Kevin Towers has been getting some flak recently for telling the media that we we're going to be able to compete next year. And perhaps, rightfully so, as it would appear to be a tall task to go from winning 65 games in one year, to the (assumed) requisite of 90 games the next. However, I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at his claim.
Getting to 90 Wins
The first and most important disclaimer, is that I am absolutely enamored with Fangraphs. So I will be using their WAR representations throughout this post.
According to Fangraphs, the Diamondbacks amassed a total of around 32 WAR as a team in 2010. They use 48 wins as the baseline for a replacement level team, so our 2010 Diamondbacks translates to an 80 win team. The difference in hitting WAR between FG and BR can be attributed to the difference between UZR and TotalZone, and I think most of us agree with UZR. The difference between pitching WAR between FG and BR is pretty extreme, but I think for our purposes of projection, FG's FIP-based WAR may be more useful (even though I understand FG's pitching WAR was not meant for projection purposes).
The breakdown of FG WAR was as follows: Position players earned 24.7 WAR (including offense and defense, much more useful for projection since you can't exactly DFA an individual player's offense and keep his defense on the team...as much as we wish that were so), the Rotation earned 9.6 WAR, and the Bullpen earned (I use this term loosely) -2.1 WAR.
The magic number is 10. If KT wants us to contend next year, we need to improve the current roster by 10 WAR. And it's not going to be easy.
Based on the above table (data from Cot's Baseball Contracts), you can see that we'll have slightly under $43 million committed next year (arbitration raises are guesstimates), with holes at LF, one SP, 4 RP, and one veteran bench bat left to fill. KT will probably spend $2 million on the veteran bench bat (with questionable WAR value added). So it's more like $45 million committed. I can't see us spending more than $65 million. So, at best, we have $20 million dollars with which to make up 10 WAR of ground. That's going to be tough.
KT has said he's going to make the bullpen a priority, and that is something I can easily believe. I'm not sure how it's going to get done, but I think it's reasonable to assume that KT is going to spend some money this winter and figure out how to get us to be at least a league median bullpen. We have 4 spots to fill (since KT has already implied that Demel and Gutierrez are useful, and I see no reason why we wouldn't keep Carrasco). Assume two of them are minimum wage in-house candidates (a la the Woodall, Collmenter, Sweeney flavor) that would cost $1 million. I think it reasonable that if we want a legitimate closer/setup combination, we will need to spend $12 million for those two. This puts us at $58 million total. With both a SP and LF hole, it seems like we'll be hard pressed to fill both. We would probably sign a $7 million 1B and move Allen to left field, and hope our rotation works itself out, maybe let Wade Miley start the season and hope he can work some Barry Enright magic until Parker is ready for a midseason callup. This brings us to $65 million, but how close are we to that 10 WAR upgrade?
A league median bullpen will give us probably 3 WAR, and since we were -2 WAR this past year, that's a net 5 WAR upgrade. The rotation is a little bit more difficult to project. Dan Hudson is probably a conservative bet for 4 WAR next year. Ian Kennedy was 2.5 WAR this year, and we can probably project him at 2.5 WAR for next year. Joe Saunders, as much crap as I give him, looks to be good for 2 WAR next year. Half a season of Jarrod Parker is probably good for 1.5 WAR (I mean, if we can't bank on Parker being at least a mid-rotation starter, then what else can we bank on?). The problem is, what is a season of Barry Enright and half a season of Wade Miley worth? I don't feel comfortable projecting Enright getting us more than 1 WAR over the course of a season (since he pitched at replacement level this year), and Miley more than 0.5 WAR over half a season. That gives our rotation a total of 11.5 WAR, a 2 WAR upgrade from last year. I just don't feel safe projecting more than a 2 WAR upgrade from our rotation, based on these members.
So the question is. Does changing LaRoche and our left field vortex of suck (Parra/Gillespie/Ryal) for Allen and a $7 million free agent LF/1B net us 3 WAR? I think that's a pretty difficult question, and I would err on the side of no. I don't want to say it's impossible for us to contend next year. After all, we could dumpster dive for a 1B, pay him $3 million, and have him pull an Aubrey Huff. But if these are the only moves we make next year (i.e. get a veteran bat, fix the bullpen, keep the rotation cheap, find a bargain LF/1B) while trying to keep our financial commitments between $60-65 million, we will be hard-pressed to compete.