The Diamondbacks have been busy churning their roster this off-season. Needing to address key needs such as adding a right-handed bat to add more balance to a roster that had gotten too left-handed, improving a bullpen that was arguably the worst in baseball in 2022, and adding more depth to their infield were among their priorities. The D-backs have made some effort in all three areas, signing a pair of relievers in free agency and making a pair of trades.
As of right now, their projected 2023 payroll sits at $106.7 million and may open up five or ten million higher than that at most come Opening Day. So that likely means they only have the budget to make one significant outside addition to the MLB roster, whether that’s through a trade or signing a free agent. So which areas could yield the best potential improvement?
The bullpen might be the first place to look, as the D-backs had one of the worst relief corps in the 2022 season. So far this off-season, the D-backs have signed Miguel Castro and Scott McGough off the free agent market. They also claimed Cole Sulser off waivers from the Miami Marlins. They are supposedly looking for more right-handed relief help and have been linked to Japanese righty Shintaro Fujinami, who was posted back on December 1st. The deadline for him to reach agreement is January 15th, so there should be a resolution on him soon.
McGough, Mark Melancon, and Joe Mantiply are all projected to play a key role in the bullpen in 2023, with Castro, Kevin Ginkel, Kyle Nelson, and Sulser also providing big innings for them. That likely leaves one spot in the bullpen open for competition next spring with a decent list of candidates potentially competing. They could look to leave that spot open for players with options such as Tyler Holton (2), Luis Frias (1), Carlos Vargas (2), Justin Martinez (3), Edwin Uceta (1), and J.B. Bukauskas (1). Corbin Martin will be competing for that spot, but is out of options and would have to be designated for assignment and outrighted to the minor leagues if he doesn’t make the opening day roster.
Options and performance will always play a role in who on the active roster. Mantiply, Nelson, and Ginkel are the only three relievers who can be optioned to the minor leagues without consent, so that hampers their roster flexibility. Also expect Tyler Holton, Luis Frias, Carlos Vargas, Justin Martinez, and J.B. Bukauskas to get some innings for the bullpen if healthy as Arizona attempts to shuffle around arms who have minor league options. I expect them to continue to work on the margins for the bullpen, relying on waiver claims for middle relief and hope that Melancon, McGough, and Mantiply can deliver for them in late innings.
The starting rotation is never a bad place to add talent. The D-backs aren’t necessarily aggressively looking for starting pitchers, but for the money they have to spend they might not be able to get a reliable No. 5 starter. Looking at some of the recent deals in free agency for a pitcher who fits that mold, both Drew Smyly and Jordan Lyles got two-year contracts worth $19 million and $17 million. As of right now, their best options may be former D-backs Wade Miley and Zach Davies. Both pitchers missed time with injuries, and Davies’ 2022 performance wasn’t that great. It may be a better bet to gamble on their farm system, which offers much more upside, for roughly the same risk at a much lower cost.
Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, Tommy Henry, and Brandon Pfaadt give the D-backs four potential options to fill out two rotation spots after Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Madison Bumgarner. Of that group, Pfaadt is the only one not to pitch in the big leagues in 2022, but he threw the most combined innings (167) and was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
The third and final potential area they can look to upgrade would be their stable of right-handed hitters. The D-backs are counting on Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to help shoulder the load in addition to recently acquired DH Kyle Lewis. They also traded for right handed infielder Diego Castillo, but he is more of a system depth option around the infield. Arizona was linked to three different right-handed hitting bats on the infield between Evan Longoria, Justin Turner, and Brandon Drury. As of right now, Longoria remains the only player unsigned.
Signing a player such as Longoria would allow for Josh Rojas to play a utility infielder role and step in at third base, but would further complicate how they intend to use their lineup. They may just leave that role up to whoever earns it between Castillo and Emmanuel Rivera and spend the money elsewhere.
Where the D-backs choose to spend what’s left of their budget, whether it’s now or later in the season, will be interesting. At this point, it’s very much a wait-and-see moment as the organization continues to work the margins of their roster in order to try to maximize the amount of potential wins.