Friday, December 4, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks:

2009 Record: 70-92

General Manager: Josh Byrnes

Manager: A.J. Hinch

Organizational Philosophy: Before the 2008 season, Derrick Hall succeeded Jeff Moorad as President and CEO. Both he and GM Josh Byrnes signed a long term deal that is set to expire after the 2015 season. The first two years of this “plan” has been rocky and a lot of regression has occurred in terms of overall team advancement.  During this time of succession, Byrnes began to make a few key gambles that never paid off.  The extension given to Eric Byrnes was one widely debated at the time and I'm sure split the front office between taking a chance on rookie Carlos Quentin (who struggled in his first full season with the D-Backs due to a lingering shoulder injury) or appease the fanbase and retain Eric Byrnes.  The other gambles that seemed logical at the time, such as signing OF Chris Young and C Chris Snyder to long-term deals, have slowly gone sour thereby making these players difficult to trade.

It can be argued that lately this team has settled on finding many under-the-radar reclamation projects.  Josh Byrnes has also developed the reputation as a GM not afraid to trade away many of his prospects once acquired by their former Scouting Director (and current Washington Nationals GM) Mike Rizzo.  Last June, the D-Backs did run into a wealth of early picks in the 2009 amatuer draft so they do have a lot of upside prospects swimming in the lower levels but I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them are dealt within the next few years in order to address other needs.

2010 Commitments:

Starting Rotation:

Brandon Webb ($8.5M)
Dan Haren ($8.25M)
Max Scherzer ($1.45M)
Billy Buckner ($400K)
Kevin Mulvey ($400K)

As expected, Brandon Webb’s option was picked up last month following a period of speculation on the true extent on his shoulder injury. According to reports, Webb was relieved by news that his surgery did not reveal any tears in his shoulder labrum and he should be all set to go this Spring.

Since joining the D-Backs, Dan Haren has gotten better each season and Max Scherzer has shown lots of promise in his first full season as a starting pitcher. It will be interesting, however, to see how he handles his second full season as a starter.

Things get muddier for the starting rotation after this. Free agent Doug Davis is expected to sign elsewhere while Billy Buckner and Kevin Mulvey did have their struggles this season. Buckner did show some promise with an effective K/BB of 2.21 in 77 IP along with an impressive 48% GB rate despite being hounded by a high BABIP and a fluky HR/FB percentage. Mulvey is another pitcher that posted impressive K/BB ratios in the minors but control and opponent hittability made his ’09 season one to forget. Mulvey was one of the package of prospects the Mets sent to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade but his ceiling was never considered that high and to expect anything more than 4th or 5th starter material would be an invite for disappointment.
Bryan Augenstein ($400K) would be interesting if he could ever get his minor league numbers to translate positively in the pros. Augenstein is a GB specialist who will be 23 years old come this spring. He dominated the minors not by striking out batters but through his excellent control. He could be a project worth developing.

Prized pitching prospect Jarrod Parker did struggle in his first season at AA a tired elbow was to blame which now has developed into a fullblown elbow strain requiring Tommy John surgery. He last pitched on July 30th and before then was seeing a major increase in his velocity.  Parker will be 21 at the start of the 2011 season so he still has plenty of time.


Chad Qualls ($2.5M; arb eligible)
Juan Gutierrez ($400K)
Aaron Heilman ($1.6M)
Clay Zavada ($400K)
Blaine Boyer ($450K)
Daniel Schlereth ($400K)
Esmerling Vasquez ($400K)
Leo Rosales ($403K)

Chad Qualls did go down with a knee injury in late August which required surgery in order to help keep his kneecap in place.  He is expected to rest for four months and should be ready for Spring Training.  Qualls is an extreme GB pitcher who enjoyed an incredibly low BB rate (1.21) last season.  If he can keep his command down to his usual levels he should have no trouble being successful in his second year of closer duty.

Besides Qualls, the D-Backs could use a little more established depth in the bullpen.  However, Juan Gutierrez was effective in a set-up role. His fastball comes in at the mid-90’s but his HR/9 was an unsustainable 0.25 and should see a rise next season since he is neutral pitcher in terms of fly balls to ground balls allowed.

Clay Zavada gave good value as a situational lefty and Daniel Schlereth showed incredible K rates despite a hefty BB% that has bugged him since he signed a professional contract. Esmerling Vasquez also has a lively fastball but has a high BB% to counter any effectiveness.

