L.A. organization has monopolized the division through spending alone; it’s doing it in a cost-efficient manner that’s all the more fearsome for the teams chasing them from afar. If nobody is even nipping at their heels, the Dodgers will just keep cruising.
If the D-Backs are to force the issue in the division, or at least to stand out a bit in a crowded NL wild card picture, they will need both to continue making cost-efficient improvements and to find a way to make a Marte-esque leap. They don’t need to rush out and do another Greinke deal, by any means, but as presently constituted the roster is more solid than good — and that’s assuming healthy campaigns from some players that have had recent injury issues. Hazen still hasn’t promised double-digit millions in a single free agent contract. That seems likely to change this winter.
Looking at the payroll, there’s about $47.5MM written in ink. The arbitration outlay will probably more than double that starting point — if every eligible player is tendered. The Snakes can shear about $9MM if they move on from Jake Lamb and Steven Souza … and double that if they were to non-tender or trade David Peralta. If all three are cut loose, the club would have a few additional holes to deal with but could also have over $30MM in free payroll to play with — assuming the team is again comfortable opening with over $120MM on the books. The D-Backs don’t really have any true blue-chip prospects to use as trade assets, but the club has drawn praise for possessing an especially nice volume of farm talent. That should leave a lot of pieces to work with in trade talks.
So where is the work to be done? Not in the rotation, arguably. The D-Backs have turned over much of their starting staff since this time last year. Robbie Ray is the only holdover from before the 2018-19 offseason. The club brought aboard Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly before the 2019 season and then added Zac Gallen and Mike Leake during that just-finished campaign. It’s not likely to be an overwhelming unit, but the spots seem ably accounted for. The Snakes surely feel they filled in the gaps when they picked up Gallen and Leake over the summer. The Gallen swap looks like a potential heist, though he’ll need to repeat his stunning breakout season and the Marlins surely feel good about what they saw from prospect Jazz Chisholm after picking him up in the deal. Leake can serve the part of veteran innings eater, joining Kelly to deliver a volume of serviceable frames. Ray is a bit of a wild card but is the kind of strikeout pitcher that teams dream on, while Weaver is coming back from injury but turned in a dozen sterling starts in 2019.
So, should the D-Backs go looking for a nice upside play and/or some depth in free agency? Not necessarily. There’s more to the rotation picture. The uber-talented Taijuan Walker will be working back from Tommy John surgery, with hopes he’ll be available for a good portion of the season. Corbin Martin is doing the same, though he’s unlikely to return before later in the year and is probably not a major factor in the 2020 planning. Jon Duplantier got his first taste of the majors last year and will surely be a factor. Taylor Clarke and Alex Young are among the 40-man roster pieces that contributed last year and can again be called upon; J.B. Bukauskas and Taylor Widener are perhaps the most promising upper-level prospects, though both had less-than-ideal results in 2019.
Some of those arms will spill over to the bullpen; Duplantier and Clarke each spent time there last season. But there’s some work to be done in the relief unit. Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, and mid-season callup Kevin Ginkel make for a nice trio of arms. Yoan Lopez and Stefan Chricton both got the job done in 2019, though the former had questionable peripherals and the latter has to prove he can do it over a full campaign. Matt Andriese suffered from the BABIP blues and could be asked back, though it’ll cost a bit. Otherwise, it’s Jimmie Sherfy and the leftover starters — good for a band name, but questionable for a contending pen.
There isn’t an overwhelming amount of need, but the D-Backs sure could stand to add at least one established, high-quality reliever to this mix. Having utilized Bradley in a flexible manner in recent years, with the closing job being occupied mostly by short-term signees, the team seems a likely bet to once more lure a veteran to the desert with promises of 9th-inning glory. We posited the club as a potential buyer of top-class relievers in compiling our list of the top 50 free agents, though we ultimately predicted a relatively low-cost accord with the sturdy and experienced Steve Cishek. This is certainly an area the team can spend on, particularly if it ticks off other needs at lower-than-expected expense, though the market isn’t exactly laden with high-end arms. The D-Backs could take a risk on a hurler like Dellin Betances and/or explore trade options.
