With the recent acquisition of Madison Bumgarner, the Arizona Diamondbacks suggested they saw themselves as a force, at least to some extent. Monday’s acquisition of Pirates outfielder Starling Marte helps to push that narrative into the spotlight, yet many factors still exist to push otherwise.
Pittsburgh finished dead last in their division last season, and in dealing Marte, a 31-year-old and one of their key players, they receive some impressive young prospects and international pool money. The pieces Pittsburgh receives deplete a Diamondbacks system and further suggest how Arizona is prepared to make a push right now, as opposed to later with the younger talent they instead traded with.
It seems bold for such high dollar figures to be handed out for two key players (Bumgarner and Marte) after Arizona finished 21 games behind the Dodgers last year. Sure, they were the divisional second, but 21 games is substantial. Marte’s departure may signal a rebuild for Pittsburgh despite a comparable record to Arizona in divisional standings; the Pirates were 22 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central last year.
Chase Field attendance hasn’t quite resembled the figures of Coors Field, either. In adding Marte to the team along with Bumgarner, it incentivizes a level of immediacy for winning. That immediacy may instead be disguised for attempts to put more fans in seats than previous years.
Arizona’s 2020 payroll is the only one in the NL West that is under the league average. This would suggest they have at least some available spending, particularly now that Paul Goldschmidt has ventured elsewhere. Financing from the Diamondbacks may come with an interesting set of guidelines, however, given the discrepancies for funding of Chase Field repairs and maintenance. Conversations about replacing Chase Field have been ongoing for a few years, and while no resolution has been made, complications between a county-owned ballpark and a tenant that requires routine upgrades comes with far more hiccups than expected.
The Maricopa County Stadium District owns Chase Field, similar to how the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District owns Coors Field. A simple Google search for ‘Chase Field repairs’ and a peak at the article dates will show how ongoing the discussion has been.
By committing serious financial figures to players and inflating the payroll, the Diamondbacks commit themselves to financial restrictions that could complicate their ballpark situation. It isn’t to say they’ll have a new ballpark within a few years for certain, but the conversation describes thought-provoking insights into what ventures the team faces, unlike the ventures of many other professional sports franchises. Maricopa County has already proven to be a difficult partner to work with in a publicly-funded park, but finding the capital to avenge it with a privately-funded park is hardly an easy task. Maricopa County can’t be optimistic in publicly funding a new one, either.
This of course comes with the inherent understanding that ballparks are often funded publicly, and it would make sense if a potential Chase Field replacement did the same. Ballpark funding can largely be independent of team payroll, just as McGregor Square construction doesn’t necessarily sway how much Rockies players are paid. What does act as a limitation is the fact that Chase Field is only going to need more repairs and maintenance funding as the years go on—on top of what it has already needed. With no real provisions for a new park so far, as well as unknown funding for how and where it could be built, the financial future for the team sits in oddly placed hands. A team acquiring two marquee players this offseason complicates that narrative.
Marte’s signing might make Arizona appear more of a threat than they actually are. The Diamondbacks’ over/under win totals are at 83, just two games above .500; the Dodgers are projected to finish 16 games ahead of that.
(The over/under totals, from Casears Palace, were also revealed prior to the Marte signing)
Arizona can contractually leave Chase Field and pursue a new home in three years. With attendance figures ranking at 17th last season, they certainly have reason for wanting to put more people in seats.
FanGraphs author Rian Watt points out the unusual contract extension of two years for Trevor Story, and how two years doesn’t cover any of Story’s free-agent-eligible contract years. The contract may come across as nothing more than a two-year interval for a prolonged departure—and an opportunity for him to turn a good amount in Colorado into a grand amount elsewhere on another contract.
The Rockies’ projected win total for 2020 sits at 74 on the over/under, and with many contracts set to expire at the conclusion of 2021 along with Story’s deal, it looks like the quiet action of this offseason could remain similar next offseason as well.
A new television contract is scheduled to kick in for the Rockies after this upcoming season, which may actually give them more spending power. If there’s a foreseeable chance that those 74 projected wins are far exceeded this year, the spending power to make something happen from there may be within reach.
Colorado’s payroll last year was also the highest it had ever been previously, so unless this television deal rakes in a bunch of cash in excess, the spending power may still be somewhat limited.
Maybe Nolan Arenado hasn’t been dealt yet because of that impending television deal next year. Maybe it’s a farfetched conspiracy. Television rights are a big reason for how the Angels could pull Albert Pujols out of St. Louis, after all.
This FanGraphs writeup does a great job proving a thorough recap of what this offseason has shown, which can clear plenty of things up for simplicity’s sake.