As we approach Thanksgiving, now is a great time to say thanks for all the things I am grateful for in the baseball world. First, a huge thank you to Mike Hazen and 2017 NL Manager of the year Torey Lovullo for turning around the Diamondbacks. Thank you, Archie Bradley for lighting this fan base on fire. Thank you, Daniel Descalso for being the most clutch .230 hitter ever. Thank you, J.D. Martinez and Paul Goldschmidt, for being the real MVP’s. And finally, thank you Houston Astros for beating the Dodgers in the World Series.
The MLB Hot Stove is beginning to ignite as the Winter Meetings are just two weeks away. Here are the nine biggest questions heading into this offseason for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
1 Should the D-Backs trade away Zack Greinke?
The Arizona Diamondbacks are expected to have a payroll in the area of $115 million for 2018. This total would be the largest amount since Kevin Towers final season as GM in 2014. As you can imagine, Zack Greinke’s 6-year, $206.5 million contract makes a huge dent into the overall payroll for the medium sized market D-Backs. While $62.5 million of Greinke’s contract is deferred to 2022 through 2026, this leaves D-Backs on the hook for 4 years, $96 million over the remainder of Greinke’s contract, with a total of $158.5 million owed to Greinke by 2026. Translation, the D-Backs owe Greinke a ton of money, but his annual salary isn’t too bad of burden, for now.
Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen played his cards right by keeping Greinke last offseason when his trade value plummeted. One year later, Greinke’s trade stock bounced back after a strong 2017 which resulted in a 4th place Cy Young finish. Last season’s success leaves Mike Hazen with an interesting question:
Do you trade Zack Greinke (and his contract)?
Zack Greinke proved he is still an elite pitcher. While the D-Backs would have to eat some of the remaining $158.5 million left on his deal, Zack Greinke is probably at his peak trade value in a D-Backs uniform. If the D-Backs want to wipe their hands clean of Greinke’s contract, this offseason is the time to do it. Robbie Ray isn’t ready to be an ace, he’s already an ace. While it would be tough to break up the dominate Greinke/Ray duo, the freed-up cash could be allocated to adding bullpen arms…. or the “King Kong of Slug”.
2 Do the D-Backs fully enter the J.D. Martinez bidding war?
Obviously, the D-Backs want to resignJ.D. Martinez. Since the moment the D-Backs traded for J.D. Martinez, he was nothing short of incredible. J.D. hit 29 homers in just 62 games as a D-Back, which averages out to 75 homers over 162 games. Just a refresher, Barry Bonds holds the record for most home runs in a season with 73. J.D. Martinez along with his 2017 .303 average quietly has become the best power hitter in the game.
When J.D. Martinez hired Scott Boras, the entire state of Arizona simultaneously groaned. Within a month, Scott Boras nicknamed J.D. “The King Kong of Slug”, which is justified with his .703 slugging percentage in Sedona Red. Boras then later dropped the gauntlet by demanding 7 years, $210 million the starting point for the J.D. Martinez bidding war. I’m sure by now you can put two and two together, it’s J.D. or Zack.
Next season will be Zack Greinke’s age 34 season, J.D. Martinez will turn 31 in the middle of the 2018 season. If the D-Backs chose J.D. Martinez over Greinke, they’ll have to unload ideally most if not all the annual $24 million Greinke makes and maybe even some of the deferred cash. Either way, the D-Backs will have a perennial All-Star caliber player.
3 Could the D-Backs trade Yasmany Tomas?
As the D-Backs look through their couches for spare change, a huge chunk of the D-Backs payroll is reserved for Yasmany Tomas. It’s been an interesting career for Tomas to say the least.
When he who shall not be named (D*** S******) signed Yasmany Tomas, the organization tried to make Tomas a 3rd basemen, which failed miserably in spring training. Once Tomas moved to RF and made his D-Backs debut a couple of weeks after 2015 Opening Day, he failed to impress with just 9 homers and a rough .305 OBP. In 2016 Tomas did show some promise by belting 31 homers but still struggled with plate discipline and defense. 2017 was an injury riddled season that clinched Tomas’ 3rd straight negative WAR season.