Blaine Boyer had a miserable 2009 pitching for three different teams.  His K and BB rates were way down from his previous seasons (he did experience some brief success in 2007 and 2008 with the Braves  with a 2.68 and 3.00 K/BB ratios in those years).  His high GB% and ability to keep the ball in the park could point to a minor bounceback next season.

Aaron Heilman was recently had earlier this offseason for a couple of minor leaguers, one of which was 24 year old  relief pitcher Scott Maine (a promising lefty who posted excellent an K rate last season in AA and AAA and could be a serviceable situation lefty to spell Zavada).  I don't understand the trade especially for a team in need of a starter (team officials say they view Heilman as a reliever) and one that needs to be a bit more conservative in where they distribute their payroll.  It was expected for the Cubs to put Heilman on waivers where he could have signed a minor league contract a bit cheaper than the $1.6 M owed him this season.  If his K rate dips into the expected 7's than his usual 4 or 5 BB rate could throw into mop up work.  Not a good role for one of your more expensive relief arms.

On the field:

C: Miguel Montero ($425K; arb eligible)
C: Chris Snyder ($4.75M)
1B: Brandon Allen ($400K)
2B: Ryan Roberts ($400K)
2B: Augie Ojeda ($712K; arb eligible)
2B: Tony Abreu ($400K)
SS: Stephen Drew ($1.5M; arb eligible)
3B: Mark Reynolds ($422K)
LF: Gerardo Parra ($400K)
LF: Eric Byrnes ($11.6M)
LF: Conor Jackson ($3M; arb eligible)
CF: Chris Young ($3.4M)
RF: Justin Upton ($412K)

After investing in 3 years for $14+M for Chris Snyder after the 2009 season, the D-Backs have found themselves using Miquel Montero more in the starting role.  Snyder did battle back problems all season and will undergo surgery to repair a bulging disk this offseason.  The D-Backs have been shopping Snyder around (one rumor had him going to the Blue Jays in exchange for Lyle Overbay) but I would imagine his contract and health may keep him in Arizona for the time being.  If Snyder can come back healthy there should be no reason his power shouldn't return, as well.

Unless another team is willing to take on Synder's contract without dumping another one onto us, I would advise against selling Snyder low this offseason.  Looking over his numbers, the only stat that diminshed last season was his power numbers (something a bad back could easily do) and his ability to get on base and low frequency of chasing pitches outside the strike zone was still on display last season.

Miquel Montero was good posting a .294/.355/.478 line in 519 plate appearances.  Before his breakout last season, Montero always showed promise as a hitter who could hit for reasonable power and keep his strikeouts down.  I would be surprised if Montero hit above .290 next season due to his high BABIP of .329 and his fluky HR/FB rate (12.7%) compared to his low percentage of FB's hit (36%) does suggest a slight supression of power next season.

At the corners it’s no surprise that the D-Backs elected to exercise their $1M buyout option thus making Chad Tracy a free agent this winter. Since 3B is locked up with Mark Reynolds the other corner INF spot will be interesting with Brandon Allen currently penciled in as the starter. The D-Backs front office did state that in no way is Brandon Allen safe from losing his job this off season.  If the D-Backs make a trade this offseason, it will most likely involve a starting pitcher in return and it's no secret that Allen has promise but he is still considered a work in progress. I was a fan of the trade a few months ago that brought Allen to Arizona from the Chicago White Sox and wrote about here. In terms of player development, the front office would like to see him get extra work in this winter and establish a better approach with two strikes but his ability to draw walks is a good sign.

Speaking of extra work this offseason, 1B/OF Conor Jackson had a good showing recently in the Dominican winter league.  Last season Jackson battled Valley Fever and the effects left him unable to play.  Jackson was seen as expendable this offseason due to the logjam in the outfield and the acquisition of Brandon Allen at first.  Rumors swirled that Jackson would be non-tendered before the December deadline.  Jackson was rumored to be dealt to the Atlanta Braves recently but with no viable starting pitcher offered, the deal looks to be dead.

This team does have a bit of a logjam at 2B.  After completing the Jon Garland trade to the Dodgers in the offseason, the D-Backs got the rights to 2B Tony Abreu.  The 24 year old Abreu came back from hip surgery to tear through AA and AAA before hitting a roadblock in the Dodgers depth chart.  Abreu has an excellent glove and can play SS and 3B as well as 2B.  I doubt his minor league power numbers will translate in the big leagues, especially with all the GB's he hits but he does have promise and is much younger than the other D-Back second basemen. 

