D-backs will be looking for pitching when free-agent market opens
PHOENIX — Let the signings begin.
By Tuesday, the major league free-agent pool will be finalized, with teams having had to make their final decisions on player options by Monday night.
The market will be as deep in top-tier starting pitching as it has been in some time, with Oakland’s Jon Lester, Detroit’s Max Scherzer and Kansas City’s James Shields considered the best — and most expensive — of the group.
Diamondbacks fans should not hold their breath on guys like that.
While the D-backs have stated their desire to acquire starting pitching, they are more likely to jump into the deep end of the free-agent talent pool following the 2015 season, when David Price could be among the top talents available. If luring a pitcher such as Price seems a stretch, consider the D-backs by all accounts were the runner-up for Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka last winter, offering a contact in the $20 million a year range.
By 2016, a new local TV contract is expected to generate more dollars for an ownership group that has expressed a commitment to put new money back into the franchise.
So while Lester, Scherzer and Shields might be out of reach this winter, the D-backs could kick the tires on several lower-priced available starters, even though the pool thinned in the last few days and could continue to do so until the Monday night deadline.
Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo, who seems at his best when he faces the D-backs, Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen, Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma, St. Louis’ John Lackey and the Dodgers’ Dan Haren are among those who had their options picked up.
Chief baseball officer Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart, De Jon Watson and the rest of the D-backs’ front office team are holding their cards close to the vest in their first foray into the offseason whirl, and for that matter it is not clear that the D-backs will enter the market at all.
They could look to acquire the pitching they need via trade, using their excess of middle infielders and bullpen arms as bait, while planning for a bigger push following manager Chip Hale’s first season.
At the same time, some tempting free agent targets are available to add to a rotation that used 11 starters last season, when injuries and ineffectiveness created some of the opportunities on a 64-98 team.
The day after the season ended, Stewart called Wade Miley and Josh Collmenter locks for the 2015 rotation. Rookie Chase Anderson made a strong case, but other spots are open, especially since Tommy John-shelved starters Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo are unlikely to be available at the start of the season. The D-backs see Corbin returning in May or June, and Arroyo not likely until after the All-Star break.
There are some intriguing candidates among second-level free agents this winter:
— Right-hander Justin Masterson has a career year with Cleveland in 2013 before being limited by a knee injury that crimped his effectiveness last season. The D-backs saw Masterson at his worst, when he gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks in their 9-8 victory here June 24, but he had double-digit victories in the three previous years. Because of his atypical 2014 season, a team might be able to grab him on a one-year deal as he looks to improve his value for another multi-year deal.
— After posting double-digit victories every season from 2007-12, right-hander Chad Billingsley has had a tough two years. He underwent Tommy John surgery on April 24, 2013, after first trying to attack his elbow injury with platelet-rich plasma injections, and he suffered a season-ending right flexor tendon injury while rehabbing in 2014. Health is obviously an issue, but Billingsley has a proven record. The Dodgers on Friday declined his option.
— Left-hander Brett Anderson was the D-backs’ top pitching prospect when he was included with Carlos Gonzalez in a mega-package to land Dan Haren from Oakland before the 2008 season. After a strong 2009 rookie season with the As, Anderson has been bothered by an assortment of injuries since. A broken finger cost him three months in Colorado last season, and back surgery ended his season prematurely in September. When able, Anderson performs. He has a 3.73 career ERA and keeps the ball on the ground. The Rockies have a $12 million option on Anderson but are not expected to exercise it. A second-round draft pick out of high school in 2006, Anderson will not turn 27 until Feb. 1.
Other starting pitchers who will be up for bid include Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy and Jake Peavy.
Given the makeup of their roster, it would be a surprise if the D-backs looked to the free-agent market for any significant acquisitions beyond starting pitching.Among those expected to attract the most interest are catcher Russell Martin; infielders Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, Victor Martinez and Adam LaRoche; and outfielders Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios.