There is no sugar-coating it. The 2021 season was an unmitigated disaster, the Diamondbacks finishing the season tied for the worst record in baseball. Only by virtue of sucking less in 2020 than their cellar-dwelling counterparts in the previous season did they manage to technically finish the season ranked 29/30 instead of dead last. This led to no shortage of calls for Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall to clean house and start over. That did not happen. Instead, Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo were given the opportunity to fix things. While the repair process is far from complete, the 2022 version of the team was massively improved, if not still one with plenty of flaws. The level of improvement was enough to warrant giving Mike Hazen yet another winter to get to work on improving the Diamondbacks, both now and in the future. With the calendar having flipped to February this morning, pitchers and catchers are on the cusp of reporting. So, it is time to have a look at what Mike Hazen has done this winter in his continued attempts to salvage the Diamondbacks. Did he do enough to get them back into contention for the playoffs, enough to at least play better than .500 ball, or are they doomed to languish in the lower third of the standings again?
Notable Losses to Free Agency
- Ian Kennedy
- Zach Davies**
Good riddance that the club did not pick up these options. Sure, Arizona has a humidor now, something that the team did not have the last time Ian Kennedy was in the desert giving up gopher balls. However, given that Ian Kennedy is notorious for giving up an excessive amount of home runs, did anyone really think Chase Field was going to contain Kennedy’s tendency to be abused by round-trippers? The last time Kennedy was this bad over a full season was the last time he was pitching for Arizona. As for Davies, he was fine over the first half of the 2021 season, making him an interesting trade candidate. Then, just before the deadline, he injured himself. That injury sunk any chances of moving Davies at the deadline. After the deadline, Davies was, shall we say, in need of significant improvement. More on Davies to come.
Section Grade: B (It would have been higher if not for the later mentions of Davies.)
Other Losses to Free Agency
These players technically departed the organization by declaring for free agency. However, with only a few exceptions, none of them had much of a chance of seeing any time on the 26-man roster in 2021, hence the reason they were designated for assignment to begin with.
- Sergio Alcántara
- Stone Garrett
- Jordan Luplow
- Reyes Moronta
- Caleb Smith
While one could argue that this hurts team depth some, none of these players departing deals a blow to Arizona’s hopes for improvement. Alcántara and Garrett are the two most likely to be missed, but that assumes both a lack of production and quite likely a significant injury or two before either one would be returning to the 26-man roster for Arizona.
Section Grade: B
While Alcántara, Garrett, and Smith are surplus to the 26-man needs at the moment, all three have shown that they can be a solid back-up option. For a team like Arizona that has major issues with depth, losing these three is less than ideal. However, if they still had options, they likely would still be around. That lack of options almost ensured their departures the moment the season was over.
Other Departures (Non-Trade)
- J.B. Bukauskas
- Yonny Hernandez
- Sean Poppen
- Edwin Uceta
While the departure of JBB is somewhat bittersweet for some of us, the concerns about his frame leading to durability issues have turned out to be entirely warranted. After being designated for assignment the Seattle Mariners claimed him, only to turn around and designate him themselves. He remains in DFA-limbo, the for second time this offseason.
Section Grade: B
Options again came into play. While it would have been my preference for the team to retain Bukauskas and Hernandez, there was no winning argument to do so at the cost of a guaranteed roster spot.
Waiver Claims (in chronological order)
- Tyler Zuber (RHP)
- Cole Sulser (RHP)
- Ali Sánchez (C)
This group is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, we have Zuber, who is essentially Ian Kennedy 2.0 (see above). Sure, he’s a bit younger and, after being sent to Reno, still retains one minor league option. However, those two points are likely what most separates him from the current version of Kennedy. Then there is Sulser a 32-year-old who has had one mediocre season, one great one, and one terrible season. Despite not throwing terribly hard, he strikes out quite a few batters. This is because his pitches have strong movement. Unfortunately, that movement also leads to quite a few free passes. Having done nothing to indicate that he has put his 77 ERA+ season of 2022 behind him, Sulser remains part of the active roster, despite having options available according to Roster Resource. Finally, there is Sánchez, a 26-year-old glove-first, right-hand hitting back-up catcher cast off by the Pirates. This claim made some decent sense at the time, as the team had recently traded away their own back-up catcher, Cooper Hummel. While Sánchez is now bound for Reno, it is safe to assume that he is first in line should anything happen to Carson Kelly (again) or to Gabriel Moreno. All teams need catching depth and, despite being nothing special, Sánchez works perfectly fine as an emergency backstop who may or may not still have one last bit of growth in his game.
