The Arizona Diamondbacks entered the MLB offseason free agency period with what CEO Derrick Hall described as the shortest list of needs the team has had in years. Coming of the great 2011 campaign with an NL West pennant to show for it, it's no wonder Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson are feeling good about their roster.
A few weeks into the process, the team has retained infielders John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist and re-signed backup catcher Henry Blanco. They also locked up Gibson and Towers and the rest of the coaching staff.
What's left on the short to-do list is resolution of second baseman's Aaron Hill situation, extension discussions with All-Star catcher Miguel Montero and a decision on pitcher Joe Saunders.
The D-backs reportedly would like Hill back, as well they should, but don't want to overpay for him in a free agent market that's heavy on second basemen. Makes sense. The D-backs have plenty of options if they can't get a deal done with Hill.
Montero is arbitration eligible but we assume Towers will work on an extension instead of letting it come that. Last year when Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson where in a similar situation Towers expressed a strong preference for avoiding the arbitration process. There's time here though and it's hard to imagine any scenario in which Montero is not back next year.
That leaves only one big decision to make -- Joe Saunders.
The D-backs are banking on a starting rotation of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter. That leaves two open spots and a bevy of young guys chomping at the bit to land one of those spots.
LHP Wade Miley finished off the season with a 4.50 ERA and a WHIP of 1.65. Those aren't stellar numbers but he could get better and win a job. Barry Enright at one point in his life looked like a solid rotation guy before his stuff left him. He could get better and win a job.
Mostly though, the D-backs are looking for Jarrod Parker to fulfill his long-held promise and become the guy we've been waiting for. Then you have rookie Trevor Bauer and young guns Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin and Charles Brewer all lined up to take their shot at the prize as well.
That's two guys (Parker and Bauer) who are considered highly likely to make the rotation this season plus another five guys who certainly think they have a chance. Add in the Kennedy, Hudson and Collmenter trio and you have a total of 10 guys for five jobs.
So why would the Diamondbacks pay Saunders (who is arb eligible) something like $7 million to come back?
The answer is simple: Because he's the only guy out all those other names we listed with enough experience to be considered dependable.
The D-backs do have a ton of young arms but even Hudson and Kennedy have limited experience. Collmenter pitched very well but his stuff isn't good enough to survive any kind of loss of command that young pitchers seem to experience. The rest are completely unproven despite a ton of potential.
Saunders pitched over 185 innings in four of the last five years and gave the D-backs a solid 3.69 ERA in the middle of the rotation last season. Having that kind of dependability and experience in the middle of all that youth is a good plan for a team that wants to continue to contend.
Joe absolutely could be turn into an extra piece if the young guys pan out. But if the contract isn't outrageous, he would be a good trade value either during spring training or leading up to the deadline.
There are always teams looking for rotation guys like Saunders and so letting him walk just because there's a bunch of young pitchers itching to get his job is the wrong way to go.
The only risk to the D-backs is bringing Saunders back and having him completely collapse but his solid history makes that unlikely and he's only 30-years-old so it's not like he's going to experience an age-related decline anytime soon. In fact, Saunders is entering the prime of his career.
Bring back Joe.