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As the offseason gets under way, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen would be the first to tell you that he feels behind.
He did not have preliminary trade discussions in October as he usually would. He has not yet started interviewing candidates to replace Josh Barfield, who left his job as Diamondbacks farm director for an assistant GM role with the Chicago White Sox. Hazen and his staff have worked late nights and early mornings to catch up.
Of course, they are only in this position because 0f the Diamondbacks’ magical run to the World Series.
“You make that trade 100 out of 100 times,” Hazen said.
This offseason will be a fascinating one for the Diamondbacks.
On one hand, they won 84 games and had a minus-15 run differential in 2023. Based on those numbers alone, they have plenty of work to do set themselves up for another playoff berth in 2024.
On the other hand, the Diamondbacks will enter next season as the reigning National League champions. Surely, there is some sense that their 84 regular-season wins in 2023 were not indicative of their true talent at the end of the year.
Hazen partially agrees with that sentiment. The bullpen, he said, was much better at the end of the season than at the beginning. They now have a bonafide closer in Paul Sewald. They likely would have won more than 84 games had Sewald been with the team from the jump.
In every other respect, however, Hazen sees no reason to believe that the Diamondbacks are anything other than what they were in the regular season: an 84-win team.
“Everyone goes back to what [former NFL Coach] Bill Parcels says,” he said in his exit interview last week. “You are what your record says you are, and that’s who we were.
“That’s not something that I’m saying in a disparaging way. I’m proud of the fact that we got into the playoffs. That’s not an easy thing to do, a lot of teams that didn’t. But I think there’s a lot of room to grow when I think about that 84-win number.”
Historically speaking, the Diamondbacks have struggled mightily to reach the postseason in back-to-back years. That feat has only ever happened once, in fact, in 2001-02. Since then, no two consecutive postseason appearances have been closer than four years apart.
Following the Diamondbacks’ World Series run this year, optimism has reached a 20-year high. That said, this does not look like the kind of team that can run it back and expect similar results.
As this pivotal offseason unfolds, here are five questions that will go a long way in deciding how successful it ultimately is.
1. How much will the Diamondbacks spend?
According to Cot’s Contracts, the Diamondbacks opened the 2023 season with a $116.2 million payroll and they currently have $82.6 million on the books for 2024. (Keep in mind that the latter figure does not include the $14 million owed to Madison Bumgarner in 2024, despite the fact that he was released in April of this year.)
Two opposite — but not necessarily equal — forces figure to impact the Diamondbacks’ payroll in 2024.
The positive force stems from the fact that the Diamondbacks just completed a lengthy postseason run to the World Series. Postseason revenue is split among all 12 postseason teams, with the teams going the farthest receiving the most.
It is unclear exactly how much revenue the Diamondbacks earned this postseason, but it is significant. A Fangraphs study of the 2012 postseason estimated that the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants received $20.5 million.
The Diamondbacks, of course, were runner ups, not champions, but it is conceivable that inflation, combined with the gains from an expanded postseason field, could make up the difference.
“The opportunity that playing all of these games creates is an economic windfall that was not planned,” Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick told Burns & Gambo last week. “It has always been our approach to this ballclub over all the years that we reinvest the dollars that we have back into the payroll of our team.
“We’re going to be in position this offseason to make not insubstantial investments in the ball team.”
Based on that statement, it appears that the Diamondbacks will increase payroll in 2024, although Kendrick did not give specific figures. Whatever the level of increase is, however, the Diamondbacks’ TV situation figures to be the negative force acting against it.
In March of 2023, Diamond Sports Group, the parent company of former Diamondbacks broadcast partner Bally Sports Arizona, declared bankruptcy. Four months later, Major League Baseball stepped in to broadcast Diamondbacks games.
From a viewer’s perspective, the transition might have been seemless. Behind the scenes, however, the Diamondbacks were sure to lose money the moment their TV rights contract with Diamond was voided. It is unclear exactly how much TV revenue they lost, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred promised to backstop 80 percent of what teams were owed under their previous deals.
