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Why Eugenio Suárez is optimal solution for Diamondbacks' third base problem

Jesse Friedman Avatar
November 22, 2023
Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez (28) hits a solo home run off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Bobby Miller (70) during the fourth inning at T-Mobile Park.

When the Diamondbacks nabbed a playoff spot and won the NL pennant in 2023, they did so more in spite of their third base production than because of it.

In 661 plate appearances in the regular season, Diamondbacks third basemen slashed .234/.303/.340 with 10 homers, 64 RBI and a 75 wRC+. Their combined 0.5 fWAR ranked 25th in baseball. Only the Kansas City Royals got fewer homers from the position.

In the postseason, the situation was even more dire. Evan Longoria started all but one game at third base for the D-backs; Emmanuel Rivera started the other. Jace Peterson took a couple of at-bats off the bench. The trio slashed just .179/.233/.239 in 74 postseason plate appearances.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Diamondbacks took a major step toward stopping their third base woes, acquiring veteran Eugenio Suárez from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for minor-league reliever Carlos Vargas and catcher Seby Zavala. Suárez is under contract through the end of next season with a club option for 2025.

There are certainly no guarantees over how this trade will work out for the Diamondbacks. But it is hard to imagine any other feasible solution at third base, whether via trade or free agency, that would make more sense for the Diamondbacks than this one.

Suárez, 32, was far from the best third baseman in baseball in 2023. He was effectively a league average hitter, slashing .232/.323/.391 in 694 plate appearances. His 22 homers ranked 14th among qualified MLB third basemen. He had the ultimate good-but-not-great season.

Nonetheless, Suárez offers a steady presence at a position that has been anything but steady for the Diamondbacks over the past several seasons.

“This is a guy that adds a power element, good defender, everyday player at a position that we’ve been platooning for a few years now,” general manager Mike Hazen said. “This is somebody we’ve liked for a long time, and we feel like it’s a natural fit given what our team’s looking for.”

The Suárez trade seems optimal for the Diamondbacks in at least four ways: (1) Suárez is a meaningful upgrade over the Diamondbacks’ in-house options at third base, (2) the Diamondbacks did not part with any top assets in the deal, (3) Suárez’s contract is not excessively burdensome and (4) Suárez is a well-regarded veteran, a type of player the Diamondbacks felt compelled to pursue with some of their key clubhouse voices having left in free agency.

The first of these points effectively makes itself. Suárez was worth 3.2 fWAR in 2023, roughly six times that of the Diamondbacks’ aggregate third base production this year. Suárez’s 102 wRC+ was only sightly above average, but it still dwarfs the 75 wRC+ that the Diamondbacks got from third base in 2023.

Granted, Suárez is getting older, and his 2023 season was not as productive offensively as the year prior. In 2022, he posted a much higher .459 slugging percentage and 132 wRC+. Nonetheless, some of his underlying hitting metrics, such as hard-hit rate and barrel rate, hung relatively steady from year to year. There is considerable evidence that Suárez’s hitting skills did not drop off as much as his numbers did from 2022 to 2023.

Defensively, Suárez actually had his best year ever in 2023, according to his outs above average metrics. After totaling 0 OAA from 2018-22, Suárez had 11 OAA in 2023, putting him in the 97th percentile across the league. Defensive metrics in a one-year sample ought to be taken with a grain of salt, but the Diamondbacks seem to believe that he made strides.

“Our scouts said that he really worked hard this season on his defense,” Hazen said. “That’s going to be something we’re going to continue to push. That’s an area of our team that we pride ourselves on and we’ll definitely continue to pride ourselves on.

“Everything we gathered from his work ethic and commitment to being a really good defender, a really good player, is going to fit in nicely with how we approach things.”

No, Súarez was not a star-level player in 2023, but he has plenty of value for a team like the Diamondbacks. Perhaps the best part of this trade from their perspective is the fact that they did not part with any top assets to get him.

Vargas, 24, made the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day bullpen but was demoted to Triple-A Reno two weeks into the season and did not pitch in the majors the rest of the year. Vargas possesses a wipeout breaking ball and regularly reaches triple digits with his fastball, but he struggled mightily with command in 2023. In 42 1/3 innings in Triple-A, he issued nearly as many walks (32) as strikeouts (36) and had an unsightly 7.02 ERA.

