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SAN DIEGO — For the first time since 2019, neither a global pandemic nor an owners-imposed lockout could prevent baseball’s biggest annual gathering from taking place. The Winter Meetings are officially back, and there is a growing consensus in the industry that there will be no shortage of headlines made over the next few days.
It’s not hard to see why. As the meetings get under way, there are as many as seven, $100-million-plus free agents still on the board in Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson, Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodón and Brandon Nimmo. Intriguing trade candidates are plentiful as well, including Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy, Miami Marlins righty Pablo Lopez and a slew of talented Toronto Blue Jays catchers.
While the Diamondbacks are unlikely to make a play for any of the top-tier free agents, they are strategically positioned with the necessary assets — namely, a quartet of coveted young outfielders — to make a splash in the trade market. They also have the financial flexibility to add another $10-15 million in payroll, which could open the door to sign a couple of mid-tier free agents.
All signs point to the 2022 Winter Meetings being not just busy for baseball, but busy for the Diamondbacks — a team that is hellbent on building on last year’s 22-game improvement and, as general manger Mike Hazen has put it, becoming the winning team, not just the young team.
As the frenzy begins, here is what you need to know.
1. Curt Schilling falls short again in Hall of Fame bid
We start with some non-roster news. Former Diamondbacks pitcher and 2001 World Series Co-MVP Curt Schilling got what appeared to be a second chance at Hall of Fame induction on Sunday night. A 16-person committee of current Hall of Famers, executives and media members sat down to reconsider the Hall-of-Fame aspirations of eight MLB greats. When all was said and done, only Fred McGriff got the requisite 12 votes to be elected to the Hall. Schilling received seven.
It is no secret that Schilling’s controversial political opinions have done him no favors, but his on-field performance speaks for itself. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated said it best when he wrote that “Schilling (216-146, 127 ERA+) is Don Drysdale (209-166, 121 ERA+) with a better postseason record and better command.” Drysdale is in the Hall of Fame; Schilling should be, too.
Diamondbacks fans know about Schilling’s postseason dominance as well as anyone. In 55.1 innings throughout the Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series run, Schilling went 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 63 strikeouts against just seven walks. Combine that with a regular-season career that checks plenty (enough?) of the boxes, and there really is no good reason to keep Schilling from the Hall. (And no, becoming a jerk after retirement is not a valid reason.)
In defense of the committee members, it is worth pointing out that voters were limited to three votes per person, a number that was simply insufficient, given the quality of the candidates. Mathematically, the highest possible number of inductees from this year’s vote is four, and that was nearly impossible. In addition to Schilling, the list included Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, McGriff, Don Mattingly, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle and Dale Murphy.
Notably, the New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported that Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall was a last-minute addition to the committee. He replaced Chipper Jones, who was ill.
If the Hall isn't going to have a voting process that could possibly induct Bonds or Clemens or McGwire or Palmeiro or any of that group, then why waste everyone's time?
Just focus on the older mistakes, like no Whitaker, Grich, etc.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 5, 2022
2. Will the Diamondbacks lose a player in the Rule 5 draft?
The Winter Meetings will conclude with the Rule 5 draft on Wednesday evening at 5 p.m. ET. The draft gives teams an opportunity to pay a $100,000 fee to select an eligible, unprotected player from another team’s minor-league system. Selecting a player comes with the caveat that the player must be kept on the major league roster throughout the season.
The Diamondbacks are not currently in position to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft because their 40-man roster is full. The team could still remove a player from the roster to create space for a potential selection, but such a move appears unlikely.
The more pressing storyline is whether the D-backs could lose a player in the Rule 5 draft. They have several notable prospects who were not protected prior to the Nov. 15 deadline. The biggest names are outfielders Dominic Canzone and Wilderd Patino, as well as right-handed pitcher Connor Grammes.
As the only one of the group to reach Triple-A, Canzone is the most polished of the three. He is still not a slam-dunk selection, given that his numbers in Reno last year were only slightly above league average and his defense is not a strength. However, Canzone has been a promising prospect for the D-backs since being drafted in the eighth round in 2019, and he would be a decent get for a team looking for a left-handed bat with some pop.
