Winter Report Card: Arizona Diamondbacks
With little 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 2013.
2013 results: 81-81 (.500), 2nd place NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Heath Bell, IF Willie Bloomquist, 3B Matt Davidson, CF Adam Eaton, C Wil Nieves, RHP Chaz Roe, LHP Tony Sipp, LHP Tyler Skaggs IF Josh Wilson
Key arrivals: RHP Marcos Mateo, RHP Addison Reed, RF Mark Trumbo, OF Matt Tuiasosopo, C Bobby Wilson
Another .500 season, another winter of cleaning house by selling low on young players. That seems to have become the Diamondbacks’ default mode under general manager Kevin Towers as the team continues to make head-scratching moves while backsliding from its 2011 division title.
Last Jan. 24, Arizona traded Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to the Braves in exchange for a five-player package, with Martin Prado and Randall Delgado at the top of the bill. In doing so, it sacrificed a cost-controlled slugger with superstar potential, albeit one with whom team brass had grown impatient. It received a talented young pitcher for the back of its crowded rotation in Delgado, a versatile player with a reputation as a clubhouse leader in Prado and three lottery tickets. That move followed the trade of controversial pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, who had angered teammates and staff during his brief time with the big club. For all of the cultural change those deals portended, the D-backs finished with the same 81-81 record as in 2012.
This time around, the purge was focused upon Adam Eaton, who came into the season positioned as a top-of-the-lineup sparkplug and potential Rookie of the Year candidate. Towers spoke glowingly of him to ESPN’s Buster Olney in March, saying, “I think everybody likes him on our team, but everybody on the other team hates him. He’s just one of those guys… He’s a guy who seems to be in the middle of something good every day.” Unfortunately, Eaton sprained his left (throwing) ulnar collateral ligament during spring training, didn’t join the Diamondbacks until July 9, hit just .252/.314/.360 with three homers and five steals in 66 games and apparently wore out his welcome. After he was traded to the White Sox in a three-team deal on Dec. 3, an anonymous Diamondback called him a “selfish me-me player” who “irked people in the clubhouse,” with “attitude that had a tendency to wear on people.”
Also traded away in the deal was lefty Tyler Skaggs, a well-regarded prospect who was previously viewed as front-of-the-rotation material, but who had yielded a 5.43 EA in 13 major league starts over two seasons. Notably, his velocity dipped due to mechanical changes implemented by the organization. His loss will be offset by Arizona’s rotation depth, more on which below.
In exchange for Eaton and Skaggs, the team received Mark Trumbo, a one-dimensional 28-year-old slugger who hit a career-high 34 homers in 2013 but managed just a .234/.294/.453 line; much of the focus at the time of the deal was on his work ethic and reputation as a great teammate. Trumbo’s power will certainly play in the desert, but in the presence of Paul Goldschmidt, he’ll be confined to leftfield instead of first base and will need to improve significantly to avoid becoming a defensive liability. He’ll play alongside centerfielder A.J. Pollock, a former first-round pick who, unlike Eaton, never dented prospect lists but who turned in a surprisingly solid rookie season, hitting .269/.322/.409 for a 100 OPS+ augmented by outstanding defense (+15 Defensive Runs Saved, +17 Ultimate Zone Rating).
Meanwhile, the bullpen will see a fair bit of turnover. Gone is the expensive, perpetually disappointing Heath Bell as well as righty Chaz Roe and lefty Tony Sipp. That trio combined for a 4.30 ERA in 125 2/3 innings, offsetting the good work by Brad Zeigler and (when available) J.J. Putz. Coming in is Addison Reed, who takes over as the likely closer. The cost-conscious Towers was able to get the even more cost-conscious Rays to pick up $4.5 million of the $5 million they owed on Bell’s deal (the Marlins are paying $4 million themselves) because he lost the undercard of that December three-way trade; the Diamondbacks parted with minor league lefty David Holmberg — a prospect with mid- to back-end rotation potential — and got undersized righty fringe reliever Justin Choate and Double A corner outfielder Todd Glaesmann (.240/.289/.378 with 11 homers in Double-A in 2013) in exchange. That is a particularly underwhelming return given that Towers had touted the latter (initially the player to be named later in the Bell deal) as the key to that trade.
Reed, obtained by trading slugging third base prospect Matt Davidson, who was blocked by Prado, notched 69 saves with the White Sox over the past two years while striking out a batter per inning. However, his 40-save showing in 2013 was undercut by a 3.79 ERA, the fourth-highest among pitchers with at least 20 saves, and his velocity fell off as well. He should be adequate filling in the ninth-inning role in front of Ziegler and Putz, but whatever magic Towers once had in constructing those great bullpens in San Diego appears a thing of the past.
Prado will again be backed up by Eric Chavez, whom the D-backs re-signed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal after a strong season in a bench role (.281/.332/.478 with nine homers). Elsewhere on the bench, they plucked utilityman Matt Tuiasosopo off waivers from the Tigers following a solid season (.244/.351/.415 with seven homers in 191 plate appearances) while letting utilityman/swimming pool etiquette critic Willie Bloomquist return to Seattle and allowing backup catcher Wil Nieves to depart for the Phillies. Holdover Cliff Pennington will help Tuiasosopo fill Bloomquist’s role (he can play shortstop), while either 42-year-old Henry Blanco or former Angels backup Bobby Wilson be the No. 2 backstop behind Miguel Montero. Blanco, who played for Arizona in 2011 and ’12, hit just .142/.228/.246 in 150 PA for Toronto and Seattle in 2013, while Wilson, a career .208/.272/.321 hitter in the majors, spent 2013 sharing catching duties for the Yankees’ Triple A affiliate.
Unfinished Business: Masahiro Tanaka
With the trade of Skaggs, the Diamondbacks’ starting five appears to be set, with Patrick Corbin, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Delgado, not to mention Archie Bradley, who’s considered by many to be the top pitching prospect in the entire minor leagues, waiting in the wings. Even so, Arizona has been aggressively pursuing Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka because it feels as though it lacks an ace to match up with the division rivals in Los Angeles (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) and San Francisco (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain), at least until Bradley establishes himself.
Thus, the Diamondbacks are one of five teams that have made a formal offer to the 25-year-old Japanese righty. Their offer is reportedly a six-year deal worth between $115-120 million. Up against the bigger-spending Yankees and Dodgers, not to mention the Cubs and White Sox, they’re at a significant disadvantage with regard to market size and the depth of their coffers, though their location closer to the West Coast does offer them a puncher’s chance of landing him.
If that happens, you can expect Arizona to trade a starter, most likely Cahill, who’s owed $19.7 million for 2014-2015, with another $800,000 in option buyouts for 2016 and ’17. That will help keep the payroll within hailing distance of last year’s $86.3 million Opening Day figure. At the moment, the team has $85.5 million committed to 15 players, with Trumbo and Gerardo Parra eligible for arbitration and the rest of the roster rounded out by pre-arbitration renewals; trading Cahill would shave $7.7 million off that figure.
Preliminary Grade: D+
The Diamondbacks have the talent to contend, but the combination of its uneven distribution and the continued trend of selling low when dealing from strength — one that includes the July 31 trade of Ian Kennedy to the Padres as well as the aforementioned moves — continues to erode their chances in the name of remaking the culture. That said, the shape of their offseason, and their NL West chances, could still change significantly if they beat the odds to land Tanaka