Section Grade: C-
Sánchez saves this section from being graded worse than it already is. While there might be some upside in Zuber or Sulser, one is a pitcher whose mold simply does not fit in Arizona, while the other is a pitcher who is currently being handed a 26-man bullpen spot while being as bad or worse in 2022 than the arms Arizona ran out themselves. Neither one is exactly the sort of bullpen improvement one would hope to see after the trainwreck that was the 2022 bullpen.
Minor League Signings (with or without an invite)
These too, are presented in chronological order.
- Austin Brice (RHP)
- Erick Reynoso (RHP)
- Jesus Valdez (2B/SS/3B)
- Jan Pierre Garcia (RHP)
- Miguel Castro (RHP)
- Zach McAllister (RHP)
- Tyler Ferguson (RHP)
- Ryan Hendrix (RHP)
- Harlem Belen (SS)
- Jorge Minyety (RHP)
- Sam Clay (LHP)
- Boris Vecerka (RHP)
- Mervin Fell (RHP)
- Raffi Vizcaíno (RHP)
- Philip Evans (3B)
- Garrett Wolforth (C)
- Carlos Virahonda (C)
- Yassel Sole (3B)
- Daury Vasquez (RHP)
- Jose Urbina (C)
- Eleomar Reye (RHP)
- Walvin Mena (RHP)
- Wilkin Paredes (LHP)
- Anderson Cardenas (RHP)
- Junior Sanchez (RHP)
- Miguel Perez (OF)
- Leo Gallardo (C)
- Gian Zapata (OF)
- Maicol Carrasco (RHP)
- Luis Martinez (C)
- Enyervert Perez (SS)
- Greudis De Los Santos (RHP)
- Anderson Cardenas (RHP)
- Jeremy Rodriguez (SS)
- Pedro Catuy (OF)
- Yordin Chalas (RHP)
- Eliesbert Alejos (SS)
- Jeison Calvo (RHP)
- Kelvin Rosario (LHP)
- Alexis Rubio (RHP)
- Jesus Escobar (RHP)
- P.J. Higgins (C)
- Austin Adams (RHP)
- Eric Yardley (RHP)
- Connor Higgins (LHP)
- Jesse Biddle (LHP)
- Jeurys Familia (RHP)
This list is mostly a great big nothing burger. With one lone exception, it is unlikely any of these players ever see time on the Arizona 26-man roster. While there are some names on the list, such as Zach McAllister, who stand out as brain scratchers - having not thrown a pitch in the majors since 2018 despite a number of minor league seasons. The only thing being lost here is time and possibly some tipping change. Notably, every team winds up with long lists like these as February rolls around. If nothing else, teams need all those extra catchers to help out with training duties. Most teams will use this list to add in one or two potential lottery tickets, often former stars who have fallen off a bit, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a rebound. Arizona is no different in this regard. For Arizona, that name would be Jeurys Familia, the former Mets closer who was decent if unspectacular in 2021, but fell to pieces in 2022 pitching for Philadelphia and Boston. If Familia can find his old form again, he could be a solid setup arm for Arizona’s bullpen. Although, if he does, the team will be put into the position of doing some PR work to address Familia’s 15-game suspension from 2016 for domestic violence. Should he make the roster out of spring, he’ll be due a $1.5 million MLB salary, a pittance for a reliable reliever with a ton of high leverage experience.
Section Grade: B+
With all the pressing needs Arizona has, it would have been nice to see them make a few more high upside, zero risk moves like the Familia one. However, there needs to be two to tango and the Diamondbacks may simply have been left on the outside looking in when trying to find other dance partners. With none of these players expected to produce anything of substance for the parent club, it’s hard to find any glaring faults in this list.