Zavala, 30, was claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox in September. He appeared in seven games for the Diamondbacks, but he was not eligible for the postseason roster. Overall, Zavala slashed .171/.230/.314 in 193 plate appearances with the White Sox and the D-backs in 2023. With him now headed to Seattle, Hazen said that the Diamondbacks will likely look to add catching depth externally.

Given the modest player cost from the Diamondbacks’ perspective, the most expensive part of this deal for Arizona is arguably paying Suárez’s salary. That, too, seems reasonable.

Suárez is slated to make $11 million in 2024, and he has a $15 million club option for 2025 with a $2 million buyout. According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, the Mariners are not contributing to Suárez’s salary.

While Suárez’s $11 million salary in 2024 is more than the Diamondbacks spent at the position in 2023, Hazen said that it will not impede the team’s ability to pursue a starting pitcher in free agency. Likewise, the fact that the team did not part with any top assets means they are still well-positioned to trade for a starter, should they opt to go that route instead.

Had the Diamondbacks solved their third base problem by way of free agency, the financial cost almost certainly would have been much greater than that of Suárez.

The only free-agent third basemen that represent clear upgrades for Arizona are 30-year-old Matt Chapman and 29-year-old Jeimer Candelario. MLB Trade Rumors’ free-agent projections has Chapman getting a six-year, $150 million deal and Candelario getting four years, $70 million.

Deals of those lengths are inherently risky. For the Diamondbacks, such a deal also seems unnecessary. While the team’s third base problem has festered for several years — their last steady everyday player at the position was Eduardo Escobar, who was dealt at the 2021 trade deadline — the Diamondbacks have several promising options in the minors who could contribute sooner than later.

Top overall prospect Jordan Lawlar, 2023 first-rounder Tommy Troy and Double-A sluggers Deyvison De Los Santos and Ivan Melendez could all be everyday options at third base in the not-too-distant future. Should any of them reach that status prior to the 2025 season — or if Suárez does not perform well in 2024 — the Diamondbacks could decline Suárez’s 2025 option and only be on the hook for a $2 million buyout.

Of course, there are no guarantees that any of those prospects will pan out, as everyday third basemen or otherwise. Nonetheless, this Suárez trade gives the Diamondbacks an immediate upgrade at third base — something they surely need — without the burden of an expensive and/or unnecessary long-term contract.

Regardless of how long Suárez spends in Sedona red when all is said and done, Hazen views him as a valuable addition to the D-backs’ clubhouse. At the GM meetings two weeks ago, Hazen emphasized the importance of replenishing the team’s supply of veteran players following the departure of several key clubhouse voices in free agency.

Suárez’s valuable clubhouse presence was part of what compelled Hazen to pull the trigger on this deal so early in the offseason. So, too, was the fact that the Diamondbacks have plenty to accomplish this winter.

“When you have a to-do list as long as we do in terms of putting our team back together,” Hazen said, “you have to start making deals and start knocking some of those off so you can stay disciplined to what you want to do in other areas.

“We could have waited and evaluated the market, fleshed the market out a lot longer. But my fear in not taking a good opportunity for us, is that you just end up continuing to have a ton of things to do. And I think you start making mistakes.”

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto is widely regarded as one of the most active participants in the trade market, and he and Hazen have been frequent trade partners since Hazen took the reigns as Diamondbacks GM in 2016.

Hazen and Dipoto have now completed three trades since last November, when the two sides swapped outfielder Kyle Lewis and catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel. Earlier this year, the Diamondbacks also acquired closer Paul Sewald from Seattle in exchange for utility man Josh Rojas, outfielder Dominic Canzone and infield prospect Ryan Bliss.

Hazen’s extensive experience ironing out trades with Dipoto was also a factor in how quickly the deal came together.

“Let’s be honest,” Hazen said, “Jerry moves aggressively.

“I don’t think this situation — maybe I’m wrong — was going to sit out there forever. And, if that disappears on you, you’re back to other options that, again, you have no guarantee that you’re going to get done.”

The Diamondbacks did get something done on Wednesday. On paper, they fixed their third base problem.

Only time will tell whether the deal proves successful. For now, though, the Eugenio Suárez trade looks like a promising start to a crucial offseason for the Diamondbacks.

Follow Jesse Friedman on X (formerly Twitter)

Top photo: Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports

We gave our instant reaction to the trade on the PHNX D-backs show. Catch the audio-only version here.

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