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SnakePit Round Table: Hello, baseball!

Why, yes: yes, it is!

Chocholowska Valley in town of Witow Photo by Artur Widak/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday! How did you survive the winter?

Spencer: I focused on my relatively new job, watched my Columbus Crew win their Cup and took my dog on long frigidly cold walks which he adored.

DBacksEurope: I had no idea Spencer was into soccer, how cool! Congratulations on your Columbus Crew. After the WS run ended I entered a job selection process with an English company for their Dutch office and spent October and November preparing the new job and wrapping up the old one. It was a hectic time, add the holiday season to that and time went by rapidly. Now adjusting to my full remote job with frequent travel to my home country. It’s terrific, much better to combine with family life and aging parents and I get a much better pay than before. I tried to bring some fun with my articles here in the meantime, with mixed results.

Makakilo: It’s been fun following the Diamondbacks’ acquisitions - the team actively improved a few weaknesses and added depth.

As always, I enjoyed playing pickleball. Several times I played pickleball on the top of a parking garage at the Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina - the views of the ocean and mountain were amazing. What’s not to like about cushioned chairs, fresh towels, and fancy cans of water?

ISH95: At the end of August, I got promoted into a new role (Store Manager!) at my job, and acclimating to that role, while also leading the store through our busy season, took up the vast majority of my winter.

I did go to Puerto Rico for a week though, which was a lot of fun! It was cool to see all the old Spanish forts. Also tried a bunch of Puerto Rican food, which I kind of came to the conclusion I didn’t care for, but trying it and learning that was fun!

James: I watched the Phoenix Rising win the USL Championship. Beyond that, I was neck-deep in doing university work. Outside of that, I began the new search for a work-from-home job, essentially any WFH job. So far, that search has proved fruitless, but my location does not allow me to commute to work, so I’m sticking to my search and that’s about it.

Wesley: I didn’t survive the winter, but that’s unrelated to the lack of baseball. I just focus on trying to move forward step by step, day by day!

Ben: I survived the winter by handling some health issues and feverishly applying for jobs that has not yet borne fruit, but I am still hopeful! And ironically, my wife and I will be moving to the near opposite of Arizona - Wisconsin - so all of those changes have kept me pretty well occupied.

What player will you be watching closely this spring and why?

Spencer: Corbin Carroll. He’s obviously got the stud stuff, but many young players experience the “Sophomore Slump.” His continued excellence is the fundamental part of Arizona’s contention in 2024.

DBacksEurope: Justin Martinez and Luis Frias. Luis Frias is out of options and will probably make Opening Day, but I wonder if he has really improved. I was a bit negative about his end-of-season results. Justin Martinez might make Opening Day, but I wonder if he is able to get the better batters out in Spring Training. I think he’ll be reassigned to minor league camp in the end.

Makakilo: I will closely watch all of them! One area of interest is depth in starting pitchers. Cristian Mena was recently acquired.

ISH95: Brandon Pfaadt. He was an interesting prospect to start the year, but really faltered for most of the season. He showed why he was so interesting, though, on the biggest of stages, multiple times, so I am really intrigued as to what we will get from him this year. If he can be a true #3 starter (or maybe even better mustn’t get my hopes up) our rotation becomes truly scary for opposing hitters.

James: Picking someone that hasn’t already been picked, probably Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Will he continue to be a steady, above average hitter with modest pop? Will he continue to improve defensively in left field? Basically, is he going to warrant the contract? I was a massive supporter of bringing him back, but there are clearly still some areas for concern. If I am simply answering the question without regard to others, I was pretty much in the same category as ISH in that I am looking forward to Pfaadt’s continued development.Unlike last season, I don’t see any meaningful development coming from the farm or filling out the bullpen, save the possibility of Jordan Lawlar.

