Winter report card: Arizona Diamondbacks
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
2012 Results: 81-81, 3rd place in NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Matt Albers, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Brad Bergesen, C Henry Blanco, 3B Chris Johnson, RHP Matt Lindstrom, IF Cody Ransom, RHP Takashi Saito, RHP Bryan Shaw, OF Justin Upton, IF Ryan Wheeler, OF Chris Young
Key arrivals: RHP Heath Bell, 3B Eric Chavez, RHP Randall Delgado, SS Didi Gregorius, 1B/OF Eric Hinske, RHP Brandon McCarthy, IF Cliff Pennington, IF/OF Martin Prado, LHP Matt Reynolds, OF Cody Ross, LHP Tony Sipp
After winning 94 games and the NL West flag in 2011, the Diamondbacks sank to .500 last year — and a disharmonious .500 at that. Managing partner Ken Kendrick publicly called out both Upton and Stephen Drew like some desert Steinbrenner wannabe and the organization quickly soured on Bauer, the third pick of the 2011 draft who made four midseason starts in the majors but apparently rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way. Drew was traded in August, and now the other two players are gone as well amid a busy winter that has included three major trades, each of which have arguably pushed the Diamondbacks farther backward. General manager Kevin Towers has been active on the free agent market as well, and even there, the results are a mixed bag at best.
The biggest and longest-rumored move is Thursday’s trade of Upton (and Johnson) to the Braves as part of a seven-player deal. A former overall number one draft pick, Upton battled a sprained thumb and underperformed in 2012, hitting .280/.355/.430 with 17 homers and 18 stolen bases, so he was dealt at a point where he was well below his peak value; he’s still just 25 years old, and signed for three more seasons at a reasonable $38.5 million, so the Diamondbacks have sacrificed cost certainty for a player who should be about to enter the prime of his career.
That trade brought back Delgado and Prado as well as three prospects, none of them blue-chippers or players who figure to be part of the team’s 2013 plans: Nick Ahmed, a 22-year-old glove-first shortstop who was a second-round pick in 2011, Zeke Spruill, a 23-year-old righty who struck out 5.9 per nine in Double-A last year, and Brandon Drury, a 20-year-old first baseman who struggled in A-ball. “Can we have your best player in exchange for a few decent things that we can live without? Deal,” quipped Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus’ national prospect/player development writer, via Twitter in the aftermath of the deal.
Delgado, who turns 23 on Feb. 9, is the centerpiece of the deal; ranked 46th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list coming into the year, he broke camp as the Braves’ fifth starter and made 17 starts with a 4.37 ERA in 92 2/3 innings, but he struggled with his control (4.1 walks per nine), was sent to Triple-A just after the All-Star break, and nearly dealt to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster. He’ll battle top prospect Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin for a back-rotation spot behind Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and McCarthy, who signed a two-year, $18 million deal after a strong showing in Oakland (18 starts, 3.24 ERA) cut short by a line drive to the head that required emergency surgery in early September. That shutdown left the 29-year-old righty still with just one season of more than 120 major league innings to his name, so Arizona’s extra depth in the rotation isn’t unwelcome. It’s worth noting that the Diamondbacks also have 2011 rotation stalwart Daniel Hudson returning from Tommy John surgery in the second half.
Prado, 29, will slot in as Arizona’s third baseman after bouncing all around the diamond with Atlanta, spending most of the past two seasons in left field when he wasn’t filling in for the injured Chipper Jones. Healthy after an injury-plagued 2011, he hit .301/.359/.438 with 10 homers and a career-high 17 steals in 690 PA for the Braves last year. That makes him a significant upgrade at a position where the D-backs received just a .240/.293/.382 performance from Johnson, Ransom, Wheeler, Ryan Roberts — all since departed — and others. Prado will make around $7 million this year, his final year before free agency, but club president Derek Hall says the team intends to sign him to an extension.
From this vantage, the Diamondbacks’ return in a pair of three-way deals appears wanting as well. In October, they traded away Young, their starting centerfielder for the past six seasons, in exchange for the 28-year-old Pennington and the 35-year-old Bell, both of whom are coming off dismal seasons. In the December deal involving Bauer, they also gave up two serviceable relievers in Albers and Shaw, and received Gregorius, a soon-to-be-23-year-old shortstop, Sipp, a serviceable 29-year-old lefty reliever, and Lars Anderson, a 25-year-old first baseman whose status as a prospect has dimmed.
