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SnakePit Round Table: Waiting in a Winter Wonderland

Cold enough for ya?

Snowfall In Toronto, Canada Photo by Arrush Chopra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Right now, a lot of top free agents are still unsigned, less than a month before pitchers and catchers report. Why so slow?

James: I think the pitchers were mostly waiting for the Japanese market to finish doing business. Snell and Montgomery can now set their prices accordingly. As for guys like Chapman, they too needed to wait for the bigger contracts to land before their market would open up. Though, in the case of Chapman, this is a bad market year for him and he likely would have been better off taking an extension with Atlanta when it was available.

Justin: Maybe the massive contract Ohtani got might have something to do with it as well? As in, the players think that now they can maximize their contract value and maybe the owners aren’t keen on giving a substantial increase for a middle infielder persay?

Spencer: James is spot on with the Japanese market holding up the remaining names. The MLB free agent class this winter just wasn’t good enough to be more covetable than the imports (and of course Ohtani). But I also think the collapse of Regional Sports television deals is holding up a fair number of mid-to-low market teams who have a shot on paper. Cleveland is never a big spender but has new minority ownership and is basically a Gurriel away from seriously contending for the AL Central. Detroit too but could use a bat and arm. St Louis can’t have seriously expected Lynn and Gibson to be the “saviors” of the rotation while they have Goldy, Nolan, Walker, Carlson, Gorman and Edman as a hitting core… Texas has gone from massive spender to crickets too. It’s just a weird year all around. A lackluster group of guys about to be overpaid and teams who need their reliability at lower costs without future financial security.

Makakilo: An additional two possible reasons follow:

  • Sticker shock. This year’s market determined that pitchers were worth much more than their salaries have been previously. The unexpected step-up in salaries caused teams to slow down and rethink their choices.
  • Less luster. The available free agents, instead of being bright stars, shine with less luster than previous off-seasons (though they still shine). The reason may have been players who signed extensions per the following quote: “Beyond the top 10 or so names, this offseason’s free-agent class was pretty thin, both in terms of star power and depth. It could have been a much deeper class, particularly in high-end position players, had several [13] players not opted for long-term security early in [their] careers, and signed long-term contracts that kept them off the free agent market.” – Mike Axisa

Wesley: The posted NPB and KBO players, along with the players Scott Boras represents, are what is holding up the market. I think this is the most players making the trip over to MLB, which in combination with Boras holding out as long as possible, has made this a very slow offseason. The latter is usually a given every offseason that everyone tends to forget each year.

Ben: Part of me wants to blame Scott Boras. He’s been so successful at extracting the maximum value for his clients by waiting as long as possible that I think other agents are trying to follow that model for their clients. We’ll have to see if that’s successful for others or if Boras has some kind of special touch with the teams that makes him uniquely successful. However, as easy as it is to pin the blame on a single source like Boras, I’m equally convinced by the hypotheses above by my fellow writers. I would also hypothesize that the collapse of the regional sports networks (RSNs) is an easy scapegoat for teams to cry poor while they continue to rake in money at historic rates.

A few weeks ago, we discussed whether the D-backs would add anyone else. Has your opinion changed?

James: I still think that they might add to the bullpen close to the time that pitchers and catchers report. The market for a DH is incredibly thin, especially if the team has any desire for the DH to play in the field once in a while.

Spencer: I remain convinced they will add someone, but said someone will not be a name brand player. There needs to be budget room for a trade deadline pickup, so unless it’s a trade for a young guy (not Mike Hazen’s preference this winter), any additions will be seen as a “let down” to many fans.

Makakilo: After acquiring Ronaldo Hernadez and Tucker Barnhart as backup catchers, they met their need for backup-catcher candidates. Next, I would add relief pitcher depth on minor league contracts with spring training invites. At this point, relief pitcher depth is a good idea – especially pitchers who have the right mental strength to continuously prepare and be ready for their opportunity.

Wesley: I’m assuming and expecting that Hazen has one more major signing in the works. Spencer is right though, at this point it’s going to be low tier signing, unless Hazen goes after a young player on no one’s radar.

Ben: I’m still of the opinion that they need to add another bat personally. It’s a little more up in the air on whether or not they do. They still project to have a pretty right-handed heavy lineup and they could use another lefty to create some balance.

D-backs ZIPS came out. Pick one D-back who’ll surpass his 2024 projection, and explain why.

