In conjunction with the D-Backs’ Offseason In Review, Anthony Franco will hold a team-specific chat on March 2. Click here to leave a question in advance.
The Diamondbacks went into the offseason marketing a surplus of left-handed hitting outfielders. After a few months of rumors, they pulled off their anticipated massive swap, landing one of the sport’s best catching prospects in the process. That was the biggest move, though the Snakes also supplemented their position player mix and made a trio of additions to the relief corps as they push for legitimate playoff contention.
Major League Signings
- LHP Andrew Chafin: One year, $6.25MM (including buyout of 2024 club option)
- RHP Scott McGough: Two years, $6.25MM (including buyout of 2025 mutual option)
- 3B Evan Longoria: One year, $4MM
- RHP Zach Davies: One year, $4MM (including buyout of 2024 mutual option)
- RHP Miguel Castro: One year, $3.25MM (deal includes vesting/player option for 2024)
- Team declined $4MM option on RHP Ian Kennedy in favor of $250K buyout
Trades and Claims
- Claimed RHP Tyler Zuber off waivers from Royals (later outrighted to Triple-A)
- Claimed RHP Cole Sulser off waivers from Marlins
- Acquired RHP Carlos Vargas from Guardians for minor league RHP Ross Carver
- Acquired DH Kyle Lewis from Mariners for LF Cooper Hummel
- Claimed C Ali Sánchez off waivers from Pirates (later outrighted to Triple-A)
- Acquired SS Diego Castillo from Pirates for minor league RHP Scott Randall
- Acquired C Gabriel Moreno and LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from Blue Jays for RF Daulton Varsho
Notable Minor League Signings
- Austin Adams, Jesse Biddle, Austin Brice, Sam Clay, Phillip Evans, Ryan Hendrix, Jeurys Familia, Jandel Gustave, Jake Hager, P.J. Higgins, Zach McAllister, Yairo Muñoz, Eric Yardley
- Varsho, Caleb Smith, Jordan Luplow, Kennedy, Hummel, Sergio Alcántara, Sean Poppen, Taylor Widener, Stone Garrett, Keynan Middleton, Edwin Uceta, Reyes Moronta, Tyler Holton, Yonny Hernández, J.B. Bukauskas
The past few seasons haven’t gone well for the Diamondbacks. Arizona limped to last-place finishes in 2020-21, followed by a fourth-place showing last year. They partially compensated with a run of what appear to be strong draft classes. They never intended to enter a rebuild but the past few seasons have essentially functioned as such.
Over the final few months of last season, the young talent the organization had built in the pipeline began to translate to improved MLB results. Arizona was a roughly league average team in the second half, still shy of contention but quite a bit better than their previous few seasons. General manager Mike Hazen and his front office headed into the offseason with more clarity about the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
No spot on the roster was a more obvious plus than the outfield. Arizona had seen Daulton Varsho emerge as a productive regular. Top prospect Corbin Carroll debuted in late August and hit the ground running against MLB pitching. Jake McCarthy posted an impressive .283/.342/.427 showing in 99 games during his first extended big league action. Alek Thomas didn’t have the same level of success, though he’s highly regarded by prospect evaluators for his contact skills and center field defense.
Hazen indicated the team would field offers on that outfield glut, with four interesting and controllable left-handed bats who could appeal to other teams. Adding right-handed balance to the lineup and potentially upgrading over Carson Kelly at catcher were highlighted as priorities, while the front office implied they’d scour numerous avenues to upgrade a bullpen that was again among the league’s worst.
By and large, Arizona eventually checked off every item on that to-do list. The most straightforward path to achieving their position player ends would be to bring in a right-handed catcher with plus offensive upside. Arizona was unsurprisingly connected to Sean Murphy before the A’s sent him to Atlanta. While they missed out on Murphy, the Snakes eventually pulled off their catching addition in that long-awaited trade of an outfielder.
Varsho was the player who ended up the odd man out. A Gold Glove caliber defender who hit 27 home runs in 2022, he was one of the most appealing targets on this offseason’s trade market considering his four remaining seasons of arbitration control. The outfield-needy Blue Jays always looked like a strong on-paper fit considering their surplus of right-handed hitting catchers. Toronto had seemed likely to move one of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk or top prospect Gabriel Moreno for some time, and things finally coalesced just before Christmas.
The D-Backs sent Varsho to Toronto for Moreno and corner outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Controllable for six seasons, Moreno is one of the game’s top young catching talents. He hit .315/.386/.420 with a meager 16.9% strikeout rate in 267 Triple-A plate appearances at age 22 last season. That earned him a brief MLB look, in which he posted a .319/.356/.377 line with only eight strikeouts in 73 trips to the dish.