3. Will the Diamondbacks pull the trigger on trading an outfielder?
At this point, a trade involving a Diamondbacks outfielder appears to be a matter of when, not if.
— PHNX Diamondbacks (@PHNX_Dbacks) November 30, 2022
It has been widely reported that the D-backs are not willing to move Corbin Carroll, and dealing Daulton Varsho would be difficult given how much value he has already provided to the big-league roster. That would seem to leave Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas as the most likely candidates to be traded.
Whomever it is, the Diamondbacks should net a meaningful return. That return could come in the form of a catcher, a third baseman, a starting pitcher or some combination thereof. Acquiring bullpen help is also a possibility, but it seems less likely given the volatility that relievers exhibit year to year.
The overarching point here is that the D-backs are probably going to make a trade, and it could happen this week. Given how promising each of the D-backs outfielders is, such a deal could go down as the biggest trade of Hazen’s career.
4. Diamondbacks not done adding to bullpen
After signing right-handed relief pitcher Miguel Castro on Friday, Hazen made it clear that the Diamondbacks are still working to improve the bullpen.
“This is not our final move,” Hazen said. “I mean, I hope it’s not our final move. I’m hoping there are still enough opportunities for us out there.
“Whether it comes [as a] free agent or trade in the future, we’re still very much looking to add.”
With the addition of Castro, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen still has room for more, with only Castro, Joe Mantiply, Mark Melancon and possibly Kevin Ginkel and Kyle Nelson penciled in for Opening Day roles in 2023. Recent trade acquisition Carlos Vargas as well as Arizona Fall League All-Star Justin Martinez could warrant a look as well. Nonetheless, the D-backs still need bullpen help, and it’s possible their next move brings in a higher-caliber reliever than Castro.
“We’re always shooting for higher up,” Hazen said on Friday. “There’s going to be a myriad of trades that get discussed over the next seven to 10 days, in which I’m sure a lot of relievers could become components.”
“We’re engaged in the free-agent market pretty aggressively, too. It’s just hard to know where those things are going to end up coming together.”
Again, it is difficult to imagine the team trading one of the aforementioned outfielders for a reliever, but perhaps there is a separate, smaller-scale trade that could be made in which the Diamondbacks land bullpen help. There are plenty of possibilities, and it would not be a shock if one or two of them came to fruition this week.
5. Will the Diamondbacks add a starting pitcher?
A lesser discussed need for the Diamondbacks is that of starting pitcher, which Hazen discussed at his end-of-season press conference. If the Diamondbacks don’t land a starter in a deal for one of their outfielders, free agency is the next logical step.
Again, the D-backs do not appear to be in a position to chase after any of the big names like Verlander or Rodón, or even mid-tier options like Chris Bassitt or Nathan Eovaldi. Nonetheless, there are a few free-agent options that could theoretically fit into the budget.
The Diamondbacks might be best off targeting a left-handed starter, given that the only in-house lefties that have a shot at the starting rotation on Opening Day are Madison Bumgarner and Tommy Henry. Both struggled in the big leagues last year.
As far as left-handed options on the market, Jose Quintana and Drew Smyly make sense on paper. Quintana is coming off one of the best years of his career, making 32 starts with a 2.93 ERA over 165.2 innings. He only averaged around five innings per start, but the quality of those innings was top notch. The lefty gave up only eight homers all year.
Smyly, meanwhile, averaged a tick under five innings per start in 2022, but, like Quintana, he was effective. The 33-year-old pitched to a 3.47 ERA with 26 walks and 91 strikeouts over 106.1 innings. Smyly should still be relatively affordable, and could be viewed as something of a left-handed version of Zach Davies should the D-backs acquire him.
Whatever happens this week in San Diego, be sure to tune in to the PHNX Diamondbacks Podcast live at 1 p.m. from Monday though Thursday for the latest news and rumors. And buckle up — it could be a very busy week for the D-backs.
Top photo: Nicky the Artist