Like many teams, Arizona is monitoring the market for potential upgrades via trade. Given the recent performance of the rotation and the imminent return of Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, the Dbacks really do not have a need for a starting pitcher. There are very few starters available who might represent an upgrade anyway. Likewise, the Dbacks do not figure to add a position player via trade; there’s simply no one obvious to replace. The team is committed to Didi Gregorius at short, has an MVP candidate at first in Paul Goldschmidt, and has gotten good production out of the Martin Prado/Eric Chavez/Aaron Hill time share at second and first. The outfield is even more stocked, with five outfielders fighting for time.
If there’s a part of the Arizona roster that could use an upgrade, it’s the bullpen. The solution could come from inside the organization from the disabled list or the minors, or from outside the organization via trade. Below, I’ll analyze what’s available on both ends, keeping an eye on 2014, as well – but first, let’s look at the bullpen currently in place.
The Dbacks are currently using a seven-man bullpen, which probably represents the limit for the rest of the season if they are to keep two catchers, their five outfielders, and six infielders. Their season stats through yesterday, in order of the Fangraphs version of wins above replacement:
|Will Harris (RHP)||2.03||26.2||25||8||1||32||0.6|
|Josh Collmenter (RHP)||2.68||57||43||19||5||51||0.6|
|Brad Ziegler (RHP)||2.28||47.1||37||13||2||25||0.4|
|Tony Sipp (LHP)||4.08||28.2||26||15||3||32||0.2|
|Heath Bell (RHP)||4.02||40.1||46||11||8||44||-0.1|
|J.J. Putz (RHP)||3.10||20.1||17||13||3||22||-0.2|
|David Hernandez (RHP)||4.76||45.1||38||15||9||45||-0.4|
As currently constituted, that’s not a terrible bullpen – looking at the numbers like that just makes one wonder if the main problem has been having these guys in the wrong roles. But that’s a bone GM Kevin Towers has recently been picking with manager Kirk Gibson, and the installation of Ziegler in the closer’s role seems like something of a compromise. So who would get cut, if a reliever was added?
Bell: When the Dbacks brought Bell’s talents from South Beach last offseason, Miami only threw in $8M to help cover the remaining $21M on Bell’s contract. That means Arizona is still on the hook for $9.5M or so for the next year and a half – enough to convince GM Kevin Towers to keep him around at least through the end of the season. From a practical standpoint, it would probably take an injury for Bell to fall out of the seven-man relief crew.
J.J. Putz: Putz’s situation is extremely similar to Bell’s. He’s owed around $10M through 2014, including the $7M for next year Putz got in his extension last January. Again, it’s unlikely that Towers will write Putz off as a mistake. There is some reason for optimism with Putz; reportedly, he’d gone away from his slider after elbow surgery, but he’s now mixing it back in. The slider was his out pitch in his Seattle days.
David Hernandez: This one’s tricky, because his performance has not been up to snuff this season. On the one hand, there’s no Bell/Putz problem as Arizona is only under contract with Hernandez for the remainder of a $1.375M salary for 2013 and a $2.125M salary for 2014; on the other, Hernandez is perceived as an asset and under control through 2015. Hernandez cannot be optioned, meaning he’s nearly as immovable as Putz or Bell. We’ll keep him penciled in, too.
Brad Ziegler: What’s not to like? Ziegler gets his groundballs and is doing well both for the year and in the temporary closer gig. He’s not signed for 2014, but will be under club control and eligible for arbitration for the last time.
Josh Collmenter: Collmenter will not be removed from the bullpen this season, except by reason of injury or because he’s needed as an emergency starter. He’s pitching very well, and he’s the only man in the ‘pen capable of rattling off several innings. Nothing to see here.
Will Harris: Theoretically, Harris is the most moveable piece among the seven pitchers. He was pulled from the scrap heap by Towers in April from Oakland after getting designated for assignment by Colorado, and could be returned to the heap from whence he came. But since his callup, Harris has been the most effective pitcher in the bullpen, in line with good minor league numbers. It’s just hard to imagine replacing Harris before the trade deadline, even if he’s unlikely to get much leash in August or September if he starts to struggle.
Tony Sipp: Making a measly $1.275M in 2013 in his first year of arbitration, Sipp is a club asset through 2015. He’s the sole lefty in the ‘pen, so while we may finally have found a slot for a bullpen upgrade, if he gets replaced it will certainly be by another lefty.
Not a whole lot of room to maneuver. Barring injury (in which case all bets are off), in terms of promotion, only Sipp is likely to be moved if a good option emerges. In terms of trade, Arizona might also replace Bell, Putz, or Hernandez, but only if either of those guys moves to another team in the same trade.
