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SnakePit Round Table: Spring has sprung

The road towards Opening Day is visible. Murky, but visible...

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks-Workouts The Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

What is the biggest issue the D-backs need to sort out before Opening Day?

Jack: Sorting out as in figuring out position players and final bullpen spots, I tend to think the CF/2b conundrum and whether Ketel Marte can stick in CF is the biggest issue to sort out, as the rest of the outfield/infield roles will revolve around that.

James: I think there are a number of “issues” the team has going into spring. However, I think there is really only one situation that can be fairly sorted over the course of spring training, that is what to do with Ketel Marte. If Marte is in the outfield, it makes keeping Brito in place more difficult. If he is on the infield that determines the manner in which Flores is used. Basically, as I now notice Jack pointed out above, as goes Marte, so does the remainder of the unsettled 25-man roster, at least as far as position players are concerned.

Steven: Who’s in center? After Mike Hazen was non-committal in having Marte in CF full-time for 2019, I’d love to see them get aggressive and pick-up a younger defensive CFer like a Juan Lagares or Jake Marisnick. If they were feeling particularly frisky, Byron Buxton.

Makakilo: As I wrote in the last roundtable, the biggest issue is better offense. Spring training will provide clues about whether that issue is being addressed. Will the opening day starters be chosen with consideration of their offensive capabilities?

Turambar: Ensuring that the shuffling of our teams deck after so many departures doesn’t lead to drastic defensive deficiencies. We had some of the most consistent gloves in the NL last year, and that helped us stay competitive almost the whole season. Who knows what Marte and CF and Lamb at 1st will look like……..

Do you see them signing any other players?

Jack: I don’t see them signing any marquee names, but fringe moves could still happen. There might be a veteran reliever out there at a cheap price that Mike Hazen could find irresistable. ;)

James: I think it is unlikely unless Mike Hazen finds a bargain-basement 11th-Hour deal with a high upside veteran. I think if another signing is made, it will be a minors deal, or perhaps a split deal. Clay Buchholz remains unsigned.

Steven: Other than a couple older relievers on minor-league deals, no signings that will have a large impact on the 2019 roster. But you never know, with some poor luck we could face an injury to a key starter that’ll lead Hazen to scramble to find a replacement.

Makakilo: Let’s compare this season to last season.

  • Last season, in February/March the D-backs signed 7 players and made one significant trade (and one trade for a player to be named later).
  • This season, in February the D-backs have signed 5 players and made no trades.
  • Assuming this season will be similar to last season, I predict two additional signings through March, and I predict one trade will be executed.
  • If an opportunity to improve the team happens, I am confident that Mike Hazen can execute well.

Turambar: Meh. Hazen will find a warm body or two, but I doubt he’ll make any waves. Cheap arms will be acquired at some point, that’s it.

Which one of the new guys are you most interested in?

Jack: Probably Luke Weaver. Eno Sarris’ article highlighting Weaver as a potential breakout candidate based on his stuff being better than his results has me really interested to see what he can do with a change of scenery.

James: It’s tough for me to pick just one. I have three players I will be watching closely. I’ll be watching to see how Marte takes this unsettled position business. I really want to get a much better look at Carson Kelly and see what the centerpiece of the GOldschmidt trade is able to bring to Arizona. Related to that, I’ll be watching Luke Weaver. This is a man who, not long ago, was a highly-prized pitching prospect with high upside. What happened to him, and can it be fixed?

Steven: I want Carson Kelly to do so well that he takes over the starting role for 120 games. I’m very tired of seeing this carousel of poor hitting catchers. Another is Wilmer Flores, who I think could have a Kelly Johnson-type impact in a full-time role at 2nd.

Makakilo: I am watching two players with interesting possibilities.

Will Wilmer Flores play full-time at second base? Signing Wilmer Flores was a rare and significant signing because his strength is offense. Signing Flores showed a new priority – improving offense.

