News broke a few hours ago of Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas's final landing spot. Although several teams had maintained heavy interest in Tomas, it was the Arizona Diamondbacks who won the sweepstakes, as was first-reported by MLB's international expert Jesse Sanchez (on a side note, Jesse does great work and you should follow him if you don't already). This marks new General Manager Dave Stewart's first major move as the Diamondbacks continue to refuse to take a backseat in major international deals. Last year it was Masahiro Tanaka who the D-backs pursued and lost out on. It did seem like Tomas fit the club when he was cleared by OFAC in September, but there was skepticism about the seriousness of their chase of Tomas. With today's deal, it was clearly very legitimate.
Part of the aforementioned skepticism was due to Arizona's financial situation. The team is on record as trying to keep their Opening Day payroll right around $90 million, although there were suggestions that it could be expanded if the team had a good reason to do so. Prior to the Tomas signing, however, the team was already over budget so long as you believe that $90 million was the true mark they were seeking. They were approaching the $100 million threshold after trading for Jeremy Hellickson and declaring that they were planning to tender a contract to infielder Cliff Pennington, creating an obvious need to clear financial space. With five players who either don't fit the team's long-term needs or have proved themselves unworthy of their contract, the team was likely going to have to pursue dumping some contracts. Adding Tomas only elevates this need as Trevor Cahill, Cody Ross, Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill and Bronson Arroyo made up nearly 60% of the team's 2015 payroll commitments prior to today's news.
The financial pinch above is short term issue, however. The Diamondbacks are in the last year of their television deal with Fox Sports Arizona and new negotiations have already started. As Wendy Thurm has pointed out, the TV bubble is alive and well, and although there's fear that it might eventually burst, the D-backs should be able re-up before that becomes a reality (provided it becomes a reality at all). Projections have suggested that their upcoming television contract could top the $90 million per season mark, increasing the organization's television gains more than three times over. Where that money gets spent is up for discussion, but it'll surely trickle down to the team's financial flexibility to acquire more expensive players. For a team that's had trouble being able to pony up the dough to obtain the types of players they need, this is a welcomed sign and presumably had something to do with Arizona opting to bid for, and eventually sign, Yasmany Tomas.
Tomas is a 24-year old slugger whose best attribute is his power. The rest of his tools are average-ish, but it's the potential 70-grade power that has scouts and teams excited. Where he plays on the diamond is debatable, however. He'll either play third base or a corner outfield spot with 25 home run potential, maybe more. Only three third basemen beat that mark and only seven corner outfielders hit 25 or more bombs in 2014. In a game where power has evaporated in the post-PED era, Tomas's power is real and valuable. There's a chance that Tomas could need some time in the minors like Yasiel Puig did, but the power will play even if he needs a brief stint in Triple-A to adjust.
Depending on where the Diamondbacks opt to play Tomas, there is going to have to be a corresponding move or two made. If they want to play him at third base, that essentially hijacks an opportunity for former top hitting prospect Jake Lamb to get his feet wet full time in 2014. Scouts and fans are split on Lamb as his production has exceeded what scouts have envisioned for a couple of years now. Aaron Hill was also slated to get playing time at third as the D-backs have plenty of middle infielders. But Arizona did not pay Yasmany Tomas to be a part-time player, meaning that if he starts at third, Lamb is out of a job and Hill may have an even-higher-than-originally-thought chance of playing for someone else in 2015. Current top hitting prospect Brandon Drury is best-suited for third base, too, although he's been taking reps at second since late this summer. Either way, Tomas playing third base throws a wrench in an already complicated situation.
Then again, playing him in the outfield may prove to be an even bigger challenge. The Diamondbacks have one player who stands on firm ground out there, and that's A.J. Pollock in center field (Action Jackson is really good). The corners were already a mess with Mark Trumbo, Cody Ross, David Peralta and Ender Inciarte in the mix to fill the remaining two slots. Although playing Mark Trumbo in right field is a terrible idea, the team announced two weeks ago that they would do just that on an everyday basis. That left Peralta and Inciarte to share left field duties and probably made Cody Ross a full time bench bat. Adding Tomas to that equation, by either playing him in right or left field, throws another guy into the mix, and that pushes someone off the roster. The team could flat-out release Ross, they could look to trade one of their younger outfielders in Peralta or Inciarte, or they could try and trade Trumbo to a team that needs first base or DH help. Flipping Trumbo sounds unlikely given their commitment to power hitters, but that's probably the best move from a value and production standpoint. Keeping their younger, cheaper options would also be appealing from an asset-growth and salary perspective, but again, we just don't know yet.
Either way, more moves are coming. Arizona's biggest need has been and continues to be starting pitching. Dave Stewart has emphasized this a number of times and for good reason. They're only impact arm is a Tommy John-recovering Patrick Corbin and he won't be ready to return until late May or early June. Wade Miley and the recently-acquired Hellickson, plus Josh Collmenter, would make a fine middle and back end of a rotation, but won't carry the team. They have stated that they cannot afford top tier free agent arms, so that leaves only trade candidates to fill their needs — and given that the team is reluctant to trade players like Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, Aaron Blair and Brandon Drury, they could have a hard time pulling in the kind of impact arm they covet. Miguel Montero is the only viable trade piece that could net them a front end starter and he's now even more likely to be moved. With logjams in the infield and the outfield, plus a payroll situation that has to be resolved, this may be the tip of the iceberg.
The Yasmany Tomas signing signals major changes for the Diamondbacks, but getting him in the first place was a major success. His 6-year, $68 million deal was lower in total value than many had predicted. Some teams may have even offered more cash to Tomas, but the Diamondbacks did something really smart: they got creative in the structure of the deal. Tomas has the option of opting out of the deal after the fourth year, meaning he can hit the market again at 28 and be in line for a huge payday should he turn into the player that scouts and teams think he can be. Although the terms of the deal haven't been released as of yet, the Diamondbacks likely backloaded the deal to entice Tomas to stay on board for years five and six. Instead, he's likely to opt out, and while that only means four years of Tomas, Arizona might just get it at a pretty steep discount as compared to his production. If this is correct, Tomas essentially bet on himself to build up a massive value by the time that fourth year concludes. The D-backs may have had to go this route just to obtain him in the first place, and if they get four good years out of him at something like $8 or $9 million per season, they may have just struck gold. Should he prove to be just a 2-win player and stick around for all six years, which is a pessimistic outcome, then they've paid something close to market price, which isn't the end of the world.
The Arizona Diamondbacks did something really smart today. In doing so, they've created a lot of work for themselves in terms of clearing both payroll and roster spots. This is just the beginning of what will likely be a very busy offseason in Arizona, one in which was thought to be a rebuilding year. Instead, the D-backs remain committed to trying to being relevant even if they have to take the path of most resistance to get there. How they clear up the situation is yet to be determined, but it's guaranteed to be interesting.
Jeff Wiser is an editor emeritus at Beyond the Box Score and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, an analytical look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. He and Ryan Morrison are the hosts of The Pool Shot Podcast and you can find his work on craft beer at BeerGraphs. Follow him on Twitter @OutfieldGrass24.