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SnakePit Round Table: Ready for the off-season

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The last battle of the 2017 baseball season is about to start. It’s time to start thinking about the off-season too.

China Celebrates Upcoming Duanwu Festival Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

Astros vs. Dodgers in the World Series. Thoughts and predictions?

Michael: I want the Astros to sweep LA, but I do think it will be Dodgers in 6 games. Please God let Houston have this World Series after you dropped a hurricane on them.

Charlie: Astros in 2.

James: Well, I was entirely wrong about the Dodgers in the NLCS, but I’m going to double-down and say Houston beats them. Houston had the pitching to keep Los Angeles in check, and they have a very fundamentally sound offense that can, at times, really get things going. I don’t expect a sweep either way. However, with Justin Verlander pitching like he is on a mission and starting games two and five, I like Houston’s chances.

Keegan: I want my AJ Hinch money back. What I want to happen and what I think will happen are two entirely different things. Does anyone here want to see Chase Field filled with Dodger blue World Series Championship shirts in 2018? Didn’t think so. I just don’t see the Dodgers slowing down in the Fall Classic, and I think their depth is going to allow them to beat the Astros in 6.

Makakilo: Let’s compare the two teams in three areas:

Starters: Astros have a very slight edge.

  • During the regular season, Dodgers’ starters earned more wins above average than the Astros (5.5 WAA vs 2.7 WAA).
  • Both teams acquired a star via trades in July/August (Darvish and Verlander). Verlander is pitching better than Darvish.
  • Excluding the two pitchers acquired by trade, the ERA+s of the best three Dodgers’ starters Kershaw/Wood/Hill were better than the Astros’ starters Keuchel/Morton/McCullers.
  • Looking at the playoff games, in the first five innings Astros held their opponents to 1 run or less in more games than the Dodgers (7 games vs 5 games).

Bullpen: Dodgers have an edge.

  • During the regular season, Dodgers’ relievers earned more wins above average than the Astros (0.7 WAA vs negative 3.5 WAA).
  • In the playoffs, Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen pitched better than Astros’ closer Ken Giles (zero earned runs in 8 innings vs 5 earned runs in 6 innings).
  • In the playoffs, two star relievers are Maeda (zero earned runs in 5 innings for Dodgers) and McHugh (zero earned runs in 4 innings for Astros).
  • For the Astros, Gregerson and Harris combined for 1 earned run over 4.2 innings.

Position Players: Astros have an edge.

  • During the regular season, Astros’ position players earned more wins above average than the Dodgers’ position players (19.3 WAA vs 12.0 WAA).
  • In the playoffs, Dodgers who hit better than the regular season included Puig (11 RBIs and 6 walks in 35 PAs) and Corey Seager (2 RBIs and 4 walks in 15 PAs).
  • Corey Seager plays outstanding defense at shortstop. He injured his back and although he will likely play in the World Series, I wonder whether he will be 100%.
  • In the playoffs, Astros who hit better than the regular season included Correa (9 RBIs and 3 walks in 47 PAs), and Bregman (5 RBIs and 3 walks in 45 PAs).

After comparing starters, bullpens, and position players; I predict Astros will win the World Series in seven games

Steven: The Dodgers are quite simply the best team in the MLB. An outstanding pitching corp coupled with a dynamite offensive force gives them a World Series victory in 6 games. I will also throw up if this happens.

Jim: Hard to argue the best overall teams this season made the World Series (sorry, Indians fans), something of a rarity. It may well come down to whether regular season or post-season Kershaw shows up. The latter has historically been a lot more hittable, and if the Dodgers can’t win his starts, it becomes an awful lot harder for them. Here’s to that being the case. Astros in six. Because if the Dodgers win, their great bulk of fans will be even more smugly thin-skinned than they are at present.

What are the biggest areas of concern for the Diamondbacks this winter?

Michael: Depth across the board. They need more pitching, more organizational depth at pretty much every position. The organization is in better shape than a year ago, but Hazen is going to have to make magic happen with trades similar to the Walker/Marte trade. When this team is healthy, they can compete with anyone but when health is less than stellar they could be in for trouble. 2017 team was pretty lucky with the injuries with only Shelby Miller and Yasmany Tomas going down.

