Winter Report Card: Arizona Diamondbacks
With six weeks left before pitchers and catchers report, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2014.
2014 Results: 64-98 (.395), fifth place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
The Diamondbacks were one of just two teams that entered this offseason without a notable member of their major league roster reaching free agency, but rookie general manager Dave Stewart managed to stay busy nonetheless. Over the winter, he's made four big trades and landed one of the offseason's most highly-prized free-agent hitters: 24-year-old Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas, an outfielder with big-time power whom the Diamondbacks hope will be the major league's next Cuban star. They're also hoping the strong-armed Tomas can be their third baseman, which may be asking a bit much.
At worst, Tomas will be a one-tool power-hitter like Mark Trumbo, whom the Angels briefly tried at the hot corner in 2012. However, his upside is significant enough for the Diamondbacks to have signed him to a six-year, $68.5 million contract. That contract has a curious structure, as $32.5 million of those dollars are stashed in the final two seasons of that deal as part of a two-year player option. That means that, after the 2018 season, Tomas, who will turn 28 that November, can either opt out of his contract in search of a big payday or take the guaranteed money for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. There is no guarantee that Tomas will be an impact player, and he may require some time in the minors to start the season since he hasn't played competitive baseball for a full year, but he's at the very least a fascinating and affordable gamble.
Of the four trades, two were expected. The Diamondbacks finally pared down their shortstop glut by flipping Gregorius to the Yankees in a three-way trade that netted pitching prospect Ray and infield prospect Domingo Leyba from the Tigers. Neither player is guaranteed to be anything at the major league level, but Ray is a live lefthanded arm who made his major league debut last year, and Leyba is a compelling second base prospect who won't turn 20 until September. With Chris Owings, who is a year and a half younger than Gregorius, having claimed the shortstop job and slick-fielding Nick Ahmed emerging as a team-controlled backup, Gregorius was expendable, and Stewart did well to get two players with upside for him.
Soon after trading Gregorius, Stewart sent Montero to the Cubs in a straight salary dump, one that rid the team of a 31-year-old catcher owed $40 million over the next three years. In exchange, Arizona got a pair of minor league righthanders: Zack Godley, a closer who turns 25 in April and will likely make his Double A debut this season, and 20-year-old Jeferson Mejia, a scrawny, 6-foot-7 lottery ticket.
Far less expected was the trade that sent rotation stalwart Miley to the Red Sox. Miley, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter, had regressed from his All-Star rookie season but had nonetheless established himself as a valuable league-average starter across 404 innings in the last two years. In return for his final three team-controlled seasons, Stewart landed four years of De La Rosa, all six of Webster's team-controlled seasons and another 20-year-old lottery ticket in switch-hitting infielder Raymel Flores. De La Rosa, Webster, and Ray will likely compete for the fifth spot in the rotation in camp, with Hellickson, who was acquired from the Rays in November, taking over Miley's spot in the rotation.
Hellickson, who turns 28 in April, has just two team-controlled years remaining and hits arbitration this winter coming off a $3.625 million salary (as well as a season largely lost to elbow surgery), but there are reasons to be optimistic about him. Hellickson's strikeout rate has increased each of the last three seasons and his fielding independent pitching mark has decreased each of the last two. Mix in the fact that the elbow surgery was simply to remove some loose bodies, that he finished the season healthy and in the Rays' rotation, and that his poor September can be at least partially blamed on a spike in batting average on balls in play, and there's reason to hope that he can have a breakout season in his first year in the NL. However, he will be moving from a pitcher-friendly ballpark to a hitter-friendly one and is a fly-ball pitcher who could develop a problematic home-run rate. Hellickson cost the Diamondbacks teenage leftfielder Justin Williams, their second-round pick in 2013 and a legitimate prospect, and switch-hitting shortstop Andrew Velazquez, who impressed as a 19-year-old in a repeat of A-ball last year.
Unfinished Business: Catcher, third base
With Montero now a Cub, the only catchers on the Diamondbacks' 40-man roster are 31-year-old backup Tuffy Gosewisch and 21-year-old Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez, who hadn't cracked A-ball before Arizona drafted him onto their 25-man roster in December. Throw expected non-roster invitees Jordan Pacheco, Matt Pagnozzi and Blake Lalli in the mix, and Arizona still doesn't have a viable everyday major league catcher, or even a workable platoon. Of course, there are still six weeks until pitchers and catchers are due to report, so Stewart has time to fill the position he only vacated a month ago. In the immediate wake of the Montero trade, Stewart acknowledged the Blue Jays' Dioner Navarro and the Tigers' Alex Avila as potential trade targets, but said he was not interested in free agent Geovany Soto, who is now the top remaining free agent catcher on the market.
The Diamondbacks are not likely to add a third baseman, however, as they hope that Tomas will fill that position. They also have prospects Jake Lamb, who made his major league debut last year, and Brandon Drury, who cracked Double A last year, in line behind him. However, Tomas seems unlikely to stick at the hot corner, and Lamb, who hit .230/.263/.373 as the primary third baseman in August and September of last year, is no sure thing either. Drury, the better prospect of the two, is unlikely to be ready this year and shouldn't be rushed.
Preliminary Grade: C-
The minus is for the lack of a replacement for Montero, a situation I fully expect to be resolved by the time we do our final grades in mid-February. The C reflects the fact that the Diamondbacks' offseason, while compelling, has not obviously improved the team. There's certainly upside to the moves Stewart has made, and the logic behind dumping Montero's contract, thinning the shortstop glut, and trading for rotation depth and prospects is not difficult to suss out. Still, it's easy to see it all fizzling, Tomas included (particularly given that he'll not only be adjusting to a new country and league in March, but a new position, as well).
The Diamondbacks should be better in 2015 simply by virtue of being healthier (Paul Goldschmidt, Owings, Trumbo, centerfielder A.J. Pollock and ace Patrick Corbin, among others, all missed significant time in 2014) and because it takes a team far worse than this one to lose 98 games two years in a row. The value of the players Stewart has added to the organization, however, remains to be seen.