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Tender Decision Roster Implications for the Diamondbacks

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What implications do yesterday’s decisions have on the 26-man roster for next season?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Most of the time, a team’s non-tender decision deadline is a mere formality. It provides fans a specific day to talk about the future of the roster, but precious little actually happens that changes the perceived immediate future of the franchise. Then you get days like yesterday - a day where Mike Hazen made five contract tendering decisions, four of which came as something of a surprise. While the team was always expected to non-tender Caleb Joseph, it surprised more than a few that the team also elected to non-tender both Steven Souza, Jr. and Taijuan Walker. Likewise, it was just as surprising to find that the team decided to bring back both Jake Lamb and embattled relief pitcher, Matt Andriese.

One thing that is a bit surprising about the decisions is that the team has effectively subtracted two expected starters from areas of need while retaining two mediocre veterans in areas where the team seemingly has plenty of depth. What then, does this mean for the 2020 roster?

Salary Implications

The first thing these decisions do is to give us all a better idea of what the payroll situation is going to look like. By cutting ties with Souza, Walker, and Joseph, the team shed a bit over $10.3 million in expected commitments for 2020. Of course, the team also tendered Lamb and Andriese. Those two are expected to earn roughly a combined $6.4 million next season. For simplicity’s sake, and since there is always a bit of wiggle room in those figures, this basically means the team has cut $4 million from the expected 2020 payroll. As for the rest, the team has the following commitments:

Guaranteed Contracts: $41 million - this includes money being sent off for Greinke and money brought in for Leake, as well as Flores’ buyout and a buyout of T.J. McFarland.

Projected Arbitration Salaries: $39,800,000

Pre-Arbitration Salaries: $4,995,000

Total Payroll: $85,795,000 (Luxury Tax hit: $103,095,000)

The MLB luxury tax threshold for 2020 is $208 million. That gives the team just under $105 million that they could use to sign talent without penalty. Of course, the Diamondbacks under Ken Kendrick are not the sort of team that will ever flirt with the luxury tax. After a strong showing in 2018, Mike Hazen was directed to do three things, not mortgage the future, get better, and (most importantly in this discussion) cut payroll. Amazingly, Hazen managed to meet all three stated goals. If similar mandate is assumed for 2020, then a few more roster points can be gleaned.

The first point is that Hazen is unlikely to simply punt the season away. He’ll at least attempt to put a competitive team on the field. Second, the team is not likely to make any impact trades that do not include moving Robbie Ray. The team’s farm has little in the way of talent that the organization can afford to part with without hurting future projections. It is rare when a Gallen for Chisholm deal comes around where the team can trade a top prospect from an area of strength for another prospect to be the team’s new top prospect, filling an area of need. Lastly, unless the team trades Robbie Ray (a decided possibility) the team will probably only have about $44 million or so to work with in 2020. That assumes the team keeps spending about even with 2019 levels, a perfectly reasonable expectation. While that seems like a nice pot of cash to work with, examining the projected roster indicates that the team has a number of places it needs to spread that cash around to, limiting the sort of impact players the team can hope to land.

Roster Implications

Starting in 2020, the Major League roster will be a 26-man roster with a limit (expected to be 13 or 14) on the number of pitchers a team can carry. Some parts of the 2020 roster are already simple to figure out for the Diamondbacks; others, not so much.

Position Players

Catcher: Carson Kelly
First: Christian Walker
Second: Ildemaro Vargas# (?)
Shortstop: Nick Ahmed
Third: Eduardo Escobar#
Left: David Peralta*
Center: Ketel Marte#
Right: Tim Locastro (?)
Bench: Jake Lamb*
Bench: Stephen Vogt*
Bench: Josh Rojas* (?)
Bench: Andy Young (?)
Bench: Kevin Cron (?)

On the position player side of things, the implications of yesterday’s decisions are pretty obvious. As currently constructed, the team has no one on the roster to be a starting right fielder. That the team parted ways with Souza, despite this roster limitation, speaks to just how bad Souza’s knee injury back in March really was. In addition to a hole in right field, the team is also thinat second base and short. While Ahmed should be expected to start the lion’s share of games at short, Ketel Marte and Ildemaro Vargas are the only other options on this roster that reasonably could fill in at short from time-to-time, with Escobar in emergency reserve. As for second base, the team’s best second baseman at this point is probably Eduardo Escobar, assuming Marte stays in center field.

