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SnakePit Round Table: rebuild, retool or go all in?

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Which direction will the D-backs go this winter?

British Forces Defend U.S.-Built Dam From Taliban In Helmand Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Last week, we put forward the arguments for three possible directions the D-backs could take this winter. Here are the three cases:

When we polled before discussing the topics, rebuild was the most popular opinion, but fell short of a clear majority. So, after a chance to have your mind changed, has that actually happened? Here’s a fresh poll, with the same three options.

Poll

In 2019, the Diamondbacks should...

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Rebuild
    (131 votes)
  • 31%
    Retool
    (101 votes)
  • 28%
    Go all-in
    (92 votes)
324 votes total Vote Now

I’m particularly interested to hear from you in the comments, if your answer is not what it was last week. What did you use to think, and why did you change your mind? Meanwhile, with the SnakePitters now freed from having to argue assigned positions, let’s see what they really think...

If you were in charge of the D-backs, what would YOU do?

Makakilo: Retool with a changed team philosophy/approach.

  • Build a sustainable, consistent contender by adding long-term contracts and contract extensions for key players (like contracts for Goldschmidt, Greinke, and Marte).
  • Do Simple Better. Keep day-to-day tasks simple and do them better.
  • Move toward balance of pitching/defense and hitting/offense. Balance is more important than being the best in pitching/defense.

What happened this season?

  • In March of 2018, the D-backs signed Ketel Marte to a contract extension. That extension improved the sustainability of the team.
  • The D-backs embraced the tunneling concept for hitting. My intuition tells me it was a move away from “do simple better.”
  • The team moved away from balance because offense fell off a cliff. Compared to last season, hitters with OPS+ above 110 fell from 6 to 2:

2017: (200 Christian Walker, 170 JD Martinez, 156 Jeremy Hazelbaker, 142 Paul Goldschmidt, 116 Chris Iannetta, 112 Jake Lamb).

2018: (139 Paul Goldschmidt, 124 David Peralta).

What would I do?

  • Negotiate at least one long-term contract every off-season. This off-season, my targets would be Paul Goldschmidt, Jon Duplantier, and/or Taylor Widener.
  • Better hitting: My new hitting coach/consultant will teach simple at-bats instead of complex at-bats. He will develop and implement three styles of coaching (on-base hitters, power/RBI hitters, and pinch hitters) so that each hitter has the potential to excel at what he does best. I would execute trades/signings while keeping in mind the desired mix of hitters.
  • Execute trades/signings with the goal of moving towards a balance of hitting/offense and pitching/defense.
  • Add pitchers with options to the bullpen. This season, the bullpen collapsed in September from overuse. Next season, Torey Lovullo will keep the bullpen fresher by optioning pitchers to/from the minors.

Jack: Per Steve Gilbert’s article the other day

here’s how the process works: General manager Mike Hazen and his staff conduct their end-of-the-year meetings and then develop a proposed plan for 2019 with an estimate of how much it will cost. They then take their plan to ownership for their input and approval. Only then is a budget decided on.

So whether Hazen just takes one plan, or several plans/options similar to or along the lines of what we worked on, the ownership will be the ones deciding direction, picking the plan to go forward with and approving the budget.

If I had Mike Hazen’s unenviable task, I would go to ownership and present 3 plans, with projected rosters, performance and dollars included.

Rebuild Roster will probably bring payroll back down to 100-110M and lose 90-100 games for the next 2-3 years, but team could come out the other end with a chance for an extended win cycle by 2021-2022. Lot of uncertainty there of course.

Retool Roster will cost at least 10M more than where they ended up in 2018, (So approx 150M) and they will still not project to be division winners. But they’d still have a decent chance to be over .500 and maybe get lucky and get in postseason. But it will take a lot of luck and over projections performance.

All In roster will cost 170-180 Million, but project to be a 90+ win team and give the team a good shot at the playoffs for next two years. But they may not be willing or able to invest that much money in payroll. I made the case for why I think they could, but I could be wrong.

Keegan: I can only say for certain that I would not go the retool route. The goal each and every season has to be winning a World Series Championship. Period. If your decision making does not take you closer to that goal, there is something very wrong. It should not be sufficient to just make the playoffs. With that being said, retooling is not the method I would choose. I’m torn between rebuilding and going all in.