Inside the Organization
Shuttle jumper division: The next guy on the plane from Reno might be lefty Eury de la Rosa, who added a couple of very capable innings while Tyler Skaggs off the roster to take a regular turn at Visalia during the All-Star break. While de la Rosa looked great in his cameo, his ERA in AAA (5.56) and his walk rate there (4.95 BB/9) do not lend one to believe that he would be an upgrade over Sipp. Zeke Spruill, acquired from Atlanta in the Upton trade, has also contributed to the major league cause this season. Spruill is certainly an option if someone goes down, but all of his appearances in the minors this year have been as a starter, and he began the year in AAA. As more of a control pitcher, he may be less risk to unravel than de la Rosa. Charles Brewer’s 5.47 ERA at Reno do not make him very attractive at this time. Chaz Roe has been dealing of late and is already working as a reliever – his independent league pedigree might not inspire a lot of confidence, however, and the impressive control he’s showed this year in the minors didn’t translate in his time with the big club (3.2 IP, 6 BB, versus 15 IP, 2 BB with Reno). Joe Paterson has logged the most flight miles of this group between Reno and Phoenix, but knowing he’s had a 2.82 ERA in 33 AAA relief appearances does not erase the memory of his implosions in the majors last year (2.2 IP, 11 ER).
Trainer’s room division: LHP Matt Reynolds was recently cleared by team doctors to start throwing after the “slight” ligament tear in his elbow that put him on the shelf in mid June. There’s no guarantee that Reynolds can avoid surgery, but the opinion of elbow legend Dr. James Andrews was that the tear could heal with rest. Reynolds will have to show himself and the team that he’s ready to contribute meaningful innings in a meaningful way before the team brings him back into the bullpen mix – but he is clearly a better option than de la Rosa right now if healthy, and probably an improvement over Sipp, as well.
Rotation refugee division: The Dbacks have had only seven pitchers start games this year, which is fairly remarkable this late in the season. I examined the possible rotation traffic jam earlier this week, and if and when McCarthy and Cahill come back, at least one pitcher will get bumped (Cahill, by the way, posted a very strong rehab start with the Arizona League affiliate last night, with 9 Ks in 5 IP, two walks, and just one hit and one unearned run). Despite their recent success, Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado will probably be the guys to get dropped. If it’s Skaggs, he will probably return to the Reno rotation even though he’d be an intriguing lefty relief option – after 151.2 IP last year, Skaggs is only at 116.2 IP so far this season, and were he to switch to relief, his readiness to start all year for Arizona in 2014 might be threatened. Delgado has really turned it on of late with a 2.92 ERA in four July starts, but control has been an issue in the past (and was in Delgado’s last start) and Towers may wish to see what a relief version of Delgado would look like. Putting Delgado in the bullpen could have the effect of moving Josh Collmenter into shorter, higher-leverage situations, making such a move more attractive. It’s also worth noting that McCarthy has relieved in the past while with the White Sox, his first organization, but that was several years ago (51 relief appearances in 2006).
Earl Weaver division: The most intriguing intra-organization possibility for fans might be an early promotion of one of the team’s starting pitching prospects. I’ve written before about the Archie Bradley situation – he is on pace to reach his innings cap right around the end of the AA season in very early September, but he could also reach that 160-170 innings threshold by starting a few more games in Mobile before relieving in the bigs. Bradley has long been linked to Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy as top high school pitchers from the same draft class, and Bundy blew major leaguers away in a relief stint last year (it’s not widely thought that Bundy’s elbow problems are linked). Bradley is now one of the top pitching prospects in the sport, and might have success similar to Bundy’s.
Earl Weaver is credited with the strategy of breaking in high ceiling starter prospects in major league relief; I’m a strong believer that this can also be a great fit when there’s an innings cap anyway. Sometimes, it’s not appropriate — a prospect might be working on lesser third or fourth pitch options in the minors, and a prospect’s fringy change up is unlikely to improve if it’s never used in relief. The knock on Bradley coming into the year was command and control, however, and improvement there is the biggest reason for his recent success. This could work.
Bradley’s not the only top prospect that could come up right now with a chance to do good relief work right away. I don’t think David Holmberg is a likely option, because he doesn’t face an innings cap this year (173.1 IP last year) and because he’s been a relatively slow mover up the chain, the organization would probably prefer to get him more development time. Like Bradley, Andrew Chafin was also bumped to Mobile early this year, and he may be more of a relief prospect anyway. With only 89.2 innings above A under his belt, Chafin and his knockout slider may be more of a 2014 option; as a lefty, however, Chafin is one to watch if Reynolds gets shut down and Sipp needs to be replaced.
Anthony Meo may be the likeliest of this starter-prospect group to see the inside of the Arizona bullpen this year, even if it doesn’t happen until September. Meo was dropped from the Mobile rotation about a month ago to convert to relief at Visalia, so even if he doesn’t come up this year, his future is probably in relief anyway. Meo had more walks than strikeouts with Mobile, and while the walk rate has been slightly better at Visalia (4.63/9IP instead of 6.37/9IP), the team may determine that he’s not worth chancing in a tight race for the division title.
Outside the Organization
The Dbacks are reportedly on the lookout for LHP in the trade market, but so are several other teams. I’d encourage everyone to check out the market rundown by MLBTR’s Steve Adams, but I will still include thoughts below about what fits make particular sense for Arizona. While veteran relief is generally what gets moved in July, I think Towers would do well to look for external versions of Chafin or Meo, minor leaguers who are close to the majors. If we’re going to move prospects, it might as well help in future seasons as well as this one, and as we’ve found above, there are internal options if a rookie struggles. Below are some possible trade targets. The names of pitchers I think are the likeliest or most promising targets are in bold.
