As of Nov. 8, MLB free agency is officially open for business and D-backs General Manager Mike Hazen has made it clear he will be active. His team’s needs are well-documented: bullpen, third base and potentially the starting rotation if an opportunity presents itself.
The Dodgers made the first significant free agent signing on Thursday, snagging left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney on a one-year, $8.5 million contract. In many ways, it’s the exact type of move the D-backs should be making.
On the surface, Heaney’s 2021 numbers are unimpressive. Splitting time with the Angels and Yankees, Heaney posted a 5.83 ERA, 4.85 FIP and 1.32 WHIP in 129.2 innings.
His peripherals tell a different story.
Heaney’s strikeout-minus-walk rate of 19.5% was good for 28th in all of baseball among pitchers that threw at least 120 innings. The two names immediately next to Heaney on the list? New teammate Walker Buehler and former Dodger Alex Wood.
Heaney is much better than his 2021 numbers suggest, and the Dodgers are smart to capitalize on that.
Granted, the Dodgers have significantly more financial cushion to lean on should Heaney not pan out, but $8.5 million over one season is the kind of risk even the Diamondbacks could take.
On that note, my five free agent targets in this article are intentionally different from the types of guys we’ve seen them sign in recent years.
There’s certainly a place for stable veterans like Asdrubal Cabrera, Joakim Soria and Kole Calhoun—particularly for a young team still finding its way.
But there’s also a place for chasing upside, knowing ultimately, the team has more to gain from a Heaney-type breakout than a predictably mediocre season from an established veteran. Here are five pitchers who fit that mold.
1. Dylan Bundy, SP/RP
Entering his age-29 season, the former first-round pick is coming off arguably the worst season of his career.
In 90.2 innings with the Angels in 2021, Bundy posted a 6.06 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and a startling 2.0 HR/9. His 21.2% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate suggest perhaps Bundy deserved better results, but probably not by much.
So why the hype over Bundy? It’s really all because of what he did in 2020. In 11 starts, Bundy posted a 3.29 ERA over 65.2 innings with an excellent 27.0% strikeout rate and 6.4% walk rate.
Bundy relies primarily on a high-spin low-90s fastball, a sinker and a slider with exceptional break. The good news is that his stuff—velocity, movement, etc.—all stayed essentially the same from 2020 to 2021. His struggles stemmed more from his inability to keep his pitches on the corners, hence the catastrophic uptick in home runs allowed.
Injuries also may have played a role here. There were questions early in the season if a foot injury may have hindered his command. Later in the year, Bundy also suffered a shoulder strain that ultimately ended his season.
However, if the team feels comfortable enough with his health status, Bundy could be the perfect buy-low candidate for the D-backs.
Like everyone else on this list, Lorenzen’s 2021 numbers certainly don’t jump off the page. In 29 outings out of the Reds bullpen, Lorenzen posted a 5.59 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 4.17 FIP. His 16.8% strikeout rate and 11.2% walk rate were also underwhelming.
Nonetheless, Lorenzen is about as intriguing a pitcher as there is—partially because he’s not just a pitcher.
Since being called up in 2015, Lorenzen has posted a .233/.282/.429 batting line in 129 plate appearances. He’s also logged nearly 100 innings in the outfield in his big league career—primarily in center, where he is a more than adequate defender.
Combine that with the fact Lorenzen boasts a high-spin four-seam fastball that averages 97 mph, a cutter with an above-average whiff rate and a history of generating ground balls, and Lorenzen’s resumé looks far more impressive than his 2021 numbers indicate.
From 2016 through 2020, Lorenzen posted a 3.48 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in over 300 innings, primarily out of the bullpen. His 2021 season looked to be more of the same until he allowed seven earned runs over his two final outings, bringing his ERA from 3.62 to 5.59 in less than a week.
Lorenzen has made it known he wants to pursue a starting role in 2022. The spotty injury history of the D-backs’ rotation—and the fact that the team currently has no clear fifth starter—suggests he could get that opportunity in Arizona.
Rumor has it Lorenzen is already garnering interest, so the D-backs may need to act sooner than later.
3. Vince Velasquez, SP/RP
Since tossing a complete game shutout with 16 strikeouts in 2016 at the age of 23, Velasquez has appeared on numerous potential breakout lists over the years. Unfortunately, a full-on breakout has yet to materialize.
The 29-year-old has a solid 25.4% career strikeout rate and a respectable 9.5% walk rate. Unfortunately, he is also a flyball pitcher who has really struggled with the longball over the years.
Nonetheless, he’s always had good stuff, highlighted by an elite four-seam fastball that generates plenty of whiffs.
While most associate Velasquez with the Phillies, his first big league season actually came with the Houston Astros, where he posted some of the best numbers of his career. His pitching coach at the time? Brent Strom, who the D-backs reportedly just hired.
4. Trevor Rosenthal, RP
From 2012 to 2017, Rosenthal was arguably a top 15 reliever in baseball. In that span, Rosenthal posted a 2.99 ERA, 2.60 FIP and a 31.2% strikeout rate.
Since then, Rosenthal has pitched just 39 innings in four seasons. Most recently, he pitched for the Royals and Padres in 2020, logging an impressive 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings with an absurd 38 strikeouts and only eight walks.
Granted, there are severe injury concerns here. Just ask the Oakland Athletics, who spent $11 million on Rosenthal last offseason only to see him undergo two surgeries and never throw a pitch.
Nonetheless, that injury risk is the source of the upside. At this stage in his career, Rosenthal isn’t likely to command a significant salary figure. If he can prove he’s healthy this winter, the D-backs could wind up with one of the better relievers on the market with a minimal one-year contract.
Come the trade deadline, a player with Rosenthal’s experience and pedigree would certainly be held in high regard.
5. Tyler Anderson, SP
When you think high-upside, you probably don’t think Tyler Anderson. I acknowledge that Anderson probably is what he is at this point.
The upside here lies more in Anderson’s trade value. Just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates, who netted a solid return for the lefty for less than three months of his services. For a Diamondbacks team with very little to offer at last year’s deadline, Anderson would be a welcome addition.
That’s not to say the D-backs should sign Anderson just to trade him. With Merrill Kelly being the only Diamondback to reach 150 innings last year, Anderson would bring much-needed stability to the rotation.
His arsenal consists of a high-spin fastball, a cutter and a changeup. He doesn’t miss many bats, but he also doesn’t really walk anyone either. Last year, Anderson posted a 4.53 ERA over 167 innings with the Pirates and Mariners.
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