Martin Prado at Chase Field. IMAGE: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Before the season started, I remember hearing a bit of a conversation about how great it was that the Diamondbacks had the vast, vast majority of their team under control for the near future. This was shortly after the Martin Prado extension, when he inked his 4-year, $40 million deal that runs through 2016. Not long after, Paul Goldschmidt joined the club with his team-friendly contract (5-years, $32 million) that now looks like pure genius. We were rightly singing the front office’s praises after that one.
While generally viewed as a positive, these extensions can be problematic, however. Short-term contracts are a gamble against the market, where player salaries are expected to inflate. Medium to long-term contracts are a gamble, too, though. They are a roll of the dice on a player’s future performance. Because Arizona has so many players locked up for next year and beyond, there is a lot of stability, but there is also risk in declining performance. Unfortunately, there is also significantly less roster flexibility than one might hope for.
Here is a visual representation of all the players signed beyond this year. It obviously does not account for players that are under team control due to service time or players that are on expiring contracts. Dollar values are based on annual average salary and all details are from Cot’s Contracts.
Take a look at the graphic. The Diamondbacks are essentially married to Goldy, Miguel Montero, Prado and Aaron Hill. Those guys are not going anywhere. Sure, the team could make moves at short, but with Didi Gregorius entrenched, there is not a lot the team will likely do at that position. The infield likely is what it is through at least 2016.
Aaron Hill against the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field. IMAGE: Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports
In the outfield, Cody Ross is the only long-term signee and his deal is fair given his production. One could presume flexiblitly in center and left, but Gerardo Parra is not going anywhere until 2015 at the earliest while Adam Eaton is pretty well set to man center for a long time. A.J. Pollock is cheap and effective, too, so I do not foresee any changes coming in the outfield. At least Jason Kubel will not be back.
On the hill, the train wreck that has become Trevor Cahill is here to stay while Brandon McCarthy will be back for next season at the very least (there is an option for 2015). Given the money they are owed, you can bet you will see them in the rotation going forward. Heath Bell is less of a financial disaster than you would think, thanks to the money kicked in by the Marlins. Still, he has not been particularly effective in 2013, so there is no reason to think he will be any better when he’s a year older in 2014. There is some hope that the very affordable David Hernandez gets things turned around but if he does not, he is cheap enough that his contract isn’t an inhibitor.
Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs can be considered to hold three future rotation spots and Ian Kennedy may get another shot in 2014. He is arbitration eligible and will probably be brought back on a cheap deal so that if he struggles in spring training, he can be canned. There is really not much flexibility in the rotation because the young guys will stay and the others cost too much to leave. In the bullpen, J.J. Putz and Tony Sipp are on expiring deals while you can expect Brad Ziegler, Matt Reynolds and Josh Collmenter back. There is a small amount of wiggle-room in the bullpen and we all know we could use some help there.
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Heath Bell with catcher Miguel Montero. IMAGE: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Here is the problem: the 2014 and 2015 Diamondbacks are not going to look all that different than the current squad. If the current team isn’t a winner, why should we be convinced that the 2014 and 2015 teams will be? Montero, Prado, Ross and Hill, all of whom are currently struggling, will be in their mid 30’s when their deals are up, well past their athletic primes. Several other spots are pretty well guaranteed to younger players and while they might improve, nothing in baseball is certain.
Being solidified feels nice because the team does not have a bunch of questions to answer and their hand isn’t forced to fill out the roster. But, on the other hand, if the pieces in place are struggling and they’re locked up for considerable amounts of time, then you still have a problem on your hands. It’s just a different one.
If the Diamondbacks do not come from behind to steal the division and they run pretty much the same squad out there for 2014, how excited will you be? What about 2015? We would better hope these guys under contract get it straightened out and that these young players continue to develop, because we are going to be seeing them on the field for several more seasons.