Since day one of the MLB offseason, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has been an open book about his offseason intentions. It was no secret that Arizona would pursue a power bat, bullpen help and a frontline starter to act as a staff ace for the ballclub.
Although the grocery list was short, it has nonetheless kept Towers very busy. After acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo from the Angels and young closer Addison Reed from the White Sox, all that is left is for Arizona to find a way to bring a frontline arm to stabilize a young rotation. With many options to choose from, it should be easy, right?
Well, it isn’t quite that simple.
While there are plenty of options for the Diamondbacks to choose from for starting pitching help, each comes with a risk. There’s a risk involved for any player, but it is Kevin Towers to assess which risk is the most worth taking.
First, there’s Asian sensation Masahiro Tanaka. After turning in a season that saw him go 24-0 with a sparkling 1.27 ERA in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, his posting by the Rakuten Golden Eagles made him the most coveted international free agent since Yu Darvish. At 25, Tanaka has room still to grow, and while it’s no guarantee that his stuff will stick in the MLB, the Darvish experiment is working too well for the Rangers for other teams to not covet Tanaka.
The risk for Tanaka is, as I already alluded to, one of league fit. No one knows at this point whether or not Tanaka will be a Yu Darvish or a Daisuke Matsuzaka, another Japanese player who made the jump to the MLB with much less success.
As it relates to the Diamondbacks though, another risk with Tanaka is the amount of money it would take to bring him to the desert. In addition to his $20 million posting fee, Arizona would have to offer him a contract in the $100 million range, which is something I’m not sure Towers has the leash to do. If it becomes an all-out bidding war for Tanaka, Arizona would lose and lose horrifically to the likes of the Dodgers and the Yankees.
It is those roadblocks that lead me to believe Arizona will pursue some of the other free agent pitchers still on the market. There are a handful of proven arms more easily accessible for the Diamondbacks that they should focus more attention to if (when) they lose Tanaka.
The first is Ubaldo Jimenez, whom Arizona should be familiar with given his time with the Colorado Rockies. The 29-year old out of the Dominican Republic spent five seasons with the Rockies before being traded the Cleveland Indians in the middle of the 2011 season. Largely inconsistent, Jimenez had it working last season, going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA. It is that performance that is driving Jimenez’s market value right now.
As I was saying, though, outside of that 2013 campaign and a 2010 that saw him win 19 games with a 2.88 ERA, Jimenez has not been what you’d call “staff ace” material. If we take those two seasons out, Jimenez has a career ERA of 4.31. If Arizona signs Jimenez, they need to make sure it’s the good Ubaldo and not the bad one.
The other risk with Ubaldo Jimenez is Arizona sacrificing a draft pick in order to sign him. While a frontline starter would be worth it, it is still a huge price to pay for a guy who could make your team better in the far future.
Another pitcher with the draft compensation penalty is Ervin Santana, who enjoyed a career year in 2013 with a career-low 3.24 ERA. While far from dominant, Santana’s greatest asset is his durability. He has started at least 23 games in all nine seasons of his major league career, epitomizing the term “workhorse”. Also, Santana tends to force more ground outs than Ubaldo Jimenez, a distinction that would fit into Chase Field a little better.
Ervin Santana, however, suffers from some of the same problems Jimenez does. This past season is Ervin Santana at his absolute best, and Arizona should be careful not to overspend for a guy who won’t deliver what the Diamondbacks are looking for year in and year out. In other words, Arizona is unlikely to get three or four years of sub-3.30 ERA with Santana or Jimenez.
That brings us to Matt Garza, who can be acquired without sacrificing a draft pick (due to his midseason trade). Although he struggled after being traded to the Rangers, Garza represents the most stable option of the three free agents not named Tanaka. A career 3.84 ERA, Garza has been an above average pitcher for a long time, rising to prominence with the Tampa Bay Rays in their 2008 World Series appearance. It is that experience that makes Garza so enticing, as he would bring a veteran presence to a young Arizona rotation.
Garza’s biggest fault however is his injury history. In the last two seasons, Garza has not managed to stay healthy, and that could be worrisome to the Diamondbacks. Why shell out the money for a guy who will only start half the season? Still, Garza’s affordability and relatively low risk factor may be enough to drive Towers to come to terms with the 30 year old from Fresno State.
Alternative options outside the free agency market exist, such as trading for Rays ace David Price or Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, but Arizona already doled out a lot of their assets to acquire Trumbo and Reed. However, if Towers sees a move that makes the team better, that alone may be enough to put forth a significant prospect package.
Another option that the D-back faithful will be calling for all season long is calling up Archie Bradley from the minors. Widely regarded as the best right-handed pitching prospect in all baseball, Bradley represents the future of Diamondback baseball, and the Diamondbacks will handle him as carefully as possible as they develop him. But if the team struggles, the “Free Bradley” chants will begin to get louder and louder until he steps on the Chase Field rubber.
As it stands right now, the Arizona Diamondbacks are a very good team. But with Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson playing for their jobs in 2014, they’re searching frantically to find that extra kick in the pants to propel them back into the playoff picture.
The tomahawk is back! Former starter and 2013 long reliever Josh Collmenter agreed to an extension, avoiding arbitration and keeping the fan favorite in the desert for at least two more years.