Call me a pessimist, but I'm beginning to look toward the 2012 roster to see what kind of roster the D-backs could be putting on the field. The roster will certainly have its share of holdovers, but, for instance, the Opening Day bullpen and rotation for the 2012 D-backs look to have very little resemblance to what Arizona began the 2011 year with. With a few key parts of the team leaving through free agency and questions about who could come up from the farm and play a significant role for the club, I figured now is as good of a time as ever to look through the contract situations of 2011's D-backs to see what next year's roster might look like, and what holes will need to be addressed outside of the organization.
For this post, I'll be relying heavily on the D-backs current 40-man roster (as of 7/21/2011, the day I started working on this post), and the joyous baseball wonder that is Cot's Baseball Contracts, and their Arizona payroll spreadsheet.
Inked Up: players already signed through at least the 2012 season
SS/2B Stephen Drew - Drew will have one year and $7.75MM remaining on a two-year contract extension that he signed last summer to buy out his final two years of salary arbitration (which unfortunately has bit us in the rear with Drew's recent injury). There is a mutual option for 2013 worth $10MM, with a $1.35MM buyout.
CF Chris Young - The contract extension CY and former GM Josh Byrnes agreed upon in April of 2008 remains a good, affordable value (aside from the '09 blip). Young is on the books for $7.2MM in 2012 and $8.7MM in 2013, followed by an $11MM club option for 2014 that currently looks like a no-brainer, particularly with the $1.5MM buyout.
RF Justin Upton - Following the 2011 season, Upton will be due $6.75MM in 2012, $9.75MM in 2013, $14.25MM in 2014, and $14.5MM in 2015. That adds up to another four years and $45.25MM, an absurd value for someone as talented as Upton. There are no options at the tail end of Upton's contract. Upton has a small no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to, strangely enough, just four teams: Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and Oakland. Can't say I blame him for wanting to avoid those, erm, thriving markets...
RHP J.J. Putz - After making $4MM in 2010, J.J. will make $4.5MM next year in the second year of his two-year, $10MM deal. The remaining $1.5MM guaranteed is included in the buyout for Putz's 2013 team option worth $6.5MM.
IF Geoff Blum - Of the five players signed to guaranteed deals through 2012, Blum is undoubtedly the "one of these things is not like the others" in the group. Namely, Blum is the only player of the group that is a role player rather than a key contributor. Nonetheless, Blum's two-year deal locks him into a $1.35MM salary for the 2012 season, when he'll be 39 years old.
I'm sure the one thing that has caught people's eyes is the listing of Drew as a "SS/2B". I'm not trying to incite panic, but I think it's important to at least list the possibility of Drew's mobility being permanently hampered, which could be devastating to his ability to play the position that requires the most skill of any on the diamond. As we'll get to later, second base is wide open for Arizona if Drew truly needs to move, and it appears that Arizona is going to need to acquire some sort of infielder anyways.
Shortstops are typically much more difficult to find than second basemen or third basemen, but according to MLBTR, there appears to be an uncharacteristically deep group of free agents at the position. Even if Arizona thinks Drew can handle the position for another year, his contract is likely to come to an end after the 2012 season with no shortstop in the minors figuring to be ready to fill in, so inking a solid, dependable shortstop for three years or so could make sense regardless. At the top of the crowd are the two stars, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, who both figure to be extremely difficult to pry away from their current teams, although a Reyes trade could shake up his 2012 plans and Rollins' Phillies have plenty of big, burdensome contracts on their books.
The next tier down includes a handful of solid regulars in Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Marco Scutaro, and Ronny Cedeno, although I would argue that all but Scutaro - who could make a really savvy sign in my opinion for someone with around $6MM per year to spend - have a real chance of underwhelming in 2012. For those looking to try to snatch a bargain who are willing to stomach a little extra risk, there are regression candidates Rafael Furcal and Alex Gonzalez, typically-above-average shortstops who are having well below-average years by their standards. Finally, at the bottom of the food chain, there are (as always) plenty of guys who consistently reside on the wrong side of replacement level, including Yuniesky Betancourt, Jack Wilson, and Miguel Tejada.
Other than Drew, we know exactly what these guys will be doing for next year's D-backs. CY will be the everyday center fielder, Upton will be in front of Uptown, Putz will close, and Blum will be the primary reserve infielder. Five roster spots checked off the list.