Charlie: I should write a full column about this, but avoiding the pratfalls that happened post 2007 and 2011. Specifically, don’t assume you’re already there because you were there last year. Acquire depth, restock the system over the course of this offseason into next season.

James: Sadly, once the list is complete, it pretty much looks like the entire team is an area for concern. I think Michael somewhat hit the nail on the head with pointing out that Arizona has precious little depth. The Diamondbacks benefitted greatly from the ability to keep their starting pitching healthy. Sure, they lost Miller for the season early on, but after that, they pretty much cruised along. That’s a good thing, because the cupboard was pretty barren in terms of MLB-ready starters. The bullpen is probably about to lose four of its seven members. Catching is once again short, with only Mathis as a viable full-time catcher. Until Owings and Ahmed start successfully playing a stretch of injury-free games, there are questions regarding the middle infield depth, not to mention its overall effectiveness in general. Is Drury’s bat really going to be able to stick at second? Can anyone other than Ahmed defend at short? The outfield is Pollock (in his final season before free agency) and Peralta, and then a bunch of questions, including whether or not Tomas can contribute and who the fourth and fifth outfielders.

Finding a way to continue developing depth without trading away big assets such as Goldschmidt, Ray, or Bradley is going to be key. This team might still be able to repeat their 93-win success in 2018, but they shouldn’t become too focused on finding the “one piece” that will ensure they do so. Just play the steady development game.

Keegan: I’m confident that Hazen is not going to do anything drastic that further jeopardizes the future of this team after a successful 2017 season. His staff is going to have to identify the center fielder of the future if it isn’t A.J. Pollock, and that process needs to begin this offseason if it hasn’t already. As it has already been pointed out, he is facing a rapidly escalating payroll in this offseason and in the future. It is also to be determined which team, the 2016 or 2017 Diamondbacks, is closer to reality. My belief is that it is somewhere in between, so what cost effective moves can Hazen make to return the team to the Postseason 2 years in a row? I’ve said it before that I feel this is an area where he can outshine other GM’s around the league. Gonna have to identify key depth pieces that can take this team over the top again.

Makakilo: My biggest area of concern is to improve the weakest area: 2nd, 3rd, shortstop (which ranked 21/21/20 in Majors). How to improve that area depends on how much players improve/develop by next season and any opportunities that GM Mike Hazen can find and execute.

One potential opportunity is to acquire Jonathan Villar from the Brewers. He has played shortstop, second base, and third base. He would be a buy low candidate because his OPS+ fell from 109/118 in previous seasons to 73 last season. He is under team control until 2021, when he would be a free agent. The Brewers offered him a $20 Million contract extension which he turned down because he had faith in his ability to be a star. The D-back hitting coaches and Chase stadium would likely end his slump. Adding him to the team could strengthen the weak area.

Steven: The biggest concern for me is the payroll. Too many guys getting into arbitration and just another year of wear added on guys. We’re getting to the point where a full-blown rebuild is starting to be unavailable as guys start to earn more and more money/have less years of control.

Of course, it helps this team won 93 games and made the playoffs. Will you accept playoff contention for a couple more seasons for an ugly down time a couple years down the road?

Jim: I’m perhaps less concerned than most. The bulk of our regular players and all our starting pitchers are under team control next year - the latter was a particular strength, and I don’t see much reason why that should not be the case next season. Second- and third-base are probably the spots on the diamond in most need of a detailed assessment: are Brandon Drury and Jake Lamb the long-term solution there? The answers may be yes. But they may not be. Drury didn’t take the steps forward this year we hoped, and the holes in Lamb’s game remain obvious. The outfield is another area of concern. Outside of David Peralta, we don’t have any long-term solutions. Unless you consider Yasmany Tomas one, and if he’s the solution, I’m not sure what the problem is! The bullpen isn’t too much of a concern for me. Hazen did well enough finding cheap, decentish arms last winter, so same again, please.

Do you see any way the team re-signs J.D. Martinez?

Michael: I think they’ll be in the running, but ultimately will get out-bid. The Dbacks really can’t afford to throw $120M on a 4-year deal for Martinez like an AL team can do. With that much money, the Dbacks can build a solid bullpen and acquire more SP depth instead. Dbacks can compete with strong pitching and good enough offense as 2017 proved.

