It’s early in the process of free agency. So early, in fact, that nothing concrete can really be done yet as the playoffs haven’t even started. Speculation is always in season, however, and now’s just as good a time as any to discuss who the Diamondbacks might pursue in free agency this winter.
Now, I’m not a fan of throwing darts at a dartboard as a means of starting a discussion. By that I mean that I don’t think it’s productive to just start throwing names around. Instead, it’s best to start with what we do know, move to what we probably know, then finish with what we don’t know and ultimately make the best projections possible. It’s probably most useful to simply get the facts and unknowns on the table rather than establish deep feelings for who the team should attempt to sign, but I’ll toss a few names around just for kicks because it is kinda fun to dream, right?
What We Know
- The payroll will come down in 2015, probably around $100 million, according to a recent report from Zach Buchanan at AZ Central. After arbitration raises, the team is slated to be somewhere in the $78-80 million range, meaning they should have safely $20 million to spend.
- Several roster spots are already filled and aren’t up for discussion. First base, center field, and catcher are the most obvious for position players. Wade Miley’s spot in the rotation is safe, as is Addison Reed’s closer role, as well as Brad Ziegler (when he’s healthy) and Oliver Perez’s spots in the back of the bullpen.
- A couple players will miss part or all of the season. Bronson Arroyo will not pitch in 2015 in all likelihood, and Patrick Corbin will miss the first few months of the season.
What We Probably Know
- Players like Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius will still be regulars in the middle infield, with Aaron Hill still getting regular starts and Jake Lamb hanging around, too. Mark Trumbo, David Peralta and Cody Ross will probably make up the bulk of the non-Pollock outfield.
- Pitchers like Josh Collmenter and Chase Anderson will probably be in the rotation next season. Evan Marshall, Randall Delgado and Daniel Hudson will most likely take a few of the remaining bullpen spots for Arizona.
- David Hernandez, Matt Reynolds and Paul Goldschmidt should all be ready come Opening Day after recovering from injuries.
What We Don’t Know
- Can the team open up additional spending by trading Trevor Cahill, Cody Ross and/or Aaron Hill? If that were the case, assuming Arizona ate no money but received poor prospect packages in return, they could free up as much as $33.7 million extra dollars in 2015, not to mention $13.3 million in 2016 commitments. Moving all of that money off the books is unlikely, but they may be able to ditch some portion, although we have no idea how much or how motivated the team is to make those moves in the first place.
- Will Josh Collmenter be a reliever or starter in 2015? We have no idea, although the answer probably largely depends on what is done on the free agent market.
- Will the team still run Mark Trumbo out in left field after the metrics and eye test have confirmed what we said at the outset: he’s more than a liability in the outfield, he’s a detriment. Does the team intend to repeat this black hole of an experiment? Will they trade him or minimize the issue by platoon?
- Most importantly, when does this team expect to compete? Are they going to try to go big in the short term (again) at the expense of the future, or do they acknowledge that they’re a few years out and try to position themselves for 2016 and beyond? That’s likely something that will be decided once a new GM is hired, although I’m sure Tony La Russa and company already have an idea in mind.
Ok, so that was a brief list and I’m sure there’s more that we could add to each category, but for now, that’ll do. It leaves us with a couple of ideas: there’s room to add to the rotation (especially if Cahill goes), there’s almost no room to add to the infield except at third (if you trade Hill), there’s only room to add to the outfield if the team moves other pieces (Ross, maybe Trumbo) and the bullpen is in adequate shape (but a cheap upgrade might be alright, although it’s crowded in the ‘pen). So our list of needs, in order of importance, might just be:
- Starting pitching
- Third base
- Bench bat w/ utility options
- Bullpen help
- Backup catcher
So now things start to take shape, but again, we don’t know the budget for sure until the team establishes its ability to dump poor assets like Ross, and to a lesser extent, Cahill and Hill. If one of those guys get moved, that’s a big win. Two and it’s huge. Three? Well, that’s not happening so don’t get carried away. If we had to guess who’s most likely to get moved, we might end up with something like:
- Cody Ross
- Trevor Cahill
- Aaron Hill
Hill is the most desirable, but also the most productive. He may be part of a four-way time-share for three infield spots with Gregorius, Owings and Jake Lamb. Cahill has been effective at times and given the lack of stability in the current Diamondbacks rotation, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the team give him one more shot. He’s already on the roster and finding a taker may not materialize, so worst case scenario, Arizona can hope to turn him into a useful piece before his deal expires at season’s end. Ross just doesn’t make a lot of sense for a National League team. He could be more desirable to an American League club that splits his AB’s as part of a larger platoon situation and can shield his outfield innings by giving him DH time. He’s also the cheapest of the Diamondbacks’ aging spare parts.
If any of these guys go, the team’s needs change somewhat. If Aaron Hill goes, they’ll need some insurance at third base as Jake Lamb probably isn’t quite ready to take that over full time. Should Cahill move, Arizona will need starting pitching even more than it already does and removes a potentially useful bullpen piece, although that’s already a crowded situation. If Ross is dealt, the team opens a hole in the outfield, although not one of the starting caliber. Instead, it opens some bench space and needed outfield depth.
Well, we’re over 1000 words in now and we haven’t mentioned any targets on the free agent market, so before I leave you, I’ll provide some options keeping their potential fit with the team in mind (taking cost/age into account). You can find the complete list of 2015 free agents here.
- James Shields – the marquee name the team may actually have a shot at, although they’ll have to overpay to do it, which might just be okay.
- Yovani Gallardo – maybe the Brewers decline his $13 million option. More okay than good, but durable.
- Jason Hammel – he’ll be affordable and solid, although he’s had some struggles since moving over to Oakland from Chicago.
- Francisco Liriano – the stuff is still pretty darn good and he can be effective. At 31, there’s still tread on the tires.
- Justin Masterson – he’s struggled, but his groundball ways have to be enticing in a park like Chase. Can someone fix this guy?
- Brandon McCarthy – just kidding, but really…
- Ervin Santana – another durable hurler who can still run it up there, although the results have slipped this season.
- Yosmani Tomas – big upside, Arizona might just be in the perfect spot to land him.
- Melky Cabrera – will receive a qualifying offer from Toronto, but the D-backs’ first round pick is protected, so he makes some sense.
- Nick Markakis – his option will get declined and he’s not the player he once was. The power has dried up, although he can still hit some.
- Alex Rios – a little old for my taste, but can still hit and should age relatively well. Won’t require a long contract, but can Arizona get him for only two years?
- Pablo Sandoval – one of the biggest fish on the market, the D-backs could ditch hill and block Lamb by acquiring one of the best third basemen in the game. That said, he’ll cost a pretty penny, and how does that body age?
- Chase Headley – he’s not sexy, but he’s solid and should come cheaper than the Panda.
- Mark Reynolds – could be reunited with the D-backs on a short deal, keeping the way clear for Lamb/Drury in the future.
- Too many options to list
- Luke Gregerson – consistently good, but not really necessary.
- Pat Neshek – had a stunning first half, a poor second half. He’s funky as all get-up.
- Craig Breslow – buy-low opportunity on a normally dependable lefty.
- Someone better than Tuffy Gosewisch at the plate
While I feel like all free agent speculation is kind of equivalent to conspiracy theories, there are some names here that make sense. I don’t want to get into that too much right now and will instead tease the reader by letting you know that our annual Offseason Plan is slated for release next month and already in the works. But while perusing free agent names, please do me this favor: keep the budget in mind. A guy like Shields takes up the team’s entire spending budget. Arizona can free up some cash, but until they do, more mid-to-low priced options are probably most likely. In short, it’s okay to daydream, just don’t get carried away as this may not be the most exciting offseason in terms of free agents. Then again, players could be moved and the team could be big spenders.
Did I mention it’s too early for anything concrete?
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