Again presented in chronological order
- 11/15/22: Cleveland Guardians traded RHP Carlos Vargas to Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Ross Carver.
Ross Carver was on the shortlist of minor league pitchers to watch in 2023 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Instead, they traded him for a talented arm from the loaded Cleveland system. Vargas is a hard thrower with some command issues. He missed all of 2020 to the pandemic and all of 2021 to recovering from injury. He bounced back well in 2022, flashing some moments of brilliance along with reasons for concern. While Carver was an intriguing candidate, Vargas is no slouch and should be MLB ready by mid-season, as opposed to mid-2024.
- 11/17/22: Seattle Mariners traded CF Kyle Lewis to Arizona Diamondbacks for C Cooper Hummel.
One of the first “big” offseason trades in all of MLB, the Diamondbacks traded for a massive lottery ticket without giving up any meaningful talent. Yes, Hummel was the team’s back-up catcher. However, he was a bat-first variety who was unable to sniff anything close to being a league average bat. He is also already 28. The Diamondbacks found a suitable, younger replacement by simply dragging the bottom of the waiver pond. On the flip-side, the Diamondbacks received a former Rookie-of-the-Year in Lewis. The problem is, that season was the skewed 2020 season. However, he did follow that up with a decent 2021 before he lost his ability to hit all together in 2022, leading to his being sent back to AAA and then traded. Lewis is a terrible defender on his best day. However, he presents the team with a right-handed bat that has pop in it that could provide impact to the lineup as a DH - assuming they can fix whatever caused him to fall off so hard in 2022. On the plus side, the Diamondbacks may have landed a near all-star impact bat to play DH for essentially nothing. On the minus side, uhm, well, there isn’t much. Lewis can still be optioned back to Reno, so there is no pressure on Arizona to continue to play him if he doesn’t perform. This is the very definition of a potential no-risk/high reward move.
- 12/23/22 Pittsburgh Pirates traded SS Diego Castillo to Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Scott Randall.
You will be forgiven if you have no idea who these players are. You would also be forgiven if you missed that this trade ever happened at all, as the Diamondbacks made another move of some significance on the same day. In brief, the Diamondbacks traded a non-prospect pitcher for a utility player who only just made his MLB debut. On his rise to the majors, Castillo manned first, second, short, third, and right. He played all of them competently. His 73 wRC+ does not exactly inspire, but this was managed over the course of only 283 plate appearances. Prior to his debut, he ranged from somewhat below average to somewhat above average as a hitter. With the departures of Sergio Alcántara and Yonny Hernandez, the Diamondbacks can potentially rely upon Castillo to fill the void should injuries or some other circumstance hit the infield. He also provides a third possible option to man third base, after the rehabbing Emmanuel Rivera and the dynamic, but defensively challenged, Josh Rojas. This is another example of a no-risk/potentially good reward move with an eye both on the present and on the future as Castillo is only 25 and still has two option years remaining.
- 12/23/22 Arizona Diamondbacks traded C Daulton Varsho to Toronto Blue Jays for LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and C Gabriel Moreno.
This may well end up being the biggest trade of the winter for all of baseball. The Diamondbacks parted ways with Daulton Varsho, a player on the shortlist of making himself the face of the franchise. He is an elite defensive talent with a superior baseball makeup. He was a fan favourite and the best player to come out of Mike Hazen’s inaugural draft class. Varsho had a massive breakout season in 2022 and is poised to become a perennial 4-5 WAR player capable of making an impact difference both in the field (at a premium defensive position) and at the plate. Even if Varsho never became the face of the franchise (Carroll and others might secure that moniker), he was certainly a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward into the team’s next anticipated window of contention. Given the state of the Diamondbacks, Varsho was one of the most highly sought after trade targets in the entire game. It is difficult to define just how much he will be missed. But, one must (usually) surrender quality to get quality, and that is ostensibly what Arizona received in return.
