Yasmany Tomas Is the Most Expensive Minor Leaguer

Once regarded as a possible third-base option for Arizona, Tomas has been a defensive liability.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Don’t expect to see Yasmany Tomas at Chase Field anytime soon. The 27-year-old Cuban slugger was placed on outright waivers on Saturday, removing him from the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster even as starting right fielder Steven Souza Jr. is sidelined for at least the first month of the season. The waiver move only further underscores the mistake the Diamondbacks made in signing Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract in December 2014, a deal that has cost the team far more than money. He’s become the opposite of the gift that keeps on giving.

Tomas played in just 47 games for the Diamondbacks last year, hitting .241/.294/.464 with eight homers, an 89 wRC+, and 0.1 WAR before being sidelined by a groin injury that eventually required two surgeries, first in August and again in December. The additions of Souza via trade and Jarrod Dyson via free agency made clear at the outset of spring training that Tomas wasn’t guaranteed a starting job. Even with Souza’s pectoral strain, the Diamondbacks optioned Tomas to Triple-A Reno on March 25, and Sunday’s move now allows them to put that 40-man spot to better use. Given that he’s owed around $46 million through 2020, Tomas is unlikely to be claimed on waivers. Refusing an outright assignment and opting for free agency would void the remainder of his deal.

With the move, Tomas has become the game’s most expensive minor leaguer, making $10 million in salary plus another $3.5 million in the final installment of his signing bonus. You don’t see that every day, and for evidence how far out of sight and out of mind such a player can become, one need look only to the man he supplanted for that dubious title, countryman Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox signed Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in August 2014. He recorded just an 83 wRC+ in 337 plate appearances spread over 2014-16 before the Sox outrighted him off their 40-man roster in June 2016. Now he’s buried in Triple-A — in part because adding him back would push them even further over the luxury-tax threshold. The Diamondbacks don’t have to worry about going over the $197 million threshold, but their $131.5 million Opening Day payroll nonetheless set a franchise record.

In one respect, this move isn’t exactly a stunner, as Tomas was signed not by current general manager Mike Hazen but by the previous regime of chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart. After the 2016 season, during which the Diamondbacks went 69-93, La Russa was demoted to a lesser role, with Stewart fired to clear the way for Hazen — who came over from the Red Sox, where he was an assistant GM at the time Castillo was signed. The Tomas signing was just one of many mistakes the La Russa/Stewart regime made.

At the time he was signed, Tomas, who defected from Cuba in June 2014, was expected to follow in the footsteps of fellow defectors Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, and Yasiel Puig who quickly reached stardom in the majors. His raw power was notable, particularly at a time when right-handed power appeared to be in short supply, with fewer players reaching the 30-homer plateau in either 2013 (eight) or 2014 (seven including Abreu) than at any time since the 1994 players’ strike. Despite Tomas’s age at the time (24), talent evaluators expressed some concerns about his stocky physique and physical conditioning — not uncommon given the layoff most defectors endure — but felt that his strong arm would make him playable at third base or an outfield corner.

Tomas joined the Diamondbacks to start the 2015 season and hit a sizzling .313/.351/.448 through the first half. However, he quickly demonstrated that he was Not a Third Baseman given his lack of range at the hot corner (-6 DRS and -6 UZR in 31 games), and the emergence of Jake Lamb bumped him to the outfield. Tomas scuffled mightily in the second half, hitting just .208/.228/.325 with a 55:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 158 PA, and he was a combined eight runs below average in the outfield corners according to both DRS and UZR. He finished the year with a meager nine homers and an 87 wRC+ in 426 plate appearances en route to -1.4 WAR.

On the offensive side, Tomas was much better in 2016, clubbing 31 homers, hitting .272/.313/.508 (109 wRC+), and improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 6.5 to 4.4. Brutal defense (-14 UZR, -16 DRS) in the outfield corners almost completely offset his value with the bat, however, and if his -0.1 WAR was a 1.3-win improvement over the year before, it was nonetheless a lousy return on the Diamondbacks’ investment. Tomas technically set a career high with last year’s 0.1 WAR, because within his small sample of 42 games played, UZR judged his defense in left field to be just one run below average, compared to six below average via DRS.

