The Arizona Diamondbacks are viable at every position – except centerfield. The in-house options int the desert pale in comparison to these 5 trade targets.
The Arizona Diamondbacks signed New York Met non-tender Wilmer Flores this week, leading to the widespread presumption that Ketel Marte‘s transition to centerfield is complete. Given that his spring transition has yet to begin, that may be premature. Trade targets abound capable of augmenting the offense, if indeed they intend to compete.
Flores adds to manager Torey Lovullo’s modern stable of players – but the work of roster building isn’t done yet. In the National League, where double switches and pinch hitting opportunities strain a bench unit with regularity, the Dbacks are a center fielder away from fielding a well-rounded 13-man position player group.
At present, the starting lineup features Carson Kelly behind the plate, Jake Lamb at first, Flores at second, Nick Ahmed at short, Eduardo Escobar at third, with an outfield of David Peralta, Ketel Marte and Steven Souza Jr.
The bench unit is comprised of catcher Alex Avila, outfielders Socrates Brito and Jarrod Dyson, and likely a couple of infielders, as of yet undetermined. Christian Walker might make the cut as a power option off the bench, but with Flores capable of spelling Lamb at first against lefties, the Dbacks aren’t locked into carrying a backup 1B.
They could carry a third catcher in John Ryan Murphy, but that’s not a great use of a roster spot unless they love Avila as the first pinch-hitter off the bench. Avila will see his fair share of playing time as part of the catching timeshare, but when he’s not starting his spot is at the end of the bench.
Offseason acquisitions Abraham Almonte, Rob Refsnyder, Matt Szczur, Tim Locastro and Kelby Tomlinson will compete for those last two spots, as will a host of younger players who could push to make the team: Kevin Cron, Domingo Leyba, Ildemaro Vargas, Yasmany Tomas.
Most of those guys are either primarily outfielders, corner types, or low-ceiling organizational filler. They’re fine as backups, but National League teams have moved away from the bench unit as insurance/pinch-hitters.
Rosters usage is more fluid in this day and age, with each position player on the roster counted on to be a significant contributor. The 2018 Diamondbacks, for instance, saw 15 position players get more than 200 at-bats. That means that even if none of the above listed players make the Opening Day roster, one or two of them will still have a chance to become a key member of the 2019 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Which is exactly why Flores profiles better as the first infield bat off the bench than as the everyday second baseman. Penciling in Marte at second doesn’t preclude a move to centerfield, nor does it mean Flores isn’t going to be a “regular” second baseman. Flores has received between 250-500 at-bats in every season for the last five, but the closest he’s come to being a standstill starter was the 96 starts he made at shortstop as a 23-year-old in 2015. He’s a regular, if not an everyday player.
The Diamondbacks, it’s safe to say, are not the clear frontrunners in the NL West. Leveraging the individual talents of this roster might drive them to contention, but only if they avoid overextension. There’s no reason to push Marte/Flores beyond what makes them above-average by moving further up the defensive hierarchy and hurting the overall team defense; rather, they should exploit their versatility by using it on a game-to-game basis.
If Flores spells Marte/Lamb/Ahmed/Escobar around the infield, he still gets 4-5 starts per week, with even more regular playing time if someone hits the DL. There’s no reason to guarantee a recently-non-tendered defensive liability more than that – at least not before he proves himself an indispensable offensive asset.
Making Flores the first bat off the bench, however, leaves Jarrod Dyson atop the depth chart in centerfield. Consider the following stats for Dyson: his career high in at-bats is 346, in home runs it’s 5, and if you prefer rate metrics, he has a career high 95 wRC+. He’s not an everyday player.
On the plus side, he has recorded seven straight years of double digit stolen bases, 220 total for his career, and both DRS and UZR peg him as a tremendous defender across all three outfield positions. Giving Dyson 600 at-bats in center field would be an interesting experiment in the present day value of speed and defense, but if Billy Hamilton didn’t effectively answer that question I’m not sure what a full year of Dyson in center can prove.
Dyson has been a regular major league contributor for seven seasons running, and yet, his stolen base total dwarfs his RBI total, 220 to 143. While RBIs are contextually dependent, that also makes them contextually relevant, and in seven years Dyson has been utilized in essentially the same context.
Make no mistake, this is a compliment: Dyson is the perfect fourth outfielder. Not a good fourth outfielder, or a solid one: he’s perfect. Why mess with perfection? On a one-year, $3.75MM contract, he ought to be attractive to a contender come the deadline.
With Dyson best-suited, like Flores, in a regular but not everyday role, the roster is still a player away from achieving balance.
It would be fun to see Brito get a chance to play everyday until June, to really give him a chance to knock off the rust and prove he can hit major league pitching the way he crushes in Triple A.
He’s out of options, so he’ll make the roster, and at 26, 2019 may be a now-or-never year for Brito. Despite making his major-league debut at 22 and remaining in the outfield conversation relatively consistently since then, he has yet to cross the 100 AB threshold in a single season. If this isn’t the year, it might never happen.
Still, giving Brito the job out of Spring Training all but admits to the public that the Diamondbacks are okay taking a backseat, contention-wise, this season, and while it can be argued that such a strategy is actually definitely absolutely what they should do, nothing the brass has said has indicated they agree.
With the starting staff more-or-less locked into Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly, the Diamondbacks have but one major swing left to take this winter: acquire a starting center fielder.
Assuming that incumbent A.J. Pollock has played his last home game in Chase Field, here are some of the top targets the Arizona Diamondbacks should focus on before Spring Training.