Where is the Diamondbacks’ bullpen entering new year?
Dec 26, 2023, 4:48 PM
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Revamping the bullpen has not been item No. 1, 2 or 3 on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ itinerary this offseason, something new under general manager Mike Hazen.
Moves made last season for closer Paul Sewald and Ryan Thompson, plus the improvement from Kevin Ginkel, changed the outlook of the bullpen for the 2023 postseason and entering 2024.
The Diamondbacks added a major league reliever for the first time since their postseason run ended by claiming Collin Snider from the Kansas City Royals last week.
Arizona has one new starter and one new reliever on the active roster with the addition of Eduardo Rodriguez to the starting rotation on a four-year deal.
The rest of the pitching staff looks very similar to that of Arizona’s postseason. Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Rodriguez and Brandon Pfaadt project to make up the top four for 2024, and Arizona has team control over all four through 2025. The No. 5 starter is a question entering the new year. Off the field, assistant pitching coach Barry Enright took a job as the Los Angeles Angels’ pitching coach.
Hazen does not have to find a closer or rebuild the back end of the bullpen, but there is always work around the edges to be done.
“We’re gonna continue to build out that area, we are definitely going to be active on the waiver front, trying to add depth, we have a huge young crop of arms who are going to be in Reno and competing for the front side of our bullpen,” Hazen said. “We’re going to still remain active on the bullpen front.”
Hazen has said the toughest part of the job is building a bullpen, which has been a sore spot in Arizona for much of his tenure. He found the right buttons last season, as the Arizona pen was a catalyst for clinching a postseason spot and going on a run.
Sewald, despite a rocky introduction, was everything the D-backs needed from a closer up until the World Series. He had eight scoreless playoff innings entering the Fall Classic and is under team control for one more season. His presence also allowed others to slide into specific roles.
Thompson signed a minor league deal after getting cut by the Tampa Bay Rays and worked a 1.46 ERA in 24.2 innings, including the postseason. Ginkel broke out as the club’s setup man with a 2.48 ERA on the season.
“I sat here for six years and told you guys that it’s the hardest thing to build and you never really know what you have,” Hazen told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Dec. 14. “What I would say is the reason we extended what we did to get Paul — and I think that played itself out, not just in the acquisition of him himself, but what he meant to our bullpen — I think that helps these guys prepare knowing the way they’re going to slot in when they go into the season.
“Over 162 games, especially the way we play games — which is close, tight, defensive — puts a lot of stress on a bullpen. We play in a lot of close games. … I want to make sure we continue to build out enough that we don’t have to run out Thomson, Ginkel, Sewald every night and then come June, July we need to rebuild the bullpen again.”
Over the last six weeks of the season, when the D-backs’ bullpen really formed, Arizona had the fifth-best reliever ERA at 3.26 and fourth-best WHIP at 1.14.
The unit was not a strikeout-heavy group but limited walks. It’s opposing babip (average on balls in play) was the lowest in baseball at .244 over that stretch, and it left 77% of runners on base. The “Paul Sewald experience” came into play there.
Adding to the bullpen, Snider is a 28-year-old righty with 62 MLB games of experience and a mid-90s sinker. He deploys a slider with above average vertical and horizontal break.
The D-backs claimed 25-year-old right-hander Chris Rodriguez from the Angels during the postseason and outrighted him to Triple-A Reno. Arizona also gave minor league deals to former San Diego Padres southpaw Jose Castillo and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Ricky Karcher.
Arizona traded away 24-year-old fireballer Carlos Vargas in the deal for third baseman Eugenio Suarez.
Miguel Castro is back on a vested option for 2024, which he locked in by surpassing 60 appearances last year. Scott McGough is also under contract for one more guaranteed season with a mutual option for 2025 at $4 million. McGough missed the postseason with a right shoulder injury after leading the bullpen in innings with 70.1 during the regular season.
The D-backs are on the hook for $2 million to Mark Melancon after declining his option.
Corbin Martin is expected back after missing all of 2023 (lat), although Drey Jameson had Tommy John surgery in September which will knock him out for most if not all of 2024.
The D-backs also rolled out younger relievers Andrew Saalfrank, Justin Martinez and Luis Frias. Saalfrank and Frias stuck in the postseason bullpen, while Martinez showcased his 102 mph heater and devastating splitter at the big leagues but walked 11 batters and hit two others in 10 innings. Martinez is only 22 years old.
There is also the group of starter hopefuls who could help build innings. Last year, Bryce Jarvis was moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen in Tripe-A Reno and had a role as a reliever down the stretch.
Jarvis, Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson and Slade Cecconi project to compete for the fifth starter job after pitching in the big leagues last year.
Former Padres closer Josh Hader headlines the free agent reliever class. Veterans Aroldis Chapman, Jordan Hicks, Hector Neris, Matt Moore, David Robertson, Liam Hendriks, Michael Fulmer, Adam Ottavino and Brad Hand also make up the class.