With the HUGE news of Ketel Marte's extension today, it's only natural to think who else deserves an extension. I got to thinking if there's anyone else on this roster I'd want to see extended and I had one player immediately come to mind: Merrill Kelly. If you've been watching the Diamondbacks in the past few years, Merrill has quietly been a great pitcher in the valley, having memorable games left and right and being a reliable #2/3 pitcher.
Originally a Rays prospect drafted in the eighth round of the 2010 draft, Merrill was released by the Rays in 2014. Frankly, I don't know why. In his final minor league season, he had a 2.76 ERA and 1.263 WHIP over 114 innings for the Durham Bulls. That's pretty darn good. But that offseason, he was released and somehow didn't find a home on an American team. Enter the SK Wyverns. In Korea, he had a 3.86 ERA over his four seasons, his walk percentage hovered around 7% each season, his strikeout percentage was 17.9% his season, 18% his second, and then went up to 23.2% and 23.9% his final two. Meanwhile, he had a HR/9 of 0.8 or lower for his first three seasons, and 1.02 in his last. These are promising peripherals. Let me reiterate: I do not understand how no MLB team wanted to take a chance on him after his outstanding 2014 AAA season. Thankfully, after honing his craft in Korea, he came home to Arizona after the 2018 KBO season.
In 2019, Merrill Kelly had an unusually average season. The 2019 season was another rough year for the Diamondbacks, and Merrill seemed to wind up catching the bad more often than the good. He led the National League in losses with 14, but at the same time, he had a 4.42 ERA, good for a just barely above average ERA+ of 101, as well as a WHIP of 1.315 over 183.1 innings pitched. Notably, he started 32 games. Only Robbie Ray started more that season. Merrill isn't injury-prone. For a team that had a cavalcade of ridiculous injuries in 2021, this is a factor worth considering. Granted, in the shortened 2020 season, he wound up out for the season after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery, but that isn't exactly a common issue and almost certainly wasn't related to anything on the field.
As mentioned above, he was out in 2020. But before leaving, he pitched five stellar games. A great sign of things to come. In 2021, he led the Diamondbacks in WAR. While you can definitely say that doesn't mean much because he played on the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks, 2.3 bWAR and 2.4 fWAR isn't anything to sneeze at. That's still solid, in the same area as guys like Yu Darvish, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Tyler Anderson. The big stats for Merrill in 2021 were his 4.44 ERA, 1.291 WHIP, 19.5 K%, and 6.2 BB%. The last thing I want to note about his 2021 season is his consistency. Sixteen of his 27 starts went six innings or more, and only gave up more than four runs in five games. Oh, and in those games where he gave up five or more runs, he pitched six or more innings in four of them. The Achilles heel of the Diamondbacks for years has been the bullpen. Having a guy who reliably goes into the sixth is crucial.
Before we talk extensions, I want to wrap up with how his first appearance in Spring Training went. I have two words for you: incomprehensibly good. Yes, these are Spring Training numbers, so take them with a grain of salt, but in a game against the San Francisco Giants where he faced nearly their entire major-league core, he faced nine batters over three innings and struck eight of them out. That is preposterous. Ludicrous. Outrageous. Adjective. I cannot wait to see what he does next. This dude is ready.
In my humble opinion, the stats are there. Merrill has been great for the Diamondbacks and has improved in his time here. The big consideration for a Merrill Kelly extension is that he's already 33. That's how old Ketel Marte will be when his extension wraps up in 2027. Thankfully, we have a solid comp for what a pitcher like Kelly both in terms of age and numbers would get on the open market: Alex Cobb. This past offseason, Cobb inked a two-year, $20 million contract with the Giants with a club option for 2024. Cobb is a year older and had a season that was close to Kelly's. He was injured for part of the 2021 season, and I'd expect him to be in the same arena as Kelly numbers-wise over a full season. I do not think this is an outrageous amount. Frankly, I'd be willing to pay him even more.
So, what would I give him? I'm thinking three years, maybe with a club or mutual option tacked onto the end, and around $35-40 million guaranteed, an average annual value of $11.67-13.33 million. I think the upside is absolutely there and for that price, the risk isn't too high. Plus, we'd get to see Brent Strom work some of that magic he's got stored up. Who wouldn't want to see that? Give him that bag.
Is there someone else on this team that should get an extension? Be sure to let me know in the comments below or tweet them at me @xwOBAplus.