Since I primarily write about minor leagues and prospects, if makes sense for me to emphasize those areas in my offseason road map. Since Mike Hazen has already indicated that the team is looking primarily that direction for improvements, we should be aware of such things.
Yes, the Diamondbacks will be losing a certain amount of money (likely at least $15 million, based on the $18 million payment that was missed, the $208 million figure some have reported that the the Diamondbacks were due in 2023, and the 80% figure that Manfred said would be covered by the league) due to the Bally/Diamond/Sinclair situation. No, that does not mean that the situation is dire. Some of that money would have been made up by the pennant-winning run. I estimated that winning the pennant and the associated home postseason games might have generated $33 million in additional revenue, which is close to twice what is lost. Furthermore, there is a lot of money coming off the books.
While Madison Bumgarner will likely still be the highest paid player in 2024, his salary will drop by $11 million. Nick Ahmed saves another $10 million. Gurriel, Longoria, Pham, Melancon, and probably a couple others (Austin Adams? Kyle Lewis? Pavin Smith?) will be coming off the books. Some of that will be eaten up by arbitration increases, particularly from Christian Walker, Zac Gallen, and Paul Sewald. But it is likely that Mike Hazen will have at least $15 million to spend in free agency (and with the knowledge that Madison Bumgarner will be off the books almost entirely next year, likely some more) and might have up to $30 million.
We're not going to be attempting to sign Ohtani; we're not going to be the Dodgers or the Mets or even the Rangers, but there is room for some level of improvement. Even though I expect opening day payroll to be lower in 2024 than it was in 2023, that has more to do with two players being extremely overpaid in 2023 than with a major cut in spending in 2024. Spending in 2024 will be geared to reach the 2023 level of payroll in 2025 or 2026, and hopefully a new high in opening day payroll in 2027 or 2028. That's the path to sustainable success.
Catcher should be a position of concern, and this was underscored by Gabi Moreno getting hit on the backswing in Milwaukee. The Diamondbacks have the best young catcher in the game, and arguably the best catcher in the game right now, no qualifications needed. But the system is thin, extremely thin, behind Moreno. Seby Zevala was great in limited action (both behind the plate and on the mound) in 2023. Jose Herrera is a nice depth piece. Down on the farm, J.J. D'Orazio is fine defensively but has yet to appear above AA, while Adrian Del Castillo and Caleb Roberts are both big time question marks defensively and Roberts struggled mightily in the AFL. There isn't a guy in the system who would be ready to step in if Moreno were to go down with injury, but there is also no one available who wouldn't be a major drop off from Moreno. Zevala and Herrera, along with Sanchez and Centeno or other minor league free agents, are enough depth here.
So yes, catcher should be a position of concern, but it should be focused on developing players in-house.
Christian Walker enters the last year of club control with two gold gloves and the nicest of home run totals over the past two years. Some will think an extension is advisable. However, he turns 33 on opening day. He's been one of the more valuable (and underrated by the media) first basemen of the past couple of years. He should test the market. He's earned that right, and someone will almost certainly pay more for him than the Diamondbacks.
Behind Walker, there are several AAAA-type players. Tristin English took a major step developmentally in the past year, and he actually bears some resemblance to Walker when it comes to trajectory. Seth Beer and Pavin Smith are still in the organization. Two top prospects, Ivan Melendez and Deyvison De Los Santos, have their positional future at first base. This is one of the deeper positions in the organization. While Walker shouldn't be traded unless someone is willing to massively overpay, he probably shouldn't be extended either. He is a candidate for a qualifying offer in the 2024-25 offseason, with the depth behind him hopefully ready to step up. Surely, out of the multiple players in the system, one of them will come along.
Ketel Marte is the incumbent, and is the veteran under the most team control. He finally was healthy again, and responded by putting together his best season since 2019. He was the NLCS MVP and seized the record for the longest postseason hitting streak in all of history, and extended it by quite a bit. However, there are multiple ways the team could go here.
