Cleat Geeks

1st Year GM Mike Hazen Faces Uphill Battle as Deadline Approaches

While currently in the midst of a 3-8 July record and having converted only one win in their last 9, it’s safe to say the Arizona Diamondbacks could use a much needed spark to their roster sooner rather than later. It only took three and half months into his inaugural season as the Diamondback’s GM, but Mike Hazen has officially found himself in his first real conundrum. With the MLB trade deadline fast approaching and a shortage of top-line talent in the minor league system, Hazen is tasked with the unenviable task of possibly turning those mid-level assets into contributing pieces at the Major League level for the Diamondbacks.

Considering the current roster construction with a lot of cheap, young controllable assets and the fact that the the total payroll is at $113 million for 2017, which ranks 24th out of the 30 teams, it might be time for the Diamonbacks and Derrick Hall to put their money where their mouth is..again.

Some GM’s in Hazens position might be content to stand pat and enjoy the ride while orchestrating the best 1st half in the franchises history. Apparently not Hazen. Per Fox Sports Insider and one of the games more dialed-in reporters, Ken Rosenthal reported last this week that the D-backs have a desire to upgrade ‘in any way possible’ by the July 31st trade deadline. But with a farm system ranked 5th worst by Bleacher Report (no other current playoff team is ranked worse) & with only 1 minor league prospect listed in Baseball America’s 2017 Midseason Top 100 Prospects list in left-handed starting pitcher Anthony Banda (68) (organizations pre-season #1 prospect by MLB.com), it’s safe to say that the Diamondbacks won’t be the first team seller’s will be calling by the deadline. Considering Rosenthal’s report in conjunction with the Diamondback GM quoted as saying “I don’t believe that you’re ever one player away from where you ultimately want to be” in regards to potential upcoming acquisitions, it seems if Hazen does make a move by the deadline it might not be his only.

While they might be handcuffed somewhat with the overall lack of high-end talent down in the farm system, word coming out of Diamondbacks headquarters in recent days is that they do have monetary flexibility entering the trade deadline. It’s easy to see why. If you recall, back in February of 2015 Fox Sports Arizona and the Diamondbacks reached a 20 year television deal which guaranteed the team $1.5 Billion over the lifespan of that contract. That equates to about $80 Mill/yr just in television rights alone. That’s nearly $50 Mill/year more than their previous $30 Mill/yr contract agreement. Team President Derrick Hall came out after the news of Fox Sports Arizona agreement and stated “This is game changing for us….It puts us on par with a lot of our colleagues. Any increase in revenues, as we’ve said in the past, will go directly toward our (organization). It will help the franchise. It will help the product on the field.”

Earlier this year Forbes valued the Diamondbacks at $1.15B, a 24% increase from 2016 and an overall operating profit of over $47 Million last season. That increase of revenue came during a season in which the on-field product finished with the 5th worst record in the franchises 19-year existence. Even with that financial increase, the total team salary only jumped $8 Million from 2016 to 2017. More eye-opening is the fact that the overall team payroll has actually decreased by over $10 Million since the Fox Sports Arizona announcement in 2015.

Considering the current roster construction with a lot of cheap, young controllable assets and the fact that the the total payroll is at $113 million for 2017, which ranks 24th out of the 30 teams, it might be time for the Diamonbacks and Derrick Hall to put their money where their mouth is..again. The teams ranked just ahead of the D-backs in team payroll are the Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds. Outside of Miami, all of which are smaller media markets than Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks obviously can’t afford to take on a contract that rivals Zack Grienke ($31M in 2017), but it’s not unthinkable that they could take on an expiring contract or two that is similar to Yasmany Tomas’ ($11M in 2017). Of which the team would pay less than half of that player’s total salary for 2017. Though at what price if it depletes a farm system that already has a scarcity in projected top-line talent.

Even though the Diamondbacks have only 1 player in their farm system rated in the top 100 in Banda (pre-season #1 organizational prospect by mlb.com), there are still going to be some very respectable prospects on the move if they’re able to strike a deal for a player who can slide right into their 25-man roster. While the organizations prospects might not have the highest ceilings as a whole, they do have plenty of 2nd tier (prospects who have a good chance at becoming a MLB contributor) prospects that some savvy out-of-contention teams might want to build with inside their organization.

