- The Diamondbacks’ catching unit is designed to “take care of the pitchers first and foremost,” GM Mike Hazen tells Steve Gilbert of MLB.com (in a post that covers that and four other key issues facing the club). Hazen says the team is comfortable with the current triumvirate, which consists of Jeff Mathis, Chris Herrmann, and John Ryan Murphy, even if it doesn’t figure to over much in the way of offensive firepower. Moving forward with a trio of options is a possibility again for the Snakes, says Hazen. There are several other outstanding roster questions, of course, which Gilbert breaks down.
- While Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen has said that the team is comfortable deploying Chris Herrmann, Jeff Mathis, and John Ryan Murphy behind the plate, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert figures the team has to make an upgrade at catcher before the offseason is out. The D’Backs are one of the few contenders with a glaring need at catcher, which in my opinion could leave them well-positioned to sign Jonathan Lucroy or Alex Avila on a relative bargain contract, given the two free agents’ relative lack of suitors. With other needs around the diamond and little payroll space to work with, however, the Snakes still might not have enough to afford Lucroy or Avila at even a discounted price.
- Numerous teams are obviously preparing to pursue Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, who the Fish are reportedly increasingly willing to deal. Just how likely is a deal? Heyman cites a few sources who describe the situation as one in which the club is making Yelich and teammate J.T. Realmuto available in talks. Among the organizations with some level of interest in Yelich, per Heyman, are the Diamondbacks, Braves, and Giants. No doubt there are plenty of others, too, that will line up for both players.
“It’s possible this is the Diamondbacks’ last, best chance to get real value for [Zack] Greinke,” Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes in a piece detailing the team’s difficult position this winter. With Greinke still owed $138.5MM through 2021 and taking up an inordinately large piece of Arizona’s payroll, the D’Backs are hard-pressed to to augment a roster that made a surprise run to the NLDS last year. Dealing Greinke may be the better long-term move, though it would hurt the team’s chances of capitalizing on its sudden contender status. Greinke had a down year in 2016 and just turned 34 in October, so it isn’t quite clear if his big 2017 season represented a return to form or perhaps a last hurrah before he begins to decline. The Yankees, Rangers, and Phillies have all checked in on Greinke this winter, so there’s certainly interest if Greinke was made available, though GM Mike Hazen will have a tough needle to thread in finding an acceptable trade match in both salary coverage and MLB-ready talent coming back to Arizona.
New Diamondbacks reliever Yoshihisa Hirano, who has spent his entire pro career to date with the Orix Buffaloes in Nippon Professional Baseball, addressed the Japanese media following his completion of the contract and spoke about his jump from NPB to MLB (English link via the Kyodo News). Hirano said that the comfort he found using a Major League ball (rather than the slightly different NPB ball) during this year’s World Baseball Classic gave him confidence that he’d be able to pitch in MLB. As he became increasingly aware of MLB scouts attending his outings in Japan, he thought more and more about making the move. “Truthfully, if I hadn’t heard that I might not have been thinking of going,” said Hirano. The 33-year-old righty would relish the opportunity to square off against new Angels star Shohei Ohtani in the batter’s box, and the D-backs and Halos do have four interleague games. The Kyodo report notes that Hirano has faced Ohtani 15 times in Japan, allowing only an infield single.
The Diamondbacks have agreed to a minors pact with righty Jake Buchanan, per a club announcement. (H/t Chris Cotillo of SB Nation for the heads up.)
Buchanan, 28, has seen time in each of the past four MLB campaigns, though he has made just 29 appearances in that span. In 64 2/3 total frames, Buchanan owns a 4.73 ERA with 4.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
In 2017, Buchanan opened at Triple-A with the Cubs, was claimed by the Reds, and ultimately took the ball a few times in the majors with Cincinnati. After being designated for assignment, he rejected an outright assignment and ultimately landed in the Arizona organization.
Over 105 2/3 innings at the highest level of the minors in 2017, Buchanan carried a 4.51 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. That’s a close match for his overall numbers at Triple-A, where he has thrown over five hundred frames in six seasons, with a cumulative 4.39 ERA and 5.9 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9.
- Yasmany Tomas recently underwent a surgical procedure on his core area, this one to clean out scar tissue, the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro reports. This seems like a less-serious procedure than the core surgery that ended Tomas’ season back in August, as the Diamondbacks say the Cuban outfielder is expected to be ready by the beginning of Spring Training. Tomas was bothered by the injury for much of last season, which contributed to his sub-par .241/.294/.464 slash line over just 180 PA. He and the D’Backs are still hoping for a proper breakout campaign in his fourth MLB season, as Tomas is still owed $42.5MM through the 2020 season.
TODAY: Chance Adams and Miguel Andujar could be part of a hypothetical Yankees/Pirates trade for Cole, Kristie Ackert and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News report. If those two prospects and Frazier are all included, that could mean the Pirates will also include Josh Harrison in the deal. While the Yankees have also talked to the Diamondbacks about Patrick Corbin and the Tigers about Michael Fulmer, it seems as if Cole is New York’s preferred target of the three pitchers; Corbin is under control for just the 2018 season while Detroit is putting an enormous asking price on Fulmer’s services.
SATURDAY: A trade of Gerrit Cole doesn’t appear to be imminent at this point, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter). Though it seemed at one point that talks between the Yankees and Pirates were picking up momentum, Crasnick says that multiple clubs have engaged with the Pirates since the winter meetings; the prospect of a Cole trade isn’t “Yankees or bust”.
