The Arizona Diamondbacks have signed another core player to a contract extension, this time with pitcher Merrill Kelly. The D-backs signed Kelly out of Korea following the 2018 season with the gamble that he could develop into a reliable starter. Over his three seasons in Arizona, Kelly made 64 starts and pitched to a 4.27 ERA and 4.6 bWAR in 372 2⁄3 innings. Kelly overcame thoracic outlet syndrome to post his best year in a D-backs uniform in 2021, making 27 starts and delivering 2.5 bWAR in value on a 52-win team. The team is gambling on him to be able to provide similar value the next two seasons, even though those are Kelly’s Age 34 and 35 seasons.
Here’s what the extension means for the D-backs moving forward:
Taking care of a hometown talent for the fan base
Kelly grew up in Scottsdale and went to Desert Mountain High School before taking his talents to Arizona State. For the fans, it’s always a great story to have a local player get their chance to contribute for the team. Kelly isn’t a star player for the team, but his career in Arizona will last at least six years.
More starting rotation stability for two more years
Kelly is arguably the one pitcher in this rotation where you don’t worry about if he can provide 30 starts in a season. Kelly made 32 starts as a rookie in 2019 and 27 in 2021, with his absence being COVID related. In his career Kelly has averaged just under 6 innings per start, which helps to take pressure off the bullpen. Through the 2024 season, the team will have Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly, and Zac Gallen leading the top of the rotation while they phase in some of their top pitching prospects over the next three years.
Kelly is worth the money if healthy
If 2021 is the baseline instead of the peak, then the D-backs will have no issues with this contract. It’s a huge gamble as Kelly is now at the age where pitchers really start to decline physically. While never truly reliant on velocity, Kelly still boasted a fastball that averaged 91.7 MPH and got good results on his curveball and cutter. He spent much of the offseason trying to improve the change-up and he was able to get the results he wanted against the Giants when he struck out 8 of 9 hitters on March 23rd. If he can get that 4th pitch working for him, I think he’ll age well throughout the contract.
D-backs not looking to sell, end rebuild
The final phase of a rebuild is picking the right players to lead your team back on the path to winning. The team already extended Ketel Marte earlier this week and have done the same with Kelly. It’s a sign that this current front office believes in the current core of players in addition to the organization’s top prospects being able to get this team into the playoffs sooner rather than later.