The Diamondbacks tendered contracts to all of their arbitration eligible players on Tuesday. It was hardly a surprise to see David Hernandez, Cliff Pennington, Mark Trumbo, Daniel Hudson, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Miley and Addison Reed offered contracts. But while the D-backs offered deals to all of their arbitration eligible players, not every team followed suit. Most of the non-tenders were hardly unexpected and you can see a complete breakdown of the arbitration situation across the league here. But there were a handful of surprises, surprises that the Diamondbacks could look to exploit, specifically in the form of pitchers Alexi Ogando, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen. A roll of the dice on any one of these newly-minted free agents might be worth the Diamondbacks’ investment.
We’ve talked at length here about Arizona needing to be opportunistic in an attempt to get lucky. They could sign some guys who were already free agents, or take advantage of the recent free agents who were cut loose by their teams as a result of being non-tendered. We’ve known all along that their greatest need is pitching and GM Dave Stewart has said as much on multiple occasions. They did a little to shore this up in acquiring Jeremy Hellickson, then spent an unexpected amount of money on Yasmany Tomas, which clearly won’t help their pitching situation. There are still plenty of options out there, however, and three more just hit the market in Ogando, Beachy and Medlen.
The Rangers decided not to tender Alexi Ogando, and while that’s not a total shock, Ogando, 31, can be a useful pitcher. He’s spent five seasons with Texas and was projected to earn $2.6 million if the team had decided to offer him a contract. He’s had a tough time staying healthy, but when able, has been solid as a reliever. TheD-backs don’t need relievers, though. Luckily, Ogando has spent time in the rotation with the Rangers, too. In 2011 he spent 167 innings in that capacity with a 3.68 FIP. More recently, he started 97.2 innings worth of games in 2013 where he had a more pedestrian FIP of 4.46. He lost a bunch of 2014 due to injury, making just 25 appearances out of the bullpen with a 3.81 FIP. The Diamondbacks could make a small investment in Ogando and see if he can gain his 2011 form again where he could profile as a #4 starter at a very small price. Should he maintain his health through the first half of the season, he could be traded at the deadline or make another pitcher expendable. In essence, he’s a gamble, but one that at least has a track record of productivity when able to take the mound. He should be available for a modest investment right around $2 million.
Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen were much more surprising non-tenders than Ogando, however, as the Braves cut both of them loose (although I’m sure they’ll try to retain them if possible). Medlen was projected to earn $5.8 million through arbitration and Beachy was projected small investment of $1.5 million. Medlen has been fantastic with the Braves, putting up FIPs in the low to mid 3’s over three seasons as a starter. He was incredible as a reliever in 2012, but the Diamondbacks would certainly have more need for him in the rotation. Having just turned 29, he’s still young and although he missed all of 2014, should be ready to pitch again in early 2015. Beachy, a left-hander, is just 28 and has been a starter for part of four seasons in Atlanta where he’s been excellent as well. He didn’t pitch in 2014 and is on the same timeline to return as Medlen.
But as you probably noticed, I mentioned that both have missed time, and that’s because both players have had two Tommy John surgeries. Not one; two. There’s significant risk here, of course, as the best predictor of a future injury is a past injury, or in this case, injuries. But, pitchers coming back from Tommy John typically don’t see their velocity dip significantly and some have even suggested that a successful return can help a player stay healthier for a longer period of time after the surgery. Of course, this didn’t work the first time for both of these guys as they had to have the surgery a second time. Sometimes that due to a botched first attempt, sometimes a player may just have a predisposition to the injury. It’s hard to know the case, but having to have second one is probably worse than just having the routine TJ now that damn-near everyone’s doing it.
But before you write off Medlen and Beachy, consider this: the D-backs already know what it’s like to bring a double Tommy John survivor back from the injuries. Daniel Hudson, come on down. Huddy’s triumphant return was great to see last season, but more importantly, he’s proving that it can be done, at least insofar as he made a successful late-season cameo in 2014 and appears to have clean bill of health heading into next season. His stuff looked legit and Arizona has even hinted that they could consider him for the rotation to start the 2015 campaign. We tend to think it’s best to bring him along in the ‘pen, but the fact that it’s even under consideration speaks volumes to the health and ability of Hudson following both operations.
So let’s see here: the D-backs can’t afford marquee pitching and are instead relegated to third tier pitching options like Brandon Morrow and Chad Billingsley. I think it’s safe to add Alexi Ogando, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to that mix. The trend here is upside signings with little up front cost, something that makes sense for Arizona given their roster and financial constraints. Let’s take a look at the 2015 Steamer projections for this group of non-tenders.
There’s nothing groundbreaking here. Steamer doesn’t like the ground ball rates of Ogando and Beachy. Medlen is the best talent of this group, but he’s also the most expensive, presumably. But Steamer is also taking injury concerns into effect in this group and docking each player for the unpredictability of their returns. The Diamondbacks would obviously have to weight this, too, but in the case of each pitcher, especially Medlen and Beachy, their career number vastly outweigh the projections and the D-backs would be hoping for a return closer to their career numbers. Is that a gamble they can afford to take?
You bet it is. The investment in Ogando and Beachy is minimal and even Medlen won’t cost much in major league terms. In an environment where free agent wins go for nearly $7 million a piece, it’s not far-fetched to think that any of these pitchers could be worth two or more wins, especially in the case of the former Braves arms. For a couple million bucks, the Diamondbacks could roll the dice and attempt to get lucky. As I alluded to before, they could use any one of these pitchers an opportunity to rebuild value, then flip said player at the deadline in a continued effort to retool the team. Should the team find itself in contention by some stroke of luck, the additional depth could pay dividends as well. And should it all fail, they’re only out their original investment.
These are the kinds of risks worth taking for a rebuilding team as they won’t break the bank and only offer upside. The organization has done a good job of taking some calculated risks in the past, let’s hope they’re open to the idea of doing it again. After all, what do they have to lose?
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