Basically Free: players set to make minimum salary who are locks to be on the big-league roster
RHP Daniel Hudson - Not only is Hudson not headed to arbitration for the 2012 season, but he'll be making minimum in 2013 as well unless he qualifies for Super Two status, which may be taken out of a new CBA before long. The 2010-2013 stretch (at the very least, the 2010-2012 stretch) of pitching from Hudson with the D-backs could prove to be one of the biggest three-and-a-half year (or two-and-a-half year, of course) stretches of surplus value extracted from a single player in D-backs history. Simply scintillating.
RHP David Hernandez - Yes, I'm absolutely terrified of Hernandez succumbing to rampant arm abuse, but that doesn't change the fact that a) he remains extremely inexpensive and b) he will, without a doubt, be on the Opening Day roster. I would love to be wrong about Hernandez's excessive use - we could really use another great year from the right-hander in 2012.
OF Gerardo Parra - Unless Parra becomes a Super Two arbitration player, he's headed for his third and final season as a minimum-salary player, but figures to be a D-back in 2012 either way.
LHP Joe Paterson - Paterson has been a revelation for the D-backs in his LOOGY role since joining the team through the Rule 5 Draft, and Arizona can look forward to five more years of control of Paterson.
RHP Josh Collmenter - Whether or not he sticks as a starting pitcher is still a debate that doesn't look to be answered for quite a while, but the "ferris wheel" - heard that nickname on KTAR, thoroughly enjoyed it - will undoubtedly be on the Opening Day 2012 D-backs.
The team has plenty of other minimum-salary guys under control, but the status of those other players making the roster a bit more tenuous, so it's just these five on my sure-in minimum-salary list. The rest of the crowd will be covered later, but for now this covers two starting pitcher slots, two relievers, and another outfielder - five more roster spots. That gives Arizona a full everyday outfield, although Parra could probably use a right-handed platoon mate, a pair of starters, and three relievers in total. Not too bad for such a small salary commitment.
Call The Arbitrator: arbitration-eligible players that are locks to retain
C Miguel Montero - Not only is Montero an excellent catcher, but his $3.2MM salary in 2011 shouldn't become absurd in 2012, his final year of arbitration. Think along the lines of $5-5.5MM, an absolute bargain for a player of Montero's elite caliber. Montero's a complete no-brainer, and perhaps a candidate to receive a contract extension this off-season.
RHP Ian Kennedy - For nearly two years, Kennedy has been a fixture in Arizona's rotation, absolutely crushing any expectations that we may have had for him when he was initially acquired from the New York Yankees (thanks again!!!), all on minimum salary. Unfortunately for us, all of that service time has resulted in Kennedy earning a Super 2 designation, which means he'll head to arbitration for the first of four times this off-season. Kennedy would be a prime extension candidate were it not for his agent, the ever-adored Scott Boras.
INF Ryan Roberts - It's hard to know where Roberts will be positioned on the diamond next year, but what is certain is that he'll be retained, given a pay-raise in arbitration, and on the Opening Day 2012 roster. He should be rather interesting arbitration case due to his age and his off-and-on roster presence for Arizona over the last two years. However, 23 home runs and a .249/.332/.406 career line will get Roberts over the $1MM threshold, which is more than a little heartwarming in my opinion.
[EDIT 9/1:] RHP Brad Ziegler - The newly acquired ROOGY looks to be a solid bullpen find, giving Arizona three controlled years of relief, through the 2014 season. He's a lock to be retained in 2012, but it's worth noting that he's already making $1.25MM in 2011 despite not having hit arbitration yet. If his first arbitration year builds on that salary, he could get pricey for a reliever by the time that third year comes around. For now, though, that's neither here nor there.
With what looks like a nice market for middle infielders and a really poor market for third basemen - essentially Aramis Ramirez & Friends - I imagine that Roberts will find himself playing the hot corner on a regular basis in 2011, possibly splitting time every now and then with someone like Blum or Ryan Wheeler to keep RyRo fresh for the entire year. Kennedy fills another rotation spot, Montero will remain the team's everyday catcher, and Ziegler fills another relief slot.
Up-In-The-Air: Arbitration-eligible players who may or may not be retained
LHP Joe Saunders - He's a lock to some, and I know that some people are going to get a chuckle out of me saying otherwise, but I simply don't see him being worth the money since we have a lot of options in the minors that I feel could produce at a similar true skill level as Saunders. Should Saunders be tendered, he would likely get a raise on his $5.5MM salary to somewhere in the $8MM vicinity. I could see Saunders as a candidate for an off-season trade the way that Detroit pawned the next guy listed on us last off-season mid-arbitration - someone will want Joe at that price.
