An underwhelming season usually puts change in the forecast, and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2020 campaign certainly qualifies.
That makes this upcoming offseason intriguing in regards to what general manager Mike Hazen wants to do.
He said at the end of the season he doesn’t foresee a “major” overhaul, and given how much of the roster is still under team control next season, that makes some sense.
But moves certainly need to be made given how the team performed in 2020.
Here are five main questions to monitor as far as how they go about their business.
Will the D-backs trim the payroll?
This is at the top of the list for every team in MLB — and professional sports, for that matter.
The uncertainty the pandemic presents factors into how teams will choose to spend money after a year that some franchises lost tens of millions of dollars with fewer games and no fans.
The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan covered that problem with info from team president Derrick Hall.
The Diamondbacks have eliminated many jobs and furloughed numerous other employees. They spent a significant amount of resources in order to contend this season, only to fall dramatically short even with an expanded playoff field. As such, Hall said it’s “far-fetched” that the Diamondbacks run a 2021 payroll in the neighborhood of the roughly $125 million they would have committed to this year over a full season.
As Buchanan notes, the D-backs invested heavily in this past season. Madison Bumgarner only made $6 million in 2020 so they could reallocate money elsewhere, a salary that jumps to $19 million for 2021 and $23 million for each of the two years after that.
Arizona really could benefit from an aggressive move or two in typical Hazen fashion to shore up their rotation and/or middle of the order, but who knows if they have the freedom to do it.
How does the team replace Starling Marte?
Marte was dealt to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline, and rookie Daulton Varsho got most of the starts in his place. While it’s a small sample size to go off, the highly touted prospect Varsho struggled at the plate, hitting .188 in 101 at-bats.
The required starting point of this discussion, though, begins with what the D-backs do with Ketel Marte.
Hazen said at the end of the season that Marte playing second base or center field will shape what they do this offseason. Marte successfully transitioned into center for the 2019 season before returning back to primarily second base for 2020.
Marte has continued to say he doesn’t care where he plays and is willing to do whatever to help the team, but it would be reasonable to presume he has a preference. Regardless, it provides the D-backs flexibility.
This also extends to Starling Marte’s contributions at the plate as a D-back. He was their best hitter before being traded, and it wasn’t all that close.
They need some pop around Ketel Marte and David Peralta in that heart of the order.
Is there a move made to upgrade the batting order?
The D-backs were 29th in homers, 22nd in OPS and 19th in runs. The offense needs some serious work.
But the spots in the field outside of the previously discussed center position are fairly set. Everyone in the order has team control or arbitration due up in 2021.
Marte, shortstop Nick Ahmed and left fielder David Peralta are the players on contracts beyond 2021, while more inexperienced players like catcher Carson Kelly, first baseman Christian Walker and fourth outfielder Tim Locastro have team control for further years.
That leaves third baseman Eduardo Escobar ($7.5 million) and catcher Stephen Vogt ($3 million) on expiring contracts, with right fielder Kole Calhoun technically qualifying as well since the third and final year of his deal in 2022 has a team option on it.
Among the huge underperformers was Marte, which is more of an unfortunate turn of events than anything else, and him bouncing back to his star levels of 2019 is necessary for this offense to properly function.
But Escobar’s serious regression at third base to a .605 OPS, along with Kelly (.649 OPS) and Vogt (.525 OPS) giving little offense from the catcher’s spot, are two positions the D-backs could look at.
Will they “run it back” with the five starters left from 2020?
The five starters are technically there if the D-backs choose to use them: Bumgarner, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly and Caleb Smith.
Kelly entered the rotation after Mike Leake opted out of the 2020 season while Smith filled in for Robbie Ray’s spot after being acquired from the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline.
Weaver is a name to spotlight, as he went 1-9 with a 6.58 ERA and did not throw six full innings once in 12 outings.
Bumgarner had a rough year at a 6.48 ERA but doesn’t figure to be going anywhere with the money that he makes. Gallen was the bright spot of the whole season, posting a 2.75 ERA in a team-high 72.0 innings, while Smith only made three starts.
Kelly has a $4.25 million option, a notable decision for the D-backs to make after Kelly looked good in five starts before a shoulder injury ended his season.
He and Gallen were the only starting pitches to find any real rhythm last season, and like some of the offense, the D-backs might just have to hope the likes of Bumgarner and Weaver can recover from a forgetful 2020.
How much do they invest in the bullpen?
Arizona finished 19th in bullpen ERA and 22nd in bullpen WHIP. The group had question marks around it before the D-backs traded closer Archie Bradley and left-handed specialist Andrew Chafin, so there’s now even more instability than before.
Stefan Crichton ended the year as the team’s closer with a very solid 2.42 ERA in 26.0 innings, the most for any D-backs reliever.
The two big adds last offseason in Junior Guerra (3.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) and Hector Rondon (7.65 ERA, 1.80 WHIP) were hit and miss, respectively. Guerra has a $3.5 million option for next season and Rondon’s is $4 million.
Alex Young split his time between the bullpen and rotation last season, but with a 5.44 ERA he regressed from his rookie year. His role next year will be another decision for D-backs staff.
Outside of that, Riley Smith’s successful stints in long relief of three earned runs over 18.1 innings is the only other notable name worth mentioning.
The group must be addressed in some way.