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Arizona Diamondbacks sign Junior Guerra

A piece for the 2020 pitching staff, and perhaps beyond

Milwaukee Brewers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

As the winter meetings get under way, the Diamondbacks got an early jump, adding pitcher Junior Guerra. He was one of those named when we looked at possible non-tenders earlier this week. So I guess Mike Hazen didn’t agree with the “crappy choices” and “infinite hard passes” comments there... The player had recently been non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers, with an arbitration estimate of $3.5 million, and unsurprisingly, the Diamondbacks will be paying less than that. According to Nick Piecoro, the deal is for $2.55 million this season, with a team option (value unknown) for 2021, with a $100 K buyout on that.

However, Guerra is potentially under team control for three seasons, despite turning 35 next month. That’s because he was a seriously late bloomer, who didn’t make his major-league debut until fourteen years after signing with the Braves as a sixteen year-old, back in 2001. Part of the reason for such a long journey was that he was originally a catcher, but washed out of pro-ball as a position player in 2006. The Venezuelan then pulled off a reverse Peralta, re-inventing himself as a pitcher, signing with the Mets. A failed drug test helped derail that, and Guerra then bounced around winter leagues in Venezuela and Hawaii (!), as well as indy ball for six years.

The White Sox eventually offered Junior a minor-league contract in 2015, and he finally, albeit briefly, reached the majors that summer at the age of 30. He was plucked off waivers by the Brewers at the end of the year, and has been a solid part of their pitching corps over the past four years, putting up a 113 ERA+ and being their Opening Day starter for the 2017 season. Initially he was mainly in the rotation, but moved full-time to the Milwaukee pen this year. Over 72 outings and 83.2 innings, he had an ERA of 3.55 (ERA+ 126), with a K:BB ratio of 77:36. The shift to relief brought with it an uptick in velocity, from 93.3 to 94.7 mph, and this season, Guerra’s curveball replaced the slider, alongside his fastball and splitter.

In terms of role, I can envisage Guerra largely being a replacement for T.J. McFarland, whose option the D-backs declined, and who was claimed by the A’s. Junior’s recent history as a starter gives him some length, and 23 of his outings for the Brewers this year, were longer than an inning. However, if he can maintain the level of success that 126 ERA+ suggests - and there is some indication that was helped by a pretty low BABIP of .221 - then he may well be another candidate for some set-up work. Arizona already has a combination of Andrew Chafin, Yoan Lopez and Kevin Ginkel to get the ball to Archie Bradley, so there’s no shortage of contenders.

On the other hand, the early projections for 2020 aren’t very good. Steamer has Guerra penciled in at a 4.57 ERA, while Marcel is slightly more optimistic at 4.25. This is partly a result of his FIP having been consistently higher than this actual ERA. For his major-league career, those numbers are 4.55 and 3.81 respectively, so you can see where those projections are coming from. Alternatively, maybe he’ll end up in the rotation, if the rumors about Arizona trading Robbie Ray turn out to be true...