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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In a perfect world, the winter meetings would be three days of utter chaos. Top free agents would be signed, earth-shattering trades would be made; money would be thrown around so freely that stray Benjamin Franklins could be found on tour boats circling the man-made river flowing through Gaylord Opryland Resort.
So far, MLB’s greatest offseason spectacle has not been much of a spectacle at all.
Through two full days, the biggest free-agent signing so far is Erick Fedde, a 31-year-old pitcher who left the majors last winter for Korea and recently returned with the Korean Baseball Organization MVP award in hand. According to reports, Fedde signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Chicago White Sox.
Fedde is an intriguing add given the numbers he put up in Korea — a sparkling 20-6 record with a 2.00 ERA — but he did not make most top-50 free agent big boards. His agent’s name, Scott Boras, is far more recognizable than his own.
As far as trades are concerned, the biggest deal of the week dropped Tuesday evening, a rare deal involving bitter division rivals that reportedly sent outfielder Alex Verdugo to the New York Yankees in exchange for three pitching prospects.
Verdugo was once a highly coveted player. He was one of the main pieces that went to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts trade several years ago. Now, at age 27, Verdugo has rounded out into a league average regular.
As far as the Diamondbacks are concerned, there have been no significant winter meetings moves to speak of. General manager Mike Hazen said Tuesday that he has made offers in both the trade and free-agent markets, but nothing is close.
When asked about the lethargic state of the market, Hazen had more questions than answers.
“I don’t know what it is, but we’re waiting,” he said. “It’s not like those conversations exchanges aren’t happening back and forth. We just haven’t gotten anywhere.”
From the outside, the easiest explanation for the market’s sluggish pace centers around two names: two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and 25-year-old Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ohtani is widely expected to sign a deal for more than $500 million. Yamamoto, according to reports, could get close to $300 million.
Ohtani will not pitch in 2024 due to late-season elbow surgery, but he is the best hitter on the market and his value extends far beyond his on-field production. Yamamoto has never pitched in the majors, but he is a supposed frontline starter — the kind of asset that basically never comes available in free agency at age 25.
The Ohtani sweepstakes are reportedly down to four or five teams. Yamamoto’s market seems vast. Teams with interest in either could be tabling other conversations until both Japanese stars have found their new homes.
Hazen brought up another possible reason for the market’s lack of action: the sheer number of teams looking to contend in 2023.
“The number of teams that are going into the season full-on competing is way higher,” Hazen said. “That could be sticking the market a little bit, too. I feel like once that unsticks, yeah, everything’s gonna kind of flood down from there.”
More teams in contention means more competition for quality free agents and fewer trade partners for teams like the Diamondbacks that are looking for major-league ready talent.
As Hazen alluded to, however, there is a sense in the industry that the market’s current tortoise-like pace right now won’t last for long. While this year’s free-agent class is relatively light, there is still a bevy of top-tier players available.
The trade market has several headliner names presumed to be available as well, such as San Diego Padres outfielder Juan Soto, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow and Chicago White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease.
Perhaps the action will pick up soon. For now, the winter meetings have been more like the wait-around meetings.
Diamondbacks could lose player in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft
While the Diamondbacks have the 40-man roster space to do so, general manager Mike Hazen said that his team probably will not make a selection in Wednesday afternoon’s Rule 5 draft.
On the flip side, he suspects that the Diamondbacks could lose a player to another organization.
“Higher than normal,” Hazen said of his concern level that one of his players will be selected. “We left some talented players available, so we’ll see what happens.”
Among the Diamondbacks prospects who could be selected are top infield prospect Deyvison De Los Santos, right-handed reliever Austin Pope and outfielder Kristian Robinson. Catchers J.J. D’Orazio and Christian Cerda are interesting candidates as well.
The Rule 5 draft is an annual event that allows teams to pluck prospects from other organizations. The draft order follows the reverse order of the 2023 standings. The Diamondbacks will have the No. 19 selection.
The draft exists to ensure that prospects do not get stuck too long in teams’ farm systems. To protect players from being selected, players drafted at 18 or younger must be placed on the 40-man roster within five years, and players drafted at 19 or older must be placed on the 40-man within four years.
Last year, a rumor circulated that then-Diamondbacks outfield prospect Dominic Canzone was going to be selected first overall. Canzone was, in fact, not selected, and he was included in the Diamondbacks’ trade deadline deal that brought closer Paul Sewald to Arizona nine months later.
notes from winter meetings Day 2
Ramifications of Diamondbacks’ severed TV deal
One of the biggest questions facing the Diamondbacks this offseason is how they will recover from losing their TV broadcast partner during the 2023 season. Major League Baseball stepped in to broadcast games, but there has been no word yet on the team’s plans for 2024.
Regardless of how the situation resolves, it seems unlikely that the Diamondbacks will be able to recoup all of the annual revenue from their previous deal.
Hazen was asked about the impacts of that potentially lost revenue on Tuesday.
“I get shielded from that a lot,” he said. “It hasn’t really impacted me in a tangible way. I’m assuming our postseason run had some net benefits to that for us. But I have the ability to be fairly aggressive in the marketplace. So, it hasn’t really affected what we’re looking and setting up to do.”
All lefties in the outfield?
If the 2023 season began today, it appears that the Diamondbacks’ outfield would be comprised of all left-handed hitters. That group includes Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy and Dominic Fletcher. Pavin Smith, another left-handed hitter, might be more appropriately viewed as a first baseman, but he spent some time in right field in 2023.
The only other outfielder on the 40-man roster is Triple-A prospect Jorge Barrosa. He is a switch hitter, but he fared better batting lefty in 2023.
Hazen said Tuesday that he might be comfortable having only left-handed hitters in the outfield on Opening Day.
“If the depth in the rest of the lineup was more skewed right-handed,” he said, “that’s the way it would be able to happen.”
The Diamondbacks are on the hunt for a right-handed bat, but that could come in the form of a designated hitter. If that happens, an all-lefty outfield seems like a real possibility.
Outlook for Druw Jones
After being selected second overall in the 2022 draft, Diamondbacks top outfield prospect Druw Jones did not put up big numbers in his first full year in the pros.
In 173 plate appearances, most of which came in Single-A Visalia (the others came in the rookie league), Jones hit .238/.358/.327 with two homers, 12 RBI and nine stolen bases.
Hazen pointed to Jones’ injuries as a big factor in his down season. After needing season-ending shoulder surgery almost immediately upon being drafted last year, Jones missed roughly three months with quad and hamstring injuries in 2023.
The Diamondbacks were seemingly encouraged by the way he finished the season, however. He hit .381/.490/.524 in his final 11 games of the year in Visalia.
“I think he had a better season than what the objective stuff would say in terms of how we look at the way he finished,” Hazen said. “I think a year from now, he’s gonna be untouchable, if he’s not already for us. In fact, he probably is. In a year from now, I think we’re gonna look back and say he’s more untouchable.”
On paper, Jones is one of few prospects in the Diamondbacks’ system who could be a headliner in a trade for a star player. Top shortstop prospect Jordan Lawlar and 2023 first-round pick Tommy Troy might be the only others. The Diamondbacks’ willingness to move a member of that trio could be the deciding factor in whether they can acquire a star-level player via trade this winter.
Top photo: Kyle Schwab/USA TODAY Sports
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