Honourable Mention: Slade Cecconi (mostly, just because I like him)

Wesley: I’ll be keeping an eye on Jordan Lawlar and Jorge Barrosa. Lawlar is obvious why I’d want to keep an eye on how he’s doing this spring; How is he hitting and move forward from his struggles hitting the MLB level last year? Will he be making the opening day roster, or will he be sent down to Reno to work on his swing and defense? With Dominic Fletcher traded and Jake McCarthy’s future in question, Jorge Barrosa has a very good opportunity to make the MLB roster, especially if Jake struggles this spring.

Ben: There are plenty of interesting choices, but I’ll go with Gabriel Moreno. I think at this point, we know what Corbin Carroll is capable of doing on a regular basis, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case for Gabi. He certainly had a good season in 2023 - a .284/.339/.408 slash line and a Gold Glove would qualify as such for most players - but there’s plenty of areas of improvement for him too. Most notably, he could unlock some additional power as his seven home runs ranked near the bottom of the National League last year. It’s worth noting that he was not expected to be the starting catcher entering the 2023 season, but he ably stepped up after Carson Kelly was injured. This year, he’s the clear number one catcher on the team so how he handles the pitching staff in year two as well as balancing some additional offensive value to his game will go a long way towards determining the team’s success.

What position battle interests you?

Spencer: Backup shortstop mostly. Lawlar is a player I believe in heavily, and I think the PPI incentive is hard to pass on for him, but his incredibly awful showing at the MLB level to end 2023 shook my faith he’s ready. As much as I want Lawlar eligible for the extra pick if he somehow wins ROY, I don’t want him on the team just to ride the bench. He needs the everyday at bats. I think Kevin Newman will “win” the position and be cut when it’s time to see if Jordan is ready to make adjustments for MLB success.

DBacksEurope: In Spring Training? I think there isn’t much to battle for except the backup positions, like Spencer has already mentioned. I wonder which Christian Walker we will see once the season starts. He is very streaky and we don’t have an alternative there.

Makakilo: Most interesting is the battle for backup shortstop (the same interest as Spencer and DBacksEurope). Five candidates are talked about in this article, scheduled to post Tuesday. Performance in spring training could greatly impact the decision.

ISH95: Honestly none. 95% of everything is decided, and what’s left is bench positions. Those bench positions will change a dozen times throughout the season anyway, so I don’t particularly care about it in ST.

James: I have almost zero interest in Spring Training this year. The bullpen is still an utter mess, so I guess there will be something to look forward to there. Who will make the cut, and in what capacity?

Wesley: Spencer beat me to mentioning the battle for backup shortstop, so I’ll go with the 4th OF or possibly the RH DH platoon role. Backup catcher is something else I’ll be keeping an eye on, although that’s not a particularly exciting answer.

Ben: I agree that most of the positional battles are pretty well settled heading into spring training - for the first time in a while. I’m most interested in how the outfield depth shakes out, especially with Dominic Fletcher exiting and Joc Pederson entering. I am on record with a preference for Fletcher over Jake McCarthy, but that argument is moot now. It will be interesting to see what kind of role Pederson will fill, but I assume he will take the lion’s share of reps at DH rather than in the field, but that’s another question that will become clearer during spring training!

Fangraphs gives Arizona a 52.1% chance of the playoffs. Too high or too low?

Spencer: This feels about right. Arizona brings back most of the same team from 2023 with improvements (Rodriguez instead of Davies) and question mark lottery tickets (Suarez, Pederson, Pfaadt), but needed the incredible health of core players to make the playoffs and some perfectly timed hot streaks to make the World Series. Expecting that type of health again is bold, but the floor certainly feels higher with: an experienced Corbin Carroll, normal winter for Marte, positive experience for Pfaadt and high priced free agents. Slightly better than even odds is accurate. This team could be anything from just under .500 to 90 wins and it wouldn’t surprise me. But making the playoffs is no sure thing no matter which version we get. Seattle won 88 games last year and missed out.