Non-Tenders: Arbitration-eligible players who will be non-tendered
RHP Armando Galarraga - $2.3MM, currently at Reno, self-explanatory. Moving on as quickly as possible...
RHP Juan Gutierrez - Someone will pick up Gutierrez on a flier deal hoping that they can "fix" him, but Gutierrez's 24 career saves would get him far more money that he's worth in arbitration. At the end of the day, this is a guy with a career 4.79 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 3.66 BB/9, a ton of DL time in 2011, and a seemingly-constant need to re-adjust his mechanics in an effort to harness his arm. A pretty easy non-tender call.
3B Sean Burroughs - Do I even need to explain...?
Hitting the Market: Players eligible for free agency
2B Kelly Johnson - This will certainly be an interesting free agency case, as the big question is whether or not someone will overpay in hopes that Johnson can regain a semblance of 2010 form. In all likelihood, with the dearth of plus bats available at second base throughout baseball, someone will give Johnson a big contract. Detroit seems like a prime suitor to give Johnson upwards of $10-12MM per year, which would be far too rich for Arizona's wallet. Particularly if there's any concern about Drew returning to shortstop, Johnson appears to be on his way out.
1B/OF Xavier Nady - Below replacement-level guy who can only play at the power positions, yet almost completely lacks power. An easy choice to part ways here.
[EDIT 9/1] RHP Jason Marquis - Call me crazy, but I don't think Marquis is a total lock to leave Arizona at the end of the season. If Arizona could find a way to sell high in a trade on Saunders in the off-season despite his pricey final year of arbitration, Marquis would certainly be someone worth retaining for a year or two, allowing us to both retain a starter who can give us a 4-plus-ish ERA for 180-200 innings and get some prospect return for Saunders. Yes, Marquis' current contract hasn't worked out well for the Nationals because of his awful, injury-riddled 2010 campaign, but if Arizona could get a slightly more team-friendly deal - say two years and $12-14MM or one year and $7MM - I don't see we say no and choose instead to retain Saunders for more money per season and with no prospects headed back to Arizona. This isn't me being irrationally against Joe Saunders, it's simply me seeing Saunders and Marquis as identical commodities, and making note of a way to spin the situation where we wind up with a player and some extra minor-league help.
Contract Options: Self-explanatory...
LHP Zach Duke - Duke's Spring Training injury killed any chance of his option vesting at its built-in innings threshold, and Duke's recent removal from the rotation means that he's a lock to be let go, paying the $750,000 buyout.
UTIL Willie Bloomquist - I'm torn on this one. On one hand, Bloomquist really isn't good at many things. On the other hand, he can play shortstop and Kirk Gibson loves him. The option is mutual, although Bloomquist is a mortal lock to exercise his half, meaning it's $1.1MM for 2012 or a $150,000 buyout. I'd buy him out, but I don't think Arizona will. Reluctantly, I'll assume he sticks around.
C Henry Blanco - Blanco basically never plays, but has been perfect for the role he's assumed with the D-backs. Hits right-handed (complimenting Montero), plays good defense, a good mentor for the younger Latin American players (a legitimate benefit, given the culture shock), and doesn't cost too much. Another mutual option, worth $1.15MM in 2012 or a $250,000 buyout. I think this marriage happily continues for another year.
Let's see what this leaves the 2012 D-backs with:
SP1-3: Ian Kennedy, Dan Hudson, Josh Collmenter.
RP: J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, Joe Paterson, Brad Ziegler.
C: Miguel Montero, Henry Blanco (BN1).
MIF: Stephen Drew, Willie Bloomquist (BN2).
3B: Ryan Roberts, Geoff Blum (BN3).
OF: Justin Upton, Chris Young, Gerardo Parra.
The holes are: fourth and fifth starters,
four three [EDIT 9/1] relief pitchers, an everyday first baseman, another everyday middle infielder, a fourth outfielder, and another bench player. With this in mind, let's take a look into the internal candidates for these slots:
If Saunders gets tendered a contract, I can't see Arizona going out to get any additional starting depth - I think they'd simply let the five minor-league guys duke it out for the remaining slot, and count on there being adequate replacements on the farm as needed throughout the year. Perhaps re-signing someone like Micah Owings to a minor-league deal would provide a little extra comfort. Without Saunders, Arizona could think of taking another, hopefully more successful, Galarraga-like flier on someone for some back-end bulk innings, while being open to the idea that two of those minor-league guys could beat and shift that veteran to a bullpen role. Also, Marquis isn't technically under team control so I didn't include him, but he's another option that could be retained.
