As a rough estimate, the D-backs will perhaps have about $10-$15 million additional to spend this winter. That's after funding the existing contracts, and expected arbitration raises - the biggest winners in the latter category will probably be Jean Segura and Welington Castillo, but the team has a total of nine players going through the process at one stage or another. So there is some uncertainty in the precise figure, but when we looked at this last month, we came up with a current Arizona Diamondbacks payroll estimate for Opening Day 2017, of $87 million.
According to GM Mike Hazen, he "expects the team to be in the same range as last year, i.e., around $100M." [So looks like another year where the television deal will not be helping much, though it may be helping to cover a shortfall in other revenue, such as decreased ticket sales] With almost no need for any additions on the position player side, and a horrendous set of starting pitchers available, it seems likely Hazen will be investing in the team's bullpen. And who can blame him, because by bWAR, the Arizona relief corps was tied with Philadelphia for worst in the National League, costing the team 5.3 wins compared to NL average.
However, I would not expect the team to go after one of the top-tier closers on the market. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon will potentially command contracts well in excess per year of the current record for a closer, the $15 million deals signed by Mariano Rivera with the Yankees. For Chapman, whispers suggest he could get a $100 million, five-year deal. It's perhaps worth noting, given philosophical similarities between Mike Hazen and the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer axis at Wrigley, that the Cubs are generally regarded not to be in the hunt for one of the big-ticket names this off-season. [Epstein & Hoyer also let Jonathan Papelbon walk while in Boston].
It seems more likely we'll see a second-tier name picked up, a good relief pitcher whose resume is perhaps not excessively padded with saves. Looking at the best relievers on the market, here are the ten who put up most bWAR in 2016 while earning $8m or less, along with their age, salary and number of innings pitched (all for this year).
Even after Ziegler's departure by trade to the Red Sox, the bridges were never set ablaze with regard to Ziegler's possible return. He said at the time, "I’m not closing any doors, for sure. Like I’ve said, the fans here were great, the organization treated me well. I just never know; I never know what anybody’s thinking." Since then, of course, there has been a dramatic upheaval in the D-backs' front office, but Ziegler is likely to merit a sharp bump in salary of his own - as he should. Since 2011, Ziegler's value in bWAR is among the top 15 relievers: at 8.9 over the last six seasons, he has been comparable to both Papelbon (9.0) and Melancon (9.4). He won't be cheap.
Interesting to note other former D-backs on the list. I'm not sure fans would tolerate re-signing Cahill, even as he seems to have found himself again in the bullpen. But Hernandez had a solid enough year for the terrible Phillies, after being let go by the D-backs at about this time last season; I see we also signed him in the GM sim. Hell, why not let Arizona go full on retro, turn the clock back to 2010 and re-sign Blaine Boyer! This is not actually as dumb as it may sound: over the last three years, Boyer has averaged 57 innings per season, with an ERA+ of 121. [For a future article, I may have to put together a 2016 bullpen of relievers the D-backs let get away. Paging Addison Reed, Will Harris, Bryan Shaw...]
One name which didn't have a good season by bWAR, but which should certainly be considered is, of course, Daniel Hudson. His overall 5.22 ERA was underwhelming - but reliever, thy name is volatility. For he had roughly twenty excellent weeks this year, surrounding six which were spectacularly crappy, beyond the dreams of awfulness.
- Apr 4-June 21: 30 G, 29.0 IP, 13 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 9 BB, 24 SO, 1.55 ERA, .463 OPS
- June 23-Aug 2: 15 G, 9.2 IP, 33 H, 31 R, 26 ER, 7 BB, 10 SO, 24.21 ERA, 1.424 OPS
- Aug 3-Oct 2: 21 G, 21.2 IP, 19 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 24 SO, 1.66 ERA, .604 OPS
I'd be curious if he ever figured out what happened in July - and probably a good deal happier too, in terms of avoiding any recurrence! I think Hudson wants to be back here, and most of the fanbase likely wouldn't mind either. But will that translate into the front-office? We just don't know.
Rebuilding a decent bullpen will be the first test of the Hazen regime, and its ability to find good value. Rather than putting all their relief eggs in one Aroldis Chapman-shaped basket, I can see the Diamondbacks spreading out both the cost and the risk, perhaps even picking up three or four free agent relievers, considering we might not have a great deal of faith in most of the returning arms, once we get past Andrew Chafin and Jake Barrett. It'll be interesting to see whether there's any common elements in the arms they pick up, e.g. high strikeout guys, groundball pitchers, etc, to give us a clue as to the new organizational philosophy.
For your consideration, the table below lists all the available free-agent pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in the majors this year [the most significant available name not reaching that criteria being Greg Holland, but interest in him is likely to be so high as to price him out of the D-backs' range]. As above, you get their 2016 age, innings pitched and bWAR, and they're in alphabetical order; left-handers get a * by their name. Given the team's financial restraints, described earlier, who takes your fancy?