DBacksEurope: Probably too high. I think we are good but the division is for the Dodgers so we only have the Wild Card to battle for. Our luck might be that the Rockies terribly suck and the Giants don’t look like they have improved either. The Padres have taken a step back as well. That should give us the opportunity to beat out teams that come from the weak NL Central and offset all the losses we will suffer against the Dodgers. I can see NL East teams ending before us in the WC standings.

Makakilo: That same table shows the Diamondbacks with 84.1 projected wins. I am confident that the Diamondbacks will exceed 84.1 wins for the following reasons:

  • Last season they had 84 wins. In the offseason the Diamondbacks improved the team (Eduardo Rodriguez SP, Eugenio Suarez 3B, Joc Pederson DH, plus depth additions).
  • The impact of injuries (optimistically only minor injuries) will be less because in the offseason the Diamondbacks added depth to several positions.
  • ZiPS projected 84-88 wins (3 January Dbacks-only article, not the 9 February all teams article). Their previous projection undershot Diamondbacks’ actual wins by 3. Perhaps they undershot again. Even if they did not undershoot, the article projected a range (84-88 wins) that exceeded 84 wins. Caveat: neither article is ZiPS’ final pre-season projection.
  • Better results against the Padres. The Padres lost Juan Soto, Blake Snell, and Josh Hader and did very little in the off-season. They will likely fall short of last season’s 82 wins.
  • Better results against the Giants. In the offseason, the Giants failed to replace enough WAR to make up for lost players, so at best they are the same as last season (79 wins).
  • The Rockies remain a very weak team. In the offseason, they lost more than they gained. But it will be hard to improve very much on last season’s 10-3 record against them.

And Jack Sommers wrote the Diamondbacks are solid contenders for a wild-card, and I liked the following:

“While the overall projected win total for the team may seem underwhelming, it appears the team has a solid floor, and should be able to withstand an injury or two and still compete for a playoff spot.” – Jack Sommers

ISH95: on the one hand it seems low because it doesn’t seem likely that there is a 50% chance that six NL teams end up better than us, but also, yeah it kind of tracks? For an outside objective prediction it’s probably pretty decent though. Personally I put it much higher.

James: It feels about right to me. The Diamondbacks are playing for second in the NL West and looking to get as strong a Wild Card position as they can. If they do their job in the division, it will take quite the performance from other second-tier teams to entirely eliminate the Diamondbacks from the postseason. The real goal should be to avoid being the away team all the time like they were last year and to at least get one round of home field advantage.

Wesley: That feels about right to me too, as everyone else already said. It’s an improvement over this time last year, that’s for sure!

Ben: I think that’s a little low personally, but I’ll also recognize that there are question marks in the bullpen, the roster depth, and the starting pitching after the top two guys. However, assuming the division is out of the question (a contention I haven’t agreed to just yet), there are plenty of questions from the other wild card contenders - especially in a perennially weak NL Central.

The D-backs are still looking for another right-handed bat. Who do you fancy?

Spencer: Jordan Lawlar? I jest, but also… he could conceivably play outfield and let Carroll play center so Thomas isn’t grounding out to second 85 gazillion times (give or take 1-2) by the end of April. But if we’re talking free agent market only? I guess Grichuk or Pham? No one really inspires much confidence in all honesty.

DBacksEurope: I thought they would have made a run for Justin Turner, also because of an alternative to Walker at 1B. He signed a very reasonable contract, but not with us. It’ll be a platoon bat, so we shouldn’t get too excited here. Pham doesn’t make sense, I already wrote in my Pederson article that there was some stupid rotten beef between those two. I saw the name of Duvall popping up. Nothing to be excited about but could be a possible bench platoon bat for a reasonable salary. I think, however, that Mike Hazen will surprise with CJ Cron. Easy bench platoon guy who will want to redeem himself and can play 1B. Tim Anderson could be a dark horse, but he is probably looking for a guaranteed lineup spot.

Makakilo: Instead of an acquisition, perhaps the Diamondbacks have internal candidates.

The first two that came to mind are Kristian Robinson (let’s see his power!) and Kevin Newman (who could also play SS, 3B, and 2B), but they are not on the 40-man roster.

