The Diamondbacks are flying high but changes are afoot.
The defending National League West champion Arizona Diamondbacks squad has retained many of the players that helped the club take its division foes by surprise in 2011. When the team enters the 2012 season looking to repeat, though, no one will take it lightly. If the club hopes to succeed once again, it will need to fill some of the current gaps in the 25-man roster.
The front office has already taken care of some housekeeping, such as re-signing infielders Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald, but those moves simply solidify the supporting staff and improve depth. Impact moves could—and should—be made this winter.
Let's have a look at some things the Diamondbacks front office should focus on now.
It seems like just about everyone is in on Mark Buehrle this offseason. The free-agent southpaw has had an outstanding career with the Chicago White Sox, but he’s hungry for the postseason, and the D-Banks can oblige the talented veteran.
He would be an excellent tutor for the wave of young pitching that is on the way through the minor league system (and for young big leaguers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson). The 12-year veteran is still just 32 and has 161 career wins under his belt. More importantly, he has a stretch of 11 straight seasons with 200-plus innings.
If the club loses out on Buehrle, Paul Maholm could be a nice fallback option. The former Pittsburgh Pirate and first-round draft pick is coming off a solid season. Just 29, he posted a 3.66 ERA (4.03 xFIP) and induces an above-average number of ground-ball outs, which would certainly help him while pitching in Arizona.
He also has above-average control and baffles hitters at times when he effectively mixes his four pitches. Maholm is the type of pitcher that often gets better with age and experience.
Bedard is your typical high-risk, high-reward pitcher. A free agent, he’s battled injuries throughout his career, but the overall potential remains.
In the past five seasons, the left-hander has not finished a season with an ERA above 3.76. His 2011 innings total of 129.1 was his highest since 2007, so there is hope the major injuries are behind him now.
Despite the missed time, Bedard showed average control and posted a strikeout rate of 8.70 per nine innings in 2011. His heater, which averaged out at 91 miles per hour last season, has lost some giddy-up over time, but he still has a very good curveball that he relies on heavily.
St. Louis' Allen Craig
Current left fielder Gerardo Parra is a strong defender, but he lacks both power and stolen base acumen. His offensive value is tied almost solely to his ability to hit for average.
The corner outfield positions are areas that teams tend to prefer power from, so Arizona could look to acquire a player capable of moving Parra into a platoon or fourth-outfielder role.
The oft-injured but talented Grady Sizemore would be one option, but all signs point to him re-upping with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent. Normally a center fielder, injuries have bitten into his range, so left field would be a good spot for him. He also offers pop (career .204 Isolated Power). The downside to Sizemore is that he, like Parra, bats left-handed.
Kubel, a lifelong Minnesota Twin, is on the free-agent market. He’s a poor defender, but that’s of lesser importance when you have a player like Parra ready for late-game switches. Kubel had an off year in 2011, but he provides some pop (.188 career Isolated Power) and has a history of driving in runs (195 RBI combined in 2009 and 2010). At 29, he’s still in his prime, but he’s also a left-handed hitter like Parra.
Finally, we have some right-handed pop with St. Louis’ Allen Craig. The 27-year-old sophomore player offers a lot of defensive versatility and can play the corner outfield, second base, third base and first base. As a result, he won’t be the cheapest or easiest player to pry away from St. Louis, but he could be worth the effort (and cost). Craig had the fourth-highest Isolated Power rate (.240) amongst MLB left fielders in 2011. He’s also a decent defensive outfielder.
At some point, the organization is going to tire of the litany of injuries that seem to haunt incumbent shortstop Stephen Drew. As it stands, the slick fielder could miss the opening of the 2012 season due to a fractured ankle and sports hernia.
The club has already secured backup infielders John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist for next season, but neither player is a strong option as a long-term replacement.
With limited options in the minor leagues, the club should start looking elsewhere for options. Two names of interest include the New York Yankees’ Eduardo Nunez and the New York Mets' Ruben Tejada. How available the players truly are remains to be seen, and the Atlanta Braves organization is known to have interest in Nunez.
Nunez could be the eventual replacement for Derek Jeter, and the youngster also provides insurance for aging third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Nunez offers speed (22 steals in 2011), which could be of value at the top of the order, and makes a lot of contact (10.9 K%). He struggled defensively in 2011, but his glove should improve with regular playing time at one position.
Ruben Tejada is a slick fielder at shortstop and second base. He doesn’t offer the stolen base numbers that Nunez does, but he gets on base at a decent clip via the walk and has a solid batting average. Although he hit zero home runs in 2011, Tejada offers gap power, as witnessed by his line-drive rate of 25.7 percent, which led all MLB shortstops (with a minimum of 200 at-bats).
Arizona could look to cash in on its pitching depth in the minor leagues by flipping a collection of prospects possibly headlined by left-hander Patrick Corbin, who could be attractive to the New York teams.
Free agent Jonathan Broxton
General manager Kevin Towers did an outstanding job remaking the bullpen for the 2011 season, but some holes remain. The closer market is crazy this offseason, so it’s good that the club has J.J. Putz locked up with Bryan Shaw and David Hernandez waiting in the wings.
It might seem like overkill, but it could be the perfect time to take a flyer on Jonathan Broxton, who is coming back from injury and missed much of the 2011 season. The right-handed power reliever—whose fastball velocity was done in ’11, quite possibly due to injury—could be had on an incentive-laden deal, and he makes the bullpen that much stronger.
On the downside, the reliever is looking to bulk up his value after the disappointing season and may want a closer’s job rather than a seventh- or eighth-inning gig.
If the club wants to be super-aggressive, it should consider locking up Broxton for 2012 with an option for '13 and then trading Putz for a collection of prospects, thus capitalizing on a market where reliever value is way, way up. Broxton can then serve as the mentor for Shaw and Hernandez, who would eventually assume the high-leverage role.
Free agent Aramis Ramirez
Ryan Roberts had an admirable season filling in at third base, but he’s a stretch as a long-term, full-time third baseman.
The organization has two strong hot corner prospects in the minor leagues in Bobby Borchering and Matt Davidson, but both players are probably at least two years away. Add in the fact that neither player is overly strong on defense (Borchering is almost guaranteed to move to first base), and the organization has a problem.
One solution to the lack of depth would be to look at former Chicago Cub Aramis Ramirez, who is currently on the free-agent market. The 33-year-old has 14 seasons under his belt, would bring a wealth of experience and is probably hungry for the opportunity to play in a World Series after some hapless years in Chicago and Pittsburgh
His defense has slipped a bit over time, but he offers the ability to hit .280 to .300 with 20-plus home runs. He’s also a proven run producer. If the club can get him on a two- or three-year contract, he might be worth the risk.
If the club wants to look at a less pricy option, a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays could be just what the doctor ordered. Infielder Edwin Encarnacion is definitely not the best fielder (he’s affectionately known in Toronto by the nickname E5), but he might make a solid platoon with Roberts.
When not at the hot corner, he could spell sophomore first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (E5 is much better at first base). The Jays slugger also hits very well when he spends time as a designated hitter; with interleague play expanding in 2013, he would be the perfect man for the job.
If you’re still not convinced, Encarnacion has been learning the outfield in winter ball and could help spell Parra in left.