Rebuilding is attractive to me considering the talent teams like the Astros, Cubs, Braves, and Padres have been able to acquire. All 4 of those teams have taken different approaches to obtain the players they have, but it cannot be denied that they are loaded with young talent. Arizona could get a jumpstart on this entire process with a potential 5 draft picks in the top 50 in next season’s amateur draft. We all know how difficult it is to be successful with those selections, but the war room has more chances to get it right.

Mike Hazen and his staff appear, at least to me, to be better at identifying and acquiring international talent than drafting amateur players. Because of that, I’m not 100% confident in their ability to capitalize on a potential 5 top 50 draft picks. Beyond the draft picks, the team has serious assets that could return even more prospects. Paul Goldschmidt, Robbie Ray, and David Peralta could return a serious haul. They could even package in Nick Ahmed and Jake Lamb in some of those deals for an even larger return. These are players with value.

However, when you consider all of the talent currently on the team and a once in a generation player like Goldy it makes me want to go all in on the other direction. There are players available via trade and free agency the Diamondbacks can acquire to upgrade positions of need on the major league roster. We identified them in the all in article earlier this week. I think the Dodgers are fallible and that the West is a very winnable division provided the proper moves are made. Catcher and third base have to be upgraded. Hazen has to identify replacements for Pollock and Corbin. The coaching staff has to extract maximum value out of players already on the roster. What I’m getting at is that the team cannot afford to half ass this anymore. They have to go all in one direction or the other.

Steven: If I had my way I would’ve started this rebuild two years ago, when you could’ve gotten real value for players like Pollock and Goldschmidt. But even two years down the line, I still think they can get good value for their top end talent, enough to at least move the prospect needle. Yes, that means Goldschmidt. By going for it the last two years, you stripped away millions of prospect value. Was it fun? Of course! But spending money at the rate they are going is not a sustainable way of building a team in the desert.

Submit qualifying offers to Pollock and Corbin, trade most everyone on the roster (Goldy, Peralta, Ahmed, Ray, Greinke) and target bounceback candidates and graduated prospects in trades. Move Archie to the rotation and see if he shows enough to stick. Yes you’re going to lose 100 games, but it’s part of the process to build a sustainable path towards the playoffs.

James: If I am doing this, I am doing a combination of going all-in, while also not mortgaging the future. This would require the Diamondbacks to push payroll up to the $180-190 million mark for the next 1-2 season. The understanding though, would be that as contracts like Greinke and Tomas fall off and players like Ray, Peralta, Walker, and Ahmed all leave via free agency, the payroll will come back down again, landing in the $130-140 million range again.

To make it work, I look to get some cost certainty by trying to extend Robbie Ray now, which could also help the future, as it would mean one fewer starting rotation slots to fill. I also attempt to extend Goldschmidt without going Albert Pujols on him. I try to take advantage of the fact that A.J. Pollock had a down season and bring him back via free agency. Adam Jones is my backup plan, though if I cannot land Pollock, Jones may also be too hard to land. If that’s the case, I examine the trade market or start things off with Brito and Dyson in center field until I can find a better fit via trade during the season. The Reno bullpen guys, Barrett, Sherfy, Lopez, Bracho, they all get their chances to thrive to open the 2018 season. This will help with both options and cost.

Filling out the rotation again will be the hardest part. The team needs two arms that can pile up innings. Even with expanded payroll, the team cannot go out and get two such arms. In order to get around that, I take a gamble. I probably go after one rehab project, possibly Tyson Ross, Garrett Richards, or Wade Miley - someone who, if healthy, can provide me with a pile of league average innings or better. I fully expect that pitcher to eventually fade, but I am looking for them to get me through until either Taijuan Walker is good and healthy again, or one of Arizona’s three starting prospects is ready to debut. For the second arm, I go for a bit more surety. I probably go after someone like Gio Gonzalez to be a second lefty in the rotation and eat innings out of the #4 or #5 slot in the rotation.

I look for where I can make trades to make improvements around the edges, but I am not quick to pull the trigger. Lamb and Souza are two popular targets to work on getting out of town, but neither has any value right now. Besides, if the team is going to be successful, they are going to need Lamb to step up at third, unless, after failing to land Pollock or Jones, I am able to bring back Escobar on a modest deal.