Charlie: Not unless they get Tomas’ contract off the book, so seems unlikely.

James: I just don’t see how it works. Even if they were to find a way to dump Tomas and 100% of his salary, Martinez is going to command enough dollars over enough years to make him a poor fit for Arizona. He’s great to have in the lineup right now, but by the end of this contract he is about to sign, he is is going to need to move to being a full-time DH, something the NL doesn’t have. He might have the talent to convert to being a first baseman, but Arizona is not exactly in need of one of those either.

Keegan: I don’t and that shouldn’t be looked at with disappointment. We acquired him for close to nothing and he was tremendous down the stretch. This team has too many financial constraints self inflicted by ownership. If Arizona could sustain a $150 million payroll, there wouldn’t be an excuse not to sign him.

Makakilo: The D-backs likely cannot match the financial terms. The most I would offer is 3 years and $75 Million. However, the intangibles is what makes it interesting. Does JD Martinez want to be part of the D-backs? Are the D-backs part of the reason for his success? Would JD Martinez continue his outstanding success elsewhere? The D-backs can give JD Martinez a choice! However, the D-backs have no control over whether JD Martinez includes intangibles in his decision where to play.

Steven: Nope. Signing JD doesn’t align with what the FO has sought. Their talks of building a sustainable winner doesn’t coincide with signing an aging, poor defensive outfielder like JD, no matter how well he hits. Of course all it takes is to increase the payroll to middle of the pack numbers and JD is back.

The only way I see him back is if they find a buyer for Zack Greinke and Tomas. Greinke would give the D-backs impressive cap room and Tomas would open a spot in the outfield.

Jim: I’m already at peace with his departure. I can see the logic in moving Greinke from our rotation, a position of strength, to try and sign Martinez at a position of weakness. But this would be the kind of grandiose, risky, “win now” move which imperilled the franchise after previous playoff trips: it’s more likely to go wrong down the road. If someone else had traded for him mid-season, he wouldn’t even be on our radar. Best keep it that way.

Which of our other impending free-agents would you want back?

Michael: Chris Iannetta and Daniel Descalso are obvious choices to bring back. Dbacks need to exercise the same caution when they signed Iannetta in the offseason. He’s coming off a career year at the plate for his Age 34 season and it’s reasonable to assume he might not repeat it. The main reason to bring him back is continuity with the pitching staff. A similar contract structure to what he signed for 2017 would be a good deal. For Descalso, he’s on a $2M club option with a $150k buyout, so you ask if he’s worth $1.85M. I do think it’s an easy decision for the team to pick up as a key bench bat and a guy who can fill in at multiple positions.

Charlie: Well, JD obvs. Otherwise it would be good to get Iannetta, just for Catcher continuity. Descalso I could go either way on. Everyone else I have no real strong feelings about.

James: It truly depends on cost. I would not mind seeing Chris Iannetta come back, but only if he can be had on a reasonable, back-up catcher contract. I’m not entirely convinced he is going to be able to be had for that. Like Michael, I would exercise Descalso’s option. Depending on the other options available, and on the salary he demands, I would at least entertain the notion of bringing back David Hernandez as part of the 2018 version of the discount bullpen.

Keegan: Chris Iannetta if he can be brought back for close to what was paid this past season for him. I would also exercise Descalso’s option. I think Gregor Blanco has to be considered as well. Most of this depends on what other free agents are going to be available over the winter.

Makakilo: I would keep two other free agents.

David Hernandez for near-league minimum is worth keeping. His K/BB ratio of 15 is awesome.

Chris Iannetta: His pitch framing is most outstanding. He works well with the D-backs’ pitchers, which are a key team strength.

Steven: I’d really try my hardest to keep Iannetta, maybe to 2-year deal? He could try to get his last big time payout before the downturn of his career so who knows. I like the job Chris did both defensively and offensively, and could give Hazen a couple years to figure out a long term solution behind the dish.

A guy I never thought I’d want back is Fernando Rodney but here I am. From May on, he solidified the back end of the bullpen to a 2.40 ERA and was a cheap addition for saves. If he wanted to come back for close to the same price (maybe a little more?) I’d sign on for another year of the Experience.