What about Blaze Alexander! He is on the 40-man roster, his OPS was 1.000 vs LHP in AAA Reno, and his spring training OPS was 1.143 against LHP (more impressive than Reno). If his results are a repeat of his spring training, he would be a great choice. The risk is that he has not yet played at the Majors level.

ISH95: I’d like to see Pham come back. Idk how that would work with Pederson, but if anyone can quiet those waters, it would be Lovullo.

James: None that are on the free agent market. In fact, this entire winter’s free agent market has had almost no players I had any interest in. THe Diamondbacks nabbed two of them in Gurriel and Rodriguez. The right-handed bat probably needs to come through trade or internal promotion. There is (and really never was) anyone for me to get excited about as far as adding a right-handed bat to the roster.

Wesley: There’s no one on the FA market that excites me. I just wanna see our young prospects like Lawlar get playing time instead of being jerked around

Ben: I’ve been beating the J.D. Martinez drum for a bit now so I’ll stick with that answer. He had an absolute resurgence last year with the Dodgers, but I don’t think it was a fluke result. Martinez posted his best peripherals (93.4 Exit Velocity and a 54.9% HardHit percentage) since 2018 and offers some much-need veteran presence for a still very young team that could get younger depending on promotions.

How much attention did you pay to the 2024 TaylorSwift Bowl? Any favorite commercials?

DBacksEurope: I swear that the question made me Google, I had no clue that there was a lot of buzz around Taylor Swift and the 2024 Super Bowl. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the countries I frequently visit 99% pass on American Football. In all honesty I have very limited knowledge of American Football, but regained interest in years past because of a Dynasty football I played, which was a lot of fun. Most years I only watch the first half of the Super Bowl because the starting time is at midnight here on mainland Europe. This year I am with my parents and not staying up that late for the game so I sadly missed the first half and the rest. We get to see the halftime show here, by the way, but not the commercials. I hope people on here enjoyed it!

Makakilo: I was favorably impressed that Taylor Swift includes regular exercise in her busy schedule. Also, I liked that she takes rest days.

The following quote adds some context to her possibly showing up at the Super Bowl.

“Be a warrior when it comes to delivering on your ambitions. And a saint when it comes to treating people with respect, modeling generosity, and showing up with outright love.” – Robin S. Sharma

ISH95: Writing this the day before, but I’ll pay attention but I’m not doing anything crazy. I’ll have it on the the background but not a whole lot more. If I get really crazy, might place a couple $10 bets but that’s even pushing it.

James: I suspect the game will be on in the background at some point. If nothing else, the Mrs. is a massive fan of watching the halftime show. That means we’ll have it on for that at the very least. I’m writing this about nine hours before the game, so I don’t know what, if any commercials I will see. But, given that I plan to probably be gaming (either on the PC or at the table) I doubt anything will likely be getting much of my attention. HEll, since a massive leg cramp woke me up four hours early, it is entirely possible I will be in bed before the game finishes.

Wesley: I haven’t watched a Super Bowl in 15 years, and I have no intention of changing that this year. Couldn’t care less about Swift and all that.

Ben: I am currently writing this while watching the 49ers drive in overtime to try and win the game. I watched nearly the entire game if for no other reason than because baseball hasn’t started and I’m not that emotionally committed to any of the college basketball games. Maddeningly, that attention was wasted on one of the sloppiest Superb Owl games I’ve ever seen, despite the exciting end. No matter, that just means it’s nearly baseball season!!

Spencer: NFL isn’t really my thing. But the last 12 months of sports for me has been great: my Number 1 Team reached the World Series a year before anyone really thought they were ready, my local soccer team won every game I attended in person this year including their Cup Match, and now my Kansas City Chiefs (a team I only follow because of college proximity…) have won their trophy as well. Columbus Fury play their first home game in a couple weeks as well! If only the Blue Jackets were a bit better I’d say sports-wise this year was perfect.

The NFL players from bird teams flying early game was a good commercial.