On the position-player side, Hazen could go in quite a few different directions. Let’s start with what is in place. Carson Kelly will be the primary backstop, with Caleb Joseph and/or some other veteran (the Snakes like to carry three catchers) supplementing him. Marte can be lined up in center or at second base alongside shortstop Nick Ahmed. Either way, two of the three slots up the middle are accounted for. At the infield corners, Eduardo Escobar is a fixture while Christian Walker and Kevin Cron can be called upon at first base pending the arrival of Seth Beer. There’s room for a left-handed-hitting reserve in the mold of Lamb, who seems unlikely to be retained at his arb price point after two consecutive forgettable campaigns. And in the outfield, the D-Backs could rely upon Souza and David Peralta for a big chunk of the action … or they could move one or both of those not-insignificant salaries and go in a different direction entirely.
The Snakes gave a lot of plate appearances to light-hitting performers last year. Lamb, Adam Jones, Jarrod Dyson, Tim Locastro, Ildemaro Vargas, Josh Rojas, and Blake Swihart combined for nearly two thousand trips to the dish; not one was within a dozen points of league average by measure of wRC+. It’s not a stretch to imagine Locastro, Vargas, and/or Rojas playing significant roles in 2020 and beyond. Ditto utility infielder Domingo Leyba. But the Snakes can’t afford to settle for that level of offensive output from such a major segment of the roster. They’ll need to fill in for the departing players and avoiding asking too much of those that remain from this list.
So, how to proceed? There are two key factors to consider here: Marte’s positional malleability and the payroll/roster flexibility in the corner outfield (and to some extent also at first base). With bench space to work with as well, there are quite a few ways in which the club could seek improvement. It was interesting to hear Hazen suggest recently that the team prefers Marte at second base. It would be easier to fill that spot from outside the organization, given the multitude of possibilities, but it appears the Snakes are likeliest to chase after a center fielder.
Put it all together, and it seems the overall focus is squarely on the outfield grass. Asked recently about Shogo Akiyama, Hazen revealed some level of interest in the Japanese center fielder. The meandering nature of the quote also served to underscore the wide-open nature of the offseason. “We think he’s a good player,” says Hazen of Akiyama. ” … We’re in the outfield market, the center-field market specifically. We’re in the entire market.”
The D-Backs do have some options up the middle, especially if they like Akiyama even more than they’ve already let on. He is arguably the only truly intriguing option on the open market, at least unless Brett Gardner considers a departure from the Yankees. But there are some trade possibilities. Starling Marte is the central focus on the trade market. He’ll be sought after by quite a few other teams as well, but there’s an argument to be made that he fits in just the right space (two years of affordable but not cheap control) for the D-Backs. It’s also possible to imagine the club looking at a few other possibilities. Old friend Ender Inciarte could conceivably be made available, depending upon how things develop in Atlanta. And Jackie Bradley Jr. figures to be dangled by the Red Sox; acquiring him might help quench Hazen’s insatiable thirst for Boston products. (We kid, but there’s no shortage of examples.) If the D-Backs can’t sort out an upgrade and are forced to utilize their existing Marte at times in center, they may come away with a timeshare veteran in the nature of Dyson, Leonys Martin, Juan Lagares, or Cameron Maybin. The club could instead utilize the speedy Locastro in such a capacity as well. Any of these fall-back possibilities would feel like a bit of a disappointment unless the Snakes end up securing other significant pieces.
None of the above-noted center field possibilities will bust the budget. Even if the Snakes score a second Marte, there should be cash left to work with to do more. And this is where things could get yet more interesting. Souza is an obvious non-tender candidate after an injury-cancelled campaign on the heels of a disastrous first year in the desert. But the Snakes could simply decide they like him better than any of the options they can get in free agency for a similar price tag. It’s actually a closer call than you might think on Peralta. He’s a rather accomplished hitter, to be sure, but the track record isn’t unassailable and he’s a 32-year-old looking to return from shoulder problems. And Peralta has long struggled against left-handed pitching. The Snakes might reasonably believe they can do more for less in trade or on the open market, though there has been no suggestion to this point that they are considering moving on.
