AnalysisNL West

Diamondbacks 2019 Offseason Preview

It’s a sentence that Diamondbacks fans have had to hear for too many years now, and trust me, I take no pleasure in saying it, but it’s my duty to do so: The Arizona Diamondbacks won’t be big spenders in the 2019 offseason. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but I know I won’t be. It’s not that owner Ken Kendrick and co. are a stingy bunch, per se, but Arizona just doesn’t offer the same budgetary freedom of cities like Boston, New York, or Los Angeles. This is all worth mentioning now, if only to serve as a reminder that as much as I would love to see the D-Backs make a huge splash this winter, I’ll likely have to temper my expectations. That isn’t to say that there aren’t improvements to be made, it’s just that there won’t be any Rendons or Coles passing through town any time soon for the positions occupied by some of the players I’ve already talked about in my Diamondbacks Season Review, it would be redundant for me to perform a super in-depth analysis, so I will keep those brief. Otherwise, enjoy!

Right Field: If the season started today, the leading candidate to start in right field for the Diamondbacks would be one of the prospects included in the Zack Greinke deal, Josh Rojas, who we got to see a glimpse of towards the end of this past season. While Rojas has potential to be a solid role player in the future, I’m not sure I’d trust him to take on full time duties as a corner outfielder. He doesn’t exactly have the prospect pedigree or hitting profile to suggest that he’s ready to make an impact on the MLB level, so I would feel more comfortable, at the least, taking a flier on veteran outfielder—think signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a low-risk minor league contract, or trying to acquire Dom Smith (or someone like him) via trade. Or, if Hazen truly wants to commit to this team in 2020, he could consider taking a risk on recently posted Japanese star Shogo Akiyama, a 31 year old veteran who has slashed .301/.376/.454 over 9 years in Nippon Professional Baseball. An unproven, post-prime outfielder would not be an expensive addition, but he could prove to be a valuable one. Or, if the front office truly wants to venture out into deeper waters, they could attempt to make an offer for the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber, who, granted, would not be cheap, and may also require left fielder David Peralta to switch to the opposite corner of the outfield. Either way, I would not feel comfortable allowing Rojas to be Arizona’s full time right fielder.

Center Field: Ketel Marte, as we all know, has been one of baseball’s best stories this season, and with him extended through the next few years, there should be no reason to seek reinforcements here. It wouldn’t be surprising to see veteran Adam Jones brought back for another season, either, though I would advise against it, as his .308 wOBA and horrendous defense resulted in a negative fWAR for the 2019 season. 

Left Field: Though David Peralta couldn’t quite replicate his impressive 2018 (.293/.352/.516, 131 wRC+), 2019 was still an above average season offensively for the 32 year old, posting a 107 wRC+, despite battling injuries. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to giving Tim Locastro some of the aging Peralta’s at bats, but one way or another, there should be no need to bring in outside help at this position, as the D-Backs project to deliver solid production from their left fielders. 

Short Stop: Gold Glover Nick Ahmed certainly has surpassed expectations these past few seasons defensively, and though his offensive production has always been lacking, it has improved in every one of Ahmed’s full seasons, culminating in a 92 wRC+ in 2019. Arizona has no reason to move on from Ahmed, as such an elite glove at a premiere position who can hold his own offensively is not easy to find.

Third Base: While management has evidently given a vote of confidence in Jake Lamb, tendering him a contract for the 2020 season, there is little chance he will see consistent at-bats behind one of the team’s top bats, 30 year old veteran Eduardo Escobar. Accumulating 4.8 fWAR in 212 games with the Diamondbacks since his acquisition in 2018, Escoabar has become a staple of this Arizona offense, and with the decline of Lamb and the wealth of other options at second base, the former utility man will likely find himself stationed at third for much of the year, where he’s proven he can produce.

Second Base: Things get interesting here, as the Diamondbacks have been hesitant to throw the full weight of their support behind any one second baseman. The leading contender on the current roster would be Ildemaro Vargas, but this likely will not remain the case as we move closer to 2020. I would not be surprised to see the Diamondbacks make a move on one of the many low-risk middle infielders currently crowding the market. A few that stand out among the current pool include a pair of former Reds middle infielders: José Peraza and José Iglesias, and also Red Sox super-utility man Brock Holt.  Peraza and Iglesias both fit the same mold, defensive minded middle infielders whose offensive ceilings are about league average. Peraza found himself non-tendered by the Reds after a massive down season, over which he slashed .239/.285/.346 with a .272 wOBA. Iglesias, a much better defender and more proven offensive asset, will likely come with a greater price tag than Peraza, but would surely be worth the extra few million dollars. Holt, a primary second baseman who can essentially play anywhere, has had his ups and downs over parts of 7 seasons in Boston, but left on a relatively high note, tallying consecutive seasons with at least a 100 wRC+ to finish out his tenure. Any of these options would be viable, especially if they are only tasked with splitting time with Vargas. 

