Much has been made in this young offseason about payroll. Will it go up? Indications from Kendrick are yes, but how much is a mystery. That being said, there are bread crumbs of past behavior and comments made during interviews which could give us some indication of the types of moves the D-backs could make.
"Not insubstantial" is an awkward double negative that sounds confusing no matter how many times I see it. Nevertheless, what is "not insubstantial" for this team? Is it 6 years, $206 million for Zack Greinke? Is it a lesser 5 years, $85 million with creative structuring for Madison Bumgarner?
My guess is not less than these contracts. The slow upward mobility of the free agent market, inflation, current year marketing dogma, supply and demand... all of these factors speak to the idea that "not insubstantial" will be at least one move of this type of magnitude or larger from the D-backs. Whether they can get similar value, or in Bumgarner's case, the initial speculated value, from these free agents relative to their contracts is another matter I will not even attempt to hazard a guess at. I believe Mike Hazen when he said he tried hard to acquire a starter at the trade deadline, but ultimately folded when the trade cost became prohibitive. I do not believe this was simple lip service, just as I believe last offseason's attempts to acquire Dansby Swanson and Xander Bogaerts were competitive to a point.
All this being said, I am confident that the D-backs brass will take what they have learned from past free agent signings into account when attempting their version of a big swing. Of the two large contracts to free agent pitchers, Greinke's was far closer to a fair deal for both sides. People can argue all they want that Greinke was a "bad contract" but for the free agent starting pitching market, he pitched to the value of his deal. Making the allowance that Greinke could have fallen out of bed and performed better relative to his contract than Bumgarner (who fell out of his saddle rather than his bed), I still believe Hazen will attempt a signing more similar to Bumgarner, paying a premium to acquire imperfect but perceivably top-end talent, than he will attempt another Greinke contract. According to Hazen, they are looking for someone who will more push Pfaadt down in the rotation, rather than push upward to bump down Gallen or Kelly.
This comes with a caveat, however, and it is based on the Greinke signing. If the front office can lure the absolute best of the free agent market, as they did with Greinke, I believe they will seriously attempt to. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, even with his "prove it in the Show" baggage, is the top pitching target this offseason. Snell and Nola are proven, but proven is based on past performance, and both of those pitchers have more past than future at this point. They will not be to the D-backs taste; both are too close to Bumgarner in their aging curve, with similar red-flags of declining or inconsistent peripherals. All of this causes worry, and if the D-backs are even slightly worried, they will not mortgage their future on a single flashy free agent.
I believe "Plan A" is and should be Yamamoto. Though highly unlikely, acquiring him gives great potential for a controllable ace during the entirety of the contention window (the primes of Carroll, Moreno, and Lawler / Jones). That solves the upcoming issues of Gallen's impending Scott Boras free agency, and Kelly tripping over Father Time's bathrobe.
Much like an ace pitcher pushes the rest of the rotation into more favorable spots, if Yamamoto actually became a Diamondback, the rest of the offseason falls into place easily. The offense can be cheaply supplemented with a re-signing of Tommy Pham and / or Justin Turner. Backup catcher and bullpen needs can, and likely would need to be, filled with reclamation, bounce-back, and veterans on shorter deals. If more was wanted, the trade market could be looked at for more offense or more surety behind the dish or in the bullpen.
"Plan B" is more likely, as Yamamoto will almost surely go to a large market team desperate enough to overpay and assuage their rabid fanbases. "Plan B" is a Bumgarner signing, albeit one inked with more caution after the failure of its namesake. "Plan B" also theoretically affords more wiggle room, as it gives the team a supposed budget to go after a significant signing on offense as well. After all, if Yamamoto could cost $220 million, why not sign a player for $100 million, and go up a tier in search for additional DH's, third basemen, starters and relievers?
Of the "Bumgarner" tiers, I see Jordan Montgomery, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Sonny Gray as the most likely signings. All would push Pfaadt down but not dislodge either Gallen or Kelly. All of these players come with varying degrees of regression warts, and the order listed above is my supposed order of risk and also cost. Any of these pitchers leaves potential room for another significant signing or two, and I believe to be "not insubstantial", the D-backs would attempt at least to one more signing in the real store aisles as opposed to the usual bargain bin. This could include a shorter deal for someone like J.D. Martinez or Jorge Soler. But I have another offensive target in mind, more expensive than those but not by much, and would be more useful in fulfilling multiple positions of need.
Mitch Garver is a DH, a competent but below-average backup catcher, and an "in-a-pinch" first baseman. The narrative sweetness of "stealing" from the team that beat you, doubly so if you also nabbed Montgomery, would be delightful. But Garver provides legitimate right handed power (Slugging more than homers) and fills a position of need in backup catcher that checks multiple boxes off the off-season to-do list. The D-backs would likely still want to carry Herrera as a third catcher, but this is a player who could competently replace Gurriel's bat, push Pavin Smith off the roster once and for all, and competently provide for three positions of need.
Added to Garver's value is the dearth of catching, even of the backup variety, on the market this offseason. I am sure Texas will be ravenous for his services, as will several other teams. But not signing him does not ruin "Plan B". You merely revert to signing Soler or Martinez, both of whom check fewer boxes but may check the hitting box a bit more surely than Garver would. I think the fans would be satisfied with this "not insubstantial" pivot.
Readers may notice Matt Chapman did not make either plan. His market relative to the value he could provide simply does not make enough sense for a team like the D-backs. He likely will command "Plan A" money, and the team needs a Game 3 starter more than they need a third baseman who might hit 30 homeruns, and might also bat .190. If his market stagnates, and he would cost something closer to Garver, Soler, or Martinez, and the D-backs still have a need, then they should circle back. But for "Plan A" money, the D-backs are better off investing in pitching.
Based on the past, these are the two likely ways the D-backs could spend money in ways they have shown they are willing to spend money in the past. There could be a "Plan C" where they show a new way of investing. And as a fan, I hope that new way of spending would also involve more spending. Hazen and company have done an admirable job of building a pipeline of talent from the bottom up in this organization. It would be a shame to see them have to tear it down because of castrating spending limits.