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Arizona Diamondbacks 2017-18 off-season issues #9: Center field

A.J. Pollock has been the man there for what seems like forever. But like at 1B, forever eventually will end.

MLB: NL Wildcard-Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After the complete lack of concern which was first base, there’s a big jump up the worry scale for the next of the 10 positions we’re looking at. Though with an average score of 4.04, we’re still very much at the low end of the spectrum, and that jump is largely a result of how confident we are about Paul Goldschmidt. Almost half (47.5%) of respondents rated this a three or less, with only 12.4% at an eight or higher.

2017 starters

  • A.J. Pollock: 99
  • Gregor Blanco: 32
  • Rey Fuentes: 27
  • Jeremy Hazelbaker: 4


  • 0.9 bWAR above average at the position (11th in MLB)
  • .264/.327/.440 = .767 OPS, 17 HR, 62 RBI

2018 depth chart

  1. A.J. Pollock
  2. Rey Fuentes
  3. Jeremy Hazelbaker

I’ve heard rumblings the team regrets its decision not to trade Pollock when they had the chance. In particular, Atlanta initially insisted that Pollock be included as part of any deal for Shelby Miller, but eventually “settled” for Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte instead. The first two have struggled since the swap (Blair has a 7.89 career ERA and Swanson was below replacement level, in his first full season), But Inciarte has blossomed, becoming the star of the trade since taking over in CF. Last December, he signed a five-year extension worth $30.25m, covering four arbitration years and a year of free-agency. It also gives the Braves a $9m team option for 2022.

If we compare the two players level of production, health and cost since the trade, you can easily see why Arizona has cause for regret:
Inciarte: 288 games, .298/.350/.397 = 99 OPS+, 6.8 bWAR, cost = $3.223 million
Pollock: 124 games, .264/.330/.464 = 97 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR, cost = $10.25 million
The D-backs have paid $7 million more, for half as much production, and the difference (in salary at least) is only going to grow larger. For Pollock is projected to earn $3.8 million more than Inciarte next year, as he goes through the arbitration process for the last time.

The gap in production is largely due to health, an issue which has plagued poor A.J. almost his entire career. Over the last four seasons, he has averaged only 89 games per year, missing time as a result of everything from a groin strain through a fractured hand to a re-broken elbow which hadn’t healed properly. The fact it’s a range of problems, and not a single, nagging issue, does suggest Pollock may have been unlucky, but his style of play may be a factor. Speaking in May, manager Torey Lovullo said, “We were talking about perhaps asking him to pull things back a little bit... The idea is to get these players through their season healthy.”

With Pollock entering his final season of control, becoming a free-agent this time next year, it may be worth exploring trade possibilities. The big stopper to that is, we really don’t have any obvious replacement. This year’s stand-in, Blanco, is now a free-agent, so who can say whether or not he’ll be back. Fuentes is next but, while his glove was solid, he couldn’t hit way out of a wet paper-bag with an OPS+ of just 59. The minors aren’t much better. Socrates Brito and Evan Marzilli, the two main Aces’ guys, had OPS’s of .785 and .760, which is not good for Reno (the team had a collective .824 OPS). 23-year-old Victor Reyes, currently in the AFL, is likely our top CF prospect.

The free-agent market doesn’t seem like it would be a solution, since anyone capable of matching Pollock’s production, is likely going to cost as much or more. The estimate by MLB Trade Rumors for A.J’s final arbitration year is $8.5 million, and that won’t get you much. The likely top free-agent CF this winter, Lorenzo Cain, will likely get twice as much in annual value. Any replacement is likely going to come via trade. Spitballing here, but perhaps the Diamondbacks will look at moving one of our middle-infield surplus for a young center-fielder? For even if nothing is done this winter, that will only kick the can a season down the road, to Pollock’s impending free-agency.

There is always the possibility of extending Pollock, although that possibility seems a lot less likely today, than after the 2015 season where he put up 7.4 bWAR. The D-backs did inquire about a deal, but negotiations ended when they heard A.J’s asking price. At that point, Jim Bowden of ESPN estimated an extension of 6 years for $98 million. However, given the results between then and now, you could argue the D-backs may have dodged a bit of a bullet, as over the past two seasons, Pollock certainly has not delivered at the level of someone getting paid $16.3 million per year - although again, injury is not something for which he should be blamed.

He would certainly be cheaper at the present time than he was after that All-Star season in 2015. Though even $10 million per year might be too much for the team, given the other, rising expenses they will have to meet in the coming seasons. While according to our poll, this may be one of the spots of lowest concern at the present time, our lack of depth and the looming specter of Pollock’s free-agency, perhaps makes it a bit of a potential poison pill.