This off-season for the Arizona Diamondbacks has had a sense of urgency associated with it that has been lacking the past few years. After winning the National League West in 2011 the following off-season saw just minor tweaks to the roster. The thinking was that the team was now set up for long-term success with a pipeline of young talent coupled with a smattering of veteran presence to make sure the team blossomed into a powerhouse.
The following two seasons saw the Diamondbacks continue to tinker with their roster to go deeper into the play-offs. Unfortunately those next two seasons ended with identical 81-81 records and discontent began to take over the fan base and to some extent the front office.
Manager Kirk Gibson and General Manager Kevin Towers both saw the team take a wait-and-see attitude on any future contracts making 2014 a make or break year for both. As the 2013 season ended Towers quickly became active trying to find help for the offense and more importantly to find a dominating front-line starter that the team had not had since the injury to Brandon Webb.
A year earlier Towers had traded slugger and then “face of the franchise” Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for a package of players including current third baseman Martin Prado. The reasoning for that move was that Upton had not lived up to expectations and the team needed more contact hitters. Now this off-season Towers made a big splash sending pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs to the LA Angels of Anaheim for slugger Mark Trumbo who at first glance looks more one-dimensional than Upton who was traded a year earlier.
The Diamondbacks continued looking for pitching help and have been associated with most of the free agent starting pitchers on the market. Perhaps the most surprising was the Diamondbacks interest in Japanese baseball phenom Masahiro Tanaka who was posted by the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Besides the $20 million posting fee required to enter the Tanaka sweepstakes the team was also rumored to have offered a 6-year $120 million contract to the free agent. Given the rather frugal nature of the Diamondbacks that offer was astonishing. Despite their best offer, Tanaka singed a 7-year $155 million contract with the New York Yankees.
Now with just over two weeks before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the Diamondbacks find themselves still lacking that front line starter and more questions than answers around the roster. So Diamondbacks fans everywhere are asking, what is plan B?
In the past the Diamondbacks have been linked to the Chicago Cubs discussing a trade for right-hander Jeff Samardzija but he would doubtfully be classified as a true ace. Entering this season at the age of 29 Samardzija has a 29-35 record and 4.19 ERA. While his strikeout to walk ration is a respectable 8.6 his WHIP of 1.355 shows a tendency to allow base runners, which would not bode well in a hitter’s park like Chase Field. This coupled with the extremely high asking price makes a deal questionable for the Diamondbacks.
Next on the Diamondbacks radar are two free agents – Matt Garza and Erwin Santana. Of course every team not named the New York Yankees who failed to woo Tanaka are also eying the remaining free agents meaning the Diamondbacks will likely have to overpay for either Garza or Santana.
Both come with a lot of question marks and each will be seeking a multi-year deal that may be longer than the Diamondbacks are comfortable with. Towers in the past has said he would not be willing to go longer than three years on any contract but Santana and Garza are both looking for a minimum of four years or perhaps five.
Garza would seem to be a better fit for the Diamondbacks but he has had a track record of being injured. Given that the Diamondbacks already have Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill who spent time on the disabled list last season they may not be willing to take another chance on an injury prone starter.
Santana would be even a bigger gamble for the Diamondbacks. He appears to be looking for a longer commitment and has a tendency to give up home runs more so than Garza. Given the high altitude of Chase Field as well as Coors Field that might not be the recipe of success Towers needs if he hopes to remain the General Manager beyond this season.
The Tampa Bay Rays continue to suggest David Price is available for the right price but the cost in prospects would appear to be greater than the Diamondbacks are willing or should part with. Despite the success of Price there are some questions as to whether he would be a good fit for Arizona. The Diamondbacks already have Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin in their rotation; two of the better left-handers in the game so adding a third lefty would be questionable.
The other big name free agent pitcher is Ubaldo Jimenez. The question with Jimenez is which one would you get? Would it be the dominating pitcher from the 2010 Rockies or would it be the rather mediocre pitcher in Cleveland. Some would say his second half splits with the Indians last year show his return to dominance but I am not sure I would be willing to bet a few million dollars on that prospect.
Of course the Diamondbacks could just stand pat and hope that prospect Archie Bradley is ready to make the leap from Double-A to the major leagues but that seems like even a bigger gamble than Towers may be willing to bet on.
The next eight weeks will be telling on whether the Arizona Diamondbacks have the plan for long term competitiveness or if they will remain floundering trying to find the right mix of players, front office personnel, and coaches to turn them into a perennial force in the National League. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that they have a plan.