While the minor league depth chart looks like there isn't much behind Marte, the reality is that the emergence of Perdomo this season seemingly led to Hazen viewing Lawlar and Perdomo as the future double play combo, rather than Lawlar and Bliss. The club could opt to sell high on Marte to fill other areas of weakness and install Perdomo at second base. The club could opt to keep Marte and sell high on Perdomo, although Perdomo would not bring back nearly as large of a package. Or the club could opt to keep all of them, recognizing that Marte's health will probably always be a bit of a question mark.
Behind the aforementioned players, Blaze Alexander (top) is on the 40-man roster and provides middle infield depth, and Tommy Troy is not terribly far behind. Tim Tawa improved at the plate, but with the Amarillo asterisk. There's depth here, but not anyone that you'd want to rely on for a contending team. But there are a lot of players worth developing, and that's a good thing.
Geraldo Perdomo surprised everyone by becoming an All Star at shortstop, sort of elected by his peers. (He finished behind Dansby Swanson in the election and was elevated when Swanson opted out.) While he slumped for a while during the middle of the season, he was consistently taking some of the best at bats on the team and he had a borderline great postseason. He had positive cWPA in every series except the NLCS, and posted a .754 OPS over the postseason as a whole. Still, Jordan Lawlar is the presumptive starter at shortstop moving forward. Perdomo's likely future with the team is as a utility infielder; he got starts at three infield positions this past season, and will likely do the same in the future.
Much of the organizational depth is the same as second base. There's no need for any additions here
Here is one of the positions most in need of improvement. By Baseball-Reference's wins above average metric, the Diamondbacks were 25th in baseball at third base, making it their greatest position of weakness. (By WAA, the bullpen cost the team more wins, but was ranked 21st out of 30 teams.) Three of the players responsible for that performance are gone (Josh Rojas, Evan Longoria, and Buddy Kennedy) unless Longo is brought back.
Emmanuel Rivera had the most plate appearances and is one of the returning players, with Jace Peterson being the other. Rivera's bat took a step backwards in 2023, and it was already below-average. His glove is average. Peterson is dismal at the plate, but probably a little bit better than Rivera with the glove.
The organizational depth isn't very good, either. Melendez and De Los Santos have been given every chance to learn the position, but both would be among the worst defensively at the position in the league, and both also have question marks at the plate. There is no one int he system who is major league ready.
That being the case, third base is one position that will likely be filled either by trade or free agency. The Diamondbacks have been connected to Justin Turner; however, this is almost certainly for the DH vacancy. Turner turns 39 later this month, was never superb defensively, hasn't been above-average defensively since 2019, and made just 7 starts at third this past season. While Turner might provide some value for the Diamondbacks, it won't be at the hot corner. However, one of the top position player free agents just so happens to be a third baseman. Matt Chapman needs to be near the top, if not at the very top, of the target list for Mike Hazen. Yes, he just had a dismal second half with the bat. But he also just won his fourth gold glove, and has never been below-average with the bat for a full season. Even if he does not reach the heights of 2018 and 2019 again (when he was one of the best players in baseball) he represents a substantial improvement for the Diamondbacks.
On the other hand, there are basically two free agent third baseman worth targeting in this class. The other is Jeimer Candelario, who will certainly be cheaper and not require losing a draft pick to sign. However, Candelario is a league average bat and below-average glove for his career. This is, almost certainly, a reason why Hazen was right to emphasize the need for in-house improvements. Candelario is cheaper than Chapman, but he's more expensive than Rivera, and if they miss out on Chapman, the Diamondbacks would be better served to work on improving Rivera than to sign Candelario.
The Diamondbacks were second-best at left field by WAA, with two all-stars leading the team in plate appearances at the position. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and some guy named Corbin Carroll. Gurriel is almost certainly gone. While his routes seemed like an adventure at times, he was well above-average defensively while also being above-average with the bat. He's also a bit of a fan favorite, so it will be sad to see him go, but he's likely going to be priced beyond what the Diamondbacks can spend. As far as right-handed outfield bats are concerned, he's probably the second best who might be on the market.
