Arizona Diamondbacks offseason: 5 free agent candidates for team’s next designated hitter
Fresh off a 22-win improvement in 2022, the Arizona Diamondbacks are in a position to potentially contend for the postseason in 2023.
However, to do that, they’ll need to get more offense out of key positions, particularly designated hitter.
The universal DH became more than a COVID-19 season contingency in 2022. As a result, eight National League teams received above-average offensive production from a lineup spot that used to belong to a pitcher.
The Diamondbacks were not one of the eight teams. In fact, they were one of only five NL teams that received worse than 10% below league average offense from their designated hitters, according to wRC+.
wRC+ is a metric that takes into account a player’s offensive statistics, as well as ballpark factors and run environment, and boils it down to one number (100 is average). The D-backs tied for 11th in wRC+ from their DH (89), with only the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates finishing lower.
They also tied for 11th in the NL in DH on-base percentage (.303) and came in 12th in batting average (.222). However, they finished fourth in home runs.
Regardless, a team in postseason contention should get more than an 89 wRC+ out of their DH. In the 2022 postseason, the only team with a wRC+ below 100 was the San Diego Padres, and even they had their two primary designated hitters finish above 100.
With that in mind, who are five possible free agent targets to become the team’s next DH?
Market value: $15,199,843
Old friend alert!
Martinez is a free agent for the first time since the offseason ahead of 2018. He’d just spent a historic second half in the desert, slashing .302/.366/.741 with 29 home runs in 62 games.
While the 35-year-old has regressed and is coming off his worst power season since 2013, there’s still a lot to like about his bat.
Martinez hobbled through 139 games this past season, battling adductor issues as well as back and wrist problems. That said, he made the All-Star team, hit .274 and had a career-high 43 doubles.
However, he hit just 16 home runs and only had 11 through August. He attributed that to poor mechanics, citing that he wasn’t using his hips.
It’s safe to assume he started using them in the final two weeks of the season, as he slashed .294/.333/.686 with five homers in 54 plate appearances.
On the flip side, Martinez has fallen off in the second half the past two seasons. In 2021, he had a 104 wRC+ in the second half after 142 in the first half. In 2022, his second half wRC+ was 94 after 137 in the first half.
There’s certainly some risk to bringing back Martinez if you’re D-backs GM Mike Hazen. However, his veteran leadership, knowledge of hitting and track record of productivity are all intriguing to a team full of young talent.
Not to mention, Hazen told Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com that he’d like to add a right-handed hitter to complement the lefties in his outfield.
Market value: $18,117,905
Perhaps rather surprisingly, Mancini struggled mightily in Houston after a decent first half dealing with the long porch in left field with the Orioles.
In Houston, he slashed .176/.258/.364 after slashing .268/.347/.404 with Baltimore.
In fact, Mancini’s struggles were so significant that they leaked into the playoffs, where he was 1-for-21 and his only hit came in the World Series clincher.
However, with eyes set toward the future, Mancini makes a lot of sense as a one-year stopgap at the Diamondbacks’ DH position.
Unlike Martinez, Mancini is in his prime right now and, while not the same hitter he was before his cancer diagnosis in 2020, he still oozes potential.
Not only that, but he can play first base and corner outfield, and his spray chart shows what kind of hitter he could be in the desert.
A market value of $18 million seems rather steep and the D-backs could probably better spend their money than investing nearly $20 million on their designated hitter.
However, if they can sign him for around $13-$15 million, he makes perfect sense as a right-handed hitter that can play the field, unlike Martinez.
Market value: $15,012,727
Another old friend alert only, ironically, Haniger played even fewer games with the D-backs than Martinez did.
However, since joining the Seattle Mariners, all the right fielder has done is hit when he’s on the field.
In 530 games, he hit .263 with an .817 OPS, 112 home runs, 109 doubles, 10 triples and 323 runs batted in. He’s also been an All-Star (2018) and a top-20 AL MVP vote getter (2018 and 2021).
The one knock on Haniger has always been his health. When he’s playing, he’s one of the best run producers in baseball. Unfortunately, he’s missed 49.3% of possible games since the start of the 2019 season. However, he may be more equipped to hold up for a full season if he no longer has to worry about playing the field.
Again, health is the main risk factor with the soon-to-be 32-year-old. But at the plate, it doesn’t get much steadier than him.
Market value: $8,919,649
Going away from the right-handed-hitting outfielders for a second to talk about the former All-Star for the Texas Rangers.
Gallo fell out of a favor at an unprecedented rate as a Yankee and largely for good reason. Among everyone to have at least 500 plate appearances for the Yankees, Gallo tied for the third-worst batting average (.159). Among non-pitchers, his batting average has a 28-point lead over Stephen Drew for the worst in Yankees history with at least 500 plate appearances.
Things didn’t get much better for the lefty slugger when he went to the Dodgers. While he physically looked more comfortable, he still hit .162 with a strikeout rate of 41.6% in 44 games.
So why does he make sense for the D-backs?
Two words: Adam Dunn.
Dunn had a pitstop in the desert back in 2008 and hit .243 with eight home runs. Gallo is a lot like Dunn; a major three-true-outcome hitter.
Similar to Dunn, Gallo pulls the ball in the air a lot. While he’s a much more extreme version of Dunn, his style of play is very similar at the plate.
However, Gallo is an elite-level defender in the outfield, so he could realistically give any outfielder a day off their feet if need be.
Market value: N/A
Rounding out the list is a bit of an unknown commodity, as Pinder spent the first seven years of his MLB career with the Oakland Athletics.
Historically, the right-handed bat has less than eye-popping numbers. In 1,740 plate appearances, he has an on-base percentage below .300 and a career OPS of just .711.
That being said, he’s been more than productive against left-handed pitching in his career, especially the past two seasons.
Since the start of 2021, Pinder slashed .272/.314/.478 against southpaws in 272 plate appearances. For his career, he has a .778 OPS against them.
Last season, the D-backs were 27th in batting average, 26th in OBP and 27th in slugging against lefties. Their OPS as a team was 26th in baseball at just .665.
Though Pinder wouldn’t be the most attractive pickup, he could work perfectly in a platoon role. Hypothetically, the D-backs could sign both Pinder and Gallo and platoon them.
Since the start of 2021, Gallo has a .767 OPS against righties while Pinder has a .792 OPS against lefties. As a team, the Diamondbacks have a .687 OPS against righties and .699 against lefties. Signing these two in tandem would improve the offense considerably, especially at the DH position.