There’s some question about how much power impact Moreno will make, but he’s an elite contact hitter with no concerns about his ability to stick behind the plate. Even if he only hits 10 home runs annually, his high batting averages and on-base numbers should make him one of the game’s best offensive catchers. He’ll push Kelly into a reserve role.
While Moreno was the key piece of the deal on Arizona’s end, they somewhat backfilled the outfield subtraction with Gurriel’s inclusion. While he’s certainly a downgrade from Varsho — particularly on defense — Gurriel is a low-variance everyday player. He’s coming off a .291/.343/.400 showing in 121 games. He only connected on five home runs during his final season in Toronto but has twice reached the 20-homer plateau in his career.
Gurriel offers above-average contact skills and typically shows decent power. He rarely walks and is limited to the corner outfield or DH after an early-career experiment in the infield didn’t pan out. While he’s a flawed player, Gurriel can hit and adds another right-handed presence to the lineup. He’s headed into the final season of his contract and will be a free agent at year’s end, meaning he’d be a straightforward trade candidate if the D-Backs aren’t contending midseason.
He’s not the only right-handed hitting outfielder the Snakes brought in via trade. Before the Varsho swap, Arizona rolled the dice on 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis. It was a one-for-one deal that sent catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel to Seattle. Lewis has had a disastrous past couple seasons, with persistent right knee issues keeping him to just 54 combined games since the start of 2021. A former first-round pick and top prospect, Lewis hit .262/.364/.437 for Seattle during the shortened season. His health has been a question mark since he tore his ACL in a home plate collision within months of being drafted. Still, Lewis remains just 27 years old and won’t be counted upon for everyday work in the Arizona outfield.
Gurriel and Lewis provide matchup options in right field and at DH. Left field belongs to Carroll, who is a consensus top three prospect. Arizona has already looked into the possibility of extending him beyond his allotted six seasons of control in what could be one of the club’s more interesting storylines this spring. Thomas and McCarthy can each play center field, with the latter assured of regular run somewhere after his quality debut campaign.
The D-Backs added another righty-swinging designated hitter option via free agency. 15-year MLB veteran Evan Longoria signed a $4MM deal to split time between third base and DH. He’s obviously no longer the star he was at his peak, but Longoria has continued to hit at an above-average level into his late-30s. Injuries have cost him almost half the last two seasons. He’s best suited for a part-time or platoon role at this stage of his career and that’s likely to be the capacity in which he operates.
Left-handed hitting Josh Rojas should get the lion’s share of at-bats at the hot corner. Rojas is a good hitter with some defensive flexibility but isn’t a great gloveman anywhere. He’s an adequate if below-average third baseman, and his contact and baserunning skills make him a solid player overall.
He’ll presumably be playing alongside Nick Ahmed on most days. A two-time Gold Glove winner, Ahmed is still one of the sport’s preeminent defensive infielders. He’s never contributed much offensively and lost virtually all of 2022 to shoulder surgery. Arizona at least monitored the market for shortstop upgrades — including a loose link to Xander Bogaerts that always felt like a long shot — but ultimately completed the offseason without an addition there. Ahmed will be back and should take the job from Geraldo Perdomo, who didn’t perform well over a long look with Ahmed out last season. Still just 23, Perdomo could be in line for more time at Triple-A.
The other side of the second base bag is clearly defined. Ketel Marte will be back at the keystone. Christian Walker had a massive second half performance to seize hold of first base. Arizona brought in Diego Castillo in a minor trade with Pittsburgh to add some insurance in the middle infield. He figures to start the season in a utility role or in the minors.
Arizona took a volume approach to address their other offseason priority: the bullpen. They eschewed the top of the free agent market and brought in half of what figures to be their Opening Day group via lower-cost means. They started by claiming Cole Sulser off waivers from the Marlins, taking a buy-low flier on a pitcher who’d found success with Baltimore in 2021 before a disappointing year in South Florida.
That was followed by a series of value plays in free agency. Veteran righty Miguel Castro inked a one-year, $3.75MM guarantee with a ’24 vesting/player option. He’s a generally stable middle relief option, a pitcher who typically works to an ERA around 4.00 with solid strikeout and grounder rates but wobbly control. A couple weeks later, Arizona took a more unexpected dice roll on 33-year-old Scott McGough. The right-hander has just six MLB appearances — all of which came with the 2015 Marlins — and has spent the last four years in Japan. He posted a 2.94 ERA in 232 2/3 innings over four seasons with NPB’s Yakult Swallows and evidently impressed Arizona evaluators along the way.
McGough proved to be the organization’s only multi-year free agent signee of the offseason. His two-year, $6.25MM pact is still a relatively low-risk move, though it’s tough to project whether he can take on high-leverage innings in Torey Lovullo’s bullpen until seeing him against big league competition for the first time in almost a decade.