  • Over the last 4 seasons Wilmer Flores’ offensive WAR sums to positive 5.5, while his defensive WAR sums to minus 4.1 (Source: Baseball Reference).
  • If his defense reaches his capability, then he will lock-in second-base. That would free-up Ketel Marte to play center field, where his speed and athleticism can shine.
  • As I wrote in the last roundtable, Wilmer Flores was a great signing for five reasons.

Because of Carson Kelly, will the D-backs roster two catchers instead of three? “But Hazen isn’t wedded to the three-catcher system. He said there is an opportunity for one catcher to seize a bigger role, and he thinks a two-catcher system is in the organization’s future at some point. Some of that may depend on whether Kelly finally realizes his big-league potential, and how quickly.” ― Zach Buchanan of the Athletic

Turambar: I’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for how Weaver does. Read that same Athletic article and it’s got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, our overall pitching could be as good or better than last year. Though honestly much of that little glimmer of hope will depend upon guys like Ray and Godley stepping up. We’ll see, this sure as shit will be an interesting season to watch.

How do you see the bullpen shaking down?

Jack: They have a lot of depth, but they have a lot of question marks too. Has Archie Bradley recovered and can he throw a curve ? Was Greg Hollands recovery with the Nats over the final 2 months real ? Can Yoshi Hirano continue to fool em with the splitter ? Is Andrew Chafin going to continue to make everyone hate him more than they should ? But with young arms like Yoan Lopez , and Jimmie Sherfy waiting in the wings, and also potential relief cameo’s from the trio of starting pitching prospects in Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener and Taylor Clarke there is plenty of chance for a couple of guys to step up and provide some quality innings

James: I think options and possibly even some recent minor league signings might play into this.Holland would seem to be the closer at this point. He’ll be backed up by Bradley and Hirano. McFarland and Chafin were both retained when there was every chance to let them go, so they will be around. That’s five arms. Silvino Bracho is out of options and the team reportedly still likes him. That makes six. The last slot seems to be entirely up for grabs, but right now I would lean towards MArc Rzepczynski, though he would make a third lefty.

Steven: I think they’ll struggle all season. They have a lot of fringe MLB depth and are hoping for quite a few guys to bounceback. Archie again is talking a big game, but if his nail can’t handle the pitch again, we’re talking about a completely different pitcher.

Makakilo: Jack said it well - not much for me to add. Archie Bradley is a wild card. Will his role change? How strong are his fingernails?

Turambar: Honestly I think this year’s bullpen will sink or swim depending on how our offense does. Last year’s pathetic offense backed our bullpen in to a corner almost every night, and the wheels finally fell off as the season drew to a close. Does this year’s incarnation of the Dbacks provide meaningful offensive output outside of the 1st inning? If yes then our bullpen will be just fine.

What about the infield?

Jack: Christian Walker should be rooting for Marte to stick in CF, as if he doesn’t and needs to stay at 2b, then that makes Wilmer Flores the platoon mate for Jake Lamb, and Walker will lose his spot and be put on waivers.

James: This will depend entirely on what happens with Ketel Marte. I think most of the inield has already been set Barring injury, I think Escobar, Ahmed, Flores, Lamb, Kelly, and Avila are locks. The team has made it pretty clear it wants a third catcher. I would peg that as Murphy’s job to loose, more than Joseph’s job to win. That probably only leaves one slot. If Marte is in the infield, that would be him. If Marte is not part of the infield, then I would peg Tomlinson.

Steven: Nick Ahmed has to continue to show at least below average hitting to be able to stick at short. He’s another year older, and is coming off his best season as a pro, which still was around 10% worse than the league average at SS. I think he should be on the block and Marte should be your starter going forward. How will Jake Lamb do?

Makakilo: I predict Christian Walker will make the 25-man roster, where he will excel in offense. That is his strength.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned. Is that a problem? If so, what should be done about it?

Jack : It’s a problem for them. Baseball will survive. What should be done about it is the DBacks should sign Machado to a 10 year 310 M deal. 300 in salary, and a 10M signing bonus. I’ve been studying him and comping him to death. Bottom line, players like him, with this much production through their mid 20’s, are almost always a lock to produce at least 30-35 WAR from age 26-35.

