At ESPN, Dan Szymborski officially kicked off the trade speculation season with a piece on possible fits for David Price, setting the blogosphere aflame with responses to each package floated by Dan.
I pretty much agree with everything that AZ Snake Pit’s Jim McLennan wrote, so feel free to go check that out now, if you haven’t already — I’ll wait. I agree that a package of Chris Owings, Matt Davidson, and Stryker Trahan doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for either team, and instead of burying the lede — my two cents is that if a trade for Price were to happen, it would almost certainly include Wade Miley or Randall Delgado.
But first: should Arizona be motivated to acquire Price? Szymborski is dead on, in my opinion, that Price is the quickest way to match the Dodgers. Arizona didn’t have the best luck with injuries and performance this season, but particularly considering that some players outperformed expectations (Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin being the best examples), can we really bet on the current roster taking a big step beyond the .500 mark?
Fortunately, I think the answer is yes. A number of position players are what they are at this point, including Martin Prado, Aaron Hill and Miguel Montero (Miggy’s first two months notwithstanding). But a team with as many newly-minted MLB position players at least has some room to grow, even if it might be a mistake to count on that. Even if he puts up a decent season, Matt Davidson may not be an upgrade yet in 2014; D-backs third basemen were 11th in the majors in 2013 with 3.3 WAR, and they were above-average in terms of creating runs (107 wRC+, 10th in MLB). Still, the D-backs may be able to get more out of shortstop on offense (85 wRC+, 16th in MLB in 2013), and Adam Eaton’s minor league OBPs hold promise for the major league club.
There may be less projection on the pitching side, as I explored in a 2014 rotation breakdown. So while this number isn’t backed by much analysis, I don’t think it’s a stretch to project the D-backs in the 84 win range next season with their current roster. That’s pretty good, but even with a second wild card, it took 90 wins to make the NL playoffs this year, and 88 the year before. A likelihood of being just a handful of wins off a playoffs pace is as good a reason as any to look to add from outside the organization.
I’ll not recap my findings here, but even though Towers is on record as wanted to add a middle-of-the-order or prototypical corner bat, there just isn’t room in the outfield or infield. At every spot, the team already has a time share of capable guys, a significant contract, young players with some projection, or above-average players that would be difficult to upgrade. That’s not to say that Towers can’t make a move, but to add someone, he’d have to subtract from the major league club at the same position(for instance, trading Davidson as part of a package for a well above average and established third baseman). I’ll also note again that the uncertain status of Cody Ross (too expensive to write off, too questionable to move via trade) really throws a wrench into all manner of plans in the outfield, and even third base and second (thanks to Prado).
So if the team is going to upgrade, it may be on the pitching end. Pitching assets are just more fungible, by their nature; a guy can get bumped from the rotation to the pen, or from long relief to a setup role — but you can’t bump a center fielder to second base. Although many of the major league options are somewhat mediocre, there are already a lot of possibilities to choose from for the 2014 bullpen.
It will be extremely interesting to see how Patrick Corbin fares in 2014; he was absolutely dominant in April and May last year, and he still pitched like a borderline ace in June and July, and into most of August. From the 25th of August onward, his performance was just horrendous. There’s a very wide range of possibilities for Corbin next year, but even if you base expectations on his overall 2013 numbers, he’s a front of the rotation guy for the D-backs. There’s no reason to believe a David Price type would be an upgrade.
The rest of the Arizona rotation is manned by third-starter types. Maybe you think of Wade Miley as a bit better, or Brandon McCarthy as a bit worse. Maybe you recognize that if Trevor Cahill could manage consistent command of his sinker, he’d be more of a true number two. But beyond Corbin, the rotation is solid but not above average.
Of course, that’s the story with this 81-81 team; very few glaring weaknesses, but very few above-average players. If the team looks to upgrade, it won’t be by filling gaps. They’ll need to replace a solid player with an above-average or outstanding one.
