Analyzing the 2021 Dynasty Offensive Landscape: The Arizona DiamondbacksFebruary 17, 2021
This series is going to be a comprehensive examination of each West Coast team heading into the 2021 season and how a team’s current outlook corresponds to fantasy value today. This is not the place where you look for rank and file prospect lists or deep dives on 18-year-old international prospect values; these are previews for 2021 Major League statistical output and how that output will correspond to winning your league today without complete disregard for future value. With that out further ado, let’s go:
Actually, before we are able to dive into any values (sorry) we have to figure out what the Diamondbacks plan is. At a glance, things are looking ominous and bleak. The division will have the ever present Dodgers sitting atop the mountain without any plans to hike back down within the next 5 years. The Padres entered their winning window last year, and gone into full win now mode for 2021. The Giants entered last season looking to cut costs and wait for the expensive money to either gain value and be traded or for time to elapse and those contracts expire. The Rockies are a disaster, but at least for their fans, one that is getting cheaper.
That leaves Arizona somewhere in the middle, which in modern sports is the real death sentence. No one is really sure if they are still trying to compete today or if they are entering 2020 Giants territory of hoping their aging veterans can give it one last hurrah and/or accrue enough value in order to be moved at the deadline for assets or payroll relief. This is not the stage any team wants to see their franchise in, but it’s where they are at.
Catcher: Carson Kelly, Stephen Vogt, Daulton Varsho, Bryan Holday, Jamie Ritchie, Jose Herrera
We start things off with on of my favorite buys, Carson Kelly. The centerpiece (?) of the Paul Goldschmidt deal in after the 2018 season, Kelly’s linear projection model suggested he would put up All-Star numbers in 2020 after a .826 OPS and 111 OPS+ in his age 24 season in 2019. Instead, in the small sample size that was 2020, Kelly’s triple slash imploded (.221/.264/.385). 47 total bases in 129 PAs will do that to you. Now entering his age 26 season, whatever shine that was on him last year has worn off as he’s a fringe Top 10 catcher when looking at ADP despite all that shine wearing off in a sample that is one third his 2019, and with the power still showing (5 2Bs, 5 HRs). Given his path to playing time with Vogt/Varsho serving as the reserve, a 75/25% time appears to be the worst case scenario barring any injuries. Kelly should be a clear buy at his price point today, and the path to Top 5 catcher value has fewer roadblocks than anyone else getting drafting outside the Top 10 at their position. This is the best draft day steal you can find in Phoenix.
First Base: Christian Walker, Pavin Smith, Seth Beer, Spencer Brickhouse
Walker will be 30 next year and has settled in nicely as a guy you don’t really know, who does everything well for a first baseman, and doesn’t cost money. He’s also very much a guy who only has value because he is cheap, and is not outwardly better in skill than any replacement level player. As soon as he is slated to make more than the league minimum (he hits arbitration in 2022) the team will have incentive to go the more cost effective route and give Pavin Smith some stopgap at bats before promoting one of the main pieces they received for Zach Grienke in Seth Beer. Like Carson Kelly, Walker has an extremely clear path to playing time which makes him a great buy for today candidate, but unlike Kelly, his long term forecast is murky. Walker is a good candidate to sell at peak value at your league’s trading deadline this year, and a good buy for 2021. Smith and Beer should only see a roster if Walker goes down to injury.
Second Base: Ketel Marte, Asdrubal Cabrera, Geraldo Perdomo, Josh Rojas, Josh VanMeter, Andy Young, Wyatt Mathisen, Domingo Leyba, Christian Lopes, Buddy Kennedy, Blaze Alexander, Juniel Querecuto
There is a pretty big question mark as to what position Ketel Marte is going to play in 2021 and while keeping him in center to give some combination of Perdomo and Andy Young a shot at playing time, Marte’s trade value should be higher with “infielder” tied to his name. The team is likely to use Cabrera as “super sub” of sorts, letting him fill in across every position on the infield when the team is healthy and plugging him in as a starter (with Marte moving to CF) should there be any injury. But, from a fantasy perspective, Asdrubal only holds value when he’s tied to guaranteed playing time and hitting well, so he doesn’t have any. For the presumed 2B starter, Ketel Marte went back to being the Ketel Marte we all knew prior to 2019 in 2020. After a Top 5 MVP vote season in 2019, his OPS+ went back to hovering around 100 (95 in 2020, 102 in 2018) and his gap power stayed (15 2Bs + 3Bs in 2020, 38 2Bs + 3Bs in 2018) while his HR power vanished (14 HRs in 2018, 2 HRs in 2020). With his ADP holding steady right around the 5th 2B, 10th SS and 12th OF off the board, buyers are banking on a return to Ketel’s 2019 form and…. you should not be expecting that. There was never any suggestion Marte would become what he was in 2019, and there is no reason to think that he will return back. Ketel has 73 homers across 10 seasons of professional baseball and betting on another 30+ home run season from a guy with this history and paying top draft capital to do so is not a wise move. Mix that with the real potential he moves at the deadline (and loses his valuable position flexibility going forward on his new team) and Marte is someone I want no part of at his current price.
