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March 25, 2015

Rumor Roundup

The Diamondbacks' Shortstop Decision Will Affect 2B, 3B, and Perhaps All Three OF Positions

by Daniel Rathman

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Diamondbacks infield arrangement still in flux
A Monday morning report from Peter Gammons, which indicated that Nick Ahmed had gone from darkhorse to favorite in the battle to be the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day shortstop, set off a chain of speculation about the rest of the team’s infield plans. But hours later, first-year manager Chip Hale had a message for everyone eager to etch the club’s depth chart in stone: Hold your horses.

Hale told reporters, including MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert, that Gammons’ report was an educated but premature “assumption,” though the skipper admitted that the team hasn’t been shy about offering “glowing” reviews of Ahmed. A 25-year-old who landed squarely on the Mendoza line in 75 plate appearances last year, Ahmed is a glove-first player who’s unlikely to offer much at the plate. He came over from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade of 2013, and, according to Nick J. Faleris—who wrote Ahmed up as a Factor on the Farm—could eventually emerge as a fielding-oriented second-division regular.

While the Ahmed-starting-at-shortstop aspect of this story is hardly a barnburner, his emergence as an everyday player could have ripple effects throughout the lineup.

As Gilbert noted in the afore-linked story, general manager Dave Stewart said Monday that even if Ahmed lands starting duties at the six spot, the club still views a healthy Chris Owings as a regular. Owings could, conceivably, move over to second base, but if that happens, the Snakes would have to shift Aaron Hill to third. The 33-year-old Hill is owed $12 million this year and next, so he’d be an awfully expensive reserve.

Moving Hill to the hot corner would signal that the D’backs have finally seen enough of Cuban import Yasmany Tomas’ shoddy glovework there, bumping the slugger to the outfield full time. It would also be terrible news for Jake Lamb’s chances of securing regular playing time in the majors to begin the year. And then there’s the matter of carrying excess outfielders, with Tomas displacing either Mark Trumbo or one of Ender Inciarte or David Peralta, who performed surprisingly well as rookies in 2014.

Whether Gammons jumped the gun with the Ahmed report is not yet clear, but the UConn product’s Cactus League emergence has tacked yet another unspectacular role player onto a roster that was already laden with them. If you have a thing for spring training battles that involve a half-dozen players and span several positions, keep your eyes glued to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Indians struggling to find common ground with Corey Kluber
Reaching a long-term agreement with a player coming off a career year is never easy. That’s particularly the case when his team has a relatively constrained budget. It’s further complicated when the breakout in question comes in the age-28 season of a player who debuted at 25 and didn’t reach 100 innings in a major-league campaign until he was 27. So it’s not hard to see why the Indians face a dilemma with the late-blooming Corey Kluber.

On the one hand, the club boasts a Cy Young Award winner who’s still a year shy of arbitration eligibility and four away from free agency. On the other, paying Kluber now could mean buying his next several seasons at peak value, which is risky business considering the nature of the peak and the age of the player. Unless Kluber is willing to delay his free agency until his mid-30s, avoiding annual arbitration conflicts is the primary motivation.

The good news for the Indians is that there’s ample impetus for Kluber, who can’t hit the open market until he’s well into his 30s, to secure income now, even if it comes at the expense of millions later. There’s a fine line between believing in one’s own talents and exposing oneself to the known risks these talents entail in an effort to cash in down the road. Kluber is now toeing it.

To the Tribe’s credit, general manager Chris Antonetti reached an amicable agreement with Kluber’s agent, B.B. Abbott, on a $601,000 paycheck for 2015, instead of forgoing discussions and simply renewing the right-hander’s contract. That may have been done to set the stage for the multi-year negotiations that are now underway. But if it was, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman heard Tuesday that it hasn’t done much to further the Indians’ cause.

The sides are “not close,” in the wake of face-to-face meetings at the Indians’ spring training camp in Goodyear, Arizona. As Heyman pointed out, Abbott has some history of doing pre-arbitration deals with pitchers, having represented Chris Sale in the talks that led to a five-year pact from the White Sox. Kluber is something of a unique case, though, and as Opening Day approaches, the Tribe is finding it difficult to meet his asking price.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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