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SnakePit Round Table: And, so, it begins

Opening day is no longer on the horizon. It’s Thursday.

Cincinnati Reds v. Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

What’s your take on the extensions to Ketel Marte and Merrill Kelly?

Jack: They are good value deals. I heard that the team was not getting any really great offers for Ketel, so extending him to a team friendly deal made sense. If he has a couple of healthy seasons and does what he can do when fully healthy, the team will be back in the driver’s seat. The team will either have improved, and he will be a central part of it, or in the worst case, if the younger players around him don’t step up and make this a competitive team, then Ketel’s trade value will be back up and they can see what market will bear at that time. Similar, although less pronounced situation with Merrill. His deal is shorter obviously. If the team is competitive by 2023 or 2024 they have a solid mid rotation starter on a cheap contract. If the team is still floundering, they have a very valuable mid-season trade chip, when and if they decide to pull that trigger.

Spencer: I like both deals. I’m not worried about Marte’s in the slightest. He’s a good player and *should* keep playing extremely well through the life of the deal. I’m a little worried about Kelly’s deal just because he’s on the wrong side of 30. The money is small, though so if he ends up failing, it won’t be hugely detrimental to the team. Mostly though, I am excited about both deals. I love both players, and I am glad I won’t have to watch them play elsewhere.

Makakilo: Extending Ketel Marte on a team friendly contract was excellent because Ketel Marte is one of the best players in the Majors and because he is a core player the Diamondbacks can build around.

  • He was ranked #3 in MLB Network’s Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now.
  • He was ranked #72 in MLB.com’s Top 100 Players Right Now.

I’m luke warm on extending Merrill Kelly because he is 33 years old. Let’s look at two statistics from 2021 to compare Kelly to a possible opening day rotation:

  • 101 ERA+, 5.05 Innings per start, Luke Weaver
  • 99 ERA+, 5.28 Innings per start, Zac Gallen
  • 96 ERA+, 5.85 Innings per start, Merrill Kelly
  • 91 ERA+, 5.63 Innings per start, Madison Bumgarner
  • 74 ERA+, 4.63 Innings per start, Zach Davies (ERA+ expected to bounce back)

My conclusions are that they recognized the value of Kelly’s high innings per start, and Brent Strom likely made a positive impact in spring training.

Justin: I am in favor of both. I will admit, my initial knee jerk reaction to the Marte extension was, “They couldn’t sign Goldy, but they can do this?” Blake pointed out that there is a huge price difference and Marte is 4 years younger. I mean, I guess I knew that, but yay fanboy-ness? I guess? I now see the value in Marte’s deal. I was glad they extended Kelly. Like… we are going to suck for the next couple of years so might as well have someone who likes being here and is ok?

James: I like both extensions, even though I am a bit confused by them. If they aren’t flipping Marte to instantly upgrade to a being a better team today, then they needed to extend him. At the same time, I worry about the future payroll. Is Marte’s deal going to follow the same path as previous such deal, namely Goldy (and to a lesser extent Young)? Marte’s deal is obscenely team friendly. That should give them financial wiggle room to pursue another high impact player. My concern is, the honest contention window is still 2025. THat leaves him with only two guaranteed years left on the deal. If he is over-performing the deal the way many expect, it makes him a tradeable asset again as much as it makes him a foundational piece for the next playoff team. Will the team actually spend at that point to make a push? Or will they go the Goldy route and look to flip Marte instead of making a serious investment? Of course, those are future problems and not current ones. For now, I’m happy to see Marte man the keystone and looking forward to seeing what he can do if he is able to remain healthy and also happy, as he will be at his preferred position.

As for the Kelly extension, I think it is smart money. I am ambivalent about it beyond that. I have a long history at the pit of advocating for making solid investment in league average inning-eaters. Currently, Kelly is that. Even if he declines some, all the team really needs to get is about 1 WAR/season for the team to break even. I think this is a damn sight better allocation of resources for the sort of team Arizona is than spending on the likes of Ian Kennedy, or even Mark Melancon. The risk is lower and the payoff is far more immediate. I just hope that if Kelly’s stuff slips over the next few seasons, his payroll number does not mandate a rotation spot. Pitch him from wherever he is best and can help the team. If the prospects actually impress like many are hoping and if Kelly ages some, don’t let his price keep him from shining in more limited fashion in the bullpen to help assist those young arms that are not going to be throwing 180-200 IP.

Dano: Pleased with both, though honestly I’m concerned about Ketel’s track record with injuries. Kelly, though, overjoys me, because he always shows up, does his job, eats innings, and gets at least decent results nearly every time out. Not so worried about the age thing with him, either, because he’s not a power pitcher, he pitches to contact and always has done, so I expect he’ll be able to continue to adapt as his velocity or what have you begin to decline.

