What determines a core player?
My contention is that core means more than performance, which can be quantified by statistics. In the absence of trades, fans perceive that a core player will play for their team for years.
Over the last 10 years, let’s look at three rare & remarkable markers of core Diamondbacks:
- The Diamondbacks signed a free agent with a high dollar contract of at least $50 Million.
- The Diamondbacks signed a high dollar extension contract of at least $32 Million.
- The player participated in at least 7 consecutive seasons as a Diamondback.
The Diamondbacks signed 3 free agents with a high dollar contract of at least $50 Million.
Yasmany Tomas’ contract was $68.5 Million for 6 years (2015 through 2020). He played 305 games in the Majors in 2015 through 2017. In 2016, his best season, his 108 OPS+ was above average. On the other hand, his defense that season was below average (negative 8 DRS in left field and negative 12 DRS in right field. In retrospect, this signing was a mistake.
Zack Greinke’s contract was $206.5 Million for 6 years (2016 through 2021). It was three times the size of the biggest free agent contract the Diamondbacks had ever signed. The $34.4 Million average per year was impressive. Pre-contract, he won a Cy Young, 2 Gold Gloves, and a Silver Slugger. Post-contract he won 4 more gold Gloves and another Silver Slugger. I’m confident that after he retires he will be voted into the Hall of Fame.
In 2017, the Diamondbacks made the playoffs, which may not have happened without Zack Greinke. Zack Greinke pitched in the wild card game (4 ERs in 3.2 innings) and the NLCS (3 ERs in 5 IP). My view is that signing Zack Greinke worked out well.
Half way through the fourth year of his contract, Zack Greinke was traded to the Astros with cash for Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas, Corbin Martin and Josh Rojas. I liked the trade.
“[The Diamondbacks] traded away an aging-Greinke, which eliminated risk of Greinke injury or Greinke ineffectiveness. They traded away 2+ seasons of Greinke while they added up to ten seasons of Corbin Maybin and JB Bukauskas. They improved the team with two position player prospects. $53 Million can be “reallocated” to improve the team. And it was a win-win trade because it increased the odds that the Astros win the World Series.” Makakilo, 4 August 2019
Madison Bumgarner’s contract was $85 Million for 5 years (2020 through 2024). He had won 3 silver sluggers, an NLCS MVP, and WS MVP. His first two seasons with the Diamondbacks were disappointing. However, this season he is pitching well above average (ERA+ of 228 on 12 May). My view is that this signing was less good than expected, but may have some upside going forward.
The Diamondbacks signed 8 high dollar extension contracts of at least $32 Million.
Five players were extended pre-Hazen and three players were extended during the Hazen years.
Pre-Hazen extensions follow:
Justin Upton’s $51.25 Million, 6 year extension started 2010. He was traded to the Braves prior to the 2013 season. Although his extension was through the 2016 season, because of the trade he barely made this list of core players. He played 5 seasons for the Diamondbacks.
Miguel Montero’s $60 Million, 5 year extension started 2013. He was traded to the Cubs prior to the 2015 season. He played 9 seasons for the Diamondbacks.
Martin Prado’s $40 Million, 4 year extension started 2013. A week after he was acquired, the Diamondbacks agreed to the extension contract. He was traded to the Yankees in July of 2014. Despite his short 1.5 seasons as a Diamondback, he met the criteria for a core player.
Paul Goldschmidt’s $32 Million, 5 year extension started 2014. He was traded to the Cardinals prior to the 2019 season. He played 8 seasons for the Diamondbacks.
Aaron Hill’s $35 Million, 3 year extension started 2014. He was traded to the Brewers prior to the 2016 season. He played 5 seasons for the Diamondbacks.
Hazen extensions follow:
Ketel Marte was extended twice: $24 Million, 4 years plus 2 option years started 2018, and $76 Million ($51 Million new money) 3 years plus an option year will start 2025. So far, he has played 6 seasons for the Diamondbacks. He will reach 12 seasons if his 2028 option is exercised.
Merrill Kelly was signed as a free agent starting 2019 for $15 Million, 2 years plus 2 option years. His extension will start 2023 for $25 Million, 2 years plus an option year. Please note that I combined the $15 Million and $25 Million to exceed the $32 Million threshold required for a core player. So far, he has played 4 seasons for the Diamondbacks. He will reach 7 seasons if his 2025 option is exercised.
