PHOENIX — Lest anyone fret that the Diamondbacks view their franchise-record $115 million payroll this season as a one-year fling, president/CEO Derrick Hall has a simple message.
The D-backs are fully committed to another nine-figure payroll in 2015, Hall said as he helped son Logan move into his dormitory at Pepperdine University on Tuesday morning. It is the new normal.
As was the case last winter, some of the money will be earmarked to add an outfield bat and starting pitching, Hall said, as the D-backs move past an injury-plagued 2014 that has seen them log the most player-games on the disabled list of any team in the league. The new pieces most likely will come via trade while they gird for the big free agent class of 2016.
"It is safe to say it will be $100 million-plus," Hall said of the payroll for next year. "We definitely want to be close to where we were. Will we get to $115 million? I don’t know. But I don’t know if that is necessary."
The D-backs will lose money this season, Hall said, but the July 31 trade deadline deals that sent third baseman Martin Prado and outfielder Gerardo Parra elsewhere created enough payroll flexibility that they can attack the future without compromise. Prado was due about $25 million from the time of the trade through 2015.
The D-backs are committed to spending about half of their yearly revenue on payroll, Hall said, and competing in the NL West, where the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers set the tone, demands that sort of strong commitment.
"Someone could say we would have an $80 million payroll" and rebuild for the next several seasons, Hall said.
"I don’t think we are ever going to do that."
The D-backs are in the process of establishing a new standard. Their payroll has been more than $100 million in a season only twice, the first time in 2002 when the figure reached $102 million in the wake of a World Series title. But with the new FOX national TV contract and the team’s deferred salary payments basically down to the $1 million owed Bernard Gilkey every year through 2017, the D-backs are as fluid as they ever have been. They also could expect a revenue hike from a new regional TV contract after their current deal expires following 2015.
The D-backs added left fielder Mark Trumbo and veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo after wooing Masahiro Tanaka last winter, but it became impossible to assess those fixes after the spring training injuries to No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin and setup man David Hernandez. The trickle became a torrent as Trumbo (10 weeks), center fielder A.J. Pollock (12 weeks and counting), Arroyo (out for the season) and now All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (out for the season) were lost to injury.
Pollock and Goldschmidt should be healthy for the start of 2015, but it is hard to pinpoint a return for Corbin and Arroyo, who underwent Tommy John surgery in early July. The D-backs will not rush 2013 All-Star Corbin, and the safest assumption seems to be that he will return in mid-2015, Hall indicated.
Pitching is going to be big for every team. Nobody has enough of it.
-Tony La Russa
The D-backs still have an excess of talent in the middle infield and are likely to deal from that area over the winter, and they also have depth in the outfield with the surprise emergence of David Peralta. The bullpen appears solid. A new starting pitcher or two is more likely to be a veteran, and a trade is the most likely scenario, given the D-backs’ roster composition.
The 2015 free agent class has some quality starters in Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Yovani Gallardo, Jorge De La Rosa and Wei-Yin Chen, but the D-backs are more likely to jump into the free agent pool the following offseason, when David Price, Johnny Cueto and Rick Porcello are scheduled hit the market barring any long-term signings.
"For us to compete, we have to improve in the starting pitching department," Hall said. "Our bullpen is strong."
The D-backs believe top prospect Archie Bradley will challenge for a rotation spot next spring, and he could join Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and a newcomer in that group, with Chase Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Josh Collmenter and Vidal Nuno in the competition.
Chief baseball officer Tony La Russa also wants to improve the starting rotation. And like Hall, he believes a turnaround can happen quickly, given health and a few good player moves.
"Pitching is going to be big for every team," La Russa said. "Nobody has enough of it. Then you have to make a realistic evaluation of your team. You make a move or two or three, it takes it to the next level."