Third Base: Eduardo Escobar, Drew Ellis, Tristan English
Escobar’s OBP fell in 2020 and he has no real competition to unseat him at the hot corner to start the year (both of these are running themes with the Diamondbacks). At age 32, Escobar is entering what many would call the decline phase of his career and would suggest that his best years are behind him. Escobar has never been an OBP guy (.308 career with one season above .320) and while his .270 OBP in 2020 is alarming, that only makes it .038 off his career mark. Mix in the fact the pop did not completely vanish (11 2Bs + 3Bs, 4 HRs) and his path of least resistance to playing time with English no more than a late season call up and Ellis replacement level status, Eduardo will have a long leash to prove he still has value. His current ADP (around 15th 2B and 20th 3B) seems appropriate, and he should be able to give owners who are buying exactly what they are looking for.
Shortstop: Nick Ahmed
Same story as Eduardo Escobar, just Ahmed adds so much more value defensively while having less pop offensively. A career .239 hitter, Ahmed won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2018 and 2019 while providing below average offensive production (83 OPS+ in 2018, 92 OPS+ in 2019, 94 OPS+ in 2020). While his on base percentage has reached an all time high (.327) in 2020, his power dropped to a 4 year low (.402 SLG%). From the fantasy perspective, Ahmed is Just-A-Guy who plays a lot, so he bolsters up any counting stats while dragging down any ratios. There isn’t much to see here and his mid-30’s ADP is appropriate given his lack of upside mixed with playing time.
Outfielders: David Peralta, Kole Calhoun, Tim Locastro, Stuart Fairchild, Trayce Thompson, Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson, Drew Weeks, Jake McCarthy, Dominic Fletcher, Eduardo Diaz
This is where things become real bleak for the 2020 Diamondbacks. Peralta has two years left on his deal (7.5M in both 2021 and 2022) and Calhoun has a 2022 club option (9M with a 2M buyout) to go along with his 2021 base of 8M. In 2017, these would be pretty typical salary ranges for players of this caliber, but in 2020 on a team structured like the Diamondbacks, these are contracts that the team will want to move. Peralta has been a Diamondback lifer who has been very good for a long time (OPS+ over 100 in six of seven seasons), but is absolutely part of the old guard entering his age 33 season. Calhoun has very much been the same as Peralta, as another non-flashy consistently reliable corner outfield piece (15+ HRs in 7 straight seasons, including 2020). These guys are both reliable pieces that would be excellent options for OF hungry pieces at the trade deadline, a time when the Diamondbacks will likely need to admit they are sellers and get some return value on these pieces. Both of these guys are not likely to hold much value once 2022 rolls around, as they’ll either be complimentary pieces on a new team or holdovers with budding prospects Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, Stuart Fairchild and Kristian Robinson knocking on playing time’s door. The sneaky play here is Locastro, a cheap outfielder who does two things better than anyone else on this team (get on base and run fast). While he will absolutely hurt you in power categories, Locastro should have a path to regular at bats in CF, so long as he beats out his real competition of Geraldo Perdomo and Asdrubal Cabrera in Spring Training. Locastro could end up being an excellent draft day buy as he’s currently outside the top 100 OFs in ADP.
This offense is going to need to score runs in bunches if they are going to compete with the rest of the division, and they likely won’t do that on any sort of consistent basis. There’s value here, like with any team, but the outlook does not look strong long term. Outside of Carson Kelly, no one on this team is someone I would be targeting as a buy unless I can pick up an older, not that appealing bat to add to my championship level roster on the cheap. There’s a few prospects that have some intrigue, but no one you need to stash and hoard assuming any sort of value in 2021. The Diamondbacks offensive is the Just-A-Guy of 2021 MLB teams. They are there, they will win some games, they will lose some games, and in two years you will forget that this offense existed at all.