For much of the 2018, the Arizona Diamondbacks led the way in the NL West. Entering September, Arizona still had a tenuous hold on the division, but an abysmal final month saw them fall completely out of playoff contention. They just managed to stay above .500 as they ended the year with 82 wins though their Pythagorean record and 3rd Order winning percentage put them at 86 wins.
It was a disappointing end, and things don’t appear to be getting any better. After a breakout year, Patrick Corbin is entering free agency. Unless Clayton Kershaw opts out, he’ll be the most sought-after starting pitcher on the market. Also entering free agency is A.J. Pollock. Pollock might not be the player he once was, but he was still a solid player for the Diamondbacks. He cracked a career-high 21 home runs for a team that struggled to score.
Midseason acquisition Eduardo Escobar signed a three-year extension in October, but Jon Jay, Jake Diekman, Jeff Mathis, and Clay Buchholz have all become free agents while Brad Ziegler called it a career.
Since coming over from Boston, general manager Mike Hazen and assistant general manager Amiel Sawdaye have quickly turned things around after Dave Stewart ran the organization into the ground. The pair has a history of success, and they should be up to the task of keeping this team competitive, but last year’s acquisitions didn’t work out the way they wanted them to. After the team’s late season collapse, confidence in the team plummeted.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Diamondbacks acquired Jarrod Dyson, Alex Avila, and Yoshihisa Hirano through free agency. They also acquired Steven Souza Jr. in a three-team trade with the Rays and Yankees in which the Diamondbacks sent away Brandon Drury. Hirano was a solid addition to the bullpen, but every position player acquired before the season either struggled to stay above replacement level or failed to do so.
|Steven Souza Jr.||272||.220||.309||.369||.299||84||1||-0.4|
The only thing the 2018 free agents did well was field, which was emblematic of the Diamondbacks as a whole. The Diamondbacks led all of baseball with 157 DRS. The next closest team was the Brewers with 116. Behind them were the Oakland Athletics with 61.
The Diamondbacks’ incredible defense certainly helped their pitching staff. Arizona ranked fourth in the majors in ERA (3.73) but eighth in FIP (3.91) and just eleventh in DRA (4.19).
With all the players leaving, the 2019 Opening Day roster currently looks something like this:
Steven Souza Jr.
John Ryan Murphy
That’s just an estimation from looking at the FanGraphs depth chart and who is under contract for next year. It’s mostly to give an idea of what the Diamondbacks are working with.
The infield looks okay as long as everyone stays healthy and Paul Goldschmidt doesn’t have another dreadful start. The bullpen starts strong enough, but it doesn’t take long to get iffy. Beyond David Peralta, the outfield is rather worrisome if Souza’s 2017 was just an outlier. The back of the rotation needs some help.
So the Diamondbacks need one or two solid starters, a bullpen arm if they can get it, and a pair of outfielders. A catcher who can hit might not be such a bad thing either.
It’s a pretty hefty shopping list. One has to wonder if it’s worth depleting an already beleaguered farm system or committing themselves to long, expensive contracts when there might not be help on the way. Besides, Paul Goldschmidt is going to become a free agent at the end of next season and Zack Greinke is already 35.
The extension given to Escobar would indicate that the Diamondbacks aren’t ready to go into a tear down. Though with Escobar and Lamb on the same team, Goldschmidt could be traded and one of the third baseman could slide over to first. Lamb could also be traded while the Diamondbacks continue to improve other areas.
Fortunately, the Diamondbacks have money to spend. According to Spotrac, the Diamondbacks have $84.9 million already committed in 2019. That doesn’t include arbitration figures, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that the Diamondbacks will pay $49.8 million to their 14 arbitration eligible players. Not all of those players will receive contracts. The Diamondbacks could decide to non-tender Shelby Miller and/or Chris Owings and save themselves 5 to 8 million dollars to spend on a free agent.
But even if they tender contracts to all 14 players, that would only bring their payroll up $134.7 million. That would leave them with $71.3 million to spend before they reach the $206 million luxury tax threshold. They won’t use all of that money, of course. The highest their payroll has been was $141.7 million last year, but that was a $40 million jump from 2017.
The Diamondbacks only have $56.4 million in pre-arb money on the books for 2020, so spending this offseason shouldn’t keep them out of re-signing Paul Goldschmidt next year. Still, with the money already given to Escobar, it seems unlikely they’ll bring back both Corbin and Pollock. It’s more likely that they won’t bring back either.
But there are plenty of back-of-the-rotation options that should be inexpensive and allow them to improve the offense. A reunion with Clay Buchholz would be an easy way to shore up depth. Derek Holland and Wade Miley might be fine stopgaps before Taijuan Walker is able to return. Those names would also allow them to go after Marwin Gonzalez or Andrew McCutchen.
They could spend on Pollock and try to get a starter via trade. Sonny Gray is available and could benefit from going from child-sized Yankee Stadium to post-humidor Chase Field.
Or the Diamondbacks could decide to spend on pitching while acquiring an outfielder via trade. Domingo Santana is likely still available, and it would be worth checking in on Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber.
Whatever the Diamondbacks do, they probably won’t challenge the Dodgers on paper, but they could get right back into Wild Card contention. Beyond 2020, they don’t have a ton of money on the books, so spending this offseason won’t necessarily ruin their future. Still, there aren’t a lot of obvious choices for the Diamondbacks to make, and the front office is in for a tough winter.