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Snake Pit Sim Season: Off-day Team Recap

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The Diamondbacks have climbed their way into second place in the NL West since last time we were here.

As usual, the above charts have the pitchers ranked by ERA+ and the position players by WAR.

Painfully obvious when evaluating this team is, its success is riding almost entirely on its pitching. A big problem with that is, some of the “stronger” pitching performances are simply not sustainable. The one that most-readily jumps out is Junior Guerra. The veteran right-hander is sporting a BB9 of 4.0. He is coupling that with a BABIP of .179. If/when that BABIP comes up and sniffs anything even close to league average, Guerra is going to get rocked. Héctor Rondón also continues to live a charmed life, though some of his numbers still give a slight bit of hope for some improvement.

Before picking on either of them though, the team has two other arms it needs to address, Alex Young and Mike Leake. Alex Young’s struggles put the team in a tight spot. The team simply has no other left-handed options to replace him. Andrew Chafin is already putting in another season of a heavy workload. Expecting Chafin to pick up even more innings in need of a lefty simply is not realistic. As a result, some initial sniffing about has been done for a new left-handed arm for the bullpen. (More on that later.) Replacing Mike Leake poses its own set of problems. Leake’s ability to eat up innings in large chunks cannot be overstated, not given how reliant this team’s success is riding on a fresh/healthy bullpen. At the same time, when Leake gets lit up, it gets bad in a hurry. I’m not ready to pull the plug on the veteran righty just yet, but he is now on a short leash. Of course, with no options left and not being able to trade him, the problems will continue even if he is pulled from the rotation. There simply is no place to shelve him. Meanwhile, it is not as though the team has any appealing options to replace Leake. The easiest and possibly most obvious move would be to simply swap Leake and Merrill Kelly. Kelly has been strong in long relief so far and we know he has the stuff to be an average starter, so long as he catches a few breaks. But can Leake adapt to the bullpen? And if Kelly struggles returning to the rotation, what then? There are some very real reasons to be afraid that Kelly will be too exposed in the rotation, so it’s not a move I am eager to make. Right now, he is providing strong work and value right where he is. If is ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There are a couple of right-handers in AAA who are pitching well who could be slotted into the bullpen. That at least provides an option for moving Kelly to the rotation and then releasing Leake if he is unable to adapt. Similar problems occur if any of those AAA options struggle though. None of them have options. If they did, James Sherfy would already have MLB innings under his belt this season as he is once again having another strong minor league showing.

All things considered, the areas of concern with the pitching are nothing compared to the areas of concern with the position players. Ketel Marte has improved slightly, but not by enough to stave off worries. Eduardo Escobar’s struggles have only increased (OPS+ 68). Now he is having difficulties in the field as well, though no one ever expected him to be perfect there. Then there is Kole Calhoun. As much as his defense in right shines, his bat erases all of it and then some. In past seasons, he had good seasons and then somewhat rough seasons in what seemed to be an alternate pattern. This is not just a rough season though. Calhoun is downright awful at the plate right now (OPS+ 78).

With such limited playing time, Jake Lamb has not had an opportunity to show he can hit better than Escobar. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the team will experience much success by giving Lamb more starts. However, Escobar’s leash is getting shorter. If he continues to put up sub-Ahmed numbers, something is going to have to change. If Escobar struggles much longer, Lamb’s ability to draw walks might just make him a more valuable contributor all by itself. Andy Young continues to wait in the wings, but third base is not the position he thrives in the most. Also, bringing him up would necessitate trading at least one of Lamb or Escobar.

That brings things back to Calhoun. His glove and his durability still make him a decent candidate as a fourth outfielder. However, it is becoming clear that it might be time to call Virtual Torey Lovullo into the office and direct him to start playing Josh Rojas in right field more often. Given Calhoun’s strong upside and the fact that he played at it as recently as last season, I have not given up completely on him. However, the team is 47 games into the season now. It is likely Calhoun only has until the next off-day to start showing signs of life. If the move has not been made by then to insert Rojas in as the starting right fielder, it will be.