In return, the Diamondbacks received premium catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The Arizona transactions page would have readers believe that Gurriel is a shortstop. He hasn’t been a competent shortstop in a very long while. He is now, at best, a left fielder or DH. With the earlier arrival of Kyle Lewis, Gurriel’s early home is going to have to be left field. Should Lewis stumble and still be unable to hit, Gurriel could then find at-bats as a DH as well. While Gurriel has a strong, five-year history of being able to hit as a right-handed bat, his power numbers cratered in 2022. He’s going to need to find his power again if he is going to displace the likes of Carroll, Thomas, or McCarthy as an everyday outfielder. He will also be a free agent at the end of the season, so Gurriel is a stopgap player at best. A strong showing by Gurriel in 2022 could lead Arizona to flip him for further value at the deadline, or, if he finds his old form, he could potentially help force open the contention window a bit early.
The gem of the return for Arizona is Gabriel Moreno, one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball. It is arguable that Arizona’s biggest area of need (even more than bullpen) was catching, or at least catching depth. The team had zero everyday catching options to rely on behind the oft-injured Carson Kelly, who will be a free agent after the 2024 season and is already seeing an increase in his salary due to arbitration. The Diamondbacks desperately needed to address the catching issue, as it has been neglected (at least in any meaningful way) for some time now by Mike Hazen and his staff. Moreno is expected to, like Varsho was, step into the role of being a cornerstone player. He will likely compete with Kelly to be the everyday starter at the beginning of the season. But, the expectation is that he will make the position his (as the primary starter) before the season gets long in the tooth. Moreno is the rare catcher who is considered a bat-first backstop with an above average defensive makeup. He calls games well. He moves well. He is fast for a catcher (though not as fast as Varsho). He has soft hands and a strong arm. More than one talent scout has likened him to perennial all-star J.T. Realmuto in his first few seasons. Moreno is expected to be an impact bat. Though he has not yet shown the ability to tap into his batting practice power in games, he has shown elite bat-to-ball skills. He is going to hit. He is going to hit for average and get on base at a strong clip. The power may or may not come. Though he only managed 73 plate appearances in 2022, he still exceeded rookie limits for roster time. Still, some analysts continue to see Moreno as a prospect, even if he is not eligible for prospect/rookie awards. Among them is ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel who ranks Moreno as his #4 overall prospect. That’s the sort of return one should expect for a player of Varsho’s caliber, a top-10 prospect with tons of control. The gifted young Moreno, who turns only 23 in June, is not eligible for arbitration until 2026 and is still under control until he reaches free agency in 2029. If Moreno’s 113 wRC+ of 2022 is to be believed, then the Diamondbacks do indeed have themselves a catcher that they can build a team around for the upcoming run at contention. Of course, 73 plate appearances is a sample size of the smallest order. The team is taking a massive gamble on Moreno by trading Varsho to acquire him. Let’s just hope that they still see that same 4-5 WAR or more year-in and year-out that they likely would have seen with Varsho.
Section Grade: A-
The Diamondbacks filled some major vacancies through the trade market. The potentially landed themselves the missing right-handed impact bat that they were looking for in Kyle Lewis as DH. They then doubled down and grabbed another such bat in Gurriel. While Lewis is a lottery ticket, Gurriel, with his career .329 OBP, seems like a safe bet to bring a reliable right-handed bat to the lineup. The team then addressed the glaring need at catcher, one of the hardest positions to fill with plus talent. There are still some questions surrounding Moreno. He has yet to prove much of anything at the highest level. However, early returns strongly suggest that the Diamondbacks are actually getting the player they hoped they were trading for. It only cost them one of the best players in the organization. If those questions are answered in the positive though, this will have been one hell of a trading offseason for Mike Hazen.
Free Agent Signings (MLB)
Just when things were starting to look up.
- 12/15/22 Arizona Diamondbacks signed free agent RHP Scott McGough (2-yr/$6 million)
Once again, Mike Hazen looked across the Pacific and poached an arm from the Asian market. It’s difficult to have much of any opinion on this signing, though his stats in Japan were quite nice. He pitched well in an environment even harder to excel in than Korea, where Merrill Kelly was grabbed from. Given Mike Hazen’s track record of grabbing talents like Yoshihisa Hirano and Merrill Kelly from the Asian market, I am more than willing to see how this plays out. McGough was signed to a two-year deal, so he is going to be given every chance to show that he belongs in a Major League bullpen. The optimistic hopes for McGough are that he can cement himself as a quality setup man or better. The reality is, if he can reliably pitch at a league average level, he was a low-cost, substantial upgrade to a horrific bullpen.