While it’s easy to suggest the D-Backs just trade away Yasmany Tomas’ back loaded contract (46 million due through the next 3 seasons), it will be a near impossible task. Tomas plays below average defense, doesn’t get on base, and at 6’2, 250 pounds and a history of soft tissue injuries, Tomas is a tough sell. The Diamondbacks would have to trade away a top prospect to MAYBE be able to get a team to take on just part of Tomas’ deal.
While a Yasmany Tomas trade this offseason seems incredibly unlikely, the D-Backs can hope Tomas stays healthy and shows some of the power potential ability to mash lefties as he did in 2016. While Tomas hit .185 against lefties in 2017, he hit .364 against them in 2016.
4 What should be Archie Bradley’s role in 2018?
Archie, Lovullo, and Hazen have a tough, but good problem to solve. If you’ve followed my Goldy Happens for a while you know we’ve been Archie Bradley’s biggest believer since the day he was drafted in 2011. Archie’s career as a starting pitcher had its ups and downs as he struggled with control, but a move to the bullpen in 2017 paired with his Brian Wilson caliber beard were the catalyst to Bradley’s elite season.
In 63 relief appearances, Bradley earned a 3.7 WAR by striking out 79 batters in 73 innings and allowing just 21 walks with a 1.73 ERA. Bradley struck out around a batter an inning no matter the role, but Bradley’s 2.6 walks per inning was a drastic improvement from his 4.5 walks per inning through 32 MLB starts. In a relief role, Bradley can “air it out” with maximum effort on his fastball and curve. Bradley’s fiery personality suits a bullpen role better than a starting role. Anybody who watched Bradley run out of the bullpen to Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” will agree with me when I say Archie Bradley should not just be a reliever, but he should be the closer in 2018.
So far, this offseason Mike Hazen has said that Archie Bradley will “likely” stay in the bullpen in 2018. With a deep starting rotation all under contract for next year, I like the move to keep Archie in the pen. It is interesting that they didn’t announce Archie as the projected closer. With available closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland likely out of the D-Backs price range though, when the D-Backs have a lead on Opening Day next year, I expect Archie Bradley to get the first save opportunity.
5 Will the D-Backs upgrade their bullpen?
Heading into the 2017 season, the Diamondbacks bullpen looked like a flat tire patched together with duct tape. Amazingly, Fernando Rodney kept the closer job, Archie Bradley developed into an elite reliever, Andrew Chafin and Jorge De La Rosa succeeded as left-handed options and a rolling list of fill-in middle relievers got the job done. While the 2017 Diamondbacks bullpen was a pleasant surprise, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Here is a look at the current 2018 D-Backs bullpen:
Closer: Archie Bradley
Lefties: Andrew Chafin, Jared Miller, TJ McFarland
Late Inning Righties: Jimmie Sherfy, Jake Barrett
Righties: Randall Delgado, JJ Hoover, Silvino Bracho, Matt Koch, Braden Shipley
The current D-Backs bullpen doesn’t wow you, but it isn’t a bad start. With Archie locking down the 9th, I’d rule out a Wade Davis/Greg Holland run due to the tight budget the D-Backs currently have. Chafin and McFarland had a strong 2017 and Jared Miller is an intriguing left-handed prospect. The biggest issue is late inning right handed pitching. The D-Backs haven’t ruled out resigning David Hernandez or even Fernando Rodney, but here is the list of the top 5 affordable right-handed relievers (with contract projection years/$ in millions) I’d take a look at.
1 Brandon Morrow 3/24
2 Juan Nicasio 3/18
3 Steve Cishek 2/15
4 Anthony Swarzak 2/12
5 David Hernandez 1/4
*Honorable Mention: Fernando Rodney as a non-closer 1/2
6 What will the 2018 starting rotation look like?
The core of this Arizona Diamondbacks roster may be their stability at starting pitcher. As a team the D-Backs were 29th in team ERA in 2016, in 2017 they were 3rd. Anchored by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, who finished 4th and 6th in 2017 NL Cy Young voting respectively, the D-Backs rotation has elite options to go along with depth. Zack Godley, Patrick Corbin and Taijuan Walker fill out the rotation to give the D-Backs one of the strongest starting pitching staffs in the MLB.
