It was not so long ago that the D-backs were making significant moves so frequently that we were fighting off worthy topics with sticks. In the last days of December, we get to return to doing what we do best: analyzing to death on-field performance and the finest minutiae the transactions list has to offer.

Matt Swartz and MLBTradeRumors projected a $3.3M salary for Cliff Pennington in his final year of arbitration. Yesterday, ESPN ubermensch and master of all ways of contending Jerry Crasnick reported that Pennington has been signed for 2015 with a $3.28M salary. Don’t laugh…$20,000 might be what it costs to keep the vending machines free in the D-backs clubhouse.

More seriously: this is just more confirmation on how the team intends to use Pennington in the wake of the Didi Gregorius trade. Assuming Chris Owings is back at 100% in spring training after his shoulder was correctly diagnosed and treated, it’s Owings at short, Aaron Hill at second, Penny backing up both positions and Nick Ahmed possibly starting for Triple-A Reno. You never know, the team might carry all four of those guys, especially if Yasmany Tomas is plying his hot corner craft in the minors and Jake Lamb is the only third baseman on the roster. If Owings still needs some recovery time, I’d expect Pennington to get the lion’s share of shortstop starts (say that three times fast) for the time being.

Back in June, I thought the waiver claim that brought Jordan Pacheco to Arizona was a facepalm moment, and dedicating a 25-man spot to him also seemed pretty pointless, and maybe even counterproductive. Due to impending arbitration eligibility, non-tendering Pacheco seemed like a no-brainer; the D-backs actually went a step further, outrighting him in advance of the non-tender deadline. But soon later, the D-backs, through CEO Derrick Hall, voiced a desire to bring Pacheco back, presumably at more favorable terms. This is exactly what they have done, as Chris Cotillo reported on Christmas.

Taking Pacheco to arbitration would have been another facepalm moment, but bringing him back on a minor league deal is not only fine, it’s quite good. In a career 1020 plate appearances, Pacheco has fought his way to a -3.2 WAR. He’s not a good player, and he would need to improve in order to become replacement level. Taking a chance on someone to become replacement level isn’t the way that baseball is supposed to work, and Pacheco has probably shown us enough to know that he’s not good, especially since more than half of his career plate appearances have come at hitter-friendly parks. And turning 29 next month, it’s unlikely that Pacheco will get better.

Replacement level players, by definition, should not be hard to find. Replacement level players that can play both third base and catcher are hard to find. And it just so happens that the D-backs could use one of those guys in the spring training mix. As noted above, if Yasmany Tomas gets some time in the minors to start the season, Jake Lamb would otherwise be the only third baseman in camp (although we might count on Hill, Pennington or Ahmed backing up there). If Tomas shows everyone that he’s not a third baseman, that roster condition could last longer. A backup third baseman could be helpful.

More than that, a part-time catcher who can be useful in other ways could be exactly what the D-backs need. As we discussed on Episode 9 of The Pool Shot, if Oscar Hernandez makes the 25-man as a Rule 5 pick, it’s unlikely he’d be counted on to play frequently, and if the D-backs take advantage of the opportunity to get him extra work in extended spring training (while on the roster!), the D-backs could frequently find themselves in a position where they need an emergency catcher, since an exhausted Hernandez would be a poor option indeed. The D-backs need one of two things to carry Hernandez next season, it seems: an ironman to start at catcher (which they don’t currently have), or a third catcher. Three catchers is tough, unless one can do something other than catch. If Pacheco can improve just a little bit, he’d be worth carrying on the 25-man for just that reason. Smart deal to bring Pacheco back, and I like how it puts the team in position to do that extended spring training thing with Hernandez.

But wait — there’s more. On December 16, the D-backs signed two pitchers to minor league deals, and in the flurry of other activity, I lost track of them. Edgar Garcia is a little interesting — he’s been banging around in the low minors for a while, mostly with the Phillies (2006-2010). In 2011, the Royals tried him out as a reliever, and the results were much better; 3.16 ERA in 48.1 innings that season, 3 starts and 17 relief appearances. It appears that he was injured — the Phillies picked him back up but released him last April, and he hasn’t pitched in organized baseball since partway through the 2011 season. Wild card, let’s say. He probably doesn’t really matter to us right now, except for the one point that if he does pitch for the D-backs organization in 2015, it will probably be as a reliever.

If Garcia tells us something, than Dan Runzler tells us a lot. Just 29 years old, Runzler’s stat sheet fills up a screen; he’s played 22 different seasons in the U.S., including five (every level from Low-A to the majors) in 2009. His major league statistics are actually pretty good, even for a reliever (3.86 ERA, but a very good 3.21 FIP). After a sparkling 2009 debut and a sturdy 3.03 ERA, 32.2 inning 2010, Runzler had some terrifically awful luck in 2011, pitching to a 2.95 FIP but a 6.26 ERA in 27.1 innings. I say bad luck because both his BABIP (.367) and left on base percentage (53.3%) were way out of whack with league average, and way out of whack of his own career numbers (BABIP .332, LOB% 71.4% — and those numbers include 2011).