29 year old Ryan Roberts finally got a full time gig in 2009 after languishing in the minors with two other previous organizations.  Last season Roberts showed an above average glove and the useful ability to get on base (with a BB% of 11.6%, an attribute he also had in the minors).  Roberts has never had much in terms of power and his role with the D-Backs seems temporary.

Last season was suppossed to be a breakout year for Stephen Drew.  It didn't happen but Drew has shown improvement in reducing his K% the past three seasons and his power numbers were suppressed by a lower than average HR/FB rate of 6.3%.  Drew will be 27 at the start of the 2010 season and with a little of the numbers evening out he could be in for a breakout... again.

In the otfield, Arizona has flirted with the idea of releasing Eric Byrnes this off season and eating the 11 million owed to him. At age 34 it may be impossible for him to completely get his legs back under him after experiencing hamstring issue the past two seasons.  It's been reported here that the D-Backs may attempt to "trade" him.  The article cites no potential suitors so I wouldn't count on that happening unless the D-Backs want to piggyback Justin Upton onto that deal... I didn't think so.

Chris Young was a major disappointment last season. He did improve in increasing his BB% from a low 7% in 2007 to a respectable 12% in ’09. However, despite having trouble staying above the .200 batting average line his K% has been steadily creeping northward from a high 24.8% to 30.7%. Another troubling trend is Young’s declining slugging rate from .467 in ’07 to .400 this last season.

Today, due to the incredible advancements made in "retrospect" we can now point to some warning signs following his 2007 season; first, we can look at his low LD% of only 15.1 during his '07 season. Young was never considered anything near a .300 hitter but in order to make luck work for you in terms of BABIP, the ability to consistently hit line drives (LD) is essential since it has been argued that both stats are correlated. Another fluky stat following his 2007 breakout season was his unsustainable HR/FB percentage of 15.6%. Since that time this number has fallen down but his LD% is still too low and has to make one question if Young can ever reach the stats he had two seasons ago.

To be fair, Young will be 26 years old at the start of next season but if these trends keep falling this way it’ll be tough for this franchise to salvage any value from him, especially since they committed $25 million to him until after the 2013 season.

Running the grounds in RF is 22 year old Justin Upton.  Last season he did improve in getting his K% reduced to 25% from 34% in 2008.  I still think he strikes out a bit much and does benefit from two years of a high BABIP (.336 and .364, respectively) to be a true .300 hitter but the power is there although I would like to see him hit a few more FB's to validate his high HR/FB% last year of 18.8%.  In 2009, Upton did decrease his FB totals to 35.7%.  Upton is still developing as a franchise player and, like everyone, I do expect him to become the offensive cornerstone of this team as a consistent 30+ HR hitter.  Watch for next offseason as talks begin to center on an extension for Upton.  If he keeps performing to current levels it would be imperative for the D-Backs to sign to some extension until the 2017 season and thereby make him a free agent until the age of 29.  We'll see.

Next Season’s Forecast: As it stands the D-Backs do need to address the back of their starting rotation. We have heard conflicting reports from one where the D-Backs may see a higher payroll next season to yesterday's online chat with GM Brynes on how the team will "stand pat" this offseason (maybe the arbitration offered to Carl Pavano, Justin Duchscherer, and Joel Pineiro caused the change of heart).

Right now, the payroll without counting arbitration is a shade above $60M.  Last season the D-Backs spent $74M on player payroll; of course the arb cases for Chad Qualls, Miguel Montero and Stephen Drew should factor in a raise but I don't see these cases being too contentious and costly.  There are plenty of affordable options available in the free agency market since it seems loaded with backend starters and projects.  Erik Bedard could be bought low unless the Mets push his price up and include 2 years with incentives or a player option after 1 year.  Another option could be Brad Penny, a pitcher I'm sure is eager to stay in the NL, who was offered a one year deal recently from the Giants.  He may wait to see if his price is pushed up and could be one of those late offseason signings.  Jarrod Washburn is another pitcher who could benefit in the NL West but reports have him hoping to sign somewhere close to his home in Wisconsin

If Conor Jackson and Chris Snyder are traded for anything of value (and not exchanged in a salary dump) then I would safely guess that the D-Backs will be much more aggressive in getting an upper-tier free agent starter (i.e. John Lackey or Randy Wolf), but that's a big if.

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