Jim: Unless I can convince Kendrick to open up the wallet significantly, I’d drop the hammer, and maximize the return for Goldschmidt now. That Band-Aid is going to come off eventually, and limping along in the hopes of better in 2019 seems optimistic, to say the least. Improve the farm system, looking a few years down the road, build from within, and save money towards a war chest which can be used for appropriate free-agent players when the time is right. If we can trade away Greinke’s contract, so much the better.

And which direction do you think Mike Hazen will go?

Makakilo: I predict he will start-out in the off-season executing the retool approach.

  • Off-season – days 1-30: Determine what happened this season. Several things did not go well – why? Relook the team philosophy and does roster construction work with that philosophy?
  • Off-season – days 31-60: Assess and explore the trade market and free agent market – decide which one will be the most promising to replace the two key players lost (Pollock and Corbin).
  • Off-season – days 61-105: Execute trades and sign free agents. If replacements for Pollock and Corbin are not obtainable, start execution of plan B – such as fill the positions with AAA players with the intention to trade for replacements during the season.
  • Off-season – days 105-150: Last chance to negotiate an extension with Paul Goldschmidt. Be prepared for opportunities that benefit the team.

Jack: I think Hazen will probably emphasize the retool route. Ownership will probably press him in that direction, as they probably just don’t have the appetite for either rebuild or All in. It might be the most prudent political move for Hazen to simply emphasize a retool route, knowing full well everything will have to go just right for it to result in a division title and a good shot at deep playoff run. Ownership will be happy as long as the team is at least around .500 and can say they contended, and they average over 26,000 fans. Bleh.

Keegan: Probably the retool route. Ownership appears to be afraid to go all the way in either direction and is more than content putting a .500 team on the field over the past decade. I guess when dollar signs take priority over championship rings that path makes the most sense to them.

Steven: I think Hazen will go the retool route. Ownership will look at the weird “in first place starting every month” stat that people love and tell Mike to do it again. This time will be more difficult, hoping for bounce back seasons from pretty much every player on the roster.

James: I expect the Diamondbacks will go the retool route, but I don’t expect ownership to provide the finances to do so comfortably. I think they make an offer to Goldschmidt for an extension. If he doesn’t take it, the retool might turn into a mini-rebuild. I fully anticipate that Hazen will be searching for a bargain on the starting pitcher front, looking for another Clay Buchholz-type signing to go along with a yet another pitcher, either found in free agency or through a trade.

I just don’t see ownership having the gumption to spend enough to make a serious run. However, I also don’t see them having the stomach for a full-on rebuild, especially with the negativity the franchise engendered in 2018.

Jim: I’m sure he has already decided on the plan he wants for this winter, we just don’t know about it yet. He seems good at that… And as Jack notes, it’ll be subject to ownership approval. They will probably want to give at least the illusion of contention, but the bellwether for that will be what happens to Goldschmidt. He’s clearly the best trade chip the team has this winter, so whether he stays or goes will be an obvious indication as to the direction of the D-backs. There’s no getting around that if Paul is traded, fan optimism for the future will immediately tank. They might want to wait until all the season ticket renewals have gone through before dealing him....

What areas on the team will require most work over the winter?

Makakilo: As explained in my first answer, my focus would be contract extensions, develop and implement a new approach to at-bats, and move towards balance between hitting/offense and pitching/defense.

Jack: All of them. While fixing 2018’s problems, (offense/bullpen collapse) one has to be cognizant of problems on the horizon, and the rotation is clearly in that category, with the loss of Corbin, and Buchholz (also a FA & hurt again.) They head to the off season with only 3 sure answers to the rotation, guys likely to give them 150 or more IP. One, Zack Greink will be 35, the other two (Robbie Ray & Zack Godley) are young but wildly inconsistent. (Pun intended). So one way or the other they need to add at least one starter they can count on for over 150 innings. It can’t be Walker because he won’t be back until mid season. It won’t be Jon Duplantier. He had just 136 IP in 2017 and 76 in 2018. AZFL TBD. Even if he makes it to the show in 2019, he’s not going to be an innings eater. Not at this stage of his career. Maybe if they got a lucky rookie breakout from one of the Taylors , Widener or Clarke they can piece together the innings.

