It was only a matter of time before the Arizona Diamondbacks officially began looking toward next year.
The D-Backs have arguably been the biggest disappointment in MLB this season (Red Sox and Rangers fans might disagree with that), compiling the worst record and run differential in the National League. With the All-Star break and trade deadline quickly approaching, it’s time for Arizona to start dismantling its current roster and build for the future.
General manager Kevin Towers began the process during the Fourth of July weekend, making two deals that should save the team some money for the rest of the season and help stockpile some organizational depth.
The first trade could be a decent one. On Saturday, left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher and minor league outfielder Tony Campana were sent to the Angels in exchange for Double-A outfielder Zach Borenstein and Single-A reliever Joey Krehbiel.
Borenstein, 23, is something of a project, putting together a great season last year at the advanced-A level. He hit .337 with a 1.037 OPS, 28 home runs and 95 RBI. But lackluster numbers this year indicate that the Angels may have rushed him through Double- and Triple-A. Krehbiel, 21, has a strikeout rate of 11.4 batters per nine innings but hasn’t yet pitched above high Single-A. That’s not a bad return for a lefty reliever set to be a free agent after the season and a fringe major league outfielder.
Yet with the demand for relievers leading up to the trade deadline, did Towers deal Thatcher away too soon? Had he waited closer to July 31, might the market for Thatcher — who strikes out more than a batter per inning and walks very few, and is equally effective against lefties and righties — have improved and yielded a better return? Or was this the best deal Arizona could get, from an Angels team that desperately needed left-handed relief?
The second deal was more of a head-scratcher. Pitcher Brandon McCarthy was dealt to the Yankees on Sunday for a younger arm, with the D-Backs getting left-hander Vidal Nuno in return.
McCarthy, 31, was having a rough year in Arizona, compiling a 5.01 ERA with 131 hits allowed in 109.2 innings. Yet both his velocity (92.9 mph) and strikeout rate (7.6 Ks per nine) are up this season, and would be the highest of his career if they maintain. A 3.79 FIP (and 2.89 xFIP) show that McCarthy was also victimized by a poor D-Backs defense. He’ll likely benefit from the ol’ change of scenery.
But is Nuno really the most Towers could get in return for an established major league starting pitcher that advanced metrics show is throwing better than he ever has before? Nuno, 26, is probably best known for throwing five scoreless innings in his first start for the Yankees after Ivan Nova needed Tommy John surgery. Since then, he’s been inconsistent at best, compiling a 5.42 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 78 innings. Oh, and he’s a flyball pitcher going to one of the most hitter-friendly parks in MLB.
One thing in Nuno’s favor is that he’s under team control for another five seasons. He’s two years away from arbitration eligibility and won’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season. But if Nuno isn’t an effective major league starter, does it really matter if he’s cheap with multiple years of team control? He’ll have a place in this year’s rotation because Arizona needs arms and innings at the back end of its rotation. Yet does he have a future beyond that?
Making the trade even more puzzling is that the D-Backs are actually eating part of McCarthy’s remaining $4.1 million salary. How often does that happen in a deal with the Yankees? Yes, the Yanks are paying roughly $3 million of the money still owed to McCarthy ($2.05 million in salary, plus a $1 million assignment bonus he gets for being traded), so that provides Arizona some savings. But how does Towers not get the Yankees to foot that entire bill?
Typically, a team dumping a salary takes a mediocre player in return. Hey, you take all the money and we’ll take whatever you’re willing to give. Or that team eats some of the salary in exchange for a better player. So what exactly did Towers do here? Is Nuno considered a better player because he was in the Yankees’ rotation?
Apparently, that’s the argument Yanks GM Brian Cashman made and Towers bought it. Now, he can sell saving some money and getting a major leaguer in return to new boss Tony La Russa and owner Ken Kendrick.
That just doesn’t seem good enough for a team in the D-Backs’ current state, however. If the idea is to cut payroll from the club’s record $112 million for this season and to bring in young, cheap talent, it’s difficult to see how getting the likes of Vidal Nuno makes Arizona any better for the future. But Towers insists he isn’t done dealing.
“We plan on being active,” Towers told the Arizona Republic‘s Nick Piecoro. “This is the start.”
The Blue Jays are reportedly interested in both Martin Prado and Aaron Hill. Prado is owed $22 million over the next two seasons, while Hill is set to make $24 million through 2016. Both players could presumably be replaced in-house by Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed, at least for the rest of this season. Double-A third baseman Jake Lamb is having a strong season and might be in the mix for next year.
Pitcher Wade Miley is someone else who could draw some trade interest, especially now that the Oakland A’s took both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel off the market in their blockbuster deal with the Cubs over the weekend. Miley still has all three arbitration years remaining, which would make him appealing to any club looking for team-controlled starting pitching. (The D-Backs are also one of those teams, of course, but would presumably get more in return for a pitcher who’s had two strong major league seasons and is a proven 200-inning starter.)
Other tradeable pieces include infielder Cliff Pennington and perhaps even slugger Mark Trumbo, once both players return from the DL. Cody Ross, one of Towers’ worst free agent signings, could also draw some interest from teams looking for a right-handed outfield bat.
The D-Backs are in a position to make a major overhaul of their roster, and it sounds like that’s the intention. But is Towers really the guy to oversee this renovation? Judging by the hire of La Russa, the answer would appear to be no. Yet maybe Towers is no longer making these moves on his own anymore.
The right moves that bring an infusion of young talent into the organization and put the D-Backs in a better position to compete in the future might be what saves the GM’s job. So far, however, Towers’ project is not off to an encouraging start.