Who’ll get the most starts at 3B for the D-backs this year, and why?

Jack: Edited comment: Just learned about Rojas injury. That being the case I guess the player who will get the most starts is not currently on the roster.

Spencer: A week ago I would have said Ellis because Rojas is best utilized as a super utility guy. But Ellis got sent back to Reno, so I guess it’s Rojas? So long as his bat stays the same (or gets better!), I’m ok with trying him as a full time third baseman. Edit for the injury: Ellis, I suppose.

Makakilo: Let’s look at who played the position during spring training through 2 April. The following is my count of at-bats while playing third base; OPS is for all at-bats while playing any position.

  • 15 ABs, Drew Ellis, .592 OPS in spring training, optioned to minors, AAA.
  • 13 ABs, Josh Rojas, 1.037 OPS in spring training.
  • 9 ABs, Matt Davidson, .549 OPS in spring training. NRI, AAA.
  • 8 ABs, Buddy Kennedy, .667 OPS in spring training, NRI, AAA.
  • 7 ABs, C.J. Chatham, .667 OPS in spring training, NRI, AAA.
  • 5 ABs, Deyvison De Los Santos, .167 OPS in spring training, NRI, A.
  • 3 ABs, Sergio Alcantara, .573 OPS in spring training.
  • 3 ABs, Jake Hager, .698 OPS in spring training, NRI,AAA.
  • 2 ABs, Ryan Bliss, 1.214 OPS in spring training, NRI, A+.
  • 2 ABs, AJ Vukovich, 1.000 OPS in spring training, NRI, A+.

Based on who played third base during spring training, Josh Rojas will be the primary third baseman, perhaps with Sergio Alcantara (who has great arm strength) as his backup. In case of injury, Drew Ellis could be called up from AAA.

UPDATE: Josh Rojas will miss weeks due to an oblique strain. Whether Rojas gets the most starts at third base depends on whether the Diamondbacks acquire a third baseman externally. A few possibilities follow:

  • Sign free agent Asdrubal Cabrera. Last season he played for the Diamondbacks and the Reds.
  • Trade with the Angels for Michael Stefanic. His home-run to plate-appearance ratio increased from about .01 in A+ and AA to .035 in AAA. In October of 2021, Alex Chamberlain wrote that he liked his “bat to ball ability” despite his low launch angle. In February, The Birchwood Brothers wrote that he could be a cheap or lightly regarded player “who might do something this season.”
  • Trade with the Marlins for Brian Anderson. Last season, his OPS+ fell to 95, but it is likely to bounce back to at least average. His 3 DRS at third base ranked 14th, which is above average. His OAA was zero at third base. In spring training more than half his fielding was in the outfield, which was a mistake because that is not where he will succeed.
  • This week watch for waivers of highly skilled third basemen.

“Somebody will step in and get that opportunity. The most important feature of his [Josh Rojas’] replacement will be somebody that’s going to pick up the baseball and operate at full speed while they play defense. That’s top priority for me right now.” – Torey Lovullo.

Justin: I was going to say Josh Rojas before reading the above. Ellis makes sense if Rojas and Alcantara struggle in a “might as well, we have nothing else” way.

Edit- Now that Rojas is injured, I am going with Ellis.

James: Given developments in spring, including injuries and trades, I tend to agree that Rojas is going to see the bulk of the time there. I don’t particularly think that is a good idea, but I think that is the route they will commit to, for better or worse. If he proves to be a defensive hack over there in the vein of a former Cuban “slugger”, then I think Matt Davidson is probably next in line, followed by another small sample size of Drew Ellis to finish out the season. I still don’t rule out Wilmer Difo appearing at some point, but the acquisition of Alcantara (who could see a few emergency innings at 3B) makes that far less likely.

Dano: I honestly have no idea, so I’ll bow to the common wisdom regarding Rojas. I saw both Ellis and Alcantara play last night, and neither impressed me at the plate. Ellis was actually manning 1B and did fine. Alcantara, despite his defensive bona fides, made a pretty boneheaded error on a challenging but not terribly difficult grounder down the line, and also failed to throw out the White Sox DH on a fairly hard hit grounder in the fifth that it seemed like he fielded in plenty of time. So who the hell knows?

Who’ll get most starts at CF for the D-backs this year, and why?

Jack: This is a very tricky question. Almost impossible to predict. If Alek Thomas is killing it in Reno then he has to be up here playing CF every day by mid May. But there is no guarantee that he’ll stick right away. 9 K in 29 spring PA shows he still has some growing to do facing higher level pitching. And we won’t know how that goes until he gets back up to the majors and faces higher level pitching for “real”. Assuming Thomas sticks, it would be him of course.