According to a story from ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, however, that 80 percent guarantee applied only to the 2023 season. Should the Diamondbacks move forward with MLB as their broadcast partner in 2024 — or even if they ink a deal elsewhere — they seem to be at risk of a significant reduction in TV revenue relative to past seasons. Their previous deal with Diamond had an average annual value around $75 million, based on details from an Arizona Republic report.
Hazen declined to comment on the matter at the GM meetings on Wednesday, other than to say that diminished TV revenue “has not been a major factor” in his payroll discussions with Diamondbacks majority owner Ken Kendrick and President Derrick Hall.
2. will the Diamondbacks solve their third base problem?
In 2023, Diamondbacks third basemen slashed a lackluster .234/.303/.340. Their 75 wRC+ (100 is league average) ranked 27th in baseball, ahead of only the Detroit Tigers, Oakland A’s and New York Mets.
Uncertainty at third base is nothing for the Diamondbacks. Since they dealt Eduardo Escobar at the trade deadline in 2021, they have lacked a stable everyday option.
Utility man Josh Rojas was serviceable in the role in 2022, but he struggled mightily in the first half of the 2023 season before being dealt to the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline.
With veteran Evan Longoria now officially a free agent, the only true third baseman on the roster is Emmanuel Rivera. He hit just .261/.314/.358 in 283 plate appearances in 2023.
The Diamondbacks also have utility man Jace Peterson, whom they acquired at the trade deadline. Peterson, though, hit just .183/.276/.258 down the stretch after joining the club.
Outside of Rivera and Peterson, the Diamondbacks could opt to move one of their promising young shortstops to third base. Geraldo Perdomo played 16 games at third this year, but he lacks the power that the position warrants. The team has shown some willingness to play top shortstop prospect Jordan Lawlar at third, but Hazen said that he will be aggressive in pursuing a solution outside the organization.
“We’re in the period now where there’s a lot of ability to acquire external players,” Hazen said. “You kind of focus on that first, and then we’ll see where that all comes together after.
“You don’t want to ever pass up the opportunity to get additional good players in your organization.”
It is hard to say exactly what a solution at third base would look like for the Diamondbacks. They could seek a stopgap solution via trade, or they could turn to an albeit very limited free agent class.
Widely considered the best third baseman on the free agent market this winter, 30-year-old Matt Chapman is one of the best defenders in the sport at the hot corner and is expected to command well over $100 million this winter.
Beyond Chapman, the only other free-agent third baseman who would represent a clear upgrade is 29-year-old switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario.
In 2023, Candelario hit .251/.336/.471 with 22 homers and 70 RBI with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. According to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman, the Diamondbacks are among the teams that have expressed interest.
3. What caliber of starting pitcher will the Diamondbacks acquire?
Hazen has said that the Diamondbacks will be aggressive in both the trade and free-agent markets for starting pitching, but it is unclear what caliber starter they are targeting.
“We have two top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers and we think Brandon Pfaadt has the ability to get into that mode,” Hazen said. “I think we’re starting in a pretty good spot.
“Who the number one or two or three — I don’t get too bogged down into that, where they slot in. We need to improve our rotation.”
While the overall free-agent market is seen as weak, there are a bevvy of frontline options, including presumptive NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, right-handed iron man Aaron Nola, the aging-but-still-excellent Sonny Gray and 25-year-old Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Jordan Montgomery, whom the Diamondbacks just faced in the World Series, will also be highly sought after.
With the possible exception of Gray, all of those pitchers seem poised to get north of $100 million with their new teams. Whether the Diamondbacks can spend on that level goes back to the previous discussion about World Series and TV revenue — and how much they feel the need to spread around the resources they do have.
Outside of that top tier, there are some midrange free-agent starters as well, such as 30-year-old lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s 3.30 ERA was a bit shinier than his peripherals in 2023, but he has proven himself to a be reliable mid-rotation starter in recent years. Long-time White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito is also available. At age 29, he is a proven innings-eater, but his homer proneness has led to back-to-back seasons with high-four ERAs.
There are some intriguing bounceback candidates as well, such as two-time All-Star Luis Severino. He is still just 29 years old.
