Much like your local big box store after Christmas, the best MLB free agents have been picked over and the Diamondbacks’ options are few. That doesn’t mean they don’t have any.
With Gabriel Moreno now in the fold, the Diamondbacks are set at the catching position for 2023 and beyond. Should they choose to do anything else this offseason, third base, starting pitching and the bullpen appear to be the team’s most likely areas for improvement.
Out of the three, the bullpen seems to be the most pressing area of need. After signing free-agent reliever Scott McGough earlier this month, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said he was still looking to add a reliever.
With the addition of Scott McGough, here's where the #Dbacks stand in the bullpen:— Jesse Friedman (@JesseNFriedman) December 15, 2022
The D-backs were also linked to multiple free-agent third basemen earlier this month. It’s possible that the team is still looking to add there as well. As far as starting pitching is concerned, Hazen said at the Winter Meetings that he expects to be active, to some degree, in that market.
“I don’t think it’s our first priority,” he said. “We have other things that we want to accomplish first, but I could see us potentially adding another starting pitcher.”
Whether the D-backs ultimately decide to improve in all or none of these areas, here are 10 free-agent targets who could make the team better in 2023.
1. Evan Longoria, 3B/DH
After mentioning the Diamondbacks as a preferred landing spot several months ago, former San Francisco Giants third baseman Evan Longoria is the only true third baseman left in free agency who is likely to be viewed as an everyday player. As recently as Dec. 9, the D-backs have reciprocated Longoria’s interest, according to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman.
As I wrote when the Longoria rumors first circulated, the 37-year-old checks several boxes for the D-backs. Specifically, he bats right-handed, plays a decent third base and has 15 years of major-league experience that could prove valuable for a young team.
On paper, there are two primary factors working against Longoria coming to the D-backs. The first is the acquisition of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who came over in the Daulton Varsho trade. While Gurriel’s primary defensive position is left field, Hazen said that he could get some opportunities at DH, too. With Josh Rojas likely to get everyday at-bats as well — presumably at third base, since there aren’t any other clear positional options — it might be difficult to find enough at-bats to go around for Gurriel, Rojas and Longoria.
In the big picture, it is also unclear how much Longoria would actually move the needle for the D-backs. If the season started tomorrow, the team would likely employ a platoon with Josh Rojas starting against righties and Emmanuel Rivera (or the recently acquired Diego Castillo) starting against lefties. In 2022, Rojas hit .277/.354/.410 against righties and Rivera hit .264/.319/.464 against lefties. Longoria, meanwhile, hit .215/.302/.430 against righties and .282/.333/.479 against lefties. On paper, the difference between Longoria and a Rojas-Rivera platoon is minimal.
Ultimately, if the price for Longoria drops far enough, he would still be a valuable depth option. Injuries, after all, are inevitable. If Rojas had to fill in for, say, Ketel Marte at second base for a while, Longoria would be really helpful. Nonetheless, the acquisition of Gurriel lessened the need for a player with Longoria’s skillset. The D-backs probably have more pressing needs.
2. Shintaro Fujinami, RHP
Once compared to Shohei Ohtani, Japanese right-hander Shintaro Fujinami is one of the best relievers left on the market. Just over two weeks ago, the Diamondbacks emerged as the frontrunners to land him, according to a Japanese-based news site.
Fujinami, 28, was posted by his Japanese team, the Hanshin Tigers, on Dec. 1 and has until mid-January to agree to terms with a major-league team. The club that signs him will be responsible for a posting fee, which will likely amount to 20 percent of the total contract value.
With a four-seam fastball that touches triple digits, a splitter that drops off the table and a workable slider, Fujinami has the kind of swing-and-miss stuff the Diamondbacks have chased this winter. On paper, his pitch arsenal is exactly identical to the recently acquired McGough. It is unclear if that has impacted the D-backs’ pursuit of Fujinami, but it’s not out of the question that it could.
“We talk a lot about diversity of look in the bullpen,” Hazen said. “In an ideal world, we would like to spread out the arsenal that comes in.”
Fujinami is represented by Scott Boras.
3. Michael Fulmer, RHP
Winner of the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Award, Michael Fulmer was one of baseball’s best young starting pitchers with the Detroit Tigers before needing Tommy John surgery in 2019. Upon his return, he wasn’t the same, but he has been a productive reliever for the past two seasons.
In 2022, Fulmer had a 3.39 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and .243 opponent batting average in 63.2 innings. The majority of those innings came with the Tigers, but a midseason trade sent him to the Minnesota Twins to finish the year. Fulmer’s numbers were a bit less pristine in Minnesota, but he was still effective.
Overall, despite a league-average strikeout rate in 2022 and the fact that his once-spectacular four-seam fastball now sits at a much more modest 94 MPH, Fulmer has 17 saves over the past two seasons and could be a reliable backend piece for the D-backs. There is a lot of value in a player who has a career 2.98 bullpen ERA and is still only 29 years old.
4. Andrew Chafin, LHP
Andrew Chafin has been very, very good since leaving the Diamondbacks at the 2020 trade deadline. In 2021, he had a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 68.2 innings, splitting time with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics. In 2022, he had a 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with the Tigers, including an excellent 27.6 percent strikeout rate.
The key to Chafin’s success the past two years has arguably been limiting walks. In 2021, his walk rate was 7.1 percent. In 2022, it was 7.8 percent. Both of those figures are lower than any walk rate he posted over a full season with the D-backs.
While Hazen said early in the offseason that he was more focused on right-handed relievers than left-handed relievers, he did leave open the possibility of adding a southpaw. Should the team go that route, Chafin is one of the best remaining options in free agency.