[EDIT 9/1:] With Ziegler acquired, it now becomes a much more interesting question as to how Towers fills out the remainder of his bullpen. Make no mistake, Ziegler is hardly your prototypical late-inning reliever. He completely sucks against a rather large sample of opposing batters - namely, left-handed hitters - to the point where it's worth pulling him from the game if even one lefty is due up, since he has an annoying career habit of turning them into 24-year-old 1960 Harmon Killebrew, at least in terms of OPS production. Zielger is excellent at what he does, but what he does is get right-handed batters out until a lefty shows up and spoils the fun.
So this begs the question: is Towers comfortable with a combination of Ziegler, Paterson, and three of the above candidates splitting time in the seventh inning? Gun to my head, I'd say that Towers is probably going to look high and low for another relief arm to get outs in the seventh inning, but at the end of the day, none of what will be available for cheap will be any better than Shaw's wicked cutter in the seventh. In all likelihood, Gorgen will need time back in the minors, while Woodall and Ortega probably could use some additional seasoning above Double-A. Additionally, I think that the ship has sailed on Esmerling Vasquez with the D-backs. That pits Demel, Cook, and Mickolio against each other for three spots, and that's perfectly fine by me. Looks like a solid bullpen.
It's worth noting that Vasquez will be out of options - part of the reason I think he won't make the club, as a matter of fact, is the inherent lack of roster flexibility that comes with having no options for the last guy out of your bullpen. I, quite frankly, imagine that he'll either be traded or sold to Japan if there are no takers, though I also imagine that someone will take the gamble given the quality of his arm.
I think we all know who is going to win this slot. Goldschmidt will be the team's Opening Day first baseman in 2012, with
Allen and Miranda fighting for a spot on the bench as occasional lefty protection. For what it's worth, Miranda is no longer on the 40-man roster, which means that a) Allen likely has the upper hand in this battle, and b) Miranda could actually be taken by an opposing team in the Rule 5 Draft if he remains unprotected, which seems likely.
Everyday MIF: .................
In a word: Yikes. The team could be bold and put Wheeler on the corner everyday with Roberts filling this slot, but with next year looking like the first in a long line of possible contending years, I think KT will go out and get a middle infielder through free agency. This looks to be Towers' biggest off-season goal: finding a way to miraculously re-sign Kelly without breaking the bank or finding a cheaper alternative. Scutaro is a really appealing candidate to me, as Boston seems ready to give its shortstop job to prospect Jose Iglesias.
This looks like it's going to be one of the richest plot lines of Spring Training 2012 - the competition between the three young prospects to win the D-backs' fourth outfielder gig. All three guys are capable of playing center field on some limited basis, which is the qualifier that eliminates someone like Marc Krauss from contention (aside from his mediocre season, of course). However, there are big question marks about each guy. Are Cowgill's Reno numbers a fluke? Will Eaton be ready for a big-league job so soon after spending so much of 2011 still in A-ball? Will Pollock's more projectable frame allow for his less-impressive overall numbers to translate better to the major leagues? There are two things I feel confident saying: 1) There's at least one big-league-caliber fourth outfielder among this trio, and 2) This promises to be an exciting competition to follow.
Final Bench Player:
Brandon Allen [EDIT 8/1], Juan Miranda, Ryan Wheeler, Marc Krauss, Konrad Schmidt.
Lots of options here that avoid having to turn to more Veteran Presence.
Allen and Miranda will have good shots a legitimate shot at this gig because of the versatility of Bloomquist and worried about Goldschmidt's platoon splits, but that doesn't mean that the team needs one of them him around - he'll have to hit his way back onto the team. The team would have nowhere to play a second of the fourth outfielder candidates, so they are probably out of the picture for this slot. However, someone like Wheeler could make the club as a lefty-hitting first base option with the versatility to also man third, while Krauss could get hot over the next month or so and convince the team that his pop off the bench would compensate for his middling positional value. Then, of course, the team could simply elect to keep three catchers around and go with Schmidt, although this doesn't seem extremely likely.