- 01/05/23 Arizona Diamondbacks signed free agent 3B Evan Longoria (1-yr/$4 million)
Had this move occurred in October or even in November, it would look very different. But it didn’t happen at the beginning of the winter offseason. It happened in January, after a plethora of other moves, including multiple moves for players capable of putting in time at third base. Since Longoria’s announcement back in October that he would only play for Tampa Bay, San Francisco, or Arizona, his arrival in the desert was something of a fait accompli. But the pressing issue here is, what is Longoria bringing to the table? For one thing, he has significant injury issues. At his age, those are unlikely to be going away. In 2022 he was only able to post for 89 games, the highest number he has seen since 2019. Last season, Longoria still managed a 115 wRC+/114 OPS+, not much higher than Josh Rojas at 108/111 respectively. Longoria is still a decent defender at third, though his glove is essentially an average tool and inferior to Emmanuel Rivera’s. Even if Longoria is able to turn the clock back to 2019 (his last “full” season, though only 129 games) he would be putting up a statistical line not unsimilar to what one would expect of a perfectly reasonable Josh Rojas/Emmanuel Rivera platoon at third base. Early in the offseason, the Diamondbacks were already paving the way for the arrival of Longoria, making statements to the press that they were hoping to add some veteran leadership. This, despite the presence of a returning Nick Ahmed, the trade for Gurriel, and the continued presences of Carson Kelly, Madison Bumgarner, and Mark Melancon. At least two of that group have significant experience being winners, as much or more so than Longoria. The hope here for many is that he can serve as sort of a mentor, in the vein of Eric Chavez. Though one hopes the Diamondbacks will avoid the same mistake of running Longoria into the ground the way they did Chavez. While Longoria, if Arizona is fortunate, may be able to post for 100 games in 2023, freeing up a roster slot by being only one player instead of a two-person platoon for the position, he brings zero positional flexibility, something that both Rojas and Rivera have. He also isn’t winning any foot races, as the snails have started to pass him on the bases. The signing of Longoria in isolation is not terrible. In fact, at the dollar cost, it is a decent low-risk move. However, the signing was not made in a vacuum. It was made by a team with a massively limited budget and an already serviceable solution at the position. It does not look to the future. Instead, it is a band-aid measure for 2023 only. But, if Rojas and Rivera are not good enough to man the position as a platoon now, how will not playing there prepare them to do so in 2024? Or, will the team once again have to look to the free agent market, where usually a competent third baseman would set the team back enough that Ken Kendrick would never consider it? Matt Chapman and Manny Machado will both be free agents at the end of the year. Both will be 31. Both will command salaries well above and beyond anything the Diamondbacks will be prepared to pay. Mostly, Evan Longoria is a feel-good story that is a solution without a problem who (even at only $4 MM) eats a massive portion of Arizona’s prohibitively limited budget for free agents.