When asked about the possibility of acquiring a bounceback type as opposed to well-established starter, Hazen did not rule out the possibility entirely, but he said that he would prefer to have a starter that is more reliable.
The trade market, of course, could also an option in the D-backs’ starting pitching search. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Milwaukee Brewers are willing to listen to offers for virtually any player on their roster, including and perhaps especially right-handed starter Corbin Burnes. The White Sox’ Dylan Cease could be available in the right deal as well, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
Acquiring Burnes or Cease would be much cheaper financially than their free-agent counterparts, but both figure to be very expensive in terms of prospect capital.
If the Diamondbacks do acquire a top-tier starter, they could conceivably enter the season with one of the best rotations in baseball, with Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and the promising Pfaadt already in place.
4. How much right-handed thump will the Diamondbacks add?
Even if the Diamondbacks acquire a well-established, right-handed hitting third baseman, they could still use another right-handed bat or two. Much of that is because both Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Tommy Pham are now free agents. Both were middle-of-the-order hitters.
The free-agent market is thin in terms of impactful right-handed bats, but there are a few interesting options, such as 31-year-old Jorge Soler, 36-year-old J.D. Martinez and 38-year-old Justin Turner. Soler slashed .250/.341/.512 in 2023. Martinez hit .271/.321/.572. Turner finished the year at .276/.345/.455.
All three look like meaningful upgrades offensively, but they all have their defensive limitations. Martinez was used exclusively as a DH in 2023. Soler played some right field, but his range graded out poorly. Turner’s days as an above-average third baseman appear to be far behind him. At this point, he is a serviceable first baseman, a position the Diamondbacks already have covered in Christian Walker. Outside of that, he is best used as a DH only.
If the Diamondbacks want to add a reliable right-handed hitter who can also play the outfield — a reasonable suggestion, considering that all of their other outfielders near the top of the depth chart bat left-handed — they will have to do so via trade. On that front, it does seem like there could be some options. Lane Thomas of the Washington Nationals and Anthony Santander of the Baltimore Orioles come to mind, among others.
How the Diamondbacks go about replacing Gurriel and Pham — which, of course, could involve bringing back one or both of them — will go a long way in deciding how much better (or worse) this lineup looks in 2024.
5. Will the Diamondbacks extend Gabriel Moreno?
Early-career contract extensions are rare and require significant buy-in from both the player and the team. It would not be fair to label this offseason a failure if the Diamondbacks do not extend 23-year-old catcher Gabriel Moreno.
However, if they do extend Moreno, it might be the most important move they make all winter.
Hazen declined to speak on the possibility of extending Moreno at the GM meetings, but he seems to be aligned with the kind of thinking that would lead him to do so.
“We see the value in the fans being able to associate the Diamondbacks with specific players,” he said. “People seem to really get excited about Corbin Carroll and having Corbin Carroll here for a long time is an important piece to that for us to be able to build around moving forward. We have other younger players that we feel like we would like to have here to build that team identity around.”
After being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in one of the biggest trades in baseball last offseason, Moreno looked more and more like a star as the season progressed. Earlier this week, he won the NL Gold Glove Award. It could be the first of many.
Offensively, Moreno finished the regular season with a slash line of .284/.339/.408, including an impressive .311/.382/.496 line after returning from a shoulder injury on Aug. 11.
Based on his 4.3 bWAR, Moreno tied the Baltimore Orioles’ Adley Rutschman as the most valuable catcher in baseball, despite the fact that Rutschman played 43 more games.
At the start of the Diamondbacks’ postseason run, manager Torey Lovullo used Moreno as his No. 5 hitter against right-handed starting pitchers and his No. 3 hitter against lefties. Before long, Moreno hit third against both.
In the World Series, Moreno went just 3-for-20. In 12 postseason games prior to that, however, he hit an excellent .279/.340/.512.
Moreno is currently on track to reach free agency after the 2028 season, at which point he will be 28 years old. Had the Diamondbacks not extended Carroll, he, too, would have been slated for free agency at age 28 after the 2028 season.
Instead, Carroll is now under contract through 2030 with a club option for 2031. Perhaps the Diamondbacks could strike a similar deal with Moreno.
Top photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
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