No Tanaka: now what?

Al Messerschmidt

Two weeks tomorrow, Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers will report in Scottsdale. Having lost out in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, should Arizona look for an alternative?

Particularly with the early start for us, there isn't very much time left at all, if the Diamondbacks are to seize one of the remaining free-agent starting pitchers for their 2014 rotation. It's a weird situation, having only a couple of weeks left before spring training, and still not knowing whether or not the Opening Day starter for the Australia series against the Los Angeles Dodgers is present within the organization. As things stand, there are probably three directions in which Arizona could head, following the decision of Tanaka to head for the Big Apple instead.

Option A: As you were

We could head in to the 2014 campaign with the same starting five as finished the year: Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley and Randall Delgado. But, considering the amount of effort put in by GM Kevin Towers this winter to adding to the rotation, clearly it's an area where the front-office wasn't happy with the current selection, and coming away with nothing at all doesn't seem very satisfactory, especially with Ken Kendrick having opened the purse-strings to pursue Tanaka. One wonders if, in hindsight, they might have been better off taking the available money,going all in on Shin-Soo Choo as a free-agent, and using their trade chips to get a top-tier pitcher.

Now, it's certainly the case that making a bad move is worse than making no move at all, and it's also the former which will get a GM fired - "excessive inertia" has not, to my knowledge, ever been given as a reason for termination. But this is a team which finished nine games back of the second wild-card last season. If the winter moves end up consisting of swapping Heath Bell for Addison Reed, plus the possibly lateral one of Adam Eaton for Mark Trumbo, there's legitimate reason to doubt it will be enough to close that gap. Any expectations we do so, seem to rely also on getting very significant improvements in production from existing team members.

Option B: Bring up Bradley

Of course, we only have the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball waiting in the wings, in the shape of Archie Bradley. At what point do we add him to the mix? To some extent, this is likely to be out of our hands, with the decision perhaps more likely coming as the result of an injury to our starting five. Though he'll certainly get a long look in spring, I don't see Bradley being in the rotation on Opening Day, simply for service time purposes. By holding him back, for even a week, we will guarantee ourselves he won't reach six years of service (entitling him to enter free agency) at the end of the 2019 season.

But if the season starts off poorly, particular with Towers' and Kirk Gibson's jobs apparently on the line this year, the pressure to roll the dice and add him will no doubt intensify - regardless of whether that might not be best for Bradley's long-term development. It's worth remembering, Archie won't even turn 22 until late August, and only a trio of starters his age made more than three starts in the majors last year: Jose Fernandez, Michael Wacha and Tyler Skaggs. Ideally, you may want to hold off entirely to maximize the production of those six years before free agency: based on standard pitcher aging curves, odds are Bradley's age 24-29 value will be higher than from age 21-26.

Option C: Chase a free agent

The team definitely has the money to be able to target any of the remaining free agents. However, Kevin Towers has expressed (understandable, I'd say) doubts about signing pitchers to long-term contracts, and this may hamper the Diamondbacks' ability to compete in the feeding frenzy which is likely to unfold over the remaining couple of weeks. I also have some doubts about the quality of who's available, compared to their cost. Yes, Ubaldo Jimenez is probably a better pitcher than Randall Delgado. However, is he worth, not just the money, but also the first-round draft pick he would cost us to sign?

Matt Garza is the only one of the remaining high-level candidates who wouldn't cost us that, so it wouldn't surprise me if he now becomes the fallback option for us. However, for exactly the same reasons, he'll also become the fallback option for every other team who failed to land Tanaka, so I wouldn't rely on getting him either. Going by what Kevin Towers said today, they are still in the market. "We’re looking to add pitching, but not just pitching. An elite pitcher, front-line, a number one or a very good number two... My job still is to try to improve the club any way I can. That doesn’t stop just because we didn’t get Tanaka."

Which way should we go?

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