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D-backs’ free agency situation could make for an expensive road ahead

(AP Photos)

The D-backs are coming off a season that, by most accounts, was better than expected. Now, with some key players becoming free agents, Arizona will look to build off of what was one of the best seasons in team history.

The MLB General Managers’ meetings began Monday in Orlando, Fla., meaning that some of the buzz around trades and free agent signings will soon turn into real transactions. So far, the Diamondbacks have yet to lock up any of their pieces that, as of the conclusion of the World Series, became free agents.

The most notable of those free agents from this year’s D-backs? J.D. Martinez.

But the Diamondbacks have six other players from this year’s big league squad who are now free agents: pitchers Fernando Rodney, Jorge De La Rosa and David Hernandez, outfielder Gregor Blanco, catcher Chris Iannetta and infielder Adam Rosales.

They also have 14 arbitration-eligible players, which means GM Mike Hazen and the D-backs front office will have to negotiate some new salaries, including those for guys who had big years. All-Stars Robbie Ray and Jake Lamb are among these players.

As for the players with expired contracts, here’s where the D-backs stand:

J.D. Martinez

Undoubtedly the biggest free agent to come from the D-backs this offseason, Martinez hit a whopping 29 home runs and 65 RBI with a .302 batting average — in just 62 games!

The midseason trade acquisition had a monster second half, but the bad news about his success is that it’s going to cost Arizona — or any other team — a pretty penny to lock up the 30-year-old.

And therein lies the problem: With Zack Greinke already on the books for another $138.5 million through 2021, the D-backs will soon also need to shell out a contract to Paul Goldschmidt, who has a club option for 2019 and is a free agent in 2020. And with 14 arbitration-eligible players this offseason, according to Spotrac.com, Arizona’s going to have to do some spending and/or say goodbye to some players.

One report postulated that Martinez could get a contract north of $200 million, and don’t forget that the D-backs will likely have Yasmany Tomas back in their outfield in 2018 after he missed the second half with an injury. He’ll eat up $13.5 million in payroll next season, unless Arizona finds a way to pair his contract with another asset(s) to free up money.

The long and the short of it: Keeping Martinez is going to be really difficult.

Rodney, De La Rosa and Hernandez

Arizona’s bullpen had the fifth-best ERA (3.78) in the major leagues last year and second-best in the NL, behind the Dodgers. Three members of that bullpen have expiring contracts, including the closer in Rodney.

The trio of Rodney, De La Rosa and Hernandez had a combined 3.84 ERA and ate up 161.2 IP last year.

With Archie Bradley and Jimmie Sherfy looking pretty rock-solid in late innings for the D-backs, and given Rodney’s age and spurts of inconsistency, it’s likely the D-backs would move on from their 2017 closer.

De La Rosa, a left-hander, ate up a lot of middle innings for Arizona and provided nice depth to the bullpen, and also brings a wealth of experience — 14 seasons — to the table. He was making a little more than $2 million in 2017, so Arizona might see a contract renewal as a worthy expenditure.

And as for Hernandez, it’s hard to say. The right-hander had an ERA of 4.82 in his second stint with the D-backs this year after coming over in a trade from the Angels, but his WHIP of 1.071 was the third-best on the team behind Bradley and Sherfy.

Chris Iannetta

One would assume the D-backs would at least look into re-signing Iannetta, given his big year in 2017 — and the fact that the team’s other major league-ready catchers include only Jeff Mathis and arbitration-eligible Chris Herrmann; two catchers who, while defensively capable, hit a combined .196 in 2017.

Iannetta was under contract for for $1.5 million in 2017, but could be a candidate for a payraise given that his batting average, home runs, RBI, slugging, on-base percentage and total bases were all way up from 2016 despite having played five fewer games.

After hitting .254, corking 17 home runs and driving in 43 runs in 2017, all while moving up and down the lineup and logging innings behind the plate, Iannetta would be nice to hang on to.

Adam Rosales

With Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings each expected to return from injury in 2018, it’s not clear whether the D-backs would look to retain Rosales, who played most of his defensive innings on the left side of Arizona’s infield. With Ahmed, Owings, Ketel Marte, Brandon Drury, Lamb, Goldschmidt and possibly Christian Walker all in the infield in 2018, there just might not be room to retain Rosales.

Gregor Blanco

Blanco’s return is a bit of a wild card, simply because the D-backs have two outfielders under contract for 2018 (Tomas and Rey Fuentes) and two more arbitration-eligible outfielders that will almost certainly be tendered and come back (Pollock and David Peralta).

There’s a bit of a wrinkle in those assumptions in that the D-backs’ contractual obligations in the coming years could prompt them to unload some money, and Tomas would be a good place to start that endeavor. If Arizona manages to pair him with other assets to free up payroll and a spot in the outfield, Blanco coming back seems more likely.

Blanco’s speed, experience and left-handed bat all provide value. Will he be back? Only time will tell.

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