Offseason Outlook: Arizona Diamondbacks

The 2020 season was bitterly disappointing for the Diamondbacks, who entered the year with playoff aspirations before floundering to the National League’s second-worst record (25-35). Despite that, the Diamondbacks haven’t been active this winter, and that may not change to any significant extent.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration-Eligible Players

This year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.

Free Agents

As last season was winding down for the Diamondbacks, CEO Derrick Hall expressed optimism about the team’s future but cautioned that it would be “far-fetched” for the Snakes to match their $124MM projected payroll from 2020. Hall hasn’t wavered from that since, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported earlier this week.

Considering Hall’s stance, it’s no shock that the club has been relatively silent since the offseason commenced a couple of months ago. Arizona’s biggest move so far has been exercising right-hander Merrill Kelly’s $4.25MM option, which came as a bit of a surprise after he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in September. To Kelly’s credit, though, he performed quite well last year, leaving the D-backs content to roll the dice that he’ll return healthy and effective in 2021.

If Kelly is ready to go next year, the team’s rotation should be pretty much set (save for potential depth pickups, that is). Former Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had a stunningly poor year in 2020, his first season as a Diamondback. Nevertheless, with a contract that looks like an albatross, he isn’t going anywhere. Likewise, No. 1 starter Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and Caleb Smith will stay in the fold. That group isn’t without promise. Bumgarner does have an enviable track record, so the hope is he’ll come close to revisiting his past form; Gallen has been outstanding during his first two seasons; Weaver was terrific two years ago, though he fell off a cliff in 2020 during his return from shoulder troubles; and Smith has at least shown the ability to miss bats.

The larger issue in the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff may be a bullpen that finished last year 18th in ERA and 25th in K-BB percentage. Stefan Crichton, Taylor Clarke and Alex Young are the only sure bets for next season’s bullpen, Zach Buchanan of The Athletic wrote earlier this winter. Among those three, only Crichton fared particularly well. All of the uncertainty leaves the D-backs in need of outside upgrades, but because of their financial situation, it’s up in the air whether they will actually make them. If they do, there are some free agents still available who could make sense as seemingly affordable targets. Kirby Yates, Alex Colome, Jake McGee, Sean Doolittle and ex-Diamondback Archie Bradley are just a handful of the familiar names looking for jobs on the relief market.

On the offensive side, Arizona stumbled to the majors’ 26th-ranked wRC+ and ended up 19th in runs scored. The Kole Calhoun signing worked out very well in Year 1, but the Diamondbacks lost one of their other top hitters – Starling Marte – in a trade with the Marlins at the August deadline. Their offense would look a lot stronger with Marte still around, but now it’s unclear who will start in center field on a regular basis next season. Ketel Marte, who went from 2019 MVP candidate to so-so in 2020, is a candidate, though the D-backs might rather have him at second base. Otherwise, there aren’t necessarily any other obvious choices on the roster, but Tim Locastro and Daulton Varsho could be possibilities. Jackie Bradley Jr. would seem to make sense as a free-agent pickup, especially considering the longtime Red Sox’s ties to former Boston executive and current Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen. However, Hazen is hamstrung by the Diamondbacks’ budget, so a Bradley signing might be out of the question.

Aside from second and center (depending on where they mainly deploy Ketel Marte), most of the Diamondbacks’ position player group looks to be set. Calhoun’s coming back, while catchers Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt should continue handling that spot (and Varsho could get some time there). The same can be said for first baseman Christian Walker, third baseman Eduardo Escobar and shortstop Nick Ahmed. Left fielder David Peralta is also scheduled to return, though he has come up in plenty of trade rumors in the past (including this week). He’s due a guaranteed $15MM over the next two seasons, and though that isn’t an exorbitant amount, maybe the D-backs will be tempted to deal him if they want to save money.

While the offseason is still somewhat young, signs are pointing to the Diamondbacks bringing back mostly the same roster they put on the field in 2020. As part of his season-ending comments, Hall stated that there was “no indication that anyone wants to make changes as a result of this year. I also think it’s so difficult to judge the performance of either leadership or the majority of the players in such a short and strange season.” 

Although those words probably weren’t music to Diamondbacks’ fans ears, perhaps they can take solace in knowing this was a team that won a respectable 85 games just two years ago. However, they’re undoubtedly facing an uphill climb if they want to break their three-year playoff drought in 2021.

Published at Fri, 08 Jan 2021 23:36:09 +0000

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