Tickets are on sale for Spring Training, which makes it feel like we’re closing in on the 2015 season. Gone are the main rites of the offseason, the victory parade, the non-tender deadline, the Winter Meetings, the voting results for the Hall of Fame. A ton has happened for the D-backs during that span (well, other than the victory parade), and the most recent was Randy Johnson‘s first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame.
Johnson actually joined a Hall twice last week, also taking a position as a special assistant to CEO Derrick Hall. Steve Gilbert had some details on Johnson’s new role, which will be a hodge podge of front office, community, and training field responsibilities. Sounds perfect to me. The relationship between Johnson and the organization has strengthened recently, culminating in this official capacity — perhaps just in time.
How great would it be to have a plaque hanging at Cooperstown with a Diamondbacks logo on it? How cool would it be to have the Randy area of baseball minds stamped with “Arizona” forever? Answer: very. The fact that Johnson did his selection press conference (before the one at the Hall) with the D-backs was a nice sign that Johnson is leaning in the Arizona direction, but it’s far from a sure thing. My review was far from systematic, but I had no luck finding a Hall of Fame player whose plaque bears the hat of a team he didn’t join until he was 35 years old.
There’s the small matter of his time with the Mariners. Technically, Johnson did pitch with them in 10 seasons, although thanks to trades that was really more like 9. He pitched 1,838.1 innings with Seattle (including 255.1 in 1993!), and was an excellent pitcher with many fine seasons, including a 9.5 fWAR season in 1995. He actually hit the 9.5 WAR mark two other times, both with the D-backs (2000, 2004), and bested it twice, also both with the D-backs (9.6 in 1999, 10.4 in 2001).
He came almost within 200 innings of his Mariners total with the D-backs, pitching 1,630.1 innings. That includes a span in which he threw 1,030 innings in four years. He was also better, pitching to a 2.83 ERA with the D-backs, and a 3.42 very-good-not-great ERA with the Mariners. Johnson won four consecutive Cy Young Awards with the D-backs, and “just” one with the Mariners.
Then there’s the small matter of 2001, and sharing in a World Series MVP award. We shouldn’t pretend that it’s an easy call, but I think the Hall of Fame will end up choosing D-backs. It should be a factor that this is going to be the D-backs’ best shot to get a plaque for a very, very long time — even if Curt Schilling is soon elected, there’s a good chance he’ll end up with a Phillies cap, and I think it would be hard to say that the D-backs have a substantially stronger claim than the Red Sox.
- Cuban righty Yoan Lopez was cleared by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control last week, and at mlb.com, Jesse Sanchez counts the D-backs among at least four teams to “express strong interest in the 21-year-old starter.” If Lopez and his strong fastball sign shortly, he’s expected to set a record for international amateurs — meaning any team that signs him would absolutely and definitely blow past their bonus pool allotment, incurring heavy penalties. If the D-backs signed Lopez, they’d pay a 100% tax on almost the full amount, and they’d lose the ability to sign any international amateur for more than $300k over the next two signing periods (through July 2017). That’s a heavy price to pay. The system is currently set up in such a way that it’s smart to bust a bonus pool, but two things should give the D-backs pause: 1, that they haven’t capitalized in this signing period by signing a boatload of guys, like the Yankees did (and that opportunity is now gone), and 2, that they have the biggest bonus pool of any team in the upcoming signing period. It would be almost impossible to spend the full $5M+ bonus pool without signing anyone over $300k, and it’s probably not even desirable. The team could trade away bonus slots for something of value, but that value would probably be cash. I applaud the idea, but the best course for the D-backs is probably to throw their impressive bonus pool weight around next signing period (possibly by adding other teams’ bonus slots), and then turn around and take the international market by storm in the 2016-2017 period, a time when the Red Sox and Yankees (as well as at least three other teams) will still be under penalties.
- At Sports Illustrated, Cliff Corcoran is working through offseason report cards. In reverse order of 2014 record, so the D-backs are already up! Corcoran gave the team a C- “preliminary grade” for its offseason efforts, noting that the minus was for not having a Miguel Montero replacement, and the front office “has not obviously improved the team.” He does note that the team will almost certainly be better, thanks to the unlikelihood of a similar injury apocalypse, but I imagine the D-backs were hoping that they’d done better in light of their torrent of moves. We need to keep in mind that the team hasn’t done anything to hurt its 2016 or 2017 prospects, and improving the 2015 squad at all would be tough with that backdrop, but it’s hard to disagree with Corcoran. I might have given the team a C+/B- grade — and there’s still plenty of offseason left.
- Speaking of catcher — in this Nick Piecoro piece, there are some very interesting Dave Stewart comments, both about the difficulty of finding a catcher replacement and about not needing the new catcher to hit much. We talked about this from a lot of angles on Episode 11 of The Pool Shot, as well as the team’s acquisition of Nick Punto.
- Late last night, Jon Morosi tweeted that sources were telling him that the D-backs were “working hard to add a catcher.” This morning, Morosi added that the D-backs and Blue Jays have talked about Dioner Navarro, but that talks didn’t much advance past the initial D-backs inquiry. Check out this smart piece from Cory DiBenedetto at Gammons Daily about the possible Arizona/Navarro fit.
- Nick Piecoro has the skinny on the minor league coaching slate for the 2015 season. Glad Phil Nevin chose to stick around. And it’s pretty cool that Robby Hammock and J.R. House move up a level with Andy Green named to the major league staff; gives both guys extra time to work with a lot of the same minor league players. It’s also nice to see Shelley Duncan taking over for House in Hillsboro. The Duncan signing last year seemed like a bizarre baseball move, merely a hat tip to his father, who had just joined the organization as a special assistant. But it was more than that, apparently. The team also did this with Henry Blanco last year, remember. Maybe signing a fading player like this to get a read on who his is and how he goes about his business… that’s a nice, low-risk and low-cost investment in building a minor league organization.
- At Venom Strikes, Joe Jacquez proposes and explains using two platoons in the 2015 outfield. Jeff and I talked about doing this on Episode 2 of The Pool Shot at length, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the absolute ideal. Everything else we’ve dived into, including this and that and this, has been us struggling to make that work while coming to grips with the reality that the D-backs won’t limit Mark Trumbo‘s playing time enough to make it work. I’ll blockquote Jeff:
The outfield arrangement that we have advocated for here at Inside the ‘Zona centered around managing a left field platoon of Mark Trumbo (who crushes lefties and plays poor defense) and Ender Inciarte (who’s better against righties and plays outstanding defense). It makes a ton of sense to pair these two based upon who’s on the mound and/or the score of the game in late innings. Trumbo’s struggles against righties is nothing new and Enciarte’s defense reputation is similarly well-known. This would free up right field for David Peralta (who bats left) on a pretty full time basis, getting spelled on occasion for Cody Ross (who bats right). A natural platoon in left, a natural platoon in right, A.J. Pollock in center every damn day (forever!). Makes sense for a team trying to maximize it’s assets.
But while we have the numbers and history to suggest that the above plan is a solid idea, it may not have had a lot of chance to see the light of day given external factors.
- At Baseball Essential, Brian Crawford checks in with 2014 D-backs 8th-rounder Grant Heyman. The punctuation is distracting, but this is worth checking out for some additional nuggets including the impact of J.R. House and Mark Grace. And for more on the Hops and Heyman’s great season at the plate, check out Jeff Wiser’s Hillsboro recap.
- If you want to work at Chase Field, now is the time, apparently.
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