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Diamondbacks non-tenders and contract deals: Christian Walker stays, Taylor Clarke leaves

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A busy kinda day on both ends of the spectrum.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Non-tenders

November 30th marks the deadline for all 30 MLB organizations to decide whether or not to tender a contract to players that are under team control, most notably arbitration eligible players. By the end of the day, teams have to decide whether or not a player under the arbitration process is worth keeping around at a raise or elect to non-tender them. Non-tendered players become free agents, eligible to sign with whomever they want.

The big news is that the D-backs have, according to Nick Piecoro, tendered first baseman Christian Walker a contract. He seemed a likely candidate to go, considering both his very underwhelming 2020, and the recent arrival of 1B/OF Jordan Luplow. After being solid at the plate in both 2019 and 2020 (OPS+ of 111 and 112 respectively), while also being a Gold Glove finalist in 2019, Walker slumped to a line of just .244/.315/.382, a .696 OPS and 88 OPS+. His overall value was just 0.5 bWAR, down from 2.8 bWAR in the last full season of 2019. With an MLB Trade Rumors estimate of $2.7 million for 2022, the D-backs apparently in cost-cutting mode, and alternatives such as Pavin Smith, many expected him to be cut.

Instead, Piecoro says the only non-tender for the team this year is reliever Taylor Clarke. Our third-round pick in 2015, he was one of the most active members of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen this season, appearing in 43 games, a total number exceeded only by Joe Mantiply and Caleb Smith. However, the results weren’t good, Clarke’s ERA being 4.98, though his FIP was considerably lower, at 3.54. He had a K:BB ratio of 39:14 over 43.1 innings of work. He was going to be in his first year of arbitration eligibility, having just made it there as a “Super Two” player, part of the small group each season who get to qualify after two-plus years of service time.

Contracts agreed

A trio of bullpen arms also agreed to contracts with the Diamondbacks, avoiding arbitration - I think the imminent expiration of the CBA may have concentrated minds. J.B. Wendelken was the first of these, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $835K. He was one of Mike Hazen’s dumpster diving relievers, having been picked up off waivers from the Oakland Athletics. All told, he had a reasonable year, putting up an ERA of 4.33 across his time with both teams, which totaled 43.2 innings. He had 39 strikeouts and 22 walks in that time, for a 2021 FIP of 4.09. This is his first year of arbitration, and he is under team control through the end of 2024. It was slightly below the MLB Trade Rumors estimate of $900K.

With Arizona, opponents hit .221/.312/.368 although his ERA stayed roughly similar at 4.34. Late in the season, Wendelken would get a few closer opportunities and could be first man up in that category. One thing that is concerning is the lack of missed bats plus the jump in hard hit rate, something that has been a problem in the Arizona bullpen. Wendelken is a sinker, slider, change-up pitcher who gets a lot of arm-side run on a mid-90s sinker and his slider tunnels well off the pitch. The D-backs get a chance to see if Wendelken can provide somewhere in between 2020 and 2021 value and if he can handle the 9th inning while saving a smidge in arbitration costs.

Also avoiding arbitration was Noe Ramirez. who was in his second arbitration-eligible campaign. He was a little more expensive, coming in at $1.25 million for his one-year contract. Ramirez was arguably even further down the dumpster, having been freed by both the Reds and the Angels this year, signing for the D-backs on May 22. This one was actually well under the estimate of $1.8 million, and even below Jack’s prediction of $1.62 million. Ramirez had a 3.00 ERA over a total of 36 innings, with a K:BB of 29:12. His FIP was a bit higher, at 3.89, but after the year our bullpen had, we’ll take that in 2022.

For with the rest of the bullpen devolving into a disaster, Ramirez provided the team with some stability late in the game, particularly in the 7th and 8th innings as the season wore on. Ramirez doesn’t throw particularly hard, sitting upper 80s with the fastball but relies on deception and movement to yield weak fly ball contact for outs with the occasional whiff. With the team loading up on higher octane arms in the bullpen for 2022, having someone like Ramirez gives teams a different type of pitcher to worry about. Expect him to resume his setup man role in the bullpen in 2022.

Finally, Smith also signed, avoiding his second go-around at the arbitration process, with a $2 million deal. As noted, he was active this year, both as in the rotation (13 starts) and out of the bullpen (32 relief appearances). The results were a bit lumpy, with a 4.83 ERA, although that was mostly due his struggles in a starting role (6.95 ERA). As a reliever, he was considerably more effective. Over 56.2 innings there, he had a 2.70 ERA and a K:BB of 59:23, so I imagine that’s the role which he will be occupying for the team in 2022. Zach Buchanan of The Athletic was the first with all three bits of news.

That leaves the team with three arbitration-eligible players: Carson Kelly, Walker and Luke Weaver. Teams have until January 14 to come to terms with their players, though the looming expiration of the CBA may end up throwing a wrench into that. And to close out the day, this bit of news regarding an old friend.