The financial blood-bath in the National League West this off-season has made for an interesting, but very lopsided, story.
The San Francisco Giants just handed out a mega-deal to Carlos Correa, the San Diego Padres have been in on practically every big name with Xander Bogaerts being their biggest fish. The Los Angeles Dodgers have done more subtraction than addition so far, but they are still a model franchise around the league and can pull out the endless cash stuffed in their mattress whenever they wish.
Update (after JD Martinez signin: 2022-23 offseason FA money spent in NL West— Skyler Timmins (@SideLine_Crowd) December 18, 2022
D-Backs: $3.5M https://t.co/Wx8REhslja
Sitting on the sidelines have been the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, division bottom-feeders of the last three seasons. The two Salt River clubs have been general afterthoughts in the division since their competitive windows in the late 2010’s, and the activity in the West this off-season has only furthered that narrative.
These two franchises won’t spend to the same degree of their big brothers in California, so their return to relevance is directly attached to their ability to develop an infrastructure of homegrown talent. Both have been rebuilding since shipping their cornerstone infielder to the St. Louis Cardinals and have gained recognition for their prospect pools, with MLB.com ranking the D’Backs 5th and Colorado 9th in their most recent farm system rankings back in August.
Each has four prospects in the MLB top-100 but Arizona has three top-15 prospects – OF Corbin Carroll, OF Druw Jones and SS Jordan Lawlar – while Colorado’s top prospects (OF Zac Veen and SS Ezequiel Tovar) hang around the 25th range. FanGraphs is also partial to the Diamondback’s top-tier talent, grading seven Arizona prospects as a 45+ FV or better compared to just three for Colorado.
The prospect experts favor the Diamondbacks’ future talent more than Colorado’s, but that is more of an educated guess than a guarantee. Arizona has been building from the ground up, accumulating top draft picks with plans of turning them into high-level major leaguers. Colorado, meanwhile, has tried to rebuild on the fly and expects to reinforce a veteran group of Kris Bryant, Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers with young blood like Elehuris Montero, Michael Toglia, Tovar and Veen.
This is reflected in the respective budgets of these two franchises. The Diamondbacks are currently sitting a 2023 Opening Day payroll of $64,383,333 while the Rockies are spending over twice-that at $135,166,668.
Future payroll commitments
Madison Bumgartner is the albatross expense for Arizona with $37 million remaining before he is off the books in 2024. But only Ketel Marte is signed to a guaranteed deal beyond the next two seasons, leaving Arizona extreme financial flexibility in the upcoming years to add to – or lock up – their promising young talent.
The Rockies, on the other had, have far more financial commitments. Charlie Blackmon, C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk are set to come off the books after the 2023 season, which will shed over $27 million in salary. But the Rockies still have five players signed beyond the 2024 season, including Bryant who is due $81 million over the final three years of his deal from 2025-2028.
A significant chunk of that payroll commitment for the Rockies is in their pitching staff, with Germán Márquez retained through the 2024 season and Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela up to 2027. Securing their known starting pitching commodities has been a linchpin of Colorado’s plans to successfully bridge to their next generation of talent, and given the uncertainty surrounding the talent coming behind it, that may be the best hand the front office could have played.
Arizona has fewer known quantities at the moment, but the initial advantage in quality. While Bumgartner is the wealthiest pitcher on their roster, he is far from their ace. That distinction belongs to Zac Gallen, who is objectively the best pitcher between the two organizations.
Gallen’s 5.1 rWAR alone was more than the combined total of Colorado’s top-5 starters (Freeland, Márquez, Senzatela, José Ureña and Ryan Feltner) in 2022. The next-best option for the snakes has been Merrill Kelly, whose 3.6 rWAR in 2022 was higher than any Rockies starter. In fact, those two alone have out produced Colorado’s top three in rWAR 17.2 to 16.4 since 2020.
Kelly is under contract through 2024 with a modest 2025 club option while Gallen is arbitration-eligible through 2025 and a prime candidate for Arizona to spend some of their excess cash on. They’ve had little help around them to this point, but top-10 prospects Ryne Nelson and Drey Jamison experienced success in their first taste of the majors last season while higher touted arms Brandon Pfaadt and Blake Walston will likely arrive in 2023 with former first round selections Landon Sims and Bryce Jarvis not far behind them.
So, while the Rockies continue to look to the future for competing in the West, they’re not alone. And they’re probably not as close to success as their neighbors to the south, something Bill Schmidt acknowledged earlier this month.
“We’ve got some very good organizations (around us). The Diamondbacks have some very good looking young players and, as I’ve talked about, they’re a little bit ahead of us in their process. But we have to stay patient, that’s who we are. We’re going to play it out and be patient.”
–Rockies GM Bill Schmidt on MLB Network
Both have similarly impressive talent rising from the lower levels of the minor leagues, but Arizona has an advantage of expected ceilings and volume reaching the major league level sooner, along with fewer future financial constraints.
Which farmhands become stars and which pitching staff produces better on the hill remains to be seen, and will largely tell the tale of each rebuild. But overall, the two franchises continue to travel in a similar direction — one they have been on since meeting in the playoffs in 2017. Who comes out better in 2023 and beyond will be interesting to watch.
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The Rockies made another minor move late on Sunday, trading fan-favorite Connor Joe to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Nick Garcia. Joe will return to the franchise that originally drafted him in 2014 and finishes with a .252/.351/.393 slash line in 174 games with the Rockies.
On the return end of the deal is Garcia, who converted from the infield to the mound in college at Chapman University. The 23-years old spent last season with High-A Greensboro, posting a 3.66 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 113 IP.
The last high-end free agent came off the board over the weekend as Dansby Swanson agreed to a 7-year, $177 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. The deal will take Swanson through his age-35 season and comes with a full no-trade clause.
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