So back to David Price. I don’t need to point out that Davidson would be an odd fit for Tampa Bay, which has Evan Longoria in place for the long haul. I’m not sure Davidson projects to hit enough to be a strong first base option for the Rays, but I suppose that’s at least a possibility. I have no idea how highly the Rays regard Owings, but Yunel Escobar has another year on his contract, and there isn’t so much extra playing time in the outfield for Ben Zobrist to get a larger chunk of his at bats away from second base. They may be willing to take on one or both players.
I’m in the camp of people who think that moving Archie Bradley, even in a move for a top flight pitcher, would be a mistake. I think that not because I believe Bradley is a guaranteed ace; I believe that because a number of things must go right for Arizona to compete, and when in that situation, it makes little sense to cash in a true lottery ticket for half of face value (noting that Bradley would never land a pitcher like Price on his own). That was tried fairly recently (on a smaller scale) in the Cahill trade that moved Jared Parker.
Tyler Skaggs isn’t a great asset for trades for a different reason: his value has plummeted after his underwhelming 2013, when by staying too upright Skaggs released the ball earlier, dropping some serious velocity. Maybe a team like Tampa Bay could get aggressive by offering 80 cents on the dollar (the dollar being his ceiling of a number two starter), but realistically, trading Skaggs would probably mean letting him go for 60 cents or so. Stop me if that sounds familiar (Trevor Bauer).
Assuming Corbin isn’t going anywhere, the only cost-controlled major league starters for Arizona are Miley and Randall Delgado. It’s hard to see Arizona moving Miley, but after coming over as partial compensation for Justin Upton, could Delgado get moved again as a major-but-not-headlining piece in a major trade? Here’s what I wrote about Delgado a few weeks ago:
Towers is on record as thinking Delgado could still improve, and there’s definitely reason to think he could. Delgado’s HR per fly ball rate was ridiculously high this year: 17.3% HR/FB, good for 5th-worst among 145 SPs this season with at least 100 innings pitched. Perhaps related is Delgado’s big dip in walks — he posted a very good 1.78 BB/9 with the major league club this year, significantly lower than his rate with Reno this year (4.92), with Atlanta last year (4.08), and with Gwinnett last year (4.26). Kudos to Delgado for lowering the walk rate like that, but when you see that his career HR/FB with the Braves is 10.7% (127 innings)… could it be that by hitting the strike zone more consistently, Delgado got squared up more often. It would be unfair to expect a lower HR/FB ratio (even if those tend to even out over time) if we also expect a repeat of that sterling walk rate. Pencil Delgado in at the back of the rotation, but given his age next season (24), now is probably the time to see what he can prove in the majors. It’s too early to give up on Delgado, and he can’t prove what he can do in a major league rotation without actually being in a major league rotation.
Look, it’s going to be a theme for us this offseason that trade matches for Arizona are going to have a lot to do with whether the other team places a Towers-ish value on shortstops Owings, Didi Gregorius, or Nick Ahmed. A possible match with Tampa Bay is no exception, even if the Rays are likely to want to see if Hak-Ju Lee comes back from torn knee ligaments to become a likely heir to Yunel Escobar.
So I’m not so sure about Davidson, Owings and Trahan. But what about Skaggs, Owings and Delgado? Tampa Bay might be willing to take advantage of Owings’s skill at both SS and 2B (cutting ties with Kelly Johnson). Delgado would be an option for the Rays rotation, particularly if Hellickson struggles at the beginning of the season as mightily as he did in 2013. And Hellickson notwithstanding, Tampa Bay has an excellent record in squeezing performance out of “stuff” guys with potential, making Skaggs a potential fit.
If Tampa Bay were only to value Skaggs at 60 cents of his #2 starter upside, a Skaggs-Owings-Delgado package probably would not beat offers from other clubs. But closer to 80 cents, and there could be a match — even if Delgado got swapped out for a David Holmberg/Trahan combination, or something like that. There are a number of possibilities, including the possible inclusion of A.J. Pollock to move Desmond Jennings off of CF. But Tampa Bay is unlikely to move Price without getting a pitching prospect of significance (read: better than Jake Odorizzi), and if Arizona draws a line in the sand in front of Archie Bradley, I suspect that the only way the D-backs become serious contenders for Price is if Tampa Bay happens to think highly of Tyler Skaggs.
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