Has sustainability been accomplished?
Since Mike Hazen became the Diamondbacks GM, one imperative is to sustainability compete. More specifically, the imperative is to compete every year.
Although reaching for the World Series would be ideal, more realistically, reaching or nearly reaching the playoffs every season would be mission accomplished, at least from my viewpoint. By that definition, sustainability has not yet been accomplished.
Are the Diamondbacks on the road to sustainability?
The Diamondbacks farm system is making waves. In 2020 and 2021, MLB.com consistently ranked the Diamondbacks farm system as the 9th best in the Majors. In August of 2022, albeit before several Diamondbacks’ player debuts, the Diamondbacks’ farm system rank improved to 5th best in the Majors.
This month, Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com shared what MLB executives thought about MLB farm systems. The Diamondbacks were in fourth place, with 6% of executives voting that the Diamondbacks have the best farm system.
In summary, the ranking of the Diamondbacks’ farm system has risen to be one of the top 5. That shows a brighter future, but will that bright future arrive soon?
Let’s look at measures that show more immediate sustainability.
How many pre-arb players made their debut?
Pre-arb players are relatively affordable. Their salaries are near league minimum (ignoring bonuses for the players who receive votes for things like rookie of the year). Unlike arb players, their salary does not significantly increase each season. Filling the active roster with many pre-arb players is maybe the best way for the Diamondbacks to reach sustainability, especially with their highly ranked farm system.
Thinking about next season’s possible roster construction, of the 26 spots on the active roster, between 11 and 13 could be filled with pre-arb players. The following table lists the pre-arb players who might be on the opening day roster, along with the season that they first played in the Majors.
Looking beyond next season, sustainability looks great, especially if 3 or 4 pre-arb players from each season’s debuts are added to the active roster. The following graph shows two trends that reflect increased sustainability:
- Pre-arb players who make their debut in the Majors is generally increasing.
- Pre-arb players who get established on the active roster seems to be increasing.
An extra sustainability boost was earned by acquiring a pre-arb player, Gabriel Moreno, to fill the very important position of catcher. The trade that acquired him made a positive impact on long-term sustainability.
How many players are locked up with long contract extensions?
One way to increase sustainability is by long contract extensions, typically when the player is young and affordable. Looking ahead, two contract extensions will add sustainability.
- Ketel Marte. In March of 2022, the Diamondbacks extended Ketel Marte through 2027 with a team option for 2028. Last season Ketel Marte earned 1.5 bWAR, although my expectation his performance will increase to at least 2 WAR per season.
- Merrill Kelly. In April of 2022, the Diamondbacks extended Merrill Kelly for two seasons with a team option for a third season. His contract runs through 2024/2025. Last season, Merrill Kelly earned 3.6 bWAR.
How many stars (WAR of 5 or more) are about to become free agents?
The Diamondbacks have two stars in arbitration whose salaries increase every year and may become unaffordable when they reach free agency.
- Christian Walker, 5.1 WAR in 2022, free agent in 2025.
- Zac Gallen, 5.1 WAR in 2022, free agent in 2026.
When they become free agents, sustainability could fall because it may not be possible to replace their performance. They are getting older and early contract extensions are unlikely.
Solace can be found in the ending of a large contract 2024, just in time to to free up salary for their replacements. Madison Bumgarner’s $23 Million salary is large compared to any other player and compared to the total of all salaries. Last season he earned negative 0.8 bWAR.
By one definition, full sustainability will be reached when the Diamondback reach or nearly reach the playoffs every season.
Although full sustainability is not yet achieved, sustainability was increased. Ways it was increased include their high ranked farm system, more pre-arb players made their debut, more pre-arb players got established in the active roster, they acquired Gabriel Moreno, and they signed two players to long contract extensions. Although two star players will become free agents in 2025 and 2026, that is balanced by a large contract that ends in 2024.
I’m optimistic that full sustainability will soon be reached.