Jim: It’s all a case of whether the price is right. Iannetta likely tops my list, since he meshed well with Mathis, and provided a good combination of offense and defense. He was the most productive catcher we’ve had since Miguel Montero was in his prime. Hernandez might be worth a look, and so might De La Rosa, though I’m less convinced about the latter. Rodney, I think, will be too well-paid elsewhere, and I think we have as good, cheaper internal options. Blanco is an interesting possibility: we are very thin in the outfield, especially presuming Martinez is out the door. If we don’t have Blanco, we’ll probably need someone like him.

And which arbitration players would you non-tender?

Michael: Chris Herrmann, Shelby Miller, and TJ McFarland are guys I’d probably cut from the 40-man roster in November but I wouldn’t mind seeing the team make an effort to bring them back on minor league deals or in Miller’s case a MLB deal with less guarantees. Herrmann and McFarland are replacement players, although you can make a case for Herrmann sticking around since he has decent value as a guy who can back up C, 1B, and both corner OF spots in a pinch and a $1.4M projected salary isn’t going to kill the team’s financial flexibility.

James: I non-tender Hoover, McFarland, and Herrmann for sure. Beyond that, I would need some more information, the type that is only available to the team. I would like to see them bring back Delgado, but that would depend on his health. The same can be said about Miller. If Delgado is looking like he will be 100% for 2018, then I go ahead and tender him. He’s been an above average workhorse out of the bullpen for three years now. Those are much more difficult to come by than I think most people realize. As for Shelby Miller, I probably sit down with his agent and try to work out a scenario where he can be non-tendered and brought back the same way they did with Rubby De La Rosa and David Hernandez. If that cannot be done, then I’m left with a difficult decision that is likely informed by the budget. In a perfect world, it makes no difference if I bring back Miller or not. But with Ken Kendrick as the owner, that just isn’t going to be the case. The extra year of control the Diamondbacks obtained because of Miller’s poor 2016 is essentially lost due to his injury. The question becomes, can the Diamondbacks find 1.5 years of marginally average starting pitching for $12 million? The lack of organization depth helps Miller in this case, but I think the answer to that question probably works against him.

Keegan: Going to stick with my earlier comments on this topic here. Shelby Miller has to be non-tendered and brought back on an incentive deal or minor league deal. We can save around $3 million right there alone. Non tender all of the bullpen options besides Chafin, and try to bring back Delgado on a minor league deal if he is healthy. Jimmie Sherfy is going to start the year on the big league roster and Jared Miller will follow behind shortly, so McFarland and Hoover are expendable. No need to tender a contract to Herrmann and have him occupy a roster spot for another season.

Makakilo: My easiest non-tenders would be Shelby Miller (maybe re-sign him for less $), TJ McFarland, and Hoover. After that, the decisions are harder. One example is the decision between Herrmann and John Ryan Murphy as the third catcher.

Steven: I sign everyone except Hermann, Hoover, and McFarland. Everyone else I’m fine bringing back.

Jim: Non-tender Miller and re-sign him to a lower-cost deal. Most of the rest are fairly obvious: the fringe candidates, again, depend on whether the team thinks they can match the production at lower cost. Bullpen arms like McFarland and Hoover seem most likely to be allowed to walk; Herrmann’s survival through 2017, makes me suspect the team has a higher opinion of him than most fans, so he might just stick around.

The team needs to replace Ron Gardenhire as bench coach. What would you look for in his replacement?

Michael: Fortunately Jerry Narron has plenty of on the job training for this role. I’m not sure the team can find a more qualified candidate than him, but they should always strive for the best options. The job of the bench coach in my opinion is being able to stay calm in tight situations, a great understanding of the game and how it could unfold so the manager can make the right moves, and being a strong communicator. So in other words, a second manager. With Narron as the interim bench coach, the team did a pretty solid job in 2017.

James: Stability and the ability to be a second manager, while also being calm and controlled. Ron Gardenhire was the perfect candidate, but it is no surprise he was scooped up to manage again. He was on multiple short lists for the job. I don’t think they need to look much beyond Narron. Initially there was speculation that Cincinnati would cut Bryan Price loose, but since that didn’t happen, I’d be more than content to stick with Narron. Dusty Baker is available, but I’m not sure he is a great fit (poor temperament for this team), nor do I think he’d be willing to fill the position.

