We are now getting close to three months since the end of the 2020 season, and the team has done... very little, especially considering they finished last in the National League West. Indeed, discounting the prospects added to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, there is not a single player on Arizona’s 40-man roster, who wasn’t already there when the World Series ended on October 27. The team did pick up pitcher Taylor Guilbeau on waivers from the Mariners a few days previously, and also acquired right-hander Rogelio Armenteros similarly in December, but then lost him the same way to the Nationals. It has certainly been the quietest winter I can recall.
The reasons are obvious: massive uncertainty. We’re less than a month from pitchers and catchers supposedly reporting to spring training, and we just don’t know in what shape that will take place, if at all. When will the regular season start? Will there be 162 games, or fewer than that? Are fans going to be allowed in the stands? Is the National League going to use a designated hitter again? What size will rosters be? The answers all factor into both the composition of the team - and probably even more important, how much revenue the team will have to spend in 2021. It would be foolish to leap into anything based on expectations, especially given COVID-19’s nasty tendency to re-invent itself.
So the lack of action is both entirely understandable, and not limited to the D-backs. But it still remains a bit frustrating. When the off-season began, we asked you what areas the team needed most to improve, and the answers there probably remain as relevant now as they were then. I’m going to take a look at the four areas mentioned, beginning with the one which was seen as least significant, the Arizona infield (getting 4% of the vote), and moving on up from there. But it’s not as if there was no room for improvement on our infield. Indeed, looking at Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Average by position. the D-backs came in below average at catcher, first-base and third-base.
However, it seems the team is largely looking to the incumbents just... playing better. At catcher, Carson Kelly had a very disappointing year, after looking ripe to break out. He was worth 1.7 bWAR in his age 24 season, but slumped to below replacement level (-0.4 bWAR) last year. His bat, in particular, deserted him and he lost forty points of OPS+, going from 111 to 71. While that’s not quite Jeff Mathis, it was still severely disappointing, and we’ll need a strong rebound from Kelly, if he is indeed to become our first “long-term catcher” since... Oh, I dunno: the days of Miguel Montero? Stephen Vogt was even worse with the bat, so if that continues, we may end up seeing Daulton Varsho get more time behind the plate.
I was a bit surprised to see first base come in as a position of weakness, the D-backs ranking ahead of only the Pirates and Nationals at the position. Christian Walker didn’t have a bad year with the bat, but bWAR was less than impressed with his defense at the position (there was no pleasant surprise in a Gold Glove nomination this season), and that meant, prorated, there was a full win less from Walker in 2020. With no Jake Lamb and failed DH Kevin Cron off to Japan, it will be interesting to see who spells Walker. Pavin Smith might be the most likely candidate. Though Christian has held his own in platoon splits, having actually hit righties 25 OPS points better than lefties over his career.
The question at second-base is to what extent it will be occupied by Ketel Marte, since the team is back to needing an everyday center fielder. His flexibility does give the team flexibility in return, meaning they can look at the market, and figure out which position offers the best value. If a cheap 2B shows up, snag them, and use Ketel in center - the reverse is also possibly true. On the infield, the alternatives used last season included our pair of Joshes: VanMeter and Rojas. Both are likely to be in the mix again for 2021, depending on how things shake down. Which one gets the nod is likely to come down to who hits better. Both were below the Uecker Line in 2020.
Shortstop = Nick Ahmed. I’m kinda tempted to leave it at that. But it’s startling to realize that only David Peralta has played more games for the team among current players. And it’s a LONG drop-off after Ahmed, with Ketel Marte more than 250 games back of him. If we get a full season in, Nick will likely end the year seventh on the team’s all-time appearance list. And with two more seasons under contract after that, he could end up second only to Luis Gonzalez, if the Freight Train jumps the tracks for some place else. Given the demands of the shortstop position, it’s very impressive he has missed only 14 games in the last three years. Only the A’s Marcus Semien has appeared more among shortstops over 2018-20.
Third base offers perhaps the biggest chance for the team to improve, considering they finished dead last in the NL there, 1.3 bWAR below average at the hot corner. As makakilo discussed yesterday, a lot of that is on Eduardo Escobar who had his worst season with the bat since his rookie campaign in 2012. I like to think that was an aberration, and if he can at least get back to his career numbers (OPS+ of 97), that will be nice. However, Escobar is now 32, so is well onto the back side of the aging curve. On the other hand, this is his final season under team control. So if he wants to get anything more than an invite to spring training, he will be very well motivated to have a contract year level of performance.
There is certainly some upside around the infield, with catcher and third-base offering perhaps the biggest opportunity for improvement. But below is a poll asking which of these five positions concerns you most. Please explain your reasoning in the comments...
What infield position most concerns you in 2021?
This poll is closed