The Diamondbacks made their first major move since December, signing utility infielder Wilmer Flores to a 1-year deal with a club option. The 1-year deal will cover his final arbitration eligible year with the club option potentially covering one free agent year. Given that the deal is $3.75M salary with a $6M club option for 2020, Flores will most likely play everyday on the infield. As mentioned in Jim’s article about the signing itself, MLB.com beat reporter Steve Gilbert speculates that the Diamondbacks plan to play Flores almost exclusively at 2B. This move in fact has major ramifications for the roster as it sets up a quite a big domino reaction.
Ketel Marte will be the Diamondbacks primary center fielder in 2019
The only free agent center fielder left on the market who has the defensive chops to play center field in Arizona is A.J. Pollock. Pollock is seeking a Lorenzo Cain (5 years, $80M) type contract after declining a qualifying offer from the Diamondbacks. From rumors that we’ve heard, Pollock seemed to be already one foot out the door after coming back from a brutal thumb injury. The team had previously thrown out a trial balloon that Ketel Marte, who is arguably the new face of the franchise, will be moving to center field.
Marte has the speed and athleticism to play center field, the issue is he’s been primarily a middle infielder his whole playing career. Marte enjoyed somewhat of a breakout in the 2nd half of the 2018 season in which he was able to tap more into his raw power at the plate and establish himself as an up-and-coming infielder. The team does not have a center fielder prospect above A ball in their system, so the move could be more than a single season given the 2020 free agent class is pretty bare in terms of center fielders (Aaron Hicks, Juan Lagares, Leonys Martin). It will be interesting to see how his production at the plate is affected by having to spend more time working on learning a new position, one that can be a tricky position to play given how big the ballparks are in the NL West.
Infield of Escobar, Ahmed, Flores, Lamb/Walker
Flores playing 2B means that Eduardo Escobar will be the team’s 3B and Jake Lamb will be the left-handed half at first base. This is the best defensive infield they can likely put together due to Flores’ struggles playing 3B in his career and Lamb’s only potential position change being 1B, which he played sparingly in 2015. Defensively, Flores’ numbers have suffered due to playing multiple positions instead of focusing on just one. His career UZR/150 at 1B (+2.9) and 2B (+1.5) are in the positive despite horrific numbers in the defensive runs saved department.
The most numbers of innings he’s played at the keystone was 292 back in 2015. How he grades defensively is a complete projection due to a small sample size of innings, but he just needs to break even defensively to justify being an everyday player. Tony Perezchica is a solid infield instructor, although the infield at Chase tends to play faster than it does at Citi Field. Hopefully focusing on just one position will result in better defensive numbers. In his 2015 season, Flores put up +9.9 UZR/150 and -1 DRS so there is some hope that he is capable of performing in the field.
Lineup is stronger against LHP
With an offseason that will see the team lose Goldschmidt and Pollock, the team was a bit weaker against LHP. Ahmed has a career .761 OPS (98 wRC+) against lefties although in three of the past four seasons he’s posted rates above 100. Marte destroyed LHP to the tune of a .971 OPS and 157 wRC+ last season, although historically he has hit better left handed than right handed. Coming into today, those are the team’s best two bats against LHP. Flores historically has crushed LHP, putting up wRC+ totals of 161, 193, and 121 against southpaws in 2016-2018 before a pedestrian 68 in 2018. That could be part of the reason why Flores was non-tendered despite putting up solid offensive numbers over the past four seasons. However, I’m more than willing to overlook the 2018 totals considering the previous three seasons he put up video game numbers on this split and he’s only 27 years old. If Flores can prove that 2018 was an aberration, that gives the team a desperately needed middle of the order bat against LHP.
The 40-man roster is full
With the acquisition of Tim Locastro from the Yankees, the Dbacks already have a full 40-man roster prior to this signing. That will mean one player will have to be designated for assignment. Candidates include LHPs Robby Scott, Jared Miller, RHP Jake Barrett, OF Socrates Brito, and 1B Christian Walker. I believe it will be Brito who is on the way out given that he is out of options and really doesn’t have any shot of playing time with the MLB club with Marte being the everyday CF with Jarrod Dyson spelling him and Steven Souza Jr. against tough RHP. I’ll update this article when we find out who gets put on the chopping block.