Mike Hazen came into Arizona with the goal of making the team better, starting with the pitching. In November, he utilized his best trade chip in Jean Segura to land former consensus top-10 prospect Taijuan Walker. In the Winter meetings, Hazen inked a backup catcher in Jeff Mathis due to his ability to frame pitches. Just before Christmas, Hazen junked former catching prospect bust Peter O’Brien and claimed a AAAA catcher in Juan Graterol from the Angels. Yesterday, they made their final significant addition to the position with the signing of free agent Chris Iannetta.
Iannetta is solid MLB depth at the position, although at Age 33 he’s more of a stopgap than a solution. The team gave him a 1-year deal with only $1.5M in guarantees, but has incentives. Mathis got more guaranteed dollars per seasons at $2M, but Iannetta’s contract probably has more total value. The former Rockies and Angels catcher was a solid hitter at the position with strong OPS+ and wRC+ marks from 2011-2014, but has scuffled lately the last two seasons, posting below 80 in both categories. Given his age and significant decline offensively, Iannetta didn’t have much of a market and had to wait until January to get a deal from a non-contending team.
At the plate, Iannetta is a high risk, high reward type hitter with a ton of strikeouts (23.3%) and walks (13.8%) in his career, although not as much power to trade off with a career ISO of .169. His numbers in 2016 were 24.6%, 11.2%, and .119. Iannetta has posted double digit walk rates every season, which is a nice addition to a lineup that has a lot of hitters that refuse to walk. His offense could bounce back a bit in 2017 given the great hitting environment in Arizona and his familiarity with the NL West from his Rockie days. Defensively, he’s mediocre as a blocker and pitch framer, although he ranked near the top in most metrics in 2015 before ranking near the bottom in 2016. His value is likely inferior to what the Diamondbacks would have gotten for Castillo, but at 25% the price in guaranteed dollars, Iannetta is likely a better value. In terms of lineup construction, Iannetta likely bats 8th in the order to put a high walk guy ahead of the pitcher.
Iannetta, Chris Herrmann, and Mathis will likely be on the team’s 25-man roster after Spring, although having an Iannetta and Mathis combo would allow manager Torey Lovullo to use Herrmann’s bat more liberally. Herrmann has the versatility to play 1B and both corner OF spots while supplying a possible impact bat from the left side off the bench. I don’t know what the rotation might be, maybe 60-60-40 with Iannetta and Mathis getting 60 games each or Mathis gets his 60 games and they platoon the other 100. Mathis is the best defensive catcher, so I think he winds up being Zack Greinke’s personal catcher plus another 30 games. Herrmann is the best hitter, but is the weakest defender and game-caller.
The biggest impact of adding Iannetta is the Diamondbacks can afford to let Oscar Hernandez develop at his own pace. Although Graterol is on the Diamondbacks 40-man roster, he might wind up as the roster casualty for Iannetta because the Diamondbacks aren’t going to keep more than 4 catchers on the 40-man roster, even if you don’t think Herrmann is a catcher like I do. If the team can keep Graterol at the AAA level, he’d make excellent depth in case of an injury as a replacement level catcher making pre-arbitration wages. While the system lacks strong catching depth and prospects, I think the team is a bit better at the position than they were in October.