The Yankees don’t appear to have tunnel vision on a Cole deal, either. Though the Bronx Bombers are trying to net Pittsburgh’s prized right-hander with proposals centered around Clint Frazier, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Bombers offered similar packages to the Rays and Tigers for Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer, respectively. From my perspective, it seems as though the Yankees may not be interested in Cole specifically, but rather could have a broader objective to move the 23-year-old Frazier in exchange for pitching help. Following the club’s acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, it appears as though Frazier is destined to be a high-ceiling depth piece for the Yankees, whose outfield picture features Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Stanton, with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury also on the roster.
In a brilliant piece for the New York Post, Joel Sherman points out that the Yankees can afford to be patient, as they did with Stanton this winter and Sonny Gray this summer. They’re not desperate for pitching right now, as their rotation is set to feature Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Gray, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery. While each of those pitchers carries a question mark or two (or in Sherman’s words, “red flag possibilities”), the ballclub wouldn’t be chastised if it were to have these five in the rotation come Opening Day. Furthermore, top prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield could reach the majors before long, with Adams being the more likely of the two to contribute in 2018.
From the Pirates’ side, they don’t necessarily need another outfielder. However, it stands to reason that a trade of Cole could set off a domino effect that prompts Pittsburgh to sell off other pieces. As Brink states in a separate article (one that deals with the “what if” scenario of a Cole trade), trading the right-hander could act as “the first tug on the rope that raises the white flag on 2018.” In that case, they’d be highly likely to shop Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, and his hypothetical trade would mean that Frazier could suddenly become a useful piece.
It’s unclear how serious the Pirates’ talks are with other potential suitors at this time, or even whether those clubs have made formal offers. Crasnick notes in his above tweet that a deal probably won’t come together before Christmas, but adds that trade talks could pick up again between then and New Year’s. It stands to reason that Pittsburgh could be patient for months, or even wait until the 2018 trade deadline to trade Cole (if they opt to move him at all). It will of course be far more evident how the Pirates’ playoff chances compare with those of the other NL Central clubs. However, there are plenty of reasons to move him now as well, including the high probability that clubs would be willing to pay more to have Cole for a full season, and the risk that the Yankees might acquire a different starter.
- The Diamondbacks reportedly had real interest in Orioles infielder Manny Machado, but Heyman says the Snakes were not willing to consider moving third bagger Jake Lamb in a deal. That’s not terribly surprising; after all, the 27-year-old Lamb has only just reached arbitration eligibility and posted consecutive solid campaigns in which he has maintained a composite .248/.345/.498 batting line. Though he’s clearly an inferior overall player to Machado, Lamb is the type of affordable, quality regular that a team with Arizona’s payroll can ill afford to part with.
The Diamondbacks have dipped into the Japanese market in an effort to bolster their bullpen, announcing on Friday a two-year contract with right-handed reliever Yoshihisa Hirano. The deal will reportedly guarantee Hirano $6MM in total — $3MM annually plus another $1MM worth of available incentives each season. Left-hander Henry Owens was placed on outright waivers to clear room for Hirano, and he’s already been claimed by the division-rival Dodgers.
Hirano, 34 in March, has long been a dominant closer in Japan, amassing 143 saves with a 2.62 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 through 271 1/3 innings for the Orix Buffaloes from 2013-17. Because of his age and his professional experience in Nippon Professional Baseball, Hirano is exempt from both international bonus pools and the NPB/MLB posting system.
The D-backs weren’t prominently linked to Hirano prior to the agreement, though he’d reportedly drawn interest from multiple MLB clubs, including the Dodgers, Tigers and Cardinals. Jim Allen of the Kyodo News tweets that in speaking to big league scouts at the Winter Meetings, there was a consensus that while Hirano’s velocity is down from its peak earlier in his career, his splitter will still play in the Majors. Meanwhile, the Arizona Repbulic’s Nick Piecoro tweets that scouts to whom he’s spoken peg Hirano’s velocity in the 90-94 mph range and also credit him with a plus splitter and good deception in his delivery.
Fernando Rodney, who served as Arizona’s closer throughout the 2017 season, recently signed with the Twins, subtracting one late-inning arm from what was, on the whole, a generally successful group in 2017. Arizona also bid farewell to veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa and righty J.J. Hoover this offseason, who soaked up a combined 92 2/3 innings out of the ’pen — further creating a a need to add some innings to the back of the relief corps.
While it’s a stretch to assume that Hirano will simply be handed the closer’s role in Arizona right out of the gate, there’s no clear-cut ninth-inning presence for the Diamondbacks at present. Hirano will likely compete with Archie Bradley and others for that distinction this spring, and it’s not out of the question that he could find himself in save opportunities later in the year, even if he doesn’t win the job out of camp.
The D-backs are already headed for a record payroll in 2018, though Hirano’s contract will only modestly bump the current $126MM projection ever so slightly north. That said, it doesn’t seem especially likely that they’ll be particularly aggressive spenders on the free-agent market between now and Opening Day.
While they’re fresh off an NLDS appearance and are entering into the first season of a new television contract said to be worth more than one billion dollars, the D-backs aren’t merely setting a new record payroll — they’re shattering their previous high point. Arizona is on track for a near-$30MM payroll increase over its 2017 Opening Day mark and an increase of roughly $17MM over its previous franchise high. Arizona has only opened a season with a payroll north of $100MM once in its history (2014) and has averaged a $93MM Opening Day payroll over the past three seasons.
Jim Allen of the Kyodo News first suggested that Hirano could be headed to the D-backs (Twitter link). Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported there was an agreement in place and provided financial details (Twitter links). USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted that he’d get a multi-year deal and added the annual breakdown as well.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.