These have been out for a couple of days, and I mentioned them in a Snake Bytes comment, but now I’ve got some more time, I want to take a look at these in a bit more detail. Every year, MLB Trade Rumors runs their model to predict the salaries that arbitration eligible players will end up getting. Until actual numbers are agreed, they’re as good an estimate as you’ll find. They matter, because they are one of the few ways in which the Diamondbacks have complete control over cost, in that they can decide not to tender any arbitration eligible player a contract. If they do that, he becomes a free agent, eligible to sign with any team, and Arizona has no further cost for them.
This is potentially important, because it appears likely the team will be looking to cut payroll, simply to make ends meet next year. They have had one season with no fans in attendance, followed by another where it was about half the last pre-COVID figure. While “game day” revenue does represent a smaller percentage of team income than it used to, it is still a significant factor. If we say it’s half of the money coming in, this means back to back seasons with only 50% and 75% of expected income. While payroll has remained reasonably stable, that may no longer be sustainable, with reductions having to be made.
Some numbers are fixed. Contracts have been agreed, and the only way out would be to trade the player concerned to another team - though even there, the D-backs may still be responsible for part of their salary, as with Zack Greinke. Then there are three players for whom there are 2022 options which may or may not be picked up. Kole Calhoun ($9m team option, $2m buyout); Tyler Clippard ($3.5m mutual option, $500K buyout) and Merrill Kelly ($5.25m team option, no buyout). The first two seem unlikely to be exercised; Kelly is harder to assess, but I’d not be surprised if he was kept. But we’ll get into that down the road. For now, here are the MLB Trade Rumors figures for the five arb-eligible Diamondbacks.
- Carson Kelly – $3 million
- Noe Ramirez – $1.8 million
- Caleb Smith – $2.1 million
- Christian Walker – $2.7 million
- Luke Weaver – $2.7 million
In total, that is a total of $12.3 million next year, for players who earned a total of about $5.8 million this season. How many of these are tendered contracts may be an indicator of how deep any payroll cuts end up going. If they are all retained, things might not be as bad as feared. But the more that are let go, the stronger are likely the indications the team is going for a full-on youth i.e. cheap movement. Walker may be the one in most potential risk of being let go. He had a very disappointing 2021 campaign. posting an OPS of just 88, and was worth only 0.6 bWAR. With Seth Beer (if healthy) and/or Pavin Smith around, the team does have cheaper options at first base.
Of the rest, Kelly seems sure to be tendered, while Weaver and Smith provide rotation depth and are likely to be safe. The former was one of only two players to start for Arizona who had an ERA+ of 100 or better (the other being Tyler Gilbert). I would like to think Ramirez is going to be safe. His 2.76 ERA was the best of any pitcher for Arizona with more than five innings. Even if his FIP (Fielding Independent ERA) was considerably higher, I’d take that 3.48 figure for next season. We just have to hope the Ramirez we get is the one from the last couple of years, rather than the pre-pandemic version. If so, then you really won’t find much better value for $1.8 million on the free-agent market.
December 1 is the cut-off date for these players to be offered contracts, so that’s something to keep an eye on as we head toward the winter meetings. However, non-tendering them earlier would open up a slot on the 40-man roster, which could be used to protect eligible prospects from the Rule 5 draft on December 9. That roster must be finalized by November 19, so we could potentially see some action earlier.