This could be one reason the team elected to stick with Jake Lamb. Games that Lamb starts at third would be games that Escobar could start at second. This seems less than optimal, but it is a possibility. Another possibility is that the team finds another center fielder and moves Marte back to second base. Given the fantastic year Marte had covering both second and center in 2019, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the team will have him attempt something similar again in 2020. Regardless of arrangement, the team still needs at least one, more likely two starting position players. As for the bench, only Jake Lamb (corner infield) and Stephen Vogt (backup catcher) are locks for the bench at this point. It’s fair to assume at least one or two of the questionable names on the above list will also join the bench, namely Tim Locastro. This still leaves the team with a number of questions regarding the bench. Also, it leaves a number of questions as to just where the team expects to find a reliable offense.

Pitchers

SP: Robbie Ray*
SP: Mike Leake
SP: Merrill Kelly
SP: Zac Gallen
SP: Luke Weaver
RP: Archie Bradley
RP: Andrew Chafin*
RP: Yoan López
RP: Matt Andriese
RP: Kevin Ginkel
RP: Alex Young* (?)
RP: Taylor Clarke (?)
RP: To Be Determined

Yesterday’s decisions do provide some clarity with regard to the expected pitching roster. By trading away Taijuan Walker, the team ha all but guaranteed that Merrill Kelly will remain one of the expected starting five. Innings limitations and performance questions also mean that the team is unlikely to part with Mike Leake. One thing that stands out from the list above is, the team is still woefully thin at starting pitcher. Few teams ever get through a season without going seven pitchers deep on the starting pitcher depth chart. The Arizona Diamondbacks are currently slated to start at least two pitchers that will have some innings concerns. This is going to stretch the rotation even thinner. This could have a knock-on effect of keeping Alex Young out of the bullpen, throwing as a starter in Reno in order to keep him ready for when the team needs another starter. Outside of Young, the team’s only other “MLB-ready” starter would be Taylor Widener, who spent the entirety of 2019 getting shelled after the changes made to AAA last season. An outside option would be Emilio Vargas, but he projects more as a mid-season sort of option at best. If Young does not join the MLB bullpen, the team will need to make some sort of move if it wants to have more than just Andrew Chafin available as a relief lefty. Reliable lefty relievers are hard to come by and tend to be expensive to acquire.

This lack of starting depth will also make it more difficult for Mike Hazen to trade Robbie Ray. That is not to say he can’t. However, should Hazen trade Ray, the return will almost certainly have to include MLB pitching coming back. Furthermore, if Young is in the bullpen or in Reno, trading Ray would also trade the team’s only left-handed starter. This situation may drive Arizona to keep Ray until at least the deadline. It may also encourage the team to simply keep Ray for the season and take the draft pick compensation that will be tied to hanging him with a Qualifying Offer.

The team has a number of right-handed candidates to fill out the rest of the bullpen, including the potential return of Silvino Bracho and former top-prospect, Jon Duplantier. Part of the decision will be informed by what happens with Alex Young. Teams try very hard not to be limited to a single bullpen lefty. Another factor to consider is that Mike Hazen has shown that he likes to pick up veteran bounceback candidates to try and find an inexpensive means of acquiring high-leverage arms. If Hazen attempts that strategy again, at least the TBD slot and potentially more, could be filled out by those veteran signs.

This lack of rotation depth and the dearth of MLB-ready left-handed pitching (starting or bullpen) means the team will likely be looking to find pitching via trades. Kevin Cron, Seth Beer, and Pavin Smith are all vying for time at the same position. It would not be surprising to see one or more of them moved, along with other players, to acquire some pitching to bridge the gap to 2021, when the team has some highly regarded help arriving - notably, Corbin Martin, whom the Diamondbacks acquired in the Zack Greinke deal. The team could also look to the free agent market, though that would likely fall under the category of Hazen finding his 2020 reclamation project, as the free agent class for pitching is almost as poor as the free agent class for outfield help is this year.