The Arizona Diamondbacks fell well short of their expectations in 2020, finishing 14th in the National League with a record of 25-35. After making a pair of deals at the Major League Baseball trade deadline that sent big-name players Archie Bradley and Starling Marte packing, it’s fair to wonder which direction the Diamondbacks will take going into 2021. Regardless, exercising right-handed pitcher Junior Guerra‘s $3.5 million club option should be among the first things that Mike Hazen and co. check off their to-do list.
Guerra had an excellent 2020, albeit with less than perfect peripherals. All told, the veteran threw 23.2 innings of 3.04 ERA, 4.12 FIP ball. While there were a few red flags throughout his 2020 season, including a drop in fastball velocity from 94.9 mph in 2019 to 94.0 mph in 2020 and a rather high walk rate of 5.7 BB/9, there were a lot of positive elements to his performance. These include an increase in his rate of ground-ball induction and an improvement in the performance of his sinker.
Despite the ups and downs for Guerra, one thing has remained a constant for the veteran, and that is his ability to provide consistent and valuable major-league innings in a position that is plagued with volatility. In four of the past five seasons, Guerra’s output has been rated as above-average by baseball-reference.com’s ERA+ metric, including a 152 ERA+ in 2020, which tied his career-best mark from 2016.
Now, one could argue: “Why would the Diamondbacks retain a middle reliever for $3.5 million when they could be headed towards another retool?” My rebuttal would simply be that his presence on the roster could be beneficial regardless of how the team performs in 2021. If Guerra performs well, and the Diamondbacks find success, then the organization will have a stable source of bullpen innings that accounts for, at most, four percent of their payroll, assuming they cut costs to roughly $90 million.
If Arizona decides to go in another direction, however, Guerra was good enough last season where he could bring back some level of value if traded this offseason and with sustained success could be a deadline piece if the Diamondbacks struggle again. While there is, of course, the scenario in which Guerra doesn’t work out, the sunk cost is so negligible that cutting ties wouldn’t handcuff them financially in either the short or long-term.
For a veteran reliever who has been able to provide valuable major-league innings in four of the past five seasons, I would certainly be willing to bet a maximum of four percent of my payroll that he would be able to continue to produce.