Whether or not one or both of those players is retained — whether through arbitration or in a re-signing following a non-tender — there are many opportunities to consider. This year’s market includes a group of unusually youthful and talented corner outfielders: Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Avisail Garcia, and Yasiel Puig. It isn’t hard to fall in love with some of those players’ tools; perhaps the D-Backs could consider a somewhat longer, lower-AAV contract if they like one of the group in particular. There are lefty bats in the form of Corey Dickerson, Kole Calhoun, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. There aren’t an immense number of obvious trade targets to consider, but the Diamondbacks could look into the likes of Trey Mancini, Clint Frazier, and perhaps even Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi, depending upon what the Red Sox end up pursuing. Though the Snakes have mostly worked to remove big veteran salaries, they could consider a player such as Charlie Blackmon — not that an intra-division deal is likely to be sorted out for such a fan favorite. The same issue applies to the Dodgers, who could end up with an extra outfield piece to move. Relieving the Athletics of their obligations to Stephen Piscotty could conceivably work for both teams. It’s not impossible to imagine the Mets talking about Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, or J.D. Davis. There are plenty of other possible scenarios that may be explored but are even more speculative than the ones just listed.
If that feels like relatively short-term patchwork … well, that’s pretty much what’s available. And it’s also what Hazen has done so well thus far. Putting some added financial gusto behind the effort could yield dividends. Exploring moves to bring in a star makes sense, but that’s a necessarily speculative endeavor. That approach could spill over and meld with the first base and broader bench. As noted above, the D-Backs have some younger players they like. In addition to those already listed, catcher/utilityman Daulton Varsho and first baseman/outfielder Pavin Smith could be closing in on the majors. But the former is now recovering from an ankle injury and the latter is still working to re-burnish his prospect standing.
Expecting something from the existing, younger players is sensible. But the Diamondbacks can and should reduce their reliance on them as immediate options without cutting off their paths entirely. Short-term veteran role players abound. Lefty bats seem to make particular sense given the existing array in the infield. Brock Holt is among the utility pieces that could shoulder some of the load all over the field. A lefty slugger makes tons of sense to form a platoon at first base, with Eric Thames representing the top of that market. Perhaps Mike Moustakas could reprise his surprise utility role, appearing all over the infield for the Snakes. If the Cards decide to try to shed some of Matt Carpenter’s contract to free up payroll and roster space, perhaps the Arizona org could take a chance on the veteran and come away with another desired piece as well.
It’s frankly hard to pin down a simple task list given the adaptable roster and payroll circumstances — a credit to Hazen’s handiwork. The Snakes have some shape-shifting puzzle pieces and blank Scrabble tiles to work with. It makes for a choose-your-own-offseason decision tree that could take any number of different courses over the months to come.
Zack Greinke is off the books. Ill-fated Cuban signee Yasmany Tomas will be off the books after next season. The Diamondbacks avoided doubling-down with pricey extensions for former core performers Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, and A.J. Pollock. Arizona GM Mike Hazen sloughed the necessary financial weight to put the Dbacks in the unfamiliar position of having some money to spend, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Per Roster Resource, their 2020 payroll sits at about $109MM, only about $14MM shy of their 2019 opening day figure, but they have significant financial freedom beyond next season, when the only remaining salary obligations belong to underpaid cornerstones Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar. Keep an eye out for MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook Series for a further investigation into the Diamondbacks options moving forward. For now, let’s check in elsewhere around the league…
The Athletics announced that they have claimed lefty T.J. McFarland off of waivers from the Diamondbacks. It appears the Arizona organization outrighted him from the 40-man after declining a club option.
It’s a bit of an unusual situation. McFarland’s 2019 arbitration agreement included an option value for 2020. The $1.85MM price was deemed too steep. But McFarland remained eligible for arbitration.
Now, the A’s will have a decision to make. McFarland actually projects to earn more than the option value, with MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pegging his arb value at $2.1MM. That’s all subject to negotiation, of course. The Oakland org might seek to work out a deal at its price tag and move on if that can’t be accomplished.