Nick Ahmed’s $32.5 Million, 4 year extension started 2020. he has played 9 seasons for the Diamondbacks.
Eight players participated in at least 7 consecutive seasons as a Diamondback.
The list of players follows:
- David Peralta, 9 seasons.
- Nick Ahmed, 9 seasons.
- Miguel Montero, 9 seasons.
- Paul Goldschmidt, 8 seasons.
- AJ Pollock, 7 seasons.
- Jake Lamb, 7 seasons.
- Ketel Marte, 6 seasons, extended to 12 in 2028 option exercised.
- Merrill Kelly, 4 seasons, extended to 7 if 2025 option exercised.
Five of the 8 players were previously considered core via high-dollar contract extensions. The three additional core players were AJ Pollock, Jake Lamb, and David Peralta.
AJ Pollock. He was drafted by the Diamondbacks and participated in 7 seasons. In 2015, he played 157 games winning a Gold Glove. In September of 2015, James Attwood wrote that the Diamondbacks wanted to lock-up Pollock long term. Perhaps the fractured elbow in April 2016 changed their mind. Referring to his injuries, fans at the AZ Snake Pit sometimes called him Mr. Glass. Injuries were a factor in his average of 91 games a season over 7 seasons. He was extended for $10.25 Million for two years (2016 and 2017). Although that was less than a high value extension, he played for the Diamondbacks long enough to be considered core.
Jake Lamb. He was drafted by the Diamondbacks and participated in 7 seasons. In 2015, his above average 13 DRS ranked third in the Majors at third base. His defense fell to negative 5 and negative 8 the next two seasons. In 2016 and 1017, his 114/112 OPS+ was above average. Perhaps if he had maintained those numbers he would have been extended. Nevertheless, he played for the Diamondbacks long enough to be considered core.
David Peralta. In 2020, he was extended for $22 Million for three years (2020 through 2022). Although that was less than a high value extension, he played for the Diamondbacks long enough to be considered core. This season’s breakout is explored in an AZ Snake Pit article.
What do we know about core players?
The Diamondbacks drafted 4 of the 14 core players. They were Upton, Goldschmidt, Pollock, and Lamb.
The core players were distributed in many positions. Five were infielders, 4 were outfielders, 3 were starting pitchers, and one was a utility player (Martin Prado).
The core players had between zero and 12 years experience in the Majors before they were high-dollar signed or high-dollar extended. The distribution of experience was level. It was evenly distributed with 2 at zero (Tomas and Kelly), 3 at one to three years, 2 at four to six years, 3 at seven to nine years, and 3 at ten to twelve years.
When a core player was signed or extended, the age distribution was centered around 29-30 years old, with 4 younger and 4 older. There were four between 22-28 years old, five at 29-30 years old, and four at 31-34 years old.
The seasons with the most core players were 2014 through 2019, with 7 or 8 core players. Five core players participated in this season. Perhaps that is an indication that the diamondbacks are rebuilding.
With three exceptions, core players were signed or extended after excellent performance in the season immediately prior. Excellence performance was evident in above-average OPS+, ERA+ and/or a Gold Glove. Prior to Ketel Marte’s first extension, his OPS+ was 88, so he is one exception. Merrill Kelly played in Korean Baseball (KBO), so he another exception. Yasmany Tomas played in Cuba baseball (Industriales de La Habana), so he is the third exception.
The one that got away: why wasn’t Robbie Ray extended?
Robbie Ray won the Cy Young in 2021. Was it a one-year aberration, or did Robbie Ray reach a higher performance level? In either case, the Diamondbacks did not extend him in 2019 when it was discussed on the AZ Snake Pit. Jack Sommers wrote this AZ Snake Pit article about whether to extend, trade, or hold Robbie Ray.
Perhaps they acquired Madison Bumgarner and/or Merrill Kelly instead of extending Robbie Ray. Instead of a yes/no choice, it could have been a choice between which pitcher to acquire.
The following table shows the core Diamondbacks in the last ten years. Current core players were designated in purple text, and past core players who played at least 7 seasons for the Diamondbacks were designated in turquoise text.