What a season 2023 was for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That they would be better than they were last year was expected; that they would end up playing in the World Series, even though they lost, was shocking (though less shocking if you’d been paying attention to the team).
General Manager Mike Hazen showed he’d learned from previous mistakes (coughs — Madison Bumgarner — coughs) and made trades during the offseason as well as at the July trade deadline that proved difference-makers for the 2023 team.
But that’s over now, and the Chase Field pool won’t be the center of any baseball celebrations for at least another year, so it’s time to look to the offseason and the D-backs’ needs.
Hazen and Torey Lovullo took questions from the media on the day after the D-backs lost the World Series, and watching is worth your time. Here are some key takeaways from Hazen’s comments that foreshadow the team’s offseason plans:
- The D-backs will acquire at least one veteran starting pitcher.
- The organization will “look externally” to address some areas of weakness (e.g., third base and adding right-handed hitters).
- The bullpen is solid though he did not rule out adding a veteran arm or two.
- The organization will look externally, not just promote prospects who may not be ready.
- The postseason was a tremendous player development opportunity for a young team just opening its window of contention.
On the same day, owner Ken Kendrick told a local Arizona sports podcast that D-backs would increase payroll in 2024. “The opportunity that playing all these games creates is an economic windfall that was not planned,” Kendrick said. “There is a windfall of this last month and we will use that to invest back in the players on the field and it will allow us to make some additions to the roster.”
So that provides some sense of the organization’s thinking as they head into the offseason. Look for them to spend and be active.
Their current estimated 2024 payroll is just under $100 million.
With this in mind, let’s speculate.
Impending Free Agents
The D-backs will lose the following players to free agency:
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (not eligible for a qualifying offer)
- Evan Longoria
- Mark Melancon ($5 million mutual option/$2 million buyout)
- Tommy Pham
Longoria has said he’s uncertain as to whether he’ll play in 2024. While he clearly provided necessary leadership for a young team in 2023, their needs will be quite different in 2024.
Coming off a strong second half and postseason, Pham (1.8 fWAR) will have offers to play elsewhere though it’s not out of the question that he might return to Arizona.
On Sunday, the D-backs announced they would decline Melancon’s option and instead pay the $2 million buyout. Given that he missed the season with a shoulder injury suffered in Spring Training, this move makes sense.
They will almost certainly attempt to re-sign 2023 All-Star Gurriel Jr., who proved to be an able outfielder and key hitter (2.1 fWAR). It’s worth noting that Gurriel Jr. had a career season with 24 home runs and a .772 OPS. (Plus, there’s the purple hair.) He appeared to fit seamlessly with a young D-backs team, and he provides a needed right-handed bat. Look for the D-backs to try to bring him back though he will surely be a sought-after free agent.
The following players are arbitration eligible. (All projected salaries are courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.)
- Christian Walker — $12.7 million
- Paul Seawald — $7.3 million
- Austin Adams — $1.1 million
- Zac Gallen — $10.9 million
- Ryan Thompson — $1.3 million
- Kyle Lewis — $1.6 million
- Kevin Ginkel — $1.4 million
- Joe Mantiply — $1 million
MLB Trade Rumors projects that Adams and Lewis, who both have injury and performance issues, may be non-tendered.
There are also questions around possible extensions, especially with Zac Gallen, Kevin Ginkel, and rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno.
Hazen said that he tried, but failed, to find another starter before the July trade deadline — in fact, his greatest regret of the season was not getting an additional starting pitcher. Correcting that will be an offseason priority. For all the D-backs’ 2023 success, the rotation operated under a thin margin for error, especially after two DFAs and a series of injuries.
Gallen was excellent in the first half but less so in the second and not very good in the postseason with the exception of Game 5 in the World Series. (To be fair, this may be due to the career-high 243.2 innings he threw.) Merrill Kelly does not get enough credit given how good he is, and when the D-backs needed him to step up in the postseason, he did.
Rookie Brandon Pfaadt finally arrived after a homer-filled debut season. That he was so effective in the postseason speaks both to his skill and a bit of luck.
After using those three starters, the D-backs scheduled bullpen games, a move that proved fatal in Game 4 of the World Series.
This will be unsustainable in 2024 as the D-backs will look to repeat their return to postseason play. They should have Tommy Henry (who started 16 games) back from the Injured List, and another option is Ryne Nelson (who started 27 games but moved to the bullpen during the postseason). Lovullo has said that with the exception of Drey Jameson, who underwent Tommy John surgery, all of the roster should be healthy by Spring Training.
Still, the D-backs will look for reinforcements.