However, the Diamondbacks are still well-positioned. Corbin Carroll should probably be in left field going forward; his arm would be less of a negative there. And while organizational depth behind Carroll isn't the biggest concern, there are multiple outfield options. I will cover them all at the same spot, below.
A great postseason and substantial improvement defensively (that made him a gold glove finalist) cemented Alek Thomas as the center fielder of the future. Thomas is good enough defensively that simply becoming an average bat would make him an all-star level player; with his 75 OPS+ in each of the last two seasons, he's already been an average player.
Right field was actually right about average on the year, with Jake McCarthy leading the way in terms of plate appearances. He's another player who needs to take the next step; or, more accurately, return to the player he was in 2022. If he can bounce back in 2023, the Diamondbacks could well have three all-star level outfielders.
If McCarthy can't take that step, Dominic Fletcher is waiting in the wings.
Most of the depth in the outfield is capable of playing all three positions. The aforementioned Fletcher impressed in his mid-season cup of coffee, but missed out on playing time in September thanks to being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his hand. Jorge Barrosa is another undersized and intriguing player; he's listed at 5'5" and 165 but is probably more like 5'4" and 145. Across the last two seasons, he has hit 50 doubles, 10 triples, and 26 home runs, but Amarillo and Reno deserve a lot of credit for that. Neyfy Castillo looks like a more traditional corner outfielder, as does A.J. Vukovich. Neither are ready for the big time yet, but both could be important depth pieces. Kristian Robinson is a wild card; the former top-100 prospect came back after a long time away to impress across four levels. In addition to his bat, he has a better arm than any of the trio of outfielders the Diamondbacks were playing in the postseason. He'll be just 23 next year.
Hazen does have a lot of decisions to make with regard to outfield depth. Robinson cleared waivers during the season, but that was before his impressive showing in Amarillo's run to the Texas League title. He almost certainly won't make it through the Rule 5 draft. Barrosa is already on the 40-man roster, and Neyfy Castillo and Wilderd Patino are both eligible for the Rule 5 draft. That's some tough decisions for Hazen to make, as he likely can't protect everyone. Expect another trade from the outfield depth in this offseason, with everyone but Carroll available.
Do not expect a splashy free agent signing, however. The best available outfielders don't add much to the team, unless Hazen chooses to pursue Cody Bellinger for him to DH this year and replace Walker at first base next year and going forward. Depending on what the front office thinks of Robinson and Vukovich, there may not even be much of a reason to acquire a right-handed outfield bat, like there was last year.
In terms of plate appearances, three of the top four from 2023 are free agents, and Kyle Lewis (who was fifth on the team with 46 plate appearances at DH) is a non-tender candidate. That leaves Pavin Smith, who is also a non-tender candidate in my book, as the lone incumbent. This is why Justin Turner has been identified as a target. It's also an important position. In contrast to how many teams have viewed the DH in recent years, 2023 showed that having a regular DH was a good way to be a good team. Ten teams got above-average production from the DH spot in 2023. Nine of them were in the postseason, and the other had some guy named Ohtani at the position. The nine postseason teams went away from using the position to get guys rest, and had semi-regular DHs, with two exceptions: the Orioles had Adley Rutschman and Anthony Santander split time there, and the Blue Jays had Brandon Belt and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Turner, by the way, was the main DH for the Red Sox, who were 11th in production from the DH spot, just a hair below average. J.D. Martinez and Jorge Soler are other free agent options for the DH spot. DH is the most likely spot in the batting order to see a free agent signing, as there is a decent number of players who would be viewed as primarily a DH available. Soler, Martinez, and Turner (likely in that order) are the top three (of the non-Ohtani group), but other names include Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Renfroe, and Joey Gallo. Renfroe, in particular, is an intriguing target. He's not a good defender, but he is capable of filling in a corner outfield spot in a pinch, and he's coming off of a dismal 2023 season. If he's willing to come to Arizona on a short deal to try to rebuild some value, he's definitely worth a look.