They can structure the deal so he gets 20M each of the next 2 years, and then once Tomas is off the books it jumps to 29 and increases each year incrementally. Here is what a value calculator looks like:

Tack on a million per year in pro rated bonus and it may look like you are down 15M at the end, but if they can work out some deferred money, that will reduce the value to break even, or close to it. And in the above calculator I’m only counting on getting 4.5 WAR out of him from age 33-35.

Special Note: The value per WAR increases 3% per year in the table above. However if you take the $ Per WAR and chance the 8 to a 7 in the first year, in deference to the “new market” which we aren’t really sure about at this point, then the value produced drops from 296M to 259M. So getting the $ Per WAR number correct is kinda important…….just as important as projecting his performance.

They won’t do this, but it’s fun to think about.

James: It is a problem, but not as much for baseball as it is for the fans of baseball. Harper and Machado are both very good players preparing to enter the prime years on the aging curve. For Harper, this may lead to even more production at the plate. However, Harper has already begun to experience significant knee problems and is almost certain to need to move to first or DH before the end of a long-term deal. Machado is among the best defensive third basemen in the game, on par with Arenado. At the plate he is not that potent though and he still insists he is a shortstop and wants to play there. He also comes with some attitude issues and some character questions.

The reason I point all this out is, both are shopping themselves as elite-tier free agents. They, along with Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, are trying to establish themselves at least one tier above what their recent play suggests they should. As baseball front offices have gotten smarter about paying for future performance and not as much for past performance, it is going to be more difficult for players to advance themselves in the free agent market without the track record to back up their demands. This is not Mike Trout and Barry Bonds waiting to be signed. It is not Randy Johnson waiting, or Mariano Rivera. These are very good players, only one of which (Harper) has had even one transcendent season. That was three seasons ago. He has not performed at even half that level since then. Over the next ten years, does he provide more than one more, if that?

Sadly, the players are not going to see it like this. There are already plenty of disgruntled players who are starting to use the word “strike”, and the CBA talks are still two years off. Something is going to need to give and give soon. If it doesn’t, fans will be lucky if baseball cand make it to those talks without a work stoppage.

Steven: It’s a massive problem for baseball, for both players and fans. The owners continue to pinch pennies and claim they make no money when revenues/profits are in the millions and minor league players can’t even pay for bare essentials. These are two of the more premier players in the game, and no one wants them at the value their own systems give out. No other sport has star level talent lingering as free agents this long into off-season. I can’t wait for a work stoppage., it’s going to be bloody.

Makakilo: It is not a problem.

When would it be a problem?

  • If I wanted Harper and Machado playing for the D-backs, but it was not happening. I don’t. I prefer other players, if that money was available.
  • If lawyers filed a lawsuit alleging collusion by owners to not fairly pay Harper and Machado (but for different reasons than Colin Kaepernick). The unpleasantness could detract from enjoyment of baseball.
  • If Harper and Machado were being used as pawns in the battle between the players’ union and baseball owners, in which case I might feel sorry for them. I don’t. They will be wealthy (more wealthy) when they finally sign.

A successful negotiation is about more than salary:

  • do values and attitudes of the new player fit in the team’s culture.
  • does the team’s ballpark enhance the player’s strengths/weaknesses.
  • does the player want to live at the team’s location.
  • building trust.
  • understanding and agreeing to expectations.

If there are no fits, no-deal is a win-win result. However, in this case I see fits. The best fit for Harper is the Giants, and the best fit for Machado is the Yankees. How long until they sign is a lesser concern than where do they fit.

Let’s look at the recent extension of Aaron Nola for 4 years with a club option for a fifth year. After signing, he said, “... I’m here to play for my teammates and maximize my potential as much as I can…I love it in the city of Philadelphia. This is where I want to be, part of this organization, a winning organization.”

Matt Klenta, the GM for the Phillies, said “For the work ethic he brings to the team, for the humility he brings, he really is the perfect fit for our team and our city and we couldn’t be happier for him.”