- 01/11/23 Arizona Diamondbacks signed free agent RHP Zach Davies (1-yr/$5 million)
Oof. Just when Davies was off the books and out of the rotation, the Diamondbacks enter into negotiations with the veteran hurler to come back at an even higher salary than the two sides walked away from at the end of the season. Now, I understand that pitching depth, especially starting pitching depth, is vitally important. Most teams can expect to have 8-10 pitchers make multiple starts in any given season. I also understand that he brings a veteran arm capable of tossing 140+ innings. Yet, when one is adding depth that must be left in the rotation, it is generally a good idea for that starting pitcher to at least rate as one of the five or six best starters on the team. Instead, he likely ranks somewhere around seventh. In other words, he’s blocking more talented pitchers with much higher upsides from accruing any MLB innings. The rotation now consists of Zac Gallen, Merrill Kell, Zach Davies, Madison Bumgarner, and one of four highly talented prospect pitchers, all of whom should be receiving significant MLB innings in 2023. If Davies had options or was going to be performing mostly in the bullpen in long relief, this would be fine. But he isn’t. He’s taking a rotation slot and will only be vacating it through trade or injury. In order to be trade-worthy, he has to stay healthy, produce, and likely produce well. His late-season struggles over the last few years and the injury which derailed his 2022 season are going to make him a slightly harder deadline move than one would generally expect of a low-cost, innings-eating #5 starter. Some will argue that a Major League rotation simply cannot handle two or three rookies in the rotation at the same time. While this is a valid concern, the better solution then is to find a placeholder pitcher who will at least challenge the potential rookies to earn their place. It is not a terribly long bet that, coming out of spring, all of Jameson, Nelson, Pfaadt, and even Henry (to say nothing of other pitchers developing in the system) could already be noticeably better than Davies. How much are they improving if they are being held back simply because the team gave a journeyman starter a guaranteed contract? And what does it say about the team’s stated goal of trying to be a team contending for a Wild Card berth as soon as 2023, if they are running out Bumgarner and Davies for 40% of the team’s starts while better options are wasting bullets in the minors? Pitchers only have so many bullets. If the youngsters are ready, get them up and using their pitches at the MLB level. If there is depth concern, then find a pitcher that is a clear upgrade over the rookies, or find one that is clearly depth and willing to serve as such from the bullpen, working as the long-man until such time as the team needs to break the emergency glass for a starter (hello, Mike Morgan).
Section Grade: F
It would be lower, but that’s the lowest it goes. Coming into the offseason, it was estimated by most pundits that the Diamondbacks had between $10-12 million to work with in free agency, with the potential to go slightly higher than that if a true impact talent could be landed. During the winter there were rumours that the Diamondbacks were in on the Dansby Swanson sweepstakes. It’s one thing to sit at the table. It’s another thing entirely to sit at the table and just fold every hand. The Diamondbacks were undoubtedly in the latter group with regard to Swanson. That being said, the Diamondbacks spent $9 million on two veterans who, at best, are still not measurable upgrades over the talent the team was already in a position to field. Putting things in perspective Wade Miley is a substantial upgrade to Davies and signed for less. Johnny Cueto signed for $16.5 million over a two-year period, making only $6 million in 2023. Now he is the sort of pitcher that could have filled in the same way Davies is expected to, except he’s actually still good and would make the rookies earn their spot while also bringing that oft-desired veteran presence. It isn’t that the Diamondbacks should have signed one of those two players (though adding Cueto would have been interesting, even if only for the associated narrative reasons). It’s that one need not even look hard at all to see readily identifiable ways in which the $9 million spent on Longoria and Davies could have otherwise been spent while easily being an upgrade over what they ended up with. This is yet another season of Mike Hazen doing a poor job with his limited free agent dollars. Sure, we fans in Arizona would love to see Hazen have a real payroll budget to work with, mostly to sign/retain the homegrown talent they already have or to take a run at an extension for a guy like Zac Gallen. However, Hazen’s poor results on domestic free agent spending leave a great deal to be desired. This season has not shown any signs of that changing. Failing to upgrade the team while blocking talented youth development while spending almost all of the free agent dollars is a sure-fire way to find one’s self spinning their wheels.
Overall Grade: D+
TL/DR: The team mostly spun its wheels by spending entirely too much time and money dumpster diving again. They may or may not have had a “sneaky good” trade season, though the marquee trade was hardly a sneaky one. The other trades however, may very well end up giving a good deal of impact value to the club as well, especially the Kyle Lewis deal. However, even the Varsho/Moreno deal leaves much concern, as Moreno is still untested and Gurriel is a free agent at the end of the year. Once again, Mike Hazen seems to have squandered a limited free agent budget, blocking developing talent for marginal at best gains, decreases in team performance at worst.
2023 still looks to be a season that should be filled with excitement. That excitement is being largely driven by players the team already had. Hopefully Moreno, Gurriel and Lewis can all add to that and the fan base is not left spending four months of the season calling for Longoria and Davies to stop getting playing time over the youth movement.