The Diamondbacks’ current left-handed bullpen options include 2022 All-Star Joe Mantiply, Kyle Nelson and Tyler Holton. Nelson had a 2.19 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 43 games in 2022, but struggled with late-season back and elbow injuries. Holton threw only nine innings at the big-league level, but was effective, allowing three runs on eight hits with six strikeouts.
5. Matt Moore, LHP
Another left-handed reliever, Matt Moore, pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the first time in his career at age 33. Moore excelled in that role for the Texas Rangers, posting a 1.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and .195 opponent batting average over 74 innings.
Moore’s stuff played up nicely in the bullpen, with his four-seam velocity increasing to 94 MPH. He also upped his curveball usage significantly to a career-high 38.2 percent, and the pitch proved effective against both lefties and righties. As always, Moore’s changeup served him well against righties.
Based on fWAR, Moore was one of the 35 best relievers in baseball in 2022. Given that he doesn’t have a long track record of elite bullpen performance, the D-backs might be able to get him on a reasonably priced two-year deal.
6. Chad Green, RHP
The last reliever on this list is Chad Green, who has bounced back and forth between being good and being great with the New York Yankees since 2017. In 2022, Green had a 3.00 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 15 innings.
The catch with Green — and the reason he only threw those 15 innings in 2022 — is that he had Tommy John surgery in early June. That means he won’t be able to pitch much, if at all, in 2023.
In all likelihood, the team that signs Green will give him a two-year contract. Signing him would be more of an investment for 2024 than for 2023. Nonetheless, given that the Diamondbacks will almost assuredly need bullpen help again next offseason — every team will — they could get ahead of the next offseason’s to-do list by inking Green now.
Granted, there is no guarantee that Green will be the same pitcher upon his return, but at the right price, he could be a worthwhile addition. From 2017 to 2022, Green has been one of baseball’s steadiest relievers, with a 2.96 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 442 strikeouts and just 81 walks over 338 innings with the Yankees.
7. Wade Miley, LHP
Since the Diamondbacks traded Wade Miley to the Boston Red Sox in 2014, he has pitched for seven teams over nearly a decade. Not every year has been great — the lefty has had multiple years with ERAs over 5.00 — but somehow, Miley has always managed to bounce back. In 2021, he had one of his best years ever, tallying a 12-7 record with a 3.37 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 125 strikeouts in 163 innings for the Cincinnati Reds.
In 2022, Miley was similarly effective when he was on the mound, but he wasn’t on the mound much. Due to both elbow and shoulder issues, Miley managed to throw only 37 innings. If it’s any consolation, about half of those innings came after returning from the 60-day injured list on Sep. 6, and he appeared to be healthy down the stretch.
For the Diamondbacks, the fact that Miley is a lefty could be enticing. Currently, the only lefties with a shot in the starting rotation are Madison Bumgarner and Tommy Henry, neither of whom pitched well last year. Bringing in another lefty could add balance to the rotation.
8. Zach Davies, RHP
When Zach Davies declined his 2023 player option for the Diamondbacks, he also said that he would be interested in returning on a new contract. With only a handful of starting pitchers left on the board, there is a case to be made that bringing back Davies is the best starting pitcher acquisition the team could make.
More than anything, the fact that Davies is still only 29 years old makes him more attractive and significantly less risky than other starters on the market. Granted, his strikeout rate and other peripheral stats suggest that his 4.09 ERA from 2022 may be difficult to repeat, but he still gave the D-backs 134.1 reliable innings.
Even if Davies isn’t a frontline starter, those innings could prove valuable, even game-changing for a team like the Diamondbacks. If the season started tomorrow, they would likely open the year with two of Henry, Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson and potentially top pitching prospect Brandon Pfaadt in the starting rotation. While there is quite a bit of excitement surrounding those names, there is also a lot of unknown. Adding depth never hurts.
9. Corey Kluber, RHP
Update: Per a report from Jeff Passan, Corey Kluber is in agreement with the Boston Red Sox on a one-year, $10 million contract with a team option for 2024.
Corey Kluber is entering his age-37 season, and he is a far cry from the guy who won two Cy Young awards in Cleveland. Nonetheless, he still had a productive 2022 season for the Tampa Bay Rays, tallying 164 innings over 31 starts with a 4.34 ERA, 3.57 FIP and the lowest walk rate in baseball among qualified starters.
As would be expected, Kluber’s game has evolved significantly as he as aged. In 2022, he used his cutter a career-high 34.2 percent of the time, and he has essentially stopped throwing his four-seamer altogether. At this point, it’s rare for Kluber to hit 90 MPH on the radar gun.
Nonetheless, while his once-elite curveball is far from the pitch it once was, it is still an effective out-pitch. Kluber’s excellent command helps his arsenal play up. For the D-backs, he could provide some stable innings in the rotation. And even if his performance takes a step back, his ability to mentor some of the team’s young starters could be invaluable. Kluber is widely expected to sign a one-year contract.
10. Zack Greinke, RHP
Yes, one more former Diamondback. Zack Greinke is 39 now, and he’s coming off a year in which he had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball among qualified starters. Nonetheless, Greinke cruised to a 3.68 ERA over 137 innings (26 starts) for the Kansas City Royals. His peripherals suggest that it will be difficult to repeat it, but remember: This is Zack Greinke we’re talking about.
There is speculation that Greinke will simply return to the Royals on another one-year deal, but it is possible that other teams will get involved. The D-backs have already seen Greinke’s value firsthand, and there’s no question that, in a similar manner to Kluber, their posse of young starters would benefit from being around him.
Greinke made $13 million in 2022, but will likely settle for less in 2023. It’s entirely possible — perhaps likely — that 2023 will be his last season in the majors. There is something to be said for having a player of his stature finish his career in Arizona.
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