James: I’m going to go with Merrill Kelly. While yes, the team may try to limit his workload some (especially after last year with the WBC and World Series runs), ZIPS still has him projected for the lowest full-season innings total of his MLB career. Since I think he will comfortably eclipse 154 IP, I would not be surprised to see him outperform his ZIPS projection.

Makakilo: Two are better than one! They follow:

  • Eugenio Suarez’s batting will bounce back strongly – certainly to the 80th percentile of the ZiPS projection. His 90.3 MPH average exit velocity was the third highest of the Diamondbacks. Last season was a one-time slump in SLG - his SLG was significantly higher in each of his career seasons except his rookie season (2014). Next season, his SLG will return to its usual level.
  • Merrill Kelly will pitch just as well as last season – certainly his ERA will NOT increase by 20% per the ZiPS projection. Instead, Kelly will defy the aging curve.

Wesley: I think Gallen will outperform his projections, they seem a little pessimistic to me. I agree with Makakilo, I think Suarez’s power will return, and he’ll bounce back offensively next season.

Ben: I’m with Wesley about Gallen outperforming his projections if for no other reason than his success will go a long way towards determining the team’s success. Unfortunately, I have no rationale for why that might happen other than blind optimism. It’s just as likely that his swoon in performance last year was emblematic of something else rather than an aberration that we can wave away.

And one who’ll fall short.

James: Jordan Lawlar. I expect he will open the season in Reno and need to force the issue before he returns to the 26-man roster. If, as I also expect, Newman takes his place on the 26-man, I could see Lawlar taking until July to arrive again. In that case, I simply don’t think there will be enough plate appearances for him to sniff his ZIPS projections. Even if he comes up in late-May or early-June, he might have a hard time.

Makakilo: Jace Peterson. With the acquisition of Eugenio Suarez, it’s unlikely he will reach the projected 372 PAs. With his 85.7 MPH average exit velocity, it’s unlikely his SLG will increase from last season’s .307 (.258 with the D-backs) to the projected .353.

Wesley: I agree on Peterson, but I’m going to go with Jake McCarthy. I’m not convinced he’s going to rebound from his poor 2023, and I am pretty sure ZiPS is giving too much weight to his ‘22 debut than it should be. I have some concerns about Alek Thomas’ bat too. I could just as easily see both outperforming their projections this season, if they both take some steps forward offensively. I just have a bad feeling about both taking steps backward.

Ben: I have a bad feeling about Merrill Kelly. He is ripe for a step back in performance due to a combination of age, consistently outperforming his peripherals, and general regression. That said, his ZiPS projections are already somewhat pessimistic so a further decrease in performance could spell real trouble for the D-Backs.

How do you rate our rivals’ moves (or lack!) this winter?

James: The Giants made a good move with the Jordan Hicks signing. They also added Robbie Ray. That move will depend on Ray’s health and which Ray shows up. I would rather AZ didn’t need to face him, but such is life. The rest of the NL, outside the Dodgers, has not made any moves that worry me as an Arizona fan. The Dodgers, on the other hand, they can just go burn in a fiery pit somewhere. The NL West is already over and the season hasn’t even started yet. Arizona will need to sweep them in the playoffs again so they can dish out another billion dollars next winter.

Justin: I think the Dodgers are pissed we beat them.

Spencer: Interesting question to consider: who are Arizona’s rivals? It’s not LAD cause they are on a whole different level. It’s probably not Atlanta yet either. So Philly, Chicago, SF and San Diego? I prefer Arizona’s winter to all of those teams. Although Philly resigning Nola and Chicago getting Imanaga are solid moves. San Diego won’t worry me until they can actually show like a super team on the field. Meanwhile the Giants are desperate and a few groupthink conversations away from adding the horrific contracts of Blake Snell and Matt Chapman.