“I love our young rotation, I do,” Hazen said. “Having three rookies in our rotation creates a lot of uncertainty on a night-to-night basis because that’s just young starting pitching in this league. It is one of the hardest things to do is be a young starting pitcher in this league. So, yes, having veterans in that rotation matters.”
To do this, they will need at least one starting pitcher and perhaps two.
Remember, too, any pitchers will need to have a good relationship with pitching coach Brent Strom who’s said he’s likely to return for another season.
Look for the D-backs to sign a mid-range starter, so probably not Blake Snell or Aaron Nola. Lucas Giolito, Sonny Gray, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Michael Wacha would be pitchers who might fit with the D-backs’ budget and rotation needs.
Interestingly, Jon Heyman reports that the D-backs are one of the teams (along with the Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Yankees, and others) that “have been linked” with Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
Because the D-backs are a young team that’s shown what they can do, they should be an attractive destination for free agents.
The D-backs worked to improve their bullpen, which paid off in the second half of the season, with the exception of the World Series. This is a young bullpen with controllable players, and Hazen spoke highly of the group.
They will have closer Paul Seawald, set-up man Kevin Ginkel, and Andrew Saalfrank. In addition, during the 2023 season, Miguel Castro met the required 65 appearances, so his $5 million option has vested, assuming he passes an end-of-the-year physical.
Also returning are Luis Frías, Kyle Nelson, Ryan Thompson, Kyle Nelson, Andrew Saalfrank, Scott McGough, Slade Cecconi, and Joe Mantiply.
The D-backs will probably make some acquisitions, and they have more options in their farm system, but their bullpen needs are less pressing than in other areas.
Much of the infield is set.
Clearly, Gabriel Moreno has made a name for himself as a catcher. José Herrera will continue to serve as backup. Christian Walker will play first base, and Ketel Marte will stay at second. (His postseason play was stunning with a 146 wRC+.) Geraldo Perdomo (2.7 fWAR) was a solid, if unremarkable, shortstop for the team.
The D-backs promoted shortstop and top prospect Jordan Lawlar in September, and they carried him on their roster throughout the postseason, even though he saw limited playing time. However, Hazen’s comments, which praised Lawlar’s 2023 season, made clear that he does not have a guaranteed spot on the D-backs’ roster out of Spring Training.
“I don’t think we’re just going to hand jobs at this moment in time, and run this team back as is without trying to make external improvements,” Hazen said. “Jordan Lawlar is going to be a star on this team for a long time. I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen. So he’s another one of those group of players that we’re lucky to have in this organization.”
Third base presents a conundrum. This season the D-backs got by with Evan Longoria, Emmanuel Rivera, and, for the second half, Jace Peterson. Still, they did not get much from this position in terms of offensive value (-0.2 fWAR, 26th in MLB). They will need to address this going forward.
It seems unlikely that Emmanuel Rivera (0.3 fWAR) and Jace Peterson (0.4 fWAR) will both be with the team come Spring Training. Hazen did not rule out acquiring a player for this position.
Matt Chapman is the top free agent third baseman on the market, but an uneven contract year makes him less of a slam dunk bet on a long-term deal. Chapman would at least bring an elite glove to Arizona’s infield, but the bat is a real question mark moving forward.
The D-backs are also set here — albeit with a surfeit of lefties, which is a situation Hazen will probably address.
If they bring back Gurriel Jr., the D-backs will continue with their current roster: Gurriel Jr., Alek Thomas, and Corbin Carroll. Those players are the main components of an outfield lineup worth 8.8 fWAR, which ties them with the Baltimore Orioles for 12th in MLB.
Add to that Jake McCarthy, who was injured at the conclusion of the season, as well as Pavin Smith and prospect Dominic Fletcher.
Still, it seems logical that the D-backs would look to bring back, if not Pham, someone like him to provide veteran leadership as well as a right-handed bat.
Arizona could also look to use their surplus of outfield talent in the trade market, similar to when they dealt Daulton Varsho for Moreno and Gurriel Jr. last offseason. McCarthy would certainly hold plenty of trade value if dangled on the market and could help the D-backs nab a starting pitcher or even a third baseman.
This promises to be an intriguing offseason for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo have shown they know how to build a team, and it’s safe to assume they have a keen sense of their team’s needs and players who would fit in well.
“If I know the guys in this room, it’s going to fire them up,” Zac Gallen said after the conclusion of Game 5. “It’s going to motivate them so I’m excited for the things to come.”
Look for the D-backs to build on both their players and this enthusiasm in the offseason.