But doesn’t going with a rotation pieced together by 3 rookies and Ray and Godley backing up Greinke feel more like rebuild than retool ? So I think it’s pretty obvious if they are going to try to retool and compete in 2019, they need to add an innings eater.

Keegan: Catcher, third base, bullpen, starting rotation, and center field. Replacements have to be found for Pollock and Corbin. Do we really trust Zack Godley going forward? I don’t. Yoan Lopez, Jimmie Sherfy, and Silvino Bracho need to be given the opportunity to succeed in the bullpen. Three catchers behind the dish isn’t going to work going forward. Target either Yasmani Grandal on the free agent market or acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins.

Steven: After this collapse in September I think every area can be improved, especially at the plate. They have the arms to piece together a decent rotation but should probably search outside the organization for an upgrade, maybe just a 200IP kinda guy in the backend. The bullpen could use some work obviously, but I think they’ll stick with the very cheap build there. I don’t know, it’s not like they’re very far off. They just need to find a defensive-minded CFer, get key rebounds by Ray, Lamb and Souza, and hope the Dodgers don’t sign Machado/Harper. Good luck!

James: It’s tough to say what will require the most work.I think the hardest issue facing the team will be finding enough starting pitching. They are going to need to get creative with how they fill the innings and are also going to need a fair bit of ;luck as well.

Jim. It might be quicker to list the areas which DON’T need work, which is one of the reasons why I think it’s a fool’s errand to try. We don’t have the resources - either in cash or prospects - to be able to address everything. I tend to think the bullpen will be okay, or at least relatively fixable on the cheap. [Something something reliever volatility] Hazen has shown a good eye for cheap pitching in general. I think the offense is going to be the biggest problem, based on what we saw this season. We really need better/replacement production at catcher, second, third and center. That’s a lot of holes to fill.

Which arbitration eligible players this winter would you non-tender?

Makakilo: Shelby Miller, Brad Boxberger, Steven Souza, and Chris Owings. First, I would attempt to trade these players (especially Souza), then I would non-tender. The saved salary would support needed changes.

My jaw dropped when I re-read an article about Steven Souza Jr. by Jeff Wiser. He wrote that Souza’s 43.8% hard-hit rate was above his career average, but his grounders had better results than his fly balls. Perhaps Souza is confusing two types of hitting - power/RBI hitting and on-base hitting. Souza is exactly the kind of player that my new hitting coach/consultant can fix! Souza is a keeper!

Jack: If you can’t trade them, Owings, Miller and maybe Boxberger, but doubtful. If they can’t/don’t trade Souza or Lamb, they will retain them. Neither of those guys are getting non tendered.

Keegan: Explore trades first, but if unsuccessful definitely Miller, Owings, and probably Poop Emoji Burger Emoji. I, too, would explore trades for Lamb and Souza.

Steven: I would non-tender Miller and Owings, hoping to sign Miller to a minor league deal. Owings too I guess, but I really don’t want to taking at-bats from Marte and Ahmed. Actually, is Chris Owings your 2019 starting centerfielder?

James: No way do I tender Chris Owings or Shelby Miller. I would consider bringing either one back on a minor league deal, but nothing more. Brad Boxberger is a good candidate for non-tendering, however; I probably do go ahead and tender him for 2018. Even though he ran out of gas in the final third of the season, he was decent before that. Playing in fewer close games, and perhaps moving him into the 7th inning role, I could see him lasting a full season. I bring back the rest, even Souza.

Jim: It does depend on Miller’s health situation, something about which the team knows far more than we do. If he’s set fair to be fit again on Opening Day 2019 - perhaps he was brought back too quickly this year - then he’d be a relatively cheap option for the rotation, especially if the glimpse we got in 2018 was repeated. But those are big question-marks. Owings fell off a cliff this year, giving tyhe team its lowest ever OPS+ by any hitter with as many PA (309). Was it just a bad season? Even if he regresses back up to his career norm next year, that’d still only be a 75 OPS+, and his defense just isn’t good enough to make up for that.

Have the playoffs unfolded as expected?

Makakilo: Not by a long shot. First, the D-backs did not make the playoffs. Second, the Cubs only played a wild-card game – and were eliminated. Third, the Red Sox are tied with the Yankees (1 game each), and if the Yankees win that series, that would be my third big surprise.