It’s not all rosy for Runzler, who followed up his fluky 2011 with a heaping helping of bad luck in Triple-A in 2012 (.442 BABIP in 27 innings!) and a flat-out mediocre 2013, in which he pitched to a peripherals-backed 5.68 ERA in a full Triple-A season. He was doing quite a bit better in 2014, but that must have chafed, as the Giants just didn’t call him back up. He asked for his release, got it, and signed with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes. Funny thing is: he didn’t pitch there, at all.

Without knowing the whole back story, Runzler looks like a curious signing. He’s your average fastball-slider reliever (although he’s thrown the occasional curveball), and his fastball hangs in around 95-96 mph, although he’s humped it up to 98 in the past. He misses a ton of bats, with a 9.71 K/9 for his career in the majors, but he also misses a ton of home plates, with a career 5.47 BB/9. In his last two Triple-A seasons (98.2 IP), he threw up walk-per-nine rates of 6.36 (2013) and 6.99 (2014). Runzler’s recent best has been Matt Stites’s recent worst. In fact, Runzler’s recent track record looks like a worst-case scenario for Stites moving forward.

It never hurts to have more bodies, unless those bodies get in the way. Barring trades, we’re already looking at a situation in which two or maybe three pitchers would have to get hurt for Stites to make the major league bullpen. It’s not like Eury de la Rosa had a spot to cede to someone else (say that one three times fast). Runzler seeing a major league uniform is even less likely than him getting a BB/9 ratio under 4.5 if he did get one. At some point, you do have enough players in the mix for the bullpen. I don’t get it; the D-backs already have about 15 guys for 7 spots. Are they seeing something we’re not?

It’s a slow week of links (maybe the slowest in the 72-week history of roundups here), but here we go:

  • At RotoGraphs, Eno Sarris explained why he traded for Allen Webster in advance of a keeper deadline (making Webster his 20th and final keeper). Tipping a cap to the same body language/psychology stuff and command issues that we’ve look at once or twice, Sarris focuses a bit on the possible bright side: a ridiculous repertoire of four pitches that have had plus results. He references something he and Daniel Schwartz have worked on called Arsenal Score, and by that metric, Webster ranks really highly. There’s something in there that relates to potential, I think. But the findings of Arsenal Score have to be filtered a bit based on control, and filtered inconsistently based on control, which makes it hard to wrap my head around. Webster ranks 18th. Noted monsters Carlos Martinez, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and breakout Carlos Carrasco top the list. Trevor Cahill is #8.
  • Hat tip to Jeff Wiser for making sure this Jeff Zimmerman piece at Hardball Times got included here. Tons of information about time lost to the disabled list. The D-backs were middle of the pack-ish in terms of number of DL trips in 2014 (11th), but came in 3rd in total days lost to the DL, thanks in part to the Tommy John surgeries and rehab of Daniel Hudson, Matt Reynolds, Patrick Corbin, Bronson Arroyo and David Hernandez. Over the last twelve years or so, it looks like the D-backs haven’t had a ton of good or bad in terms of injury, but the recent spurt of Tommy John surgeries have taken a big toll. The team lost 154 days to shoulder injuries from 2009 to 2014, more than the 135 days lost in the preceding seven years. But the 216 days lost to elbow injuries from 2009 to 2014 is more than double the 104 in the seven years before. It looks like the team has done fairly bad with elbows overall, but good with shoulders. This might be a byproduct of using mostly young pitchers, with “extra” guys being minor leaguers rather than inexpensive veterans.
  • Presented more or less without comment: John Sickels’s Top 20 D-backs prospects list. Seems like a good time to note that Jeff’s Top 30 is still very relevant, even if a few prospects have changed hands since it was published. The fact that Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair are all more or less B+ guys to Sickels is nice, although one wonders if the handcuffs linking Shipley and Blair prevented one of them from getting a higher grade. Having ten guys who may grade above C+ is excellent. Makes total sense to see Yasmany Tomas as a solid B, and I agree wholeheartedly on Jake Lamb deserving more chances. Cold water on Robbie Ray, Peter O’Brien and Oscar Hernandez is totally warranted.
  • Really great piece by Tom Singer at on Tony La Russa’s off-field mission to support his Animal Rescue Foundation. Tons of respect for how it’s important to him, and I didn’t know the origin story, which took place while La Russa was with the Athletics (as in, actually with the team at the Coliseum). Even now, the only public email address for La Russa is his email address with ARF. A very worthy cause, and it’s lucky to have La Russa involved.
  • The results are in for Snake Pit’s Play of the Year voting. Cool stuff.

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