With 17 days left before the first official workout with Pitchers and Catchers, it’s time to check in on how the Diamondbacks off season has been going.
Hazen’s goal is to improve a roster that finished a disappointing 82-80 last season, that was the most expensive in franchise history, that is getting older and that is losing several key contributors to the open market. He wants to do it while simultaneously safeguarding the organization’s future. Oh, and that roster needs to be a bit cheaper than it was a year ago.
After the recent signing of Wilmer Flores, Hazen also indicated that they were most likely done with position player and rotation additions to the team but they will still look to add a bullpen piece or two. More thoughts on that later.....
It’s important to note that this is a snapshot in time. There is still much to be determined and much we do not know. A lot can and will change. Of course we can never know which players will stay healthy and who will get hurt. We have little inkling of what moves, trades, or signings may still occur with this front office. They run a very tight ship when it comes to leaks. And try as we like, projecting even healthy performance is very difficult and can only be approximated. However we have to start somewhere, and what follows is a decent BASELINE to help us understand the team and how the off season moves have effected the organization to date.
The individual player projections are a combination of the rate from Steamer and ZIPS projections, and are applied to my own playing time projections. In a few cases a player projection may not have been available from one of the systems. I made a few minor technical or subjective adjustments where needed, but no large impacts resulted from those.
Salary figures are actual and confirmed numbers for all arbitration eligible and guaranteed contract players. Pre arb player estimates are based on service time, league minimum, and will be within 10-20K depending on time on the MLB roster.
So with those caveats and explanations, lets take a look at where they stand.
Topline Summary first
Last year the team opened the season with approximately a 130M payroll, and ended around 140M. So barring any last minute surprises, the team will have accomplished the goal of coming in a bit cheaper than last year.
The wins projection is based on total WAR projection + replacement level wins, and suggests a .500 team. So the improvement part of the goal is not looking so great, which shouldn’t be too surprising. They have added some decent young players, but there have been no “marquee” additions to replace the losses of Paul Goldschmidt , AJ Pollock , or Patrick Corbin .
Rotation: The first thing you might note is that the above projection is based on good health and few missed starts for the top 3 starters. Zack Greinke is not only the highest paid player on the team, but he also has the highest projected WAR total of any player on the team, hitter or pitcher. I’m showing new additions Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly getting 24 starts each, and they are projected to be above replacement but slightly below average. Taijuan Walker is not expected back before June or July, and I presume his innings will be protected, so his innings projection is very conservative. Replacement Starters will most likely be some combination of pitchers such as Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener or Taylor Clarke. Of course if/when there are injuries and depending on the severity, we could see a lot more innings go to replacement starters.
Bullpen: EDIT Hat tip to ubersnake for alerting me to the info on Roster Resource regarding player options. Correcting the article based on that info. Last year the team had limited flexibility due to an almost all veteran bullpen in which most of the relievers were either out of options, or having guys that they were unlikely to “rotate” using minor league options. The notable exception was Silvino Bracho of course. This year, while Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano still have options, it seems unlikely either of them would ever be sent down just to “give them a break”. Andrew Chafin and Matt Andriese both still have an option as well. They could possibly be swapped out for someone like Yoan Lopez or Robby Scott down the line at some point in the season. Mike Hazen has indicated that he will probably add a bullpen piece or two. Who he adds, and what kind of options and flexibility he might have remains to be seen.
For the position players, I did not use generic “replacement” players, I inserted actual player names and projections. Of importance:
1.) I have no idea who is going to get hurt, so I am projecting good health for the most part for the obvious starters. However there is very little chance that the D-backs actually have 7 guys qualify for the batting title. (502 PA) In fact in team history, the most they’ve ever had was 6, which happened just 3 times, in 2001, 2005, & 2010. With 88 batting title qualifiers in 21 years, the average is just barely over 4. So the chances of having 7 are remote. But for the sake of this exercise, I simply did not feel comfortable randomly picking guys to be injured.
2.) There is a very interesting roster conundrum brewing. Lets assume the team opens with 12 pitchers and 13 position players, (8 starters and 5 bench players.) The 8 starters are fairly obvious. How do you make out the bench?
The team is committed to carrying 3 catchers again, so there will be 2 catchers on the bench. Now we are down to 3 open bench slots
Jarrod Dyson is signed, and assuming he is healthy and ready to go on opening day, the 4th outfielder slot is his. So now we are down to 2 bench spots.
I can’t imagine the team does not carry a utility infielder, and in my playing time projections, I assigned that role to Illdemaro Vargas. I am open to suggestions as to who else might fill that role in 2019, but it seems pretty clear to me that it’s Vargas. Torey likes him a lot and I just don’t see other MLB ready options at this time.
Which leaves us just one spot remaining.
Socrates Brito and Christian Walker are both out of options. If the team wants to carry Walker to platoon with Lamb and be a RH Pinch Hitter, then there is no spot for Brito. As I mentioned in comments section of previous articles that would mean he is either traded or DFA’d, and only able to be kept in the organization if he clears waivers, which seems somewhat unlikely.
Brito could get a reprieve if Dyson is not quite ready to open the season after recovering from a second groin surgery. So it could be we won’t know the answer to this question until the very end of spring training. And again, injuries WILL happen. It’s pretty unlikely that every player gets through spring training unscathed. So we’ll see.
Finally, I’ll leave you with one more chart. This is the position player playing time projection. The way this works is first I project the starters at each position and estimate games started. Then I start to fill in games started for all positions from players other than the starters. Total games started are then multiplied times the PA/GS, which are higher for players likely to bat near or at the top of the order vs. lower down. After that I need to come up with 260 Pinch Hit Appearance and another 70-80 “Substitution” PA’s to account for those PA’s that occur when a player enters the game as a defensive replacement and later gets a PA, or stays in the game after pinch hitting and bats again. These are based on historical norms.
By now if you have followed this to the end you probably see an obvious problem. While the team win total is projected to be around 81 wins, that’s based on almost no major injuries and pretty much a best-case scenario with regards to health and DL avoidance.
In order for this team to reach a high 80’s win total, and have a shot at the wild card, not only do they need unprecedented team health, but they are going to need more than a few breakout or career year performances above what is projected here without any major negative regression seasons to counterbalance those career years.
In other words, if everything goes perfect, nobody gets hurt and they get career years from half a dozen guys, they might make the playoffs. Maybe. But if they have any key injuries, the depth just does not appear to be there to keep the team above .500, let alone competing for a playoff spot.
The off season isn’t over yet. Maybe they do something really surprising, but I’m not counting on it. They got cheaper. And notably have not traded any minor league prospects away as they continue to build the farm. But I am hard pressed to see where they got better.