PHOENIX – With just over one month until pitchers and catchers of the Arizona Diamondbacks report to the club’s Salt River training facility, general manager Mike Hazen seems content with the structure and make-up of the team. This would include the final two parts of his roster puzzle and appear in place.
While there could be one more possibility to tweak, Hazen indicated to reporters during a conference call Thursday that his work is pretty much complete. Now, it’s time for the competition to begin and see how far this squad can advance.
As the new year began, Hazen had two issues to consider.
First, there was the continued question of whether Ketel Marte would play second base or patrol the gardens in centerfield. Now on the brink of spring training, Hazen seems to have abandoned the notion of finding a centerfielder either by trade or on the open market. During that Thursday conference call, Hazen indicated strongly Marte will open the season in center and likely stay there.
That would mean finding a second baseman and that’s where Marte was honored with a selection to the 2019 National League All-Star team. Though Hazen never mentions names and any element of negotiations, it’s apparent the Diamondbacks will not purse Starling Marte to play center and keep Ketel Marte at second. Now with Ketel Marte affixed in centerfield, Hazen pointed out the club will likely go with internal candidates at second base.
“Finding a centerfielder was more challenging,” Hazen said. “We’re ready to put (Ketel Marte) in centerfield but have a long way to go. At this point, yes, Ketel is the primary centerfielder.”
From the roster of internal candidates for second base, Hazen and Torey Lovullo, the Diamondbacks manager, have a number of options. Three should receive considerable attention in spring training and include Domingo Leyba, Josh Rojas and Ildemaro Vargas. Of the three, Vargas comes into camp with the most major league experience and hit .269 (54-for-201) for the Diamondbacks a year ago. In the long term, Rojas could have an inside edge and came to Arizona in the Zack Grienke deal at last season’s trade deadline from Houston.
Elsewhere, Hazen wanted to shore up the bullpen and now added right-hander Hector Rondon, a veteran arm, as the Diamondbacks set-up reliever for closer Archie Bradley. In signing Rondon to a one-year deal for a reported $3 million on Thursday, the deal also includes an option year in 2021 for Rondon, who will be 32-years-old on Feb. 26.
With the addition of Rondon, and earlier right-hander Junior Guerra, who was not tendered a contract from Milwaukee, Hazen’s bullpen appears set.
In the mid-half of the last decade, Rondon put up impressive numbers with the Cubs. In 2014, he picked up 29 saves to go along with 2.42 ERA and improved the following year. In 2015, the native of Guatire, Venezuela recorded 30 saves and his ERA dropped 1.67 for 72 appearances. Last season with Houston, Rondon recorded no saves and recorded a 3.71 ERA in 62 appearances.
In recent seasons, Rondon has experimented with a 2-seam fast ball and sinker but is working on regaining his lost luster.
“I want to get back to where I was a few years ago,” he said on that conference call. “My breaking pitch was not as good, and I went more with the sinker. Now, I want to go back to where I was before and get better.”
Regarding the additions of Rodon and Guerra, the current bullpen configuration has only one left-hander and that is Andrew Chafin. Earlier in the offseason, the Diamondbacks did not tender a contract to lefty receiver T. J. McFarland, who eventually signed with Oakland.
With spring training now a matter of weeks away, Hazen seems contend with his roster construction. While the nature of competition remains clear, Hazen pointed out he is ready to move forward.
“The heavy lifting in the bullpen is done,” he said. “We like the team and like the makeup of our team.”
To make room on the 40-man roster for Rondon, the Diamondbacks designed reliever Jimmie Sherfy for assignment.
Mark your calendars …
Pitchers and catchers report to Salt River on Feb. 11 and first workout is scheduled for Feb. 12. The first, full squad workout is slated for Feb.17. Fans can attend workouts at Salt River beginning Feb. 13 … The Diamondbacks will also hold their annual Fan Fest on Sat. Feb. 15 in Chase Field, and that begins at 11 am.