Arizona Diamondbacks’ off-season ‘on-hold’

PHOENIX – To seek further improvement this off-season, the Arizona Diamondbacks will have to wait.

That’s because any activity to correct a myriad of concerns is now on hold. Thanks to the lockout imposed by owners of major league baseball teams, any player transaction, and league business, like the winter meetings scheduled for next week in Orlando, are now suspended.

Negotiations between owners and players failed to produce an agreement by the 11:59 p.m. deadline of Dec.1 and the Diamondbacks, like the other 29 clubs, hold their collective breath. Nearly at the deadline, Arizona made their first significant move by signing veteran closer Mark Melancon, (who will be 37 years old next March 18th) to a two-year deal. The package is worth $6 million each season and a 2024 buyout of $2 million, according to mlb.com.

Clearly, the closer was a major priority for general manager Mike Hazen.

“The bullpen is a major piece we have to consider,” said Hazen late Wednesday afternoon on a Zoom call with reporters. “Look, I have no interest in going through what I did last season. You can’t build a good team in one year and we have plenty to work still to do.”

Since becoming the Arizona GM just after the 2016 season, Hazen has eschewed the free-agent route. Rather, he prefers to sign players years away from free agency and whose contract status he can control. With players like Max Scherzer (to the Mets, 3-year, $130 million), Javier Baez (to the Tigers, 6-years, $140 million), Corey Seager (to the Rangers, 10-years, $325 million), and Kevin Gausman (to Toronto, 5-years, $110 million) finding new addresses for 2022, Hazen simply does not open the front door to new residents.

As a result, the Diamondbacks will have to build from within. Now with the winter meetings on hold, not much was expected from the Diamondbacks anyway. Given their current plight, the organization is careful not to expose players to the Rule 5 draft. Generally, Hazen keeps a low profile at this event and given the circumstances facing his club, he was expected to remain sequestered.

While the addition of Melancon is note-worthy, the rest of the bullpen requires a major overhaul. With Melancon comes the question of durability. For a closer to bring value, a season of 42 to 45 saves, pundits argue, is the criteria to be competitive. In his 13-year career, Melancon has 244 saves in 670 appearances for eight clubs. He led the National League in saves twice and was a four-time All-Star.

“I played against (Arizona) quite a bit over the past few years, and they have a lot of talent,” he said Wednesday. “The (2021) record (of 52-110) was not indicative of their record. I’m confident in this group.”

Though he topped NL closers with 39 last season playing for San Diego, Melancon denied a $5 million option to remain with the Padres. Because of the lockout, he quickly signed with Arizona but told reporters he usually waits deep into the off-season before making a choice.

In his late 30s, age and his ability to pick up 70 plus appearance as the closer could be an issue.

Not so, says Hazen.

“I have no concern about his durability,” said the GM. “He prepares as well as anyone, keeps his body in a strong, competitive position and he is as good as any we have signed.”

Great to be home …

Melancon returns to Arizona where he played college baseball at the University of Arizona. He was drafted off the Wildcats’ campus by the New York Yankees, who made the Golden, Colo. native a ninth-round selection of the 2006 draft. Since, Melancon has played for the Astros, the Red Sox, the Pirates, the Nationals, the Giants, the Braves and Padres

“I love Tucson and happy to be back,” he said. “This was a huge attraction for me and my family in coming here.”

Elsewhere … former Diamondbacks’ Taylor Clarke signed a one-year $975,000 contract with the Kansas City Royals. Earlier this month, Clarke became a free agent when Arizona non-tendered the right-hander. In 78 career games with Arizona, Clarke posted a 4.99 ERA and a record of 9-8 for three seasons.

The deal is worth $6 million each year, with a mutual option for 2024 worth $5 million with a $2 million buyout,

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