That’s why they keep giving Varsho reps in RF. If Thomas returns and sticks then Varsho has to compete with Jake McCarthy and Pavin Smith for RF playing time. At that point, one of McCarthy or Smith are going to have to give way…..unless Varsho isn’t hitting and Herrera is doing a better job backing up Kelly than Varsho……then Varsho could lose out. See….it’s a tangled mess.

Spencer: I think Jack summed up the cluster that exists between the Outfield and Catching in Arizona. It’s a weird baseball problem to have. For center though, I’m going to say it’s McCarthy this year, but it’ll be close between him and Thomas come October. I figure this all hinges on Thomas’ bat development. If he can hit Reno running and make strides once he’s up in Phoenix, he’ll have it until Carroll is ready to wrestle him for it. But if he hits the normal speed bumps, we can do worse than McCarthy/Varsho. I just hope the Smith CF experiment is over.

Makakilo: Alek Thomas is not yet ready. His .572 OPS in spring training was less than McCarthy’s .956 OPS and Varsho’s .806 OPS. Nevertheless, I expect he will be called up during the season.

The comparison of Daulton Varsho and Jake McCarthy is complex and unclear to me.

  • Spring Training Offense: McCarthy had a better OPS, but Varsho’s 3 homers in 33 PAs showed solid contact. Varsho had fewer strikeouts (8 in 33 PAs vs 13 in 30 PAs).
  • 2021 Defense. McCarthy had better Defensive Runs Saved (1 DRS vs negative 2 DRS), while Varsho had better Outs Above Average (2 OAA vs 1 OAA).

My view is that Varsho’s positional flexibility will be the tiebreaker so that he gets the most starts in center field, with McCarthy entering the game later.

Justin: Is just looking at the others answers and nodding in agreement acceptable?

James: Jack hits most of my thoughts. I would prefer to see the split more along the lines of McCarthy then Thomas if Thomas is faking with Varsho just ensconced in LF, but we all know that isn’t happening. I think Varsho gets 200+ ABs as the CF right now, assuming he continues to hit. I think, unless Thomas stumbles badly, he gets brought up around the ASG. Then it will be a race for who gets the most innings in CF, largely dictated by how players not named Thomas and Varsho are performing (and injuries of course).

Dano: Doing what Justin is doing. If two of us are doing it, it is by definition acceptable.

What do you want out of the 2022 season?

Jack: By the end of 2022 I hope that at least two starting pitchers and two relievers that will not be on the 2022 opening day roster have established themselves as “must haves” for the 2023 roster.

Spencer: I want a World Series Trophy! Realistically? Fine. I’ll be happy to have a couple things:

  • First, 1-3 prospect debuts that don’t fully fall on their face and offer a glimpse to what 2025 could look like.
  • Second, stop using all our plays as utility types! Having Rojas in a Zobrist-esque roll is great, but Marte should be a Second Baseman. Varsho needs to find a true home. Smith needs to be a First Baseman and Beer needs to focus on MLB pitching without worrying about trying to play defense.

If by October we have some youth to be excited about and generally know who will be manning each position for the Roarin’ 20’s Baby Backs, I’ll consider it a good enough season.

Makakilo: Reach mount 500 with a couple players breaking out and joining Ketel Marte as All-Stars.

Justin: Spencer and I are on the same brain wave for this one.

James: Enough playing time for the younger players, in positions that suit them, for the team to have some clarity as to what a semi-competitive 2023 roster will look like. I sort of like Jack’s criteria of identifying two starters and two relievers. I also would add that the team needs Pavin Smith to step up in a big way, or be fully prepared to move on. Christian Walker still hanging about makes that much more difficult.

Dano: I can get behind all of the above, but honestly, my hopes are even more modest. I would be happy to see ONE, just ONE, of our “touted pitching prospects” actually make a successful transition from Reno to the big league club this year. When was the last time we actually enjoyed the services of a competent, effective, homegrown starting pitcher over the course of a season? I honestly can’t remember. Similarly, just find someone who can take the yawning pit of suck that has been third base for YEARS, and make it their own, fielding the position competently and producing some offense as well, and basically being able to hold it down most every day. That’s all.