First Base: If all goes according to plan, Christian Walker should hold down the fort here, with Lamb set to back him up. If Walker can replicate his 2019 production, Arizona should be locked and loaded at first base.

Catcher: Similar situation with Carson Kelly, and while arbitration should keep him under team control until 2025, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him extended within the next few years. Proficient framer and backup catcher Alex Avila is expected to walk in free agency, but Mike Hazen has already taken action, signing Stephen Vogt to a one year deal worth just over $3 million. The D-Backs have soundly shored up the catching positions. 

Starting Rotation: Sure, with the loss of Greinke, Arizona may be without a true ace, but their rotation now has some real depth. Robbie Ray, Mike Leake, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly combine to form one of the most well rounded rotations in the National League, and with Taylor Clarke as a spot starter, there should be no need to make any moves in this department. Trade rumors have flown around regarding Ray, but that will depend almost entirely on:

  • How much faith management has in Alex Young or Taylor Clarke to effectively slide into the starting rotation.
  • How much faith management has in the club’s immediate ability to contend.

No Diamondbacks fans want to see Ray dealt, considering he’s the closest thing the team has to an ace, and while I would be surprised to see it happen, it is important to accept it as a possibility. 

Bullpen: Archie Bradley, who eventually stole the closer job from Greg Holland in mid August, had a very impressive year. While ostensibly sputtering through the first half of the season—a 4.95 ERA in his first 35 appearances—this was mostly due to a fluky .406 BABIP, which regressed the second half of the season, explaining his 1.71 ERA in his final 31 appearances. Essentially, Bradley performed well in his role, and there’s no need to replace him at this point. That said, the Diamondbacks bullpen as a whole was middle of the pack in almost every category, so improvements will certainly be made to shore up the back end of the pen.

If they choose to pursue a lefty arm to supplement Andrew Chafin, Jacob Diekman would be an interesting name to look into. A hard throwing left with an attractive pitching profile, Diekman has potential to be a solid back end reliever if he can put together the pieces, but if the D-Backs find themselves in the market for some right handed arms, I’ve strung together a few names that might be sensible fits in Arizona. To satisfy the rule of threes, a trio of options that should intrigue the Diamondbacks include Dellin Betances, Hector Rondon, and Craig Stammen

  • Betances, who has been elite when on the field, has had trouble doing so in recent years. It’s undeniable, though, that when at full health, he’s miles ahead of any other reliever on the open market Every year from 2015-2018, he has been in the top 1% of all pitchers in K%, and likewise with opponents’ xBA and xSLG. Betances is elite, and while a deal will likely exceed a $10 million AAV, it would certainly be worth the investment, especially if he can stay on the healthy and control his BB%.
  • Hector Rondon has become something of an enigma over the past few years. He began his career as a fireballing strikeout wizard, and that was his M.O. for several years. However, this past season his velocity dipped a bit, and with it went his K%, which fell an astounding 8% from ‘18-‘19. This had a severe impact on his performance this season, which saw his ERA grow by half a run, and his FIP shoot up from 2.79 to 4.96. Essentially, if Arizona wants to make a move on the right hander, they have to accept that they won’t know exactly which version of him they are dealing with. Will they be signing the fireballer with one of the top K% in the league? Or will they be bringing aboard a pitcher who no longer has the makeup to be a strikeout pitcher, but fails to realize it. Because of this uncertainty, however, they would be able to buy low on Rondon, making him a low risk candidate for a bounce back year.
  • The polar opposite of Rondon, in terms of both makeup and volatility, is free agent righty Craig Stammen. With a fastball velocity that has never been above league average, and a strikeout rate that, while respectable, is far from elite, Stammen is a different breed than both Rondon and Betances. A complete control freak, Stammen has lowered his BB% every season since 2015, and most recently it dropped to 4.4%, a mark that placed him in the top 4% of all pitchers. Again, he wouldn’t cost much, but ever since transitioning to the bullpen in 2011, he’s been a pillar of consistency, only twice posting a FIP over 4.00, and never doing so with his ERA.

Summary

Will the Diamondbacks contend in 2020? Well, the answer to that question has everything to do with what happens over the next three months. The D-Backs were one of five teams in the NL to record a win total in the 80s, so they certainly aren’t the only team knocking on the door to the playoffs, and they certainly won’t be the only ones making moves this winter. The Padres, Phillies, and even the Reds have already been fairly active, so Mike Hazen and company should act soon if they want to retool the team enough to compete for a spot in the postseason. 

Matt Fronduto

Freshman at Emerson College. Boston native and Bryce Harper apologist. Check out my Twitter! @MattFronduto

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