It seems like only yesterday (because it was) that I was writing about how the Diamondbacks could have used Matt Davidson to be their power bat in the outfield rather than flipping Eaton and Skaggs for Mark Trumbo. As it turns out, the Diamondbacks had been getting Davidson outfield