Makakilo: My quick view of the NL West teams:

  • Dodgers are all-in this season. They are going for it! Their recent acquisitions fully addressed their pitching weakness that had previously made their rotation a paper tiger.
  • Padres are trying to slow their collapse caused by going all-in the last two seasons (they will always have the memory of 2022 when they beat the Dodgers in the Division Series before losing to the Phillies in the NLCS). Twenty of their players became free agents this off-season. Five of the free agents are starting pitchers; three signed with other teams; Blake Snell and Rich Hill are still free agents. Perhaps it shows desperation that they traded away Juan Soto and Trent Grisham (their everyday center fielder) for a catcher and four pitchers who have upside potential.
  • Giants are executing their plan C for the offseason, perhaps focusing on 2025. After reportedly spinning their wheels in attempts to sign Ohtani and Yamamoto and Snell, instead the Giants traded starter DeSclafini for former Diamondback Robbie Ray. The upside is that Ray won the Cy Young award the season after the Diamondbacks traded him to the Blue Jays. The downside is that in May of 2023 Ray had Tommy John surgery so he may not return until near the end of this season.
  • Rockies have pinned their hopes that their pitching/hitting lab will help them develop star players for the Coors environment – meanwhile their meager trades and free-agent signings are of very little importance.

Wesley: Overall, I really like the D’Backs offseason,they probably have had one of the best offseasons excepting the Dodgers.

The Dodgers are the Goliath to the Dbacks’ David, or the Soviet Union to the Dbacks’ Afghanistan. I think everyone is projecting the Dodgers to be the best team in baseball, and it’s going to be a nigh impossible task to win the division. Their offseason doesn’t really change anything for me.

I think we are in basically the same position as last year in relation to the rest of the NL West, though I don’t think anyone is expecting the Padres to be as competitive as they were projected to be in ‘23. The Giants look somewhat improved, but who knows if they’ll be good or bad this year. The Rockies are the Rockies. Not much can be said about them.

Ben: I love Spencer’s take about who our rivals actually are. The NL West teams are the easiest answers and even outside the ridiculousness of the Dodgers, the rest of the division has made some marginal improvements too. However, I’m still not sold on the Padres since they’re bringing back essentially the same roster as last year’s 82-80 record while the Giants have apparently become a free agent pariah and the Rockies are truly wandering in the wilderness. Regardless, the D-Backs have had about as strong an offseason as we could have expected from them and they’ve kept themselves in position to compete for this season and the next few seasons as well.

What are your feelings on wintry weather?

James: While there are certainly things about the cold my body dislikes, winter weather is far and away my favourite weather. Of course, I still live in Arizona, so the concept of “winter weather” is kind of screwed up in a mild way.

Justin: I hate being cold. Its nice for the first couple of months, but by mid February I am completely over it and I am thanking the Gods I don’t live in Wisconsin or Minnesota or something. I have an Uncle that grew up in Toronto, and has lived in Connecticut for 50 years. Every time he visits (they didnt make it out this year) during Christmastime, he always sees me all bundled up when it is 35* [1.6C] outside and has to make some comment. Yes…This is cold for me. Get over it.

Last March when it snow-snowed and stuck for a few hours in the valley floor was really cool though. I remember texting Blake and Spencer about it. It does snow once every few years in the valley floor…and obviously Mount Lemmon and the Foothills get it all the time.

Spencer: I would rather have a bunch of snow on the ground than the gross black ice Columbus has to settle for this storm… it’s so brutally cold my dog won’t poop outside unless I’m with him blocking the wind.

Makakilo: Brrrr…I’ve gotten accustomed to warm Hawaii weather. In the last couple days, a cold front reduced the Oahu temperature to 62 degrees at 7am and 76 degrees at 1pm. I added a blanket to my bed. Next Saturday’s forecast is for temperatures to return to 70 degrees at 7am and 79 degrees at 1pm. That’s more like Hawaii!

Wesley: Winter weather, especially snowfall is very serene to me, and there is something magical about watching the snow fall quietly in a place like Southern Arizona where it doesn’t usually snow. That said, I have so many health problems that the cold doesn’t play well with, that I’d just prefer a mild spring day over winter. My little dog Molly does NOT like cold weather, I spend more time trying to coax her to go outside than I’d care to admit. There’s an old saying among arctic peoples,”there’s no such thing as too cold, just the wrong clothing”. There is such a thing as too hot though, so I’ll still take cold weather over super hot weather.

Ben: Having had the unique experience of moving from Tucson to Milwaukee in January 2020, winter weather is a wonderful thing - when you don’t need to go anywhere or do anything productive. One of my favorite childhood traditions was my dad and I going for a walk through the first snow of the season. The quiet and peace that can come with snow is unmatched, but now as an adult it’s much rarer to have times where I don’t need to get something done or go somewhere.