There are only two major players on the 2016 Diamondbacks who are scheduled to hit free agency at the end of this season. However, their departure would have a significant impact on the bullpen: not only are they both relief pitchers, but they are our closer, Brad Ziegler, and his set-up man, Daniel Hudson. They've been working the bulk of the high-importance innings, when the Diamondbacks have looked to protect a lead, and their average Leverage Index ranks #1 and #2 on the team this year. With the inevitable bumps you get from any relief pitcher, they've both been very good: Ziegler's ERA this year is 2.93, and Hudson's is even better at 1.73.
The question would be, re-sign one or both of them, to stay here in Arizona, or look elsewhere for pitchers to fill those roles in 2017? And if it's the latter approach, does it then make sense to trade either or both men at the trade deadline? Of course, this presumes the D-backs are still wallowing below .500 at the All-Star break (July 11-14), and out of contention. Where should we draw the line? 90 games in, I'd say 42-48 should definitely have us in sell mode - no team since the 1973 Mets has made the post-season with such a low first-half winning percentage. Above that, there's some hope - last year, the Rangers made it, despite being 42-46 at the break - so we could hold on a bit.
GM Dave Stewart told Ken Rosenthal today, teams have been calling about both Hudson and Ziegler, but that Arizona will also consider extensions for them. Financial considerations appear to be significant, Stewart adding that "he will need to speak with ownership before determining exactly how to proceed." Hudson is earning $2.7 million this year, and Ziegler $5.5 million. However, there will other costs for 2017 which will need to be met first, such as arbitration increases for a number of players, in addition to scheduled raises for Paul Goldschmidt ($3 million), A.J. Pollock ($3.25 million) and Yasmany Tomas ($2 million). This also seems likely to rule out any free-agent signings for the role.
If we do put our wares on the market, it may well indicate the team's plans for 2017. Obviously, if we deal Ziegler or Hudson, that likely reduces the chance of them being with the D-backs next year, though since they will still be free agents this winter, doesn't rule it out entirely. That said, we heard similar things last winter about re-signing lefty Oliver Perez, traded at the deadline in 2015, and he ended up going to Washington instead. Even if the team wants to re-sign one or other back to Arizona, it would seem wise to have another plan in place, just in case. Here's a look at the various possibilities.
Ziegler would likely be of interest to teams: never mind closing, he has been one of the best, most consistent relievers in the majors for a number of years. But he also has a solid track record of closing games: it doesn't get much more solid than 41 saves in a row at time of writing, and could well generate some significant offers. The other thing in favor of trading Brad, is that he will be expensive to re-sign. He was originally signed to what became a three-year deal (after the team exercised an option last winter) in December 2013, for a total cost of $15 million, but at the time, he had only 32 career saves. He may well surpass that number, this season alone, and will get well-deserved closer cash, even at age 37.
Hudson is a different case. He's certainly more the "traditional" closer-type, with a fastball which can hit the upper 90's, and has the strikeout numbers to go with it, pretty much a batter per inning since coming back from TJ late in 2014. It's a sharp contrast to Ziegler, who has a K-rate with Arizona of only 5.7 per nine innings and a fastest pitch this year of 86 mph. [Perhaps it's this contrast in styles and arsenal, which helps make them an effective set-up/closer combination] On the other hand, he will always have the shadow of his two Tommy John procedures lurking behind him, even though there has been no apparent lingering effects.
In terms of re-signing, few bleed truer Sedona Red than Huddy, and Daniel has said he wants to stay: "I’d love to stay here and be here when we’re good... I want to be here for the long run, for sure." However, he also said, "But I’ve got to do what’s best for me and my family. If that means exploring more options at the end of the year, then that’s what it’s going to come down to." If another team were to offer him a chance to go back to being a starting pitcher, rather than staying in the Arizona bullpen, might that factor into his decision? Perhaps giving him the closer's role, with the increased rewards that would bring, could be part of a Diamondbacks' counter-offer?
It was noteworthy that Clippard was signed to a two-year contract when he came aboard in February; the price for the second season is virtually the same as this year (only $50K higher, at $6.15 million). On the one hand, the additional year of control would make Tyler more valuable at the trade deadline, since you'd be getting three or four times the service of a two-month rental like Ziegler or Hudson. Clippard was a closer with the A's last season, until a deadline trade to the Mets - though the guy Oakland received has posted an impressive (in the wrong way!) 0-11 record in High-A this year. He also has a 30-save season under his belt, in 2012 for the Nationals.
Promotion from within
Finally, we have the possibility of promoting one of our young pitchers to take over. If you'd asked this question at the start of the year, Silvino Bracho would likely have been the top contender., He burst on the scene late in 2015, striking out 17 batters over only 12.1 major-league innings, after posting similarly video-game numbers on the way through our farm system. But both he and fellow young pitcher Enrique Burgos have struggled this year in the majors, albeit in little more than a handful of innings apiece. On the other hand, Bracho is still fanning people in Reno, with 32 strikeouts over 22 innings, and Bracho has a sub-one ERA for the Aces, having allowed two earned runs in 20.2 innings, with 23 K's.
There are no shortage of options for 2017 closer, and there's no reason the team need necessarily be limited to one of the choices discussed here. We could, for instance, re-sign Hudson but also promote Clippard to closer. Z and Huddy have performed very well this year, and if the team is serious about looking to contend in 2017, retaining one or both of them would make sense. While there's undeniable volatility in the field, experienced relief pitching of proven quality isn't cheap, and it's unlikely you'll find replacements of equal ability by dumpster-diving. The front end of the bullpen has not been the problem this season, and dismantling it would not bring the team and closer to contention.