If you read The Inside the ‘Zona 2015-16 Offseason Plan, you probably noticed that we advocated for signing a couple of short-term, mid-level starting pitchers. No one in their right mind thought that Zack Greinke was an option but apparently he was after the appropriate amount of deliberation. Shelby Miller was always sort of on the radar but then again, trade prices were reportedly so high that any kind of a deal seemed like a risky proposition. Then it all happened. The D-backs basically made two very unpredictable moves to fill their biggest void and it’s not like anyone’s complaining.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, did exactly what we thought the Diamondbacks would do. They went ahead and signed veteran lefty Scott Kazmir to a 3-year, $48 million deal that includes an opt-out after the first season and defers money over six seasons total. If Kazmir’s left arm falls off or he pitches poorly, he’ll get at least $48 million. If he does quite well, he could hit the market again after the 2016 season. We had suggested a 2-year, $32 million deal with a $16 million option for 2018 or a $2 million buyout. The AAV is the same but we kept the deal shorter while the Dodgers gave him a longer guarantee, but deferred a lot of the money and included the option. Overall, the Dodgers gave him more, if only by a small margin.

And while the Dodgers were reading our Offseason Plan because, hey, winter break in LA is boring, they went ahead and signed Japanese righty Kenta Maeda, too. The particulars here are still pretty murky, but we know this: Maeda decided to sign with the Dodgers who offered him an 8-year, $25 million deal that’s allegedly loaded with incentives. It probably has an opt-out or five in it – opt-outs are so hip these days. His AAV is $3.25 million per season, but there are believed to be $10-$12 million worth of performance bonuses annually. Maeda is clearly betting on himself here and the Dodgers were very inventive with the deal. We suggested a 4-year, $64 million contract, making for a $16 million AAV. If he hits his bonuses as it has been reported so far, he should make about $15 million per season. Opt-outs could significantly sway the deal, but those haven’t be reported yet. Our offer was definitely in the ballpark, but honestly, no one saw a deal like this coming for Maeda and we don’t have all the details yet, so I’ll withhold judgement on our offer.

Of course, it really matters that the Dodgers are adding these two, Kazmir and Maeda, to a collection of Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Hyun-jin Ryu, Alex Wood and eventually Brandon McCarthy. These two signings can slot comfortably in the middle of the rotation for Los Angeles whereas there certainly would have been more pressure in putting them behind Patrick Corbin and in front of Robbie Ray and either Chase Anderson or Rubby De La Rosa. It makes the Dodgers’ rotation better because it provides them with a ton of depth. Even though Anderson and Ryu have had a damned hard time staying healthy, the Dodgers will be less likely now to have to turn to Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias for starts. They have more starters than slots for them, but that’s not really a big problem because pitchers break and now they have a cupboard full of options.

It is somewhat interesting, however, that Los Angeles made the bulk, value play while Arizona spent big. That’s partly because Arizona had the biggest deficit to overcome, and they largely still do. The Dodgers, after missing out on Greinke and the like, decided to make a short commitment to Kazmir and somewhat unknown but at least relatively inexpensive commitment to Maeda. These are the types of deals that would have fit Arizona quite well given that The Contention Window almost surely won’t be any longer than three years (and might end up only being two) and the deals are clearly affordable for a team like the D-backs. That’s why we forecast them in the first place. Would it have been enough to make them #legit? Maybe not as much as Greinke and Miller do, but the penalties associated are a lot smaller and could have possibly allowed the team to diversify their acquisitions this winter. That does hold value.

About two weeks ago, I compared the D-backs’ rotation to that of the Dodgers and Giants and Padres and Rockies. While San Diego still has a pretty good rotation, they aren’t in the contender discussion for the division at this way-too-early juncture, so let’s just focus on the Giants and Dodgers. The signings of Kazmir and Maeda push the Dodgers further out front. Yes, there’s a duplication of efforts here as there are only so many rotation spots, but Los Angeles will almost surely never be forced to give a single start to a replacement level pitcher in 2016. That’s good for them and bad for the rest of the division. Nothing has changed for San Francisco, but it’s now clearly the Dodgers and everybody else. Kazmir and Maeda might not be superstars, but the collection of good-if-not-great pitchers in LA is enviable.

What I can’t overemphasize here is that Arizona paid huge sums in money, prospects and MLB player seasons for two guys who are projected to be about a win and half, maybe two wins better than what the Dodgers brought aboard. Those two wins could have been found elsewhere, perhaps in an actually serviceable catching partner for Welington Castillo and some bullpen upgrades. That’s not to say that what Arizona did was wrong, but they will still be paying $34 million for Zack Greinke six years from now while also being on the hook for all of Shelby Miller’s expensive seasons of team control through 2018. The back end of the Greinke deal will eat up all of Miller’s surplus value and then some. What the Diamondbacks did was risky and they did it to capitalize on a special time and place. That’s just fine so long as it works out (or at least nearly works out). The Dodgers, on the other hand, gave themselves more flexibility and spent less on shorter-term options (provided there’s an opt-out for Maeda in there somewhere).

The Diamondbacks went big and made the splash while the Dodgers played it smart. Having Clayton Kershaw to anchor your rotation helps, but let’s not act like Arizona didn’t have other options. They’ve called their shot, now it’s time to prove it was the right call.