Pick a breakout player and a flop for the D-backs

Jack: Give me some Beer ! It’s entirely possible Beer busts out and rakes at a 120wRC+ or better clip. As for flop, I’m sorry, but one area where Mike Hazen’s baseball operations group does not get the benefit of the doubt is their ability to choose among veteran relief or closing options.(see below chart). Mark Melancon is 36 years old and showed extreme (3-4 MPH) drops in cutter velocity in spring training. I was counseled by one long term observer not to worry about it until the regular season starts, as being a veteran he might flip the switch. But he also said “you being you…I know you’ll worry about such things anyway”. ;)

Spencer: As I’m writing this, Ken Rosenthal just tweeted that San Diego is acquiring Manaea from Oakland. Can I choose him for my bust? No? Fine. I like VARSHO to break out this season. His bat and Outfield home will make him a fan favorite and All Star. You heard it here first. As for the bust… I think this might be the season we have to give up on Corbin MARTIN. He’s so far behind where he should be thanks to injuries, that despite all the cheap control the team still has, there are other better options to put time/effort into.

Makakilo: This season, with so many young players who could breakout, it’s delightfully different to recognize David Peralta as my breakout candidate. His rate of 8 RBIs in 28 PAs in spring training, if continued during the whole season, would be a career breakout high in RBIs. “I hear that train a-comin’…” — from the Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues.

Oliver Perez is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He is 40 years old. The odds are against him. If he makes the team as an active pitcher, only one active pitcher would be older than him - Rich Hill (per Baseball Reference Stathead search and per Wikipedia).

“Do not go gentle into that good night.” — Dylan Thomas

Justin: Breakout, I am going with Varsho and Smith. Flop: Melancon.

James: Biggest breakout, I will have to go with Beer. Josh Rojas and Daulton Varsho have already shown some breaking out, so it will be less of a surprise and also likely have less of an impact. Biggest flop, I will go with IPK. This is not the environment for him. Until his acquisition, I would have probably gone with Melancon, given that he’ll have the most opportunities for failure to hurt or be spectacular. Honorable mention goes to Pavin Smith. He is once again being set up to fail, and that never goes well, especially in the desert.

Dano: Beer for breakout, because who doesn’t love beer? As for the flop, I’m thinking/worrying that Spencer is right, either about Martin or about one of the other “highly touted pitching prospects who should be ready to contribute at the major league level at some point early in 2022.” Seems like, the past few years, all of those sorts wash out for us, and none of them ever, ever achieve their potential until we dispose of them and they go someplace else.

Post-Reds Game addendum: As an alternate answer if you don’t like the above, both Kennedy and Melancon are going to flop, and Oliver Perez is going to wind up closing out games for us, and doing it surprisingly effectively, by the middle of May. #hottakeTM

Who’ll win the 2022 World Series?

Jack: The AL looks a lot stronger to me this year. Whoever comes out of the AL will win the world series. This won’t make me popular, but I’ll pick the Yankees.

Spencer: Toronto Blue Jays over the Milwaukee Brewers in 6 games. Vladdy Jr. for MVP!

Makakilo: The Blue Jays. Last season’s fourth place finish in the AL East makes them a dark horse until you consider they won 91 games. And until you consider their success in acquiring players in this active offseason. In the offseason, they signed 12 free agents, and traded for third baseman Matt Chapman (3X gold Glove, 2X Platinum glove, Wilson defensive player of the year), who is ranked #83 in MLB.com’s Top 100 Players Right Now.

One of many returning players worth noting is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (48 homers last season with Silver Slugger award; finished second for the AL MVP behind Ohtani) . He is ranked #8 in MLB.com’s Top 100 Players Right Now.

Other notable Blue Jays are shortstop Bo Bichett and center fielder George Springer, who are ranked #32 and #33 in MLB.com’s Top 100 Players Right Now.

Three of their starting pitchers (Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, and Jose Berrios) were first round draft picks, as were two starting pitchers (Nate Pearson, and Anthony Kay) in AAA. Kevin Gausman is ranked #74 and Jose Berrios #97 in MLB.com’s Top 100 Players Right Now.

The Blue Jays hitting coach, Jaime Vieira did a thesis for her Masters Degree that involved collecting data on baseball swings. She excels at coaching players to help them with the results of her research. You can anticipate that I will write an article about her sometime this season.

Justin: Honestly, I will also go with the Blue Jays, but I agree with Jack. Whomever wins the AL Pennant will win the World Series. My first pick in the Snakepit Minors draft was Bo Bichette…

James: I am dreading the very real possibility of a Yankees/Dodgers World Series. In that scenario, I’m rooting for the Yankees. However, I do like the possibility of the Blue Jays coming along and winning one for the Canucks. I’m just not sold they have the pitching necessary for a playoff run.

Dano: I feel like trying to “predict” this before the season has even started is basically throwing darts with your off hand when you suck at darts, so I’m not even going to try. Just for laughs, and because it would be awesome if it happened, I’m going to stick with the common wisdom about the AL but propose that the Seattle Mariners will finally go all the way and bring home the World Series title to the Pacific Northwest.