Ketel Marte is simply going to wear his struggles. Either he will bounce back at some point, or he won’t the job is his, regardless. The team is not moving on from Marte without some sort of epic return that falls into the stupidly silly category. I mean, if the Blue Jays want to give up Bo Bichette and Vlad Jr. I won’t stand in the way. Or, if the Angels are looking to swap Mike Trout, I think I can find the financial wiggle room to make a Marte trade for Trout possible. Since that level of insanity is unlikely, count on Ketel Marte to remain in the starting lineup through game 162.

Despite being tied with Brandon Crawford for the NL lead in errors made by shortstops (7), Nick Ahmed continues to play at a level of defense that sets him apart. Though his bat is not repeating its 2019 “breakout”, he is still providing more value with his glove than he is giving away at the plate.

Current Potential Trade “Solutions”

The best current;y available solution for addressing the offense requires no sort of trade. Josh Rojas looks to be an upgrade over Kole Calhoun. Furthermore, there is a relatively easy path to adding Andy Young to the lineup, though that necessitates making a trade to make some room. Addressing the pitching comes down to improving the left-handed aspect of the bullpen.

Right now, still in May, there are two potential targets that make some sense. One is to trade Jake Lamb for Drew Pomeranz of the San Diego Padres. There is, obviously, risk in this trade. In 2019, Pomeranz was strong for Milwaukee and then tanked hard when he was traded to San Francisco. This season, Pomeranz is one of the best relievers in baseball - so far. In 22 games he has 21 23 IP, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 0.49 ERA. Trading for Pomeranz means taking on a small amount of salary (just over $340K). It also means taking on the risk of a guy who has a spotty track record and is also out of minor league options. Then of course, there is the fact that the deal would be with the Padres, a team still in the hunt for the NL West, right alongside the Diamondbacks. The upside is, if Pomeranz stays the course, he is a huge upgrade over Alex Young. In fact, he would be among the best arms out there. It also means making room for Andy Young to be added to the 26-man roster. Although Young basts right-handed instead of left, as Lamb does, he can still be deployed in the same manner as Lamb. Escobar could cover first on days Christian Walker needs a breather, making room for Young at third. Then, Young can also just give Escobar days off as well. Young has, so far, shown a better bat than either Escobar or Lamb, so he would be an upgrade. Young could then head back to Reno to get right again.

The other potential trade solution is to trade for Kansas City’s Mike Montgomery. With K.C. being in a full-on rebuild, they are willing to take a moderately lukewarm body in return for Montgomery, so long as the Diamondbacks pick up 100% of his salary, which would add a hair over $2 million to Arizona’s payroll. On the flip-side, KC is willing to take 27-year-old right-handed relief pitcher, Cameron Gann, who is still trolling about in A-ball. The downside is, Montgomery is out of options. Also, he is currently pitching as a starter, though he has significant relief experience as well. As a starter though, he is having quite the hell of a season, making it more difficult to justify tossing him in the bullpen to replace Alex Young. Another problem is, that leaves the Diamondbacks with roughly $1.4 million in total to work with for making deals for the rest of the season.

For the record, Assistant GM, Virtual Mike Hazen, does not like either of these trades. In both cases, Hazen feels the team is giving up too much for what it is getting back. I have a hard time agreeing in the Montgomery instance, though the salary hit is problematic.

I am not yet ready to pull the trigger on any deals. This is, after all, a simulation to see how the team that was assembled would do. However, it is also true that if the Diamondbacks are truly contending and are only two games out of a division title, they will absolutely look for some low-cost ways to improve on the team.

The Diamondbacks next off-day is next Monday. Unless one of the virtual GMs reaches out with a truly good deal, it is unlikely the trigger will be pulled on a deal before then.