Targets from sellers: The White Sox are officially open for business, but just learned that Jesse Crain will not pitch before the trade deadline. Matt Thornton seemed to have Towers written all over him, but has already moved to the Red Sox. I would just love it if we could convince GM Rick Hahn to move Scott Snodgress. The lefty is in the AA Southern League right now, but his stuff might play up if a team gave him a relief cameo in the majors. Current sellers like the White Sox are unlikely to move minor league arms at this time, but if Hahn trades SS Alexei Ramirez, a trade involving Chris Owings could make sense for both teams.
Chicago’s other team is also highly motivated to move veterans, but lefty James Russell, who the Cubs have been shopping, is not exactly priced to sell. A half-dozen teams including the Braves have been linked to Russell, who is attractive in part because of his extra seasons of team control. He’s a possibility because Towers clearly prefers track records when looking for help, but after Russell got exposed facing right-handed hitters in June, it’s not certain that he would pitch better than Sipp. The Angels’ Scott Downs has even more of a track record, and would also command a strong return from the Dbacks in prospects despite being a rental.
Miami’s latest fire sale may continue through the deadline this year, as they will listen to offers on several relievers. Unless Arizona suffers an injury over the weekend, however, I don’t see a fit here, as the Steve Cishek price is very high and I don’t think the other arms offer an upgrade, with the possible exception of Mike Dunn, a southpaw who has performed well this season and lately. I’d put the Mets in this same category, because while Towers may kick the tires on Bobby Parnell, the juice would not be worth the squeeze.
Among other sellers, Minnesota is not motivated to move arms, and the price for Glen Perkins is prohibitive for Arizona. Milwaukee is looking to move relievers, and while RHP John Axford is not a good fit for the Dbacks, there might be a match for Mike Gonzalez, who is the type of guy Towers might prefer and who might be had at a reasonable price. I would love it if Arizona could nab RHP Tyler Thornburg – he was recently taken from the AAA Nashville rotation to relieve with Milwaukee, and he could be a future closer for the Dbacks. Houston is no more likely to trade minor league arms than Minnesota or Milwaukee, but a trade for RHP Mike Foltynewicz would absolutely knock my socks off. His 100mph heater would be welcome in the 2013 edition of the Arizona ‘pen, and he could still be tried as a starter next year. Unfortunately, however, the strength of the Arizona system is in high-probability or high-proximity guys, which makes Foltynewicz a very unlikely grab given that Houston is very content to sit and wait for another season or two.
Targets from teams on the bubble: The Seattle and Arizona front offices worked together recently, and so even though they did not consummate an Upton trade, they are probably familiar enough with each others’ organizations to move quickly if Seattle decides to sell last minute. Oliver Perez has pitched very well in relief, and could be moved by the Mariners because he’s not under contract for 2014. Seattle may also shop Charlie Furbush, but he doesn’t really fit for Arizona.
Of course, Towers would love to get his hands on Toronto’s Brett Cecil, who has dominated hitters on both sides of the plate this year after conversion to relief. With three and a half seasons of team control left, Cecil would be costly, but at least he would also be an investment in the future. Darren Oliver could also be a target, but there have been issues in the past with getting Oliver to cooperate with a trade.
Toronto could also manage to trade Arizona a relief option without looking like they’ve given up on the season by trading a minor leaguer. This is where it can really start to get interesting, and not just because of team-record variables; trades between two contenders are unusual, but when they happen, they often involve minor leaguers on the cusp of contributing in the majors. I think Marcus Stroman, John Stilson, and even Sean Nolin and Daniel Norris are extremely interesting possibilities. Toronto may cut ties with Adam Lind soon, and if they continue with the Brett Lawrie experiment at second base, Edwin Encarnacion could move to Lind’s spot at first, freeing third for a rookie – maybe Matt Davidson. Toronto could have interest in Chris Owings, as well, as Lawrie could simply shift back to third. I really think there could be a good match here, even though I think it’s unlikely a deal gets worked out. I’ll expand on some Toronto-Arizona trade possibilities over the weekend.
Target from team in contention: Stick with me here. The Cardinals are stacked in the field, on the bench, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. They are supposedly willing to stand pat with their current roster, but the most talked about need in baseball right now is probably their gaping hole at short. Could Towers convince GM Mozeliak that the surging Chris Owings is ready enough to do better than Pete Kozma? There were whispers this week that the Cards and White Sox might work out trade around Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Martinez. Martinez has gone from starting to relieving to starting and to relieving again this season, but he is an excellent pitching prospect just one step down from Arizona’s Bradley and Seattle’s Taijuan Walker. Any team would be doing themselves a disservice not to try Martinez as a starter, but if Towers could swing it, Martinez could be a late inning power option for the Dbacks for the rest of the year first. It would take more than Owings in trade, but the investment would be worth it; even if Martinez didn’t work out as a starter, the Dbacks would have one of the best closers in the game.
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