Pennington, who hit just .215/.278/.311 for the A’s last year and was bumped off shortstop by the August addition of Drew, is a good fielder who’s capable of better with the bat, but not by much; his lifetime line is just .249/.313/.356. He figures to be the starting shortstop, with Gregorius — who hit just .265/.324/.393 split between the Reds’ Double-A and Triple-A outposts, then played eight games for the big club in September — starting the year at Triple-A. ESPN’s Keith Law called Gregorius “a plus-glove/no-bat shortstop prospect” with “great actions at the position with soft hands and plenty of arm” but “no real history offensive performance, with weak pitch recognition and a long swing for such a slight build.” Meh.
Bell, lost his closer job with the Marlins last year via a deadly combination of a .346 BABIP and 4.1 walks per nine. He still has two years remaining on his three-year, $27 million deal; Miami will pay $8 million of the remaining $18 million while he sets up closer J.J. Putz. Sipp, who has shown relatively little platoon split in his career, will be the top lefty; he made 63 appearances for the Indians last year but was hit for a 4.42 ERA, and while he has shown himself to be durable (three straight years of 60+ appearances), he has a hard time keeping the ball in the park (1.5 homers per nine last year, matching his career rate) and his control isn’t so hot either (4.5 walks per nine career, 3.8 last year). Anderson is just organizational filler, a former prospect who has hit just .259/.355/.416 in 1,509 career plate appearances at Triple-A. (Late note: he was designated for assignment in the aftermath of the Upton trade.)
The departures of Young and Upton leave the Diamondbacks with an outfield of Jason Kubel in left, Gerardo Parra or rookie Adam Eaton in center and Ross in right. The latter, 32, signed a three-year, $26 million deal on the heels of an uneven year with the Red Sox that owes plenty to Fenway Park (where he hit .298/.356/.565 with 13 homers, compared to .232/.294/.390 with nine homers on the road) and a strong performance against lefties (.295/.373/.636 with 12 homers in 150 PA, compared to .256/.308/.422 in 378 PA against righties). Parra, a 25-year-old lefty who won a Gold Glove in 2011 only to be shunted back into a fourth outfielder role last year, figures to take up some of that playing time against righties once Eaton arrives; he hit .278/.349/.405 335 PA against them last year, within 10 points of his career mark across the board, and rates as a better defender than Ross.
Beyond that, Chavez, 35, signed a one-year, $3 million deal after hitting .281/.348/.496 with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances for the Yankees in his first healthy season since 2006. His presence as a backup at the infield corners could help take advantage of Prado’s versatility; it’s not hard to imagine manager Kirk Gibson moving the latter to leftfield to replace the defensively challenged Kubel late in the game. Hinkse, also 35, signed a one-year, $1.35 million deal off a terrible .197/.272/.311 showing with the Braves. Though experienced as a pinch-hitter, with 303 career PA in that capacity, he has hit a lousy .218/.317/.359 in that role, including a .150/.232/.247 line in 125 PA over the last two years. Reynolds, 28, was acquired in a trade that sent Wheeler to the Rockies and appears to be second-lefty material at best; he was hit for a 4.40 ERA last year while allowing 1.7 homers per nine, part of a career-long pattern that probably won’t wear well at Chase Field either.
Unfinished business: Who’s in charge? As capable as Towers has shown himself to be in building five division-winning teams in 16 years as a GM with San Diego and Arizona, he’s made some questionable deals over the past several months while losing significant leverage due to Kendrick’s public outbursts and other leaks, not to mention Gibson’s desire to change the clubhouse culture. The Diamondbacks retain a wealth of talent, including surpluses in the rotation and outfield that could be used to upgrade the roster further, but one has to wonder the extent to which Towers’ future decisions could be compromised by a need to placate a petulant boss.
Preliminary grade: D+. The Diamondbacks have certainly reshaped their roster with an active winter, but not for the better. There may still be enough talent here to win the NL West, but in the long run, they’ve taken a step backward.