McFarland was in many respects much the same pitcher as he was in a successful 2018 season, with the 30-year-old producing loads of groundballs and minimal strikeouts. But he allowed more hard contact and more home runs. The A’s obviously they believe McFarland can benefit from some positive regression and/or tweaks to his approach.
- A brief scouting report on newly-signed Red Sox right-hander Chih-Jung Liu is provided by former big leaguer Chien-Ming Wang to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, as Wang has worked with the 20-year-old prospect. Liu “needs to improve his slider and splitter to have a good out pitch” and “needs to build up his arm strength and pitch count,” Wang said. These aren’t unusual criticisms for any young pitcher, especially for a case like Liu, who mostly played shortstop in high school and only recently got back into pitching. Liu is also “bright” and “seems to be able to adapt to [a] new environment quickly,” Wang said, and he also noted that Liu asked him how to throw a sinkerball, Wang’s signature pitch. Abraham reports that the Phillies and Diamondbacks were among the other teams who had interest in Liu before the Red Sox signed him for $750K.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo set out to hire a pitching coach with four specific qualifications, per The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan. He was looking for someone, obviously, with pitching knowledge, good communication skills, and the ability to work well with the team’s medical personnel, but Lovullo also wanted someone with the creativity and innovative instincts to stay up-to-speed with the changing shape of the game. Matt Herges may not be the picture-perfect candidate, but he’s the guy with the job. And while Arizona reportedly offered the job to Kirk Saarloos and Bryan Price before Herges, they are no doubt content with Herges and value the eagerness with which he has come to the role. Sometimes the right decision is as simple as hiring the person who wants the job most.
- Diamondbacks bench coach Jerry Narron has elected to leave the team’s staff, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com tweets. Narron spent the previous two-plus years as manager Torey Lovullo’s top lieutenant in Arizona, though the club moved Luis Urueta into that role after the season. It’s unclear at this point if Narron has an opportunity lined up elsewhere. Now 63 years old, Narron’s a former big league catcher who has managed the Rangers (2001-02) and Reds (2005-07).
The Diamondbacks announced that they won’t be exercising their club options on either infielder Wilmer Flores or left-hander T.J. McFarland. Flores’ $6MM option will be bought out for $500K, while McFarland will receive a $50K buyout rather than a $1.85MM salary for the 2020 season. In addition to these moves, the D’Backs also announced that outfielder Abraham Almonte and lefty Robby Scott have been outrighted to Triple-A.
Though a right foot contusion cost him almost two months of the season, Flores’ first year in Arizona was a successful one when he was able to take the field. The 28-year-old hit .317/.361/.387 over 285 PA, and while a particular power surge against left-handed pitching led to some significant splits (.337/.367/.615 against lefties, .304/.358/.404 against righties), Flores was still plenty dangerous against all types of pitching.
Flores was primarily used at second base last year, handling the keystone whenever Ketel Marte wasn’t in center field. Given that the D’Backs will again look to move Marte around the diamond next year, retaining Flores for the extra $5.5MM wouldn’t have seemed like an exorbitant choice. Then again, the team might not have expected Flores to duplicate his 2019 performance, given that Flores’ .362 wOBA far outpaced his .329 xwOBA, and he also had some notable batted-ball luck in the form of a .332 BABIP.
It isn’t out of the question that the Diamondbacks could look to re-sign Flores at a lesser price, though one would imagine he’ll get interest from multiple teams looking for a versatile infielder (Flores also saw a lot of action at third base during his time with the Mets) who can crush southpaws.
After posting a 2.00 ERA over 72 frames for Arizona in 2018, McFarland’s bottom-line numbers (4.82 ERA) came back down to earth last year, even though a lot of his peripheral statistics weren’t too dissimilar. The grounder specialist ran into trouble when he did let the ball get into the air last year, as McFarland’s 17.1% home run rate was a career high.
After running into some roadblocks with other candidates, the Diamondbacks have settled upon Matt Herges as their next pitching coach, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.
Herges will join the staff of skipper Torey Lovullo after a pair of seasons as the Giants’ bullpen coach. The former MLB hurler replaces Mike Butcher in guiding the Arizona pitching staff.