If the D-Backs do decide to trade Greinke, Robbie Ray can handle the ace role. Everyone would move up a spot in the rotation, leaving a hole in the 5 spot. While Shelby Miller rehabs from Tommy John surgery and isn’t likely to return until midseason, Anthony Banda or Braden Shipley could fill in as the 5 starter.
If the D-Backs keep Greinke and the rotation stays healthy, could Shelby Miller see time in the bullpen? It’s not rare to see pitchers return from Tommy John and work out of the bullpen in a multi-inning role that first season back.
7 With the D-Backs middle infield healthy, who starts?
For the majority of 2017, Chris Owings and Brandon Drury were the double play duo up the middle. As Brandon Drury’s bat cooled down in the second half, Chris Owings, and Nick Ahmed both suffered season ending hand injuries allowing Ketel Marte to take over at shortstop. Daniel Descalso and Adam Rosales split time with Drury late in the season, but as we enter 2018, the middle infield is crowded as Rosales is the only free agent.
When camp opens in February, I expect Marte to start at shortstop and Owings to start at second base. Ketel Marte flashed his glove at a near Nick Ahmed level as a starter while posting a solid .345 on base percentage as a switch hitter and 3 triples in the Wild Card game. As for Chris Owings, position flexibility will project him to start 2B but get reps in the outfield opening playing time for other middle infielders. Owings, who was a near All-Star, produced a .290 batting average with double digit home run and stolen base totals. Daniel Descalso and Nick Ahmed will both be clear bench players in 2018 as Descalso offers a clutch bench bat and leadership and Ahmed offers gold glove caliber defense.
The most intriguing part of the middle infield puzzle is Brandon Drury. As a full time second basemen Drury had a strong April but was mediocre the rest of the season. If the D-Backs resign J.D. Martinez, Drury will become a full-time reserve. If J.D. leaves the desert, Drury and Tomas could compete for starting at bats with Owings playing 2B or RF.
The last two questions addressed areas of strong depth for the D-Backs, which begs the question…
8 Do the D-Backs trade depth to fill other needs?
As I try to predict what Mike Hazen might do with the D-Backs roster, there where be moves all Winter that I haven’t even thought about. For example, last year nobody saw the Jean Segura/Taijuan Walker blockbuster coming Thanksgiving weekend. In Hazen’s second season as GM, he could look to shake up the roster more than he did last year. If the D-Backs do look to trade away from depth, here are the players I think could be on the move, ranked by value.
Brandon Drury- 4 years left on contract
Patrick Corbin- 1 year left on contract
Nick Ahmed- 3 years left on contract
Players out of the D-Backs rotation that I feel are safe are Ray, Walker, and Godley, who are under team control for multiple years and are the core of the rotation. Shelby Miller won’t be dealt while rehabbing his Tommy John and if Greinke is traded it’ll be to clear money and not to add at another position via trade. For middle infielders, Ketel Marte and Chris Owings are firm starters and Daniel Descalso doesn’t have trade value and is a leader in the clubhouse.
The D-Backs could use these three pieces to acquire bullpen help or other needs as the season comes up and the roster shakes out more. Brandon Drury is still young, cheap, and has plenty of potential. We’ve seen how dominant Brandon Drury can be when he’s on a hot streak, which a team could be intrigued by if they believe they can solve his inconsistency issues. Nick Ahmed is stashed deep on the depth chart and offers minimal trade value. Last year the Padres and Yankees did show interest in Ahmed though, so if the right offer comes the D-Backs way, Ahmed is certainly expendable. Finally, Patrick Corbin. We saw Corby bounce back from a rough 2016 with a solid 4.03 ERA in 32 starts. With just one year left on his deal, he could be the most likely to be dealt from the group as there hasn’t been any rumors about an extension.
At last, the 9th and final question….
9 What’s worse than Dodgers fans?
Nothing. Literally nothing.