Let me start off with the premise that the Arizona Diamondbacks will not be able to sign Masahiro Tanaka. I think they have as good a shot as anyone to get him but for this column’s purposes, let us say they don’t. Arguably, the top four remaining free agent pitchers (or that have been “linked” to the D’backs) are Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. Out of these four my first preference is Arroyo; he is a proven winner, he won’t cost as much as the other three and he knows what it is like to throw in a pitcher’s park. My least preferred guy out of the lot is Garza; he is too expensive and will want more than the three years the Snakes could potentially offer.
Which leaves us with Santana and Jimenez and the extra price tag they will cost on top of salary if the D’backs were to sign one of them: a first round draft pick.
For a farm system that is barren, like say, the New York Yankees, it might be wise to stay away from these gentlemen. But for a team Arizona, one whose system seems to be flush with young arms, the threat of not having a pick in the first round may not seem so daunting. If they were to lose it, the team still would have four picks in the top 100 in the June draft. If General Manager Kevin Towers thinks he could absorb this loss, then the next question should be, is either one of those pitchers worth the #16 pick in the draft?
Draft picks are much more coveted now, particularly for a mid-size market team like the D’backs. Knowing they will not be able to contend by outspending larger, division rivals like Los Angeles and San Francisco, they have to use their free agent dollars judiciously and draft wisely. That being said, there are no guarantees with first round selections as half tend to do very well and half not so much. In that context, either Santana (105 Major League wins, just turned 31) or Jimenez (82 Major League wins, turns 30 in two weeks) is a much safer bet than a draft pick, even a first round one. So if the goal for Arizona is to win now, a year from now, two years from now, it does make sense to sign one of those two free agents at the expense of drafting a player, developing that player and hoping for that player to work out. Should the organization forfeit the pick, they first draft at #54 and then turn around and draft back-to-back at #70 and #71. That’s three players in less than 20 selections, not a bad spot to be in.
I am not advocating the D’backs sign either Santana or Jimenez. That’s for Towers and company to decide. All I am saying is that for a team that is in a win now mode, it might be worth it to sacrifice a high draft selection in favor of potential playoff glory.