Overall, Tomas has hit .268/.307/.462 for a 98 wRC+, pounding lefties (132 wRC+ in 318 PA) while getting pounded by righties (85 wRC+ in 851 PA). According to Brooks Baseball, he’s struggled against breaking pitches from the latter, hitting .226 and slugging .410 on the ones he puts in play… but swinging and missing at 22.9% of all breaking balls from righties — that’s whiffs per pitch, not whiffs per swing (he’s at 41.9% there). He’s got similar whiff and whiff-per-swing rates versus changeups from righties. In fact, there’s so much swing-and-miss in Tomas’ game that his 15.8% overall rate against pitchers of either hand is seventh among hitters with 1,000 PA over the past three seasons, as is his 41.3% out-of-zone swing rate. Yikes.

So Tomas has netted -1.4 WAR while getting paid $22.5 million so far. He’s hardly alone among the expensive busts in that span, with Pablo Sandoval (-2.9 WAR, $51 million), Victor Martinez (-2.3 WAR, $50 million), Ryan Howard (-1.4 WAR, $60 million), Hanley Ramirez (0.5 WAR, $66 million), and Matt Kemp (0.6 WAR, $64 million) all providing less bang for the buck. After this year’s $13.5 million, he has a player option for 2019-20, worth $15.5 million for the first year and then $17.0 million for the second.

But beyond the lousy ROI the Diamondbacks have received is the talent they’ve shed while trying to accommodate him in their perpetually crowded outfield, namely Mark Trumbo (to the Mariners in June 2015), Ender Inciarte (to the Braves in December 2015), and Mitch Haniger (to the Mariners in November 2016). Trumbo, a pending free agent whose power/low OBP/bad defense skill set was rather redundant with Tomas’s, did fetch catcher Welington Castillo, who gave Arizona a couple of good seasons. The Haniger deal, meanwhile, while sending away Jean Segura, did bring Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker to town. Inciarte, meanwhile, has far outproduced the headliners on either side of the Dansby Swanson/Shelby Miller trade, and his absence was felt acutely when both David Peralta and A.J. Pollock missed most of 2016 due to injuries. In that depleted outfield, the likes of Michael Bourn, Peter O’Brien, and Rickie Weeks paraded through what was apparently the penultimate stop before baseball oblivion. Infielders Brandon Drury and Chris Owings even took detours out there.

After Tomas went down last summer, the Diamondbacks got a great performance from J.D. Martinez, whom they acquired from the Tigers for three prospects in July. His 29 homers over 62 games helped the team to an NL Wild Card berth, and they remained in the running for his services into February, reportedly expressing “a willingness to go to five years at more than $100 million,” according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. Martinez eventually signed a five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox, far less than he (or agent Scott Boras) expected at the outset of the winter. While the Red Sox certainly had the resources to win any bidding war against the notoriously tight-fisted Diamondbacks, Tomas’s continued presence on their payroll almost certainly limited their pursuit.

Given that Tomas has essentially proven himself unplayable at both outfield corners (-18.7 UZR/150 in left field, -14.2 in right), any escape from the Arizona organization probably entails a trade to an AL team in need of a DH. A look at our Depth Charts suggests that, barring an injury to a better-known DH, he might (at best) improve upon those among the bottom four teams in the rankings, namely the Rays (who have Brad Miller, Denard Span, and C.J. Cron penciled in), Royals (Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert), Tigers (Martinez, for however long he remains upright), and White Sox (Opening Day three-homer hero Matt Davidson). None of those teams is likely to go anywhere this year, lessening the urgency of upgrading those spots, and nobody’s going to give up much in the way of talent for him unless Arizona eats most of his remaining salary. That the Dodgers have marketed Matt Kemp, who’s got a stronger track record as a hitter and less cash remaining on his deal, as a viable alternative for the same slots doesn’t help the Diamondbacks’ cause — or Tomas’s, of course — either.

Unless Tomas can significantly improve his strike-zone judgement and defense in the minors, this looks like a sunk cost. Nobody is going to weep for him given the money he’s made, but this all feels like a shame given the excitement that greeted his arrival and the talent that was so apparent to scouts and evaluators when Tomas first came over. (Many thought the Diamondbacks got a bargain.) He was supposed to be a marquee talent, just not one for the Reno Aces.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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tb.25
4 years ago

Yet more proof the restriction on international spending is ludicrous.

Edit:

‘The policy is great. The rich teams would have signed everyone’

Ok. But that is completely false. Oakland signed Cespedes. White Sox got Abreu. Dbacks got Tomas. Those are just signings since 2010… Beyond that, there are many busts with large contracts. Handicap a few ‘rich’ teams, and they will reduce spending and be more cautious on signing. The exact scenario we saw in this offseason with FA, would have happened naturally internationally.