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NASHVILLE — When Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen acquired catcher Gabriel Moreno from the Toronto Blue Jays last year, he felt like he was capitalizing on Moreno’s relative lack of experience in the league.
“[After] a year in the big leagues and a full season of play,” Hazen told reporters at the time, ‘I think I make a phone call on this player and I don’t get a response.”
Now, after seeing Moreno win the NL Gold Glove Award and slash a healthy .284/.339/.408 in 380 plate appearances this year, Hazen feels about Moreno precisely how he expected Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins to feel had Moreno stayed in Toronto. Any team that calls the Diamondbacks will be disappointed.
“I’ll pick up the phone,” Hazen said. “I’ll say thank you. And then I’ll change the subject.”
It’s only been about a year, but the Diamondbacks’ side of their deal with the Blue Jays has aged well so far. Moreno looks like a potential emerging star, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., now a free agent, had a solid year as a much-needed right-handed bat in 2023.
In retrospect, the deal was the headliner of the Diamondbacks’ last offseason, and undoubtedly a big reason why the team went as far as it did.
With Day 1 of the winter meetings in the books, it is still unclear how this offseason will take shape for Arizona. They want a starting pitcher, a right-handed bat and potentially a backup catcher. Adding bullpen depth seems likely as well. There are far more questions than answers at this point about how they will check off those items.
But, while Hazen’s conversation with the media on Day 1 in Nashville did not offer many specifics on how the Diamondbacks will reload this offseason, it did give added clarity on a number of big-picture topics. Let’s dive in.
1. Starting pitching more likely to come via Free agency than trade
Last month at the GM meetings, Hazen said that he would be aggressive in both the trade and free agent markets in his pursuit for a starting pitcher.
On Monday, he said that he is more likely to acquire a starter via free agency than trade at this point. Of course, both are still possible.
It is unclear how much the Diamondbacks have to spend this winter, but it seems unlikely that they could out-bid other teams for top free agent starters. For now, though, it appears that they are trying.
“We’re involved in the entirety of the free agent market in starting pitching,” Hazen said. “We just — I don’t know where that’s all gonna land. There’s a lot of competition out there.”
The pool of free agent starting pitchers is vast, but it allows for a more narrow search than that of the trade market.
While adding a top-tier starter in free agency seems like a long shot, perhaps mid-rotation types such as Marcus Stroman, Eduardo Rodriguez, Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo could be in play.
2. multiple starting pitchers “would be ideal”
If the season started tomorrow, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly would be locks for rotation spots. Brandon Pfaadt, whose 5.72 season ERA masks a promising second half and brilliant postseason, figures to be in there as well.
Among the Diamondbacks’ other starting rotation options are left-hander Tommy Henry, who posted a 4.13 ERA in 17 appearances (16 starts) before getting shut down with elbow inflammation, and Ryne Nelson, who showed promise early in the season but finished 2023 with a 5.31 ERA in 144 innings. Righties Slade Cecconi and Bryce Jarvis saw limited time in the majors in 2023 and could factor in as well.
If the Diamondbacks were to acquire exactly one starting pitcher for the major-league club, that would leave the No. 5 slot in the rotation for one of the team’s young pitchers. That could be fine — Henry, in particular, looked promising last year — but injuries are inevitable, and teams often prefer to go eight or more pitchers deep in their rotation. All that is to say: The Diamondbacks might prefer to have more insurance than what one additional starting pitcher would provide.
“Adding multiple starting pitchers,” Hazen said, “would be the ideal outcome, yeah, in some ways, just to build ourselves out. But we still have that group of young [starting pitchers] that are going to play a major role on our team.”
If the D-backs added two starters to go with Gallen, Kelly and Pfaadt, the members of the young starter group would be relegated to bullpen duty and/or Triple-A. That is not necessarily ideal either, but, again, a 162-game marathon has a way of testing team’s pitching depth in unforeseen ways.
Realistically, given the other items on the Diamondbacks’ wish list — right-handed bat, backup catcher, possibly a reliever — it seems unlikely that they could add multiple starters while also filling their other needs. That, of course, does not mean they will not try.
3. Sense of urgency following World Series run
With co-aces Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly set to reach free agency after 2025 and first baseman Christian Walker set to reach free agency after 2024, one could argue that the Diamondbacks should push their chips in this offseason while their best veteran players are still under contract and their best youngsters are still making relatively little.
Hazen does, indeed, plan to be aggressive, but primarily for another reason.
“The urgency is that we made it to the World Series last year and trying to replicate that season,” Hazen said. “That’s the ultimate urgency.”
At the same time, Hazen acknowledged that the future top of his rotation becomes very unclear after 2025. That is a factor in his decision making, too.
In light of that, the Diamondbacks are aiming to be aggressive — within reason, of course. In the right move, Hazen said that he is “open to any type of trade,” including one that would require dealing from the top of his farm system.
“Next year is incredibly important to us,” Hazen said. “So is the year after that.
“It’s not just about it’s not just about holding players for control purposes. I don’t really care about that. It’s about do we think this guy is going to be an elite player.”
4. Diamondbacks getting calls about their relievers
After needing to revamp his bullpen seemingly every winter since his tenure began in 2016, Hazen finds himself in unfamiliar territory this offseason. Teams are asking about his relievers, not the other way around.
The Diamondbacks have received inquiries about virtually every reliever except Paul Sewald, Hazen said.
Two, in particular, stand out as attractive trade assets. The oft-overlooked Kevin Ginkel had one of the better seasons ever assembled by a Diamondbacks reliever this year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings. Ginkel is under control for three more seasons.
Ryan Thompson could be another attractive target after he allowed just one run in 13 innings with the Diamondbacks over the final month or so of the season. He is under club control for three more years as well.
It seems unlikely that the Diamondbacks would trade away one of their backend relievers, but the fact that teams are showing interest to begin with is a testament to how far the bullpen has come.
5. No regrets for Mike Hazen over Jordan Lawlar’s late-season call-up
When the Diamondbacks designated veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed for assignment and promoted top prospect Jordan Lawlar from Triple-A Reno on Sep. 7, they were not looking for Lawlar to play savior. They wanted him to start against lefties and provide an offensive boost.
Before long, however, Lawlar was hardly playing at all, not even against lefties. In 34 plate appearances in the majors in September, he slashed just .129/.206/.129 with 11 strikeouts in 34 plate appearances.
To be fair, that was too small a sample size to call Lawlar’s elite prospect status into question — he is still only 21 years old — but it appeared as though Ahmed’s skillset might have been more beneficial than Lawlar’s down the stretch. Lawlar logged only two plate appearances in the playoffs. Ahmed’s bat, of course, did not look much better before he was let go, but he was the more sure-handed defender.
When asked for his thoughts on the decision on Monday, Hazen declined to speak on Ahmed. He did, however, talk about the value of Lawlar being around the team during the playoffs, even if he wasn’t playing much.
“That is incredible experience for us moving forward,” Hazen said. “Though he didn’t get the at-bats, I still think that experience of him being around, seeing how those games played themselves out — Torey can’t sit there and talk in spring training about what the playoffs are like and have anyone have any snowball’s chance in hell to really understand what he’s talking about.
“I very much anticipate [Lawlar] is going to be a big player on our team at some point [in 2024]. And so, getting to the end of the season, him being there, being on that playoff team is important.”
Lawlar figures to enter spring training next year looking to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Top photo: Joe Rondone/The Republic
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