There's no question that the team's greatest need this winter is starting pitching. Last year was a disaster, with the Diamondbacks' ERA of 4.44 better only than the Rockies in the NL. It was also the highest mark posted by an Arizona rotation since 2006, when offense was significantly higher. Just as last off-season, management has come out and stated the rotation is a priority, GM Dave Stewart saying, "By the time we start the season I'd really like to try to improve our starting rotation." However, as we say last winter, where our quest for a ToR pitcher ended with us signing Bronson Arroyo for half-a-season of mediocre (ERA+ 92) starts, getting there is another matter.
The team has already been reported as having an interest in free-agent James Shields, but in the wake of Arizona signing outfielder Yasmany Tomás just before Thanksgiving, perhaps the team may dip its toe further into Cuban waters, and target starting pitcher Yoan Lopez. MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez - who was the first man to break the news of the Tomás signing, so seems to have credibility - said that "the Yankees, Padres, Giants, D-backs are among the teams that have already expressed strong interest in the 6-foot-4, 190-pound pitcher." Like Tomás, Lopez defected earlier this year, and is now showcasing his talents in the Dominican Republic.
Lopez is not to be confused with another Cuban Yoan, the teenage infielder prospect named Moncada, who is also considered likely to be signed to a major-league club this winter. The pitching Yoan used to play alongside Jorge Despaigne for Isla De La Juventud, and before defecting, had started seven games for them, posting a 3.12 ERA with a K:BB ratio of 28:11 in 49 innings. According to Sanchez, he generally throws his fastball in the 93-95 mph range, but it has also been clocked as high as 100 mph - his arsenal also includes a cut-fastball, a change, a curve and a slider.
There is one big difference in the process between signing Lopez and Tomás. Because the former is a lot younger, at only 21, his signing is subject to the budget limitations set by MLB for international players. which for this winter are based on 2013 team performance. Now, these aren't set in stone, and teams can exceed them if they wish - but doing so can incur penalties. These may be both financial (a "luxury tax" where they have to pay a fine equal to the overage) or prevent teams from signing further international prospects above a certain limit during future periods, depending on how many percentage points over the limitation they go.
It's something which the Diamondbacks will have to take into account if they decide to make an offer to Lopez, and while figuring out how much it should be:. Is getting him worth a punitive fine, and possibly losing the chance to go after other young overseas players for the next couple of seasons? That may depend on exactly how talented they figure Lopez is, and it's worth bearing in mind that one of the other "strong interest" teams, the Yankees, is already in the penalty box, so may consider they don't have anything more to lose, except additional luxury tax payments.
Stay tuned, to see whether Mrs. SnakePit needs to make additional pot of black beans and rice for the Diamondbacks this winter...