Jack: So far no big shockers. I don’t make too many post season predictions because it’s such a crap shoot. So it’s hard to shock me with any results. Wild Card games are the biggest crapshoot of all. It’s no shock the Rockies upset the Cubs or that the Yankees beat the A’s in Yankee stadium. It’s also no shock that the Rockies failed to hit on the road , even in their WC victory and their offense was thoroughly shut down by Milwaukee. 2nd worst road offense in the league, and ranked 12th of 15 in wRC+ (87) . Overrated offense.

The most surprising thing so far has probably been the Braves offense not being able to get untracked, but they were facing excellent pitching in a tough environment in LA, and some of their key performers are still very young without any postseason experience. If they don’t score runs and win at least one game at home, I’ll be somewhat surprised.

LATE ADD: Well they managed to put up 6 runs in game 3 at home, but even there Buehler handed them gifts with multiple walks before the Acuna Grand Slam. Still some questions about the Braves post season offense.

And it’s no shock that David Price once again gacked in the postseason and vs. the Yankees. Unfortunately for him it has defined his career.

We could be headed to a rematch of last year’s World Series. We now have a few conversions to Brewer fandom which is good. The last thing we want to see is the Dodgers in the world series again. If you think their fans are a pain in the ass now, imagine if they actually win the world series? We DON’T want Evil Empire West getting even stronger.

Keegan: I think the Cubs losing two winner-takes-all games in a row at Wrigley was fairly surprising. I was fully expecting a walk off in extras against the Rockies in their home field.

Steven: It’s the playoffs, anything that happens isn’t much of a surprise.

James: The only “surprise” for me is the way in which Chicago was eliminated. It’s not so much that they lost those two games, it’s the way they lost those games. Other than that, this is the playoffs, where anything can (and often does) happen.

Jim: Yeah, the Cubs’ quick departure was a real shocker. 3.5 games up in the NL Central on Sept 18. Eliminated exactly two weeks later. Disappointed at how feeble a performance the Rockies put up; it felt very much like the D-backs in 2017, with all their energy simply being spent by the time they reached the Division series. At least we weren’t outscored 13-2. I’ll certainly be taking Jack’s advise, holding my nose and cheering for the Brewers if they face LA in the NLCS. But still hoping - at time of writing! - that the Braves can at least force a Game 5 and make the Dodgers burn another starting pitcher.

The NBA and NHL are about to get under way. Will you be paying any interest?

Makakilo: Although I won’t notice any NBA or NHL games, let’s compare the NBA, NHL, and MLB in two ways: how many teams make the playoffs, and advertising on jerseys.

  • The NBA and MLB each have 30 teams, and the NHL has 31 teams. 16 teams make the playoffs in the NBA and NHL, while only 10 MLB teams make the playoffs. Making the playoff means much more in MLB.
  • NBA teams sell advertising on their uniforms. NHL allows practice jerseys to have corporate sponsors, and they allowed an advertising patch in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Although in 2017 Rob Manfred said he is open to the idea of putting advertising on uniforms, MLB uniforms currently have no advertising. Keeping the uniforms “clean,” except for dirt & grass stains, and occasional baseball-related patches, provides fans with a view to enjoy without being hit with advertising. That clean refuge is rare and appreciated.

Jack: Mild interest for me. It could be fun to watch if the Suns showed promise with the Ayton/Booker combo coming through. It’s hard to see them winning more than 20-25 games though. And the Coyotes strong finish last year hints at a rebuild that might finally be working, although they could easily fizzle too. I am ready to bandwagon it if either team does well, but probably will lose interest quickly if they both suck.

Steven: I like all Arizona sports, so I’ll be rooting the Suns and Coyotes in a more passive way. I like what the Suns have done and I think the D-backs should emulate what the Coyotes have done, amassing draft picks and targeting high impact players.

James: I stopped caring about the NBA a long time ago. The fact that Devin Booker is injured is not helping with my interest being rekindled. I love my Coyotes, but I honestly don’t think I’ll be following all that closely. I’ll probably catch about one in five or six games - at best. Too many other things going on, especially since I put so many things off until the baseball season is over.

Jim: Nah, I’m good. I’m barely even paying attention to the MLB playoffs!