Thus far, this may well have been the quietest off-season I can remember for the Arizona Diamondbacks. More than three months after the book closed on the 2017 version of the team in the NL Division Series, and with less than one month until pitchers and catchers report, the biggest moves the team have made, are the arrival of relief pitchers Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano. With a host of significant names from the 2017 roster either having left the team or currently being free agents, including J.D. Martinez, Fernando Rodney and Chris Iannetta, it’s understandable if fans are getting rather nervous about the lack of action.
However, it’s worth noting that the same situation largely applies to every team in the National League West. While MLB.com’s Free Agent and Hot Stove Tracker is far from definitive (no mention of Hirano, for example), it appears that the Dodgers, Giants, Padres and Rockies have all lost more players than they have gained this winter. This should not be too much of a surprise, in a world where not one of the eight leading MLB free-agents this winter have been re-signed yet. It has been and continues to be an unusual off-season, and we should certainly remember: It’s what your roster looks like on Opening Day that matters, not what it looks like in the middle of January.
Here’s another good aphorism. It’s better to make no move, rather than making the wrong move for the sake of being seen to be active - especially since the latter cannot be easily undone. It has already been reported that Martinez is happy to sit until after spring training camps open, if necessary, in order to try and get the length and value of content he needs. This is a risky strategy for the player: he’s hoping a team will get nervous enough they’ll offer what he wants. But there’s a chance suitors will find alternatives and go elsewhere, dropping the demand for his services. That could potentially lead to him signing a one-year deal. So waiting has its upside for Arizona.
That said, there’s work to be done. Look at the value of what the team needs to replace, presuming the departing free-agents won’t be brought back.
- J.D. Martinez (2.6 bWAR)
- Chris Iannetta (1.8)
- Jorge De La Rosa (0.7)
- J.J. Hoover (0.5)
- Fernando Rodney (0.4)
- Tom Wilhelmsen (0.2)
- David Hernandez (0.1)
- Gregor Blanco (-0.1)
- Adam Rosales (-0.5)
That’s a total of 5.7 bWAR which needs to be replaced. The 2017 value of our replacements so far is 0.0 from Albert Suarez and 0.4 by Boxberger. If you squint, you might charitably double the latter’s value, given he pitched less than 30 innings last year. And, of course, Hirano’s value is to be established: maybe around the same as Boxberger? But even with those two assumptions, the team is currently four or so wins short of the 2017 tally. Not a huge amount, certainly: but when you see divisional rivals like the Rockies and Giants making more significant moves than the D-backs have made to date, it is cause for some concern [the Dodgers haven’t done much, but when you won the division by 11 games, that’s less of an issue].
Might some of those losses be recouped by Arizona from internal improvement? Hard to see where: outside of Yasmany Tomas, I’d say most 2017 D-backs were already at or close to their ceilings. And unlike post-2016, it wasn’t like the team was dogged by poor health last season and can bounceback there. We would probably need a prospect to take a big step forward: Anthony Banda is the most likely to deliver a significant uptick in production, yet falls some way short of being a “sure thing”. The best hope of “free wins” this year may be that the 2017 D-backs under-performed their expected W-L record, based on runs scored and allowed, by three games.
The question of team payroll will play into things. With all the arbitration cases settled save Shelby Miller (and he and the team are only separated by $200K), things have become a good deal more certain. The majority of the players were signed below the MLB Trade Rumors estimates, and Baseball-Reference.com now lists the D-backs at a 2018 payroll of $116.5 million. After the arbitration settlements, GM Mike Hazen said the team’s payroll this year was expected to be $120 million, though as the article says, “The team’s figure tends to be higher than reported payroll numbers because it must anticipate additional spending due to things like injuries and promotions.”
This does still beg the question of, what’s happening to all the team’s income? For that $116.5 million figure is little above the $112.7 million with which the team went into the 2014 season. Since then, the team inked a lucrative new deal with Fox Sports Arizona, worth $1.5 billion in total, a deal team President Derrick Hall said would be “game-changing” at the time. As we’ve previously discussed, this year, the team will also get a one-time payment of $50 million, resulting from the sale of MLB Advanced Media to Disney. Neither of these currently appear to be leading to any increase in 2018 payroll, a situation which is frustrating for many fans.
We’ll see what the remaining weeks bring, and whether the team is content to go into the new season with, more or less, the same players who surprised us so pleasantly in 2017.