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11 Responses to D-backs Go Big, Dodgers Go Smart?

  1. Lamar Jimmerson says:

    Greinke and Miller may project as only 1.5-2 wins better than Kazmir and Maeda in 2015, but it’s worth noting that the plausible variance is substantial, especially on the high end. Greinke could be a 7-8 win pitcher again. There’s essentially no way Kazmir or Maeda can do that. And Miller, too, has far greater upside. You could argue that what the Dbacks needed, far more than the Dodgers, was to gamble on plausible upside — to give themselves a chance to improve by 5-7 wins in the rotation, or whatever. And they have done that.

    Not that I like the Miller trade. I hate it. But in a vacuum, I’m glad the Dbacks are rolling with him over Kazmir or Maeda.

    What are the error bars on projections like Steamer, by the way? We cite the projections a lot but not the confidence we should have in them. Seems to me the confidence interval is probably pretty wide….

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      The Diamondbacks definitely got the single best pitcher of the four and there’s reason to believe that Miller is likely better than Maeda and at least on-par with Kazmir. The issue may be the length of commitments and costs associated, not talent acquired. The error bars get smaller the more data that’s acquired, so Greinke’s projections are safer than Miller’s given Miller’s comparable lack of time and new pitch repertoire that he showed last season. The D-backs did their thing and that’s okay, it’s just the Los Angeles will keep on rolling long after Arizona takes its shot at winning, then is forced to either re-tool or rebuild.

      • Lamar Jimmerson says:

        I agree with all that. My point about error bars were that they are quite large even with a lot of data. Greinke was a 6 fWAR and 9bWAR pitcher last year. First, let’s stop and take note that there is a *3-WAR* difference depending on which measurement you use, which indicates the limits of WAR’s usefulness sometimes. Then I’m rather certain that Greinke probably had a 4-WAR or less projection stuck on him last year. So even with a lot of data, you can miss by a whole helluva lot with really talented guys capable of breaking out of the 0-3 WAR masses.

  2. coldblueAZ says:

    I don’t believe the Dodgers were smart at all, I believe they did the best that they could after their Plan A fell apart. IIRC, their goal was to sign Greinke and another top-tier FA starter, neither of which happened.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Sure, I don’t think this was their intention, but in the end, it may work out even better than committing six or seven years to one player at $30+ per season.

    • It seems awfully dismissive to call Plan B for the Dodgers a failure to spend smart. Clearly, the Dodgers wanted to bring back Greinke. They also clearly had a specific risk/reward threshold in mind for him. Of all the teams in the game they were the best positioned to make that call.

      The Dodgers made a very pointed decision that Greinke was not worth giving a sixth year to. They quite openly passed on Cueto, never entering that bidding war. Kazmir and MAeda give the Dodgers plenty of “stability” in a rotation already filled to bursting. Sure, some of their arms will almost certainly break and others may go bust. They have enough arms in the system though, that so long as Kershaw stays healthy atop the rotation, their starting pitching should be fine.

      They had internal candidates to replace Kendrick. Quite obviously, the intention was to give him a QO and then quietly pocket the draft pick they knew they would be in line for as a result. Does anyone think the Dodgers would honestly sign him to a QO-equivalent contract now?

      They signed two needle-moving pitchers and managed to do so for about 2/3 of the cost of signing Greinke. They also have managed to insulate themselves from most of the risk in those signings. That sounds pretty damn smart to me.

  3. Dave-Phoenix says:

    It is interesting to see both the Dodgers and the Giants implement the Diamondbacks’ “plan B” options.

    Can’t wait to see who made the better choices…

  4. Dave-Phoenix says:

    Is Kazmir/Maeda the “smart” route or are they another Russ Ortiz, Cahill or McCarthy?

    For years the D-Backs went the “poor man’s” route and they came up short every time. Now the Dodgers went the “poor man’s” route and you call it “smart”.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I’m not sure I’d be willing to say that it’s surely smart (there’s a question mark in the title for a reason), but there are advantages to that strategy. Again, it’s much easier to pursue that strategy when you have a bunch of guys in the fold already and one of them is Clayton Kershaw. The teams were not starting from the same point when the winter began.

  5. Pork says:

    The real problem with the D-backs plan is if they stop without making any more off season moves because of the payroll impact of Greinke and Miller.

    The comparison is not Greinke/Miller vs Maeda/Kazmir but Greinke/Miller vs Maeda/Kazmir/another catcher/Inciarte.

    A couple of weeks ago I loved those moves. Now it appears that those moves coupled with Kindrick’s arbitrary mandate for a $90 mm payroll have become handcuffs on the Baseball Ops folks. Hard to see how we are better now than what TLR/Stewart seemed to have in mind going into the off season.

    • Dave-Phoenix says:

      You have to remember, that even with the poor hitting at SS and 2B, the D-Backs had the 2nd best offense in the NL, and have retained all of that offense except for Inciarte.

      The only real weakness was starting pitching, and they improved that more than anyone could have hoped.

      With that in mind, the D-Backs don’t necessarily “have” to solve their 2B/SS offensive issues to be competitive. Now the only moves they should make are moves that are obvious bargains. So far, no obvious bargains have presented themselves, so the fact that the D-Backs have done nothing since the Greinke/Miller deals means they are doing the right thing.

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