There shouldn’t be any such questions regarding Arizona’s final bullpen addition. Old friend Andrew Chafin looked like one of the top left-handed relief arms on the free agent market. He opted out of the final $6.5MM on his contract with the Tigers and seemed likely to find a strong multi-year pact after a second straight excellent season. For whatever reason, that apparently never materialized. Chafin lingered alongside a handful of other quality southpaws deep into the offseason until Arizona swooped in with a $6.25MM guarantee. The D-Backs also secured a 2024 option on what looks like a strong deal for the club, one that reinstalls a familiar face into key late-inning work.
Chafin, Castro, Sulser and McGough are presumably all going to open the season in the MLB bullpen. They’ll join left-hander Joe Mantiply, who had a breakout 2022 showing. Righty Kevin Ginkel presumably has a middle innings job secured after a quietly strong finish to the ’22 season. Mark Melancon is headed into the second season of a two-year free agent deal that didn’t pan out as hoped in year one. He’s no longer assured of the closer’s role; Lovullo has already indicated he could take a committee approach to the ninth inning early in the season (link via Steve Gilbert of MLB.com). Still, Melancon will presumably be on the roster in some capacity as the team looks for a bounceback from the four-time All-Star.
That only leaves a spot or two in the early going for depth types like Kyle Nelson, Corbin Martin, trade acquisition Carlos Vargas or non-roster Spring Training invitees like Jeurys Familia, Austin Brice, Austin Adams, Jandel Gustave, Ryan Hendrix and Sam Clay. There’ll obviously be some attrition in that group — injuries, workload management or underperformance will necessitate changes to the bullpen mix throughout the coming months — but the organization has stockpiled a little more relief depth than they’ve had in prior seasons.
The D-Backs didn’t need to do as much to build out the starting staff. Zac Gallen is a legitimate #1 starter. There’s no indication the sides have discussed an extension. It wouldn’t be surprising if the front office gauged his interest in signing beyond his remaining three years of arbitration control at some point. Merrill Kelly is a solid mid-rotation type behind him, even if his lack of swing-and-miss stuff could make it difficult to sustain a 3.37 ERA. There’s not a ton of certainty behind that duo, though the Snakes have a handful of options who could fill out the back of the staff. Zach Davies had a fine if unexciting season at the back of the rotation last year. He’s back after re-signing on a modest $4MM free agent deal and will hold one of the season-opening rotation spots.
Madison Bumgarner had similar production as Davies last season, albeit at a much higher price point. His five-year, $85MM free agent contract has been a major disappointment. Bumgarner has been a durable source of innings but hasn’t come close to reestablishing himself as the top-of-the-rotation starter he was throughout his time in San Francisco. In October, Hazen implied that Bumgarner’s veteran status would get him another shot in the rotation but indicated the club could eventually go in another direction as performance dictates.
Whether that happens might depend as much on Arizona’s younger pitchers than on Bumgarner himself. Righties Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson look set to battle for the fifth spot this spring after each debuted late last season. Brandon Pfaadt has yet to reach the majors but is arguably more highly-regarded by evaluators than either Nelson or Jameson are. He pitched very well over ten Triple-A starts to close out last season and could be on the radar for a big league call early in the upcoming campaign. Tommy Henry and former high draft choices Blake Walston and Slade Cecconi headline the depth options behind that group.
There’s room for the club to still look into a veteran on a minor league deal to add some stability to the upper levels. Clearly, the main organizational hope is that higher-upside hurlers like Nelson and Pfaadt will perform well enough in the early going to cement themselves in the rotation. Should they do so, that could lead the organization to consider bumping Bumgarner or Davies from the group. Early on, however, Arizona figures to retain as much depth as they can given the inherent risk in counting on any pitching prospect to assume a large role on a team with playoff aspirations.
Whether the Diamondbacks have legitimate reason to hope for a postseason spot is debatable. The pitching staff, while improved, still looks a little light relative to those of most contenders. The club has question marks on the left side of the infield, particularly at shortstop. They’re in a gauntlet of a division, one where the ever-competitive Dodgers and ultra aggressive Padres will be projected 1-2 in some order by most observers. Arizona looks to have clearly pulled away from Colorado at the bottom of the division. It remains to be seen whether they can both leapfrog the Giants and hang in the Wild Card mix for a full season.
Even if a playoff berth looks like a long shot, there’s more reason for immediate optimism than has existed in some time. The core of the next competitive Arizona team is beginning to take shape, and the farm system should remain among the league’s best even after Moreno and Carroll graduate. Top prospects like Jordan Lawlar and Druw Jones are still a few seasons out, but it’s easy for the organization and its fans to dream about them eventually joining Moreno, Carroll, Marte and perhaps a young pitcher or two in comprising a group that can annually battle the behemoths at the top of the division.