Keegan: Robby Hammock is the leading candidate for me here. He has managed at 3 different levels in the Diamondbacks minor league system, and anyone who was paying attention this season saw how active he was in the dugout. Hammock plays an integral part in the game planning and scouting already, so moving him to the bench coach role is the logical next step.

Makakilo: I compared four possible bench coaches. I would pick the young star.

Seven years experience as MLB manager: Don Mattingly. On September 29, 2015, Mattingly became the only manager of the Dodgers to lead the team to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Less than a month later, with a year left on his contract, he left the Dodgers. Likely, he would relish chances to beat the Dodgers! Whether he is available depends on two questions. Do the new Marlin owners want a new manager (and therefore fire Mattingly)? Will Mattingly take a bench coach job instead of a manager job? Was this idea too pie-in-the-sky?

Ten plus years experience as MLB bench coach: Jerry Narron. He started the 2017 season as manager of the AAA Reno Aces. It speaks well of him that he said, “I’m a believer in actions speak louder than words. I’m all in on the [Reno] Aces.” After 7 games he was the interim bench coach while Gardenhire was absent for surgery.

Almost D-backs’ manager: Phil Nevin. He coached many D-backs’ players in his three years as AAA Reno manager. He is ready to manage in the Majors. It speaks well of him that he was the runner up when Torey Lovullo was chosen as D-backs manager. After that, he took a job as third base coach for the Giants. Would he work well with Lovullo?

Young Star: Robby Hammock. Named by Baseball America in 2016 as the Southern League’s Best Manager. After four years managing in the minors, in 2017 he was the quality control / catching coach for the D-backs. It speaks well of him that he said that he keeps a positive atmosphere and gives his players the best opportunity to succeed. Also, he strives to not let emotions get too high or too low. Does he need more experience to be a bench coach, or he is ready now?

Steven: I honestly don’t think it matters too much who the bench coach replacement is.

Jim: I think it’s as much about personality as anything: they have to be able to mesh well with Lovullo and be on the same page. On that basis, someone in the dugout already might be the safest bet, which would suggest Hammock - though Narron seemed to do the job during Gardenhire’s absence. Maybe try for someone who’s cancer-free this time!

Tony La Russa has gone. What do you think of his time here?

Michael: Bizarre at best. I do think he was thrown into a role he had no preparation for and it showed when he was making the moves. I blame this on Ken Kendrick for hiring a name instead of hiring the most qualified person to run his organization, although fortunately he corrected that problem last October. The most important job for the top baseball executive is being able to hire the right people and with La Russa he didn’t know the right people to hire unfortunately and it set back the organization at least a year in the short term and possibly worse in the long term because he put in unqualified people for important jobs. If Hazen is given enough time to run the organization, I think he’ll be able to put the Dbacks in decent shape to make things happen long term.

Charlie:

James: I think it was a costly publicity stunt. Tony La Russa was brought in to do a job he had no previous experience doing and immediately fell back on extreme nepotism as his first reaction to addressing team needs.His hiring feels very much like a publicity stunt by Ken Kendrick to distract everyone from just how bad the team was.In that respect, it was a stroke of brilliance. As far as actual performance though, the grade is still incomplete, however it is leaning very heavily towards being a D or F. Honestly, I am not the least bit sorry to see him go.

Keegan: I suppose we can all expect a verbal attack in the comments after our answers here. Look, La Russa’s own words demonstrated that he had no idea how hard the front office role was he found himself in. I suppose we should be most upset with those who put him in that position to begin with. The best players don’t make the best managers. The best managers don’t make the best front office staff.

Makakilo: Somebody (Derrick Hall if I remember correctly) said Tony La Russa left his mark on the team. Those words could have two meanings - 1) left a scar, or 2) changed the team for the better. I know which one I would choose.

Steven:

Jim: Indisputable proof that managing a baseball team and running a front-office are different jobs, that require different skill-sets. Just because you’re good at one, does not apparently mean you’re good at the other. We also learned that non-standard hierarchical structures are non-standard for a reason. Who knew? Not Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall, apparently.....