The last two rounds of the postseason had to be especially painful for Mike Hazen. In the 2019-2020 offseason, one pitcher signed for 5 years and $85 million. Another signed for 5 years and $118 million. One of them started games 1 and 5 of the NLCS, while the other earned $25 million to watch from the couch, and will earn $14 million next year to do the same, as well as $5 million for each of the following three years. In addition, after failing to land starting pitching help at the trade deadline, the Rangers started multiple pitchers in the World Series that they landed at the deadline, while the Diamondbacks were stuck with a bullpen game in Game 4, and we all saw how that worked.
That said, do not expect the Diamondbacks to make a huge signing on the pitching front. Aaron Nola is the biggest name, but don't expect him to come here. Ditto Blake Snell, who is a really good pitcher but isn't what the Diamondbacks need. Sonny Gray is too old.
Besides, there's a solid rotation in-house, if there are just a few improvements. We saw the improvements from Brandon Pfaadt. Hopefully Tommy Henry will be back. Blake Walston will be on the 40-man roster, and will probably compete for a spot in the spring. Slade Cecconi and Bryce Jarvis are in the mix.
Still, there will likely be a couple of signings to increase depth. One of the biggest needs is a solid number three starter. Jordan Montgomery would be at the top of my list, followed by Lucas Giolito and Michael Lorenzen. None are able to receive a qualifying offer. Erick Fedde is another name to watch; he's been excellent in the KBO and we know something about bringing pitchers over from Korea (just don't ask about Dan Straily.)
(In looking at the depth chart, I discovered that, during the World Series, the Diamondbacks claimed Chris Rodriguez off waivers from the Angels. If he can return to health, he could be a useful bullpen piece in the future. I missed that when it happened, but it was exactly a week ago.)
On August 1, it looked like the Diamondbacks had their closer for 2024. By November 1, it still looked the same way, but it might be someone else. Such is the nature of relief pitching.
Paul Sewald is due to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million in 2024. He allowed baserunners in 17 of 20 regular season appearances, and gave up a spirit-crushing home run in Game 1 of the World Series. He's still better than most in-house bullpen options, but you have to listen to offers if you're Mike Hazen, right? On the other hand, Kevin Ginkel looked unhittable for most of the last couple months and the postseason. Ryan Thompson was incredible. Andrew Saalfrank came out of nowhere. Luis Frias and Justin Martinez are names to watch. Perhaps Corbin Martin will finally make it back and stay. There's a long list of recent draftees or undrafted free agent signings who might enter the mix sooner rather than later. Bullpens are volatile.
How crazy is it that, in the space of three months, the Diamondbacks bullpen went from being an Achilles Heel to a strength to blowing multiple World Series games? That's the way it goes. The best closer in franchise history blew two World Series saves. The best all-around bullpen in franchise history was probably on some .500 team in the early 2010s. Volatility to the max.
Hazen will make some moves around the edges here, but for the first time since he's been here, it looks like the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings are set going into the offseason. That's a miracle almost on par with reaching the World Series.
Whew. That was a long run-down. At several positions, there is a decent amount of organizational depth. At a few positions (third base and DH primarily) there is a big need.
While Matt Chapman would be my number one target on the free agent market, I do not expect the Diamondbacks to be able to land him, nor do I think it worth breaking the bank to do so. I do not think that Jeimer Candelario provides enough improvement over Emmanuel Rivera to make him worth the money. So that leaves DH as the lineup position I would be most likely to improve through the free agent market. My choices there would be Soler, Martinez, Renfroe, Turner, McCutchen, in that order. Starting pitching is another likely area of improvement, and that will be attacked on multiple fronts, with both MLB free agents and guys coming over from NPB or KBO.
But priority number one this offseason should be extending Gabi Moreno. It might be worth extending Jordan Lawlar as well, even though it seems early. Locking in these cornerstones for the rest of the decade on team friendly deals provides the best path to sustainable success.