Two players have contracts that are up after the end of this season, and for one of them, we don't have an obvious immediate successor. I speak, of course, of Aaron Hill, who succeeded in justifying his entire two-year, $11 million contract by about the All-Star break last season. The question of whether to renew or replace is an interesting one. If he has a campaign anything like that one, he would be in line for a hefty raise from his current cost. He'll also turn 32 before Opening Day 2014, and one wonders if, from a cold-hearted perspective, it might be worth to let someone else paying for what could be his declining years. For now, second-base has to remain a question-mark.
The other man in his contract year is Jason Kubel. There is a mutual option for 2014, at $7.5 million, but one suspects it may not be exercised. It would seem, in the light of Prado's extension, that he may return to the position where he was excellent in Atlanta, opening up third-base for Matt Davidson. The young prospect (he's still only 21) had a very solid season for Mobile, batting .261/.367/.469 with 23 homers, and was recently named the 6th-best prospect at the position in the nation. Another successful campaign in Reno, and he could well be primed to take over the hot corner next year.
The big change here is likely to be at shortstop, though the exact timing of the change - and, indeed, the personnel involved - is still uncertain. Pennington's recently-signed deal with the team buys out the first two years of arbitration: he will still be under club control for 2015, but will likely be pretty expensive at that point (he'll earn $3.25 million in 2014). By Opening Day 2015, Didi Gregorius will be 25 and should be fully seasoned and ready for the majors. Chris Owings (about 18 months younger) could well also be coming into the picture, and could be a candidate to take over second-base. The other prospect we got from Atlanta, Nick Ahmed, is another possibility.
How those three young players develop in the next two seasons will likely decide who replaces Pennington, and at what point. Going by what we saw yesterday, the ZIPS system projects Gregorius to be as valuable, overall, as Pennington this season, and assuming some level of development from Didi, the timetable for the switch could be moved up to some point during 2014. Conversely, if all our prospects flame out in a welter of light-hitting defense, there's always Pennington to hold on to for his final season or arbitration.
There may not be need for any significant changes at the end of that season. Cody Ross's 2016 contract is a team option, however, and given he'll be 35 at that point, one wonders if there won't be someone younger, cheaper and better coming up the pipeline. It may not even be someone currently present in our farm system: a college player, picked in the upcoming June draft, could well be able to take over, given 2½ years in the minors. Such are the perils of looking an extremely long way off, in baseball terms. Perhaps adding to the impetus will be the increasing cost of other members of the team.
Let's look at that in total: the artistically color-coded chart below sums up the situation of the team for the next four years, including the expected starters at each position, and how much they'll earn. For total purposes, I've assumed each minimum-salary player earns a round $500K.
|C||Montero $10m||Montero $10m||Montero $12m||Montero $14m|
|1B||Goldschmidt min.||Goldschmidt min.||Goldschmidt Arb1||Goldschmidt Arb2|
|SS||Pennington $1.75m||Pennington $3.25m||Gregorius min.||Gregorius min.|
|3B||Prado $7m||Davidson min.||Davidson min.||Davidson min.|
|LF||Kubel $7.5m||Prado $11m||Prado $11m||Prado $11m|
|CF||Eaton min.||Eaton min.||Eaton min.||Eaton Arb1|
|RF||Ross $6.5m||Ross $9.5m||Ross $9.5m||Ross $9.5m|
As a yardstick, the same eight spots this year cost us almost $43 million, so even allowing for the gap to be filled at second base, the numbers here look to be easily fundable. Things do get a little pricey in 2016, as Goldzilla goes through arbitration for the second time, and Adam Eaton for the first. But it looks like things should remain in reach of Ken Kendrick's pockets, especially since there will be a new TV deal starting that season, which could well result in a significant increase in funding (if the Dodgers are anything to go by!).
Obviously, there is a significant degree of uncertainty: health, obviously, isn't something which can be predicted, the development of young players like Davidson and Gregorius is also far from written in stone, and Cody Ross may... Well, let's not got there. On the other hand, it's possible currently unheralded prospects may rise, in the same way as Goldschmidt and Eaton [if we'd done this exercise in February 2009, covering the next four years, our projected line-ups would definitely not have included either, given we hadn't drafted them yet!] Overall, it does appear that the Diamondbacks now have the vast bulk of positions on the diamond sorted for the next four years.
Not bad, it has to be said, for a franchise frequently condemned for not having a coherent "plan"...