Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager, Mike Hazen, met with the press this afternoon to discuss the recently concluded winter meetings and the 2020 Rule 5 Draft. As is usual in these sorts of interviews, Hazen kept most of his thoughts close. Openly discussing team strategies, financial figures, or the team’s level of interest in (or lack of interest) in specific free agents simply is not the way to go about running a sports franchise. At best, doing so undermines the team’s ability to execute its plans effectively. At worst, there are issues of collusion to consider. That said, Mr. Hazen is also cognizant of the fact that conversations regarding the future of the team are much easier and more engaging when they can be placed in context. While this presser was mostly a half-hour of necessary non-answers, there were still a few interesting/fun nuggets that came to light.
On the Rule 5 Draft:
The Diamondbacks entered today knowing that they were not going to make a selection in the draft. The trade with the Miami Marlins was consummated before the draft was ever held. At that point, it simply became a matter of waiting for names to come off the board. When Zach Pop was still on the board for the Diamondbacks, they selected him, which then activated the trade with the Marlins. The return for the Diamondbacks is either a PTBNL or cash. The are four players on the list for the potential PTBNL. The Diamondbacks have six months to make a decision.
On payroll and where it will be under the new reality facing teams:
This is one of those topics that strayed too deeply into verboten waters. The payroll situation will become less murky as the team gets closer to Opening Day. Then, an evaluation of the roster will tell us all where payroll is going to be - more or less.
On the possibility of rule changes impacting the roster:
There is nothing new to report regarding potential changes to the rules. Both sides have been pretty clear on what needs to be negotiated and what does not. While Hazen never once mentioned the DH, we can safely assume that there will not be a universal DH in 2021, as that is one of the changes that must be negotiated, and the two sides involved in those negotiations are already turning their attention to the CBA talks.
About trades and free agency and where Arizona is leaning:
The knee-jerk reaction is that a free agent signing is more likely. This largely stems simply from the fact that free agent signings are generally easier. They only require one team and a player to agree on the player’s value. A trade necessitates tow or more teams coming to an agreement on fair value of players while working from different baselines. That is not to say that the team is close to signing anyone. It also does not mean that there have not been discussions with other teams. Apparently, Arizona is getting a good number of hits on some of their pitching. However, when looking at the team’s pitching, it can get complicated in a hurry. For one thing, the team needs to be aware of what sort of pitching depth it does or doesn’t have. This season is presenting the additional level of complexity that comes with going with a very uneven, 60-game 2020 season to a standard, full 162-game season. These are significantly different workloads and that could come into play for some pitchers. In order for the team to trade from its pitching, there would need to be a somewhat larger plan put into motion in order to make sure that any voids created are quickly filled with MLB-ready talent. This does not apply only to the pitching, but essentially to anyone from the 26-man roster.
This leads to the fact that Hazen still believes in a good deal of the core he has in place. Trading away form that needs to be a well-planned move. That core, which Hazen put together with the goal of the 2020 postseason, is still mostly in place and was the subject of one of the more candid, meaningful portions of the presser. Here is Hazen in his own words about getting a better look at his core of players:
“It was 60 games. We have to put the 60 games in a perspective. But, we finished in last place in those 60 games, so it’s not - we can’t be so arrogant as to think we shouldn’t be looking at other ways to improve our roster. I mean there were things - there were reasons why we finished where we finished. Not going to overreact to those things, I don’t think. We’ve processed a lot of that and gotten our arms around exactly how we feel about what exactly happened this season - good and bad. I do think that we have to be somewhat mindful of not overreacting to what that 60-game schedule looked like. So, in that way, yes, I do think that seeing what these guys can do, in the way that we wanted them to, in a normal ramp-up, and all that other stuff (is a focus). But we are still actively looking for ways to make the team better.”
As Hazen points out, as teams start to make moves, such as those that have come to fruition this week, secondary conversations are sparked, which can lead to all sorts of things. The trade and free agent market is a fluid, dynamic one. Historically though, the winter meetings are not where the Diamondbacks have made their moves.
As a cautionary tale, Hazen points out that, if asked about Starling Marte on December 10, 2019, the trade would not have been on his radar. He was under the impression the deal was dead. Then, the changing market presented some new opportunities and the team wound up making a deal for Marte at the end of January.
About the challenges of this particular offseason:
As far as baseball operations, this offseason is not much more challenging than a normal offseason. Not having a baseball facility to work from has created some challenges and that has impacted some of the chemistry of how the discussions happen.
Anything missed by doing meetings virtually:
Seeing friends and colleagues. Also, the calories and weight gain from five days of winter meeting - style food consumption.
Upcoming minor league season:
Every team is dealing with the challenges equally, so it isn’t like the team needs to prepare as though they are at a unique disadvantage. The current group is the subject of major investment, and while the team has benefited somewhat from off-site work during the pandemic,, it is going to be important to see them in their full seasons of work. Mike Hazen did throw out one more bone to close out the presser, specifically regarding the crop of higher-end talent that has been put together in the minors over the last few seasons.
“I think we are moving closer to having that group. I think that group is going to start moving into the upper levels this year. and once they are there - I think we are going to get within a fairly tight window of, you know, having a decent-sized group of our farm system making an impact at the major league level. I would say - I’m hopeful that within the next year we significant progress towards that.”
So that, constant reader, is where the Diamondbacks stand after the “busy week” that is the focus of the offseason hot stove, It sounds like there will be plenty to report on in terms of future moves for this team, but that we should all just be patient. The moves will develop on their own timeline.