One way to narrow down players that may potentially be on the move is to look at the big league roster and project 2-4 years down the line. The most obvious positions that should be occupied over that span is 1st base & 3rd base, with Paul Goldschmidt & Jake Lamb respectively. Now take into account that Mike Hazen and his new regime traded away the 2016 National League hits leader in Jean Segura for a highly-touted, but inconsistent major league pitcher in Taijuan Walker and young shortstop in Ketel Marte. Typically when a GM trades for someone, he’ll give that player much more opportunity to succeed over other contending players that were already in the organization before that GM’s arrival. Everyone from coaches to owners can be stubborn and want to be proven right in the end. That’s especially true with General Manager’s in sports. For that reason, keep an eye on the shortstops in the organization as well as any third and first baseman, as any of them could be on the move. While there are many others, here are a few more top names inside of the D-backs organization at those positions that could be on the move within the next 2 weeks: SS Domingo Leyba (#2 organizationally), SS Jasrado Chisholm (#3), 3B Dawel Lugo (#4), 1B/OF Christian Walker (#30), as well as SP Taylor Clarke (#5), SP Jon Duplantier (#8) SP Curtis Taylor (#12) and Diamondback rookie Braden Shipley.

Image result for jon duplantier baseball

While Banda holds the moniker of being the organizations only player listed in Baseball America’s top 100 and still might end up being the best of the bunch, it was Jon Duplantier as the organizations lone representative in this years MLB Futures Game. Banda participated in 2016. Duplantier, whom ESPN’s David Schoenfield believes to be the best trade chip the organization has to offer, is still only in high A-ball and might be a couple years away from helping the big club. The 2016 3rd round pick out of Rice University, slipped in the draft due to shoulder problems that kept him out all of the 2015 collegiate season. His brief minor league numbers are nothing short of elite. Over 81 1/3 innings in his career, Duplantier has an ERA of 1.77, 91 K’s & a 0.95 WHIP. He should keep climbing quickly through the organization if he’s not dealt away by the deadline.

Now here is where things can get compelling. In Bleacher Reports mid-season rankings of the top 10 prospects in the Diamondbacks organization, only 1 is labeled as a Tier 1 (Prospects who have an elite skill set and legitimate All-Star potential) while the other 9 are all categorized as Tier 2. That prospect is this years 1st round pick Pavin Smith, from the University of Virginia. Fans are probably saying not again about the possibility of trading a highly touted 1st round pick, especially one that many have regarded as the best bat, especially collegiate bat that came out of this years draft. The problem is simple. He’s a 1st baseman.

Image result for pavin smith baseball

Smith, 21, walked more than doubled the amount of times than he struck out (74BB’s, 35K’s) in his last 2 collegiate seasons. While Pavin played 33 games in the outfield as a freshman for the Cavaliers, his overall lack of speed and range projects him only as a 1st baseman. As an MLB GM it’s wise to pick the best available talent regardless of position. Especially when most draftee’s take years to develop the consistency needed to even sniff a shot at the majors. That seems to be the case here.

So unless the organization believes there is no real possibility of locking up Paul Goldschmidt to a long term contract (free agent after the 2019 season) it can’t hurt for Hazen to listen to any offers regarding his shiny new toy. Like any business, it would even be canny to see what your top asset(s) might go for on the open market, even if you’re not willing to part with it. The only way they even consider trading their possible future face-of-the-franchise in Smith, is if Hazen knows that their current face-of-the-franchise will get re-signed before ever testing the 2019 free agent market.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

It’s debatable as what on-field positions Hazen should pursue to help the big league club wake up out of their July slumber. Though it did come out Friday morning that there is “significant” interest on the D-backs behalf in Miami Marlins relief pitcher David Phelps (2-4, 3.52 era, 18 holds which is tied for 3rd in MLB ) & his teammate, closer A.J. Ramos (4.19 era, converting 17 of 19 save opportunities). Then on Saturday morning reports came out that the Diamondback are interested in the Detroit Tigers slugging Right Fielder J.D. Martinez, whose hitting .308 with 16 HRs in 198 at-bats. Martinez, whose a free agent at the end of the 2017 season might be the best available slugger that gets moved this month. A price tag that will most certainly cost any team multiple high end organizational prospects. That was backed up on Monday when USA Today’s Bob Nightingale predicted that the Diamondbacks would be the landing spot for the power hitter, at the cost of two of the organizations better prospects in OF Socrates Brito (#6) and Taylor (#12). Even though that seems to be a bit of a light return for the Tigers for a proven slugger who would immediately slide into the middle of the D-back lineup.

Most sensible baseball fans believe it would be a mistake to mortgage a teams future for a 2-3 month rental player, unless it ends with a championship, but with the growing speculation that Hazen won’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to bettering his team, anything is possible. With the trade deadline still 2 weeks out, there will surely be plenty of other names that the Diamondbacks brass will have their eyes on in the coming days. So far up to this point most of the moves Hazen has made in his 1st year at the helm have seemed to work to near perfection. The hope is that once the dust settles on 2017 trade deadline that will still be the case for the impressive, 1st year General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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