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Diamondbacks decline Calhoun, Clippard options, exercise Kelly

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Pretty much as expected.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There have been rumblings for a few days, and it seemed largely pre-determined, but now it’s official.

Technically, the Arizona Diamondbacks had a few days to come to a decision in regard to whether or not to exercise their options on Kole Calhoun, Tyler Clippard and Merrill Kelly. But the speed with which a decision was announced perhaps reflects the fact that all three were virtually foregone conclusions. With the team coming off a 110-loss season, the D-backs had cheaper alternatives for both Calhoun and Clippard (whether they are better or not... Well, that remains to be seen). Kelly was the team's most reliable starting pitcher, and that kind of thing doesn't come cheap. But let's look at each in a bit more depth

Kole Calhoun

$9 million team option declined, $2 million buy-out. It's probably safe to say the Diamondbacks would have been better off not signing Calhoun in December 2019. Pro-rating 2019's $6m salary, then adding on this year's $8m and the buyout, they paid $12.2 million for 101 games of slightly above average offense (107 OPS+), defense that was enthusiastic rather than efficient and a total value of 1.3 bWAR. This year was wrecked by injury, Calhoun appearing in 51 games.

He turned 34 last month and a $9m outfielder feels like a luxury on a team almost certain to be below .500 next year. That's especially so, with the team not short of options who hit left-handed, like Arizona native Calhoun. Pavin Smith, Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy and veteran David Peralta all bat from that side of the plate, and that's just the 40-man roster. As noted in the team’s Tweet, it currently had 37 on it, as the team makes room for prospects in advance of next month's Rule 5 draft.

Tyler Clippard

$3.5 million mutual option declined, $500K buyout. Like Calhoun, Clippard's season was disrupted by health issues. When signed, he seemed likely to be the latest Mike Hazen veteran ex-closer, but Tyler 3upicked up only six saves, largely because he did not take the mound for Arizona until July 21. He was reasonably effective when present, with a 3.20 ERA over 25.1 innings. But the peripherals were a set of red flashing lights, with Clippard posting his lowest strikeout rate since 2008. His FIP (fielding- independent ERA) was more than a run and a half higher, at 4.71, suggesting he could be in line for regression next year.

He also turns 37 in February, though age is less a barrier for relief pitchers than most positions. But, again, the team has cheaper alternatives, and being blunt, there may not be that many save opportunities to be had for whoever closes Diamondbacks' games nexreturning ar. Clippard's six saves were tied with Joakim Soria (also not returning in 2022) for the team lead. Next was Stefan Crichton's four, so he seems the heir incumbent. Well, until the likely inevitable signing of another veteran ex-closer by Hazen, anyway.

Merrill Kelly

$5.25 million team option exercised. All told, this means that Kelly will have been a Diamondback for four seasons, and earned about $12.3 million (after pro-rating). This has proved to be one of Mike Hazen’s most effective free-agent signings, with Kelly having mad 64 starts at fractionally above league average (102 OPS+; note that average starter ERA+ is a little below 100, since relievers are generally above 100). He led the team in both starts and innings pitched this year, going 7-11 with a 4.44 ERA (his FIP was 4.11). This was a good bounceback performance after his 2020 campaign was curtailed, ending in thoracic outlet surgery.

It’s still hard to say what the Diamondbacks rotation will look like next year. Right now, Kelly, Madison Bumgarner and Zac Gallen appear to have locks on spots. But nobody else made more than 13 starts in 2021. Luke Weaver, Caleb Smith and Taylor Widener are the most likely candidates among those who were semi-regular in 2021. But other names will also be in consideration, such as Edwin Uceta, recently picked up off waivers from the Dodgers, I’d not be at all surprised to see spring training competition for at least one back of the rotation slot.