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Surveying the Diamondbacks landscape in the Starling Marte era

Now the dust has settled a bit, what do we have in Arizona?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The trade which made Starling Marte a Diamondback was almost classic Mike Hazen, in terms of the misdirection which preceded it. While there had been reports linking the team to Marte back in December, Arizona’s interest had apparently cooled. Instead, they were reported to be looking at Brian Dozier, Kris Bryant or even Mookie Betts as the final big piece of their 2020 roster. Then, out of nowhere, the trade went from “closing in” to “Hello, Starling” in about 30 minutes, with the Pirates’ outfielder becoming a Diamondback, in exchange for two promising but very raw prospects.

A couple of things stand out as a result of the transaction. Firstly, the team appears largely set with position players for the next two years. The only men there who will become free-agents at the end of 2020 are Jake Lamb and Nick Ahmed. And, after the domino effect resulting from Marte’s signing (S. Marte > K. Marte > Escobar), it’s not clear whether Jake will be around on Opening Day this year, or if he is now the odd-man out. Replacing or extending Ahmed is the sole question apparently in need of addressing before Opening Day 2021. On the pitching side, it’s a little trickier, with Robbie Ray and Andrew Chafin both scheduled for free-agency next winter. But at worst, that’s only 15% of our 26-man roster.

For the other notable point, props to rekameohs, who pointed out the following in Snake Bytes this morning. Of the entire “primary” starters (top of the depth chart position players and five starting pitchers) for the 2020 Diamondbacks, not one of them were picked up by Arizona in the MLB Draft:

  • C – Carson Kelly – ‘18 Trade
  • 1B – Christian Walker – ‘17 Waivers
  • 2B – Ketel Marte – ‘16 Trade
  • 3B – Eduardo Escobar – ‘18 Trade
  • SS – Nick Ahmed – ‘13 Trade
  • LF – David Peralta – ‘13 International Free Agent
  • CF – Starling Marte – ‘20 Trade
  • RF – Kole Calhoun – ‘19 Free Agent
  • P – Madison Bumgarner – ‘20 Free Agent
  • P – Luke Weaver – ‘18 Trade
  • P – Robbie Ray – ‘14 Trade
  • P – Zac Gallen – ‘19 Trade
  • P – Mike Leake – ‘19 Trade

Given the strong focus on drafting under Hazen, that may initially seem a little odd. But the fruits of that are still making their way through the system. The top picks in Hazen’s first draft, in June 2017 - Pavin Smith, Drew Ellis and Daulton Varsho - all spent most of last season in Double-A. Varsho will perhaps become the first product of the Hazen drafts to reach the majors, maybe as soon as this year. It’s largely testament to how weak our farm system was a few years ago: ranked dead last by Keith Law when Hazen took over in the 2016-17 offseason. It also speaks to the job Hazen has done of threading the needle, posting three consecutive winning seasons while simultaneously improving the farm system.

Winners and losers

Winner: Ketel Marte. The arrival of his “brother from another mother” means Ketel gets to go back to his preferred position, second-base. Well, for most of the time, anyway. Hazen said yesterday he can see Starling playing the corners on occasion against tough lefties, rather than David Peralta or Kole Calhoun (both left-handed hitters, though the latter’s career splits are smaller). On those days, Ketel could still get the start in center, with perhaps switch-hitting Ildemaro Vargas taking over at second. That may help Ketel stay healthy: after his season ended in September, he seemed to suggest his new position in center was a factor in the back issue which ended his campaign.

Loser: Jake Lamb. It was a surprise when the team opted to tender Lamb a contract. But perhaps made sense, as coverage at third in the event K. Marte needed to stay in center, with Eduardo Escobar playing second. That no longer appears to be the case, so it opens the door to the possibility that the team might cut Lamb before Opening Day, in order to save themselves the bulk of his $5,515,000 salary for 2020. It does help that Lamb and Josh Rojas are the only “true” left-handed hitting infielders on the 40-man roster. But with K. Marte, Escobar, Vargas and Domingo Leyba all being switch-hitters there, the need for platooning is considerably less than it might be.

Winner: Starling Marte. Even with him, the Vegas odds had the Pirates coming last in the NL Central, 12 games behind anyone else. Pittsburgh is apparently content to slash payroll - they now sit at less than $45 million - and continue cashing in on revenue sharing, an approach which made them one subject of a grievance from the players’ union in 2018. The fact that the two prospects received for Marte, have yet to play above the level of Low-A, is an indication of where the Pirates are looking for their window. The next couple of years promise to be no fun for Pittsburgh fans - and little better for the players. As he heads toward free-agency, Starling will be far better off in Arizona.

Loser: Josh Rojas. The arrival of Starling Marte, on the heels of Calhoun, may well end up squeezing Rojas off the 26-man roster come Opening Day. Assuming a five-man bench, the spots, outside the eight men listed above, currently seem to belong to Stephen Vogt, Vargas, Tim Locastro, Leyba (like Vargas, out of options), and either Kevin Cron or Lamb, depending on who the team wants as a back-up to Christian Walker. With three options left, Rojas may well need an injury elsewhere to break camp with the team, despite the positional flexibility which he offers. Though even if he doesn’t make it, he’s still likely to see action at some point during the season.

As Jack noted, there does seem to be a little money remaining in the kitty if necessary. But I suspect that this may well be held onto, for potential use during the season as gaps or weaknesses appear. While there’s the chance of surprises during spring training - it seems like a non-roster invitee always ends up breaking through! - and health is an obvious factor, it feels like Hazen is about ready to draw a line under his winter’s work, with pitchers and catchers getting ready to report to Salt River Fields, two weeks from today.