Do the Diamondbacks really need Cody Ross?
During this offseason, some MLB free-agent signings have seemed strange because of the money involved.
The Los Angeles Dodgers inking Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5 million contract to be their closer—when he's only been a closer for one full season—might qualify. Anibal Sanchez getting a six-year, $80 million deal with the Detroit Tigers—when he'll be the team's fourth starter—could be another example.
It's not because of the money involved, though it is somewhat perplexing that the D-Backs were willing to give Ross a three-year, $26 million contract when that's a figure that apparently made the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets pause.
What makes Ross going to Arizona particularly strange is that the D-Backs didn't appear to have a spot for him on the roster. The team was already loaded with outfielders—five, to be exact.
Jason Kubel hit 30 home runs as Arizona's left fielder this year. Right fielder Justin Upton, though constantly on the trade block, is still viewed as one of the most exciting young players in MLB. Three candidates on the roster could be the starting center fielder. The job could go to Gerardo Parra, Adam Eaton or A.J. Pollock.
Where does Ross fit in? Obviously, D-Backs general manager Kevin Towers will have to trade at least one of them away.
Judging from the most recent MLB trade rumors, Kubel appears to be the player most likely to be dealt off, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. The New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays could all be possible destinations for Kubel, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney.
Getting rid of Kubel would be curious in that he's the D-Backs' only left-handed power threat. Miguel Montero hit 15 home runs this season, but Kubel doubled that number. No other left-handed batter on the roster even reached double figures in home runs.
Kubel's contract isn't outrageous either. According to Cot's Contracts, he's set to make $7.5 million next year, same as he did this season. He has a $7.5 million option for 2014, but that can be bought out for $1 million. In other words, he costs less than Ross.
Ross doesn't fill a need for a right-handed bat, as he would have with the Phillies, Braves, Mets or Red Sox either. The D-Backs have plenty of power from the right side of the plate.
Paul Goldschmidt hit 20 home runs with an .850 OPS this year. Aaron Hill compiled an .882 OPS while slugging 26 homers. Upton hit 17 home runs in 2012, but he is one year removed from smacking 31 balls over the fence.
Ross will be a nice addition to that, bringing 22 homers and an .807 OPS to the lineup. But does he give the D-Backs anything that they didn't already have?
Could defense be the answer?
Ross was an above-average defensive player in left and right field for the Red Sox in 2012, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). By contrast, Kubel was a subpar defender in left field for Arizona this year, costing his team nearly four runs more than the average player at that position would have.
That arguably gives them room for improvement. Perhaps Towers and manager Kirk Gibson want their team to have the best outfield defense in baseball next year, figuring the D-Backs can allow fewer than the 688 runs—ninth in the 16-team NL—given up this season.
But if the D-Backs hold defense in such high regard, why did the team trade Chris Young to the Oakland Athletics in late October? Young was an outstanding defensive center fielder, according to UZR. This year, he saved 11 runs more than a replacement-level player at his position. In 2011, Young's glove was worth 14 runs, and he was credited with 20 defensive runs saved.
Young was set to be paid $10 million over the next two seasons ($19.5 million if the D-Backs picked up his 2014 option), but that's not much of a difference from what Ross will earn over the next three years of his new contract.
If Parra is Arizona's starting center fielder next season, with Pollock presumably a reserve and Eaton playing for Triple-A Reno, perhaps that will be an indication that defense is a priority.
To be fair, the D-Backs signing Ross could make much more sense when spring training begins or on Opening Day. By then, Towers will presumably have rearranged and pruned his roster as necessary, with the roster's various pieces fitting into place.
It's no mystery why Ross signed with Arizona: The D-Backs gave him the most money, even more than the three-year, $25 million contract he was seeking when the offseason began. According to MLB.com's Steve Gilbert, Ross apparently felt he had a better chance to win in Arizona than with the Red Sox.
Towers says he doesn't necessarily have to trade an outfielder in light of signing Ross, and maybe he's right. Perhaps it would be better to wait until midseason to use his surplus to address any needs. In looking at the D-Backs' roster, however, he may want to include one of those players in a deal for a left-handed reliever.
But until subsequent moves are made, this looks like the most perplexing free-agent signing of the offseason. Will this continue to be a head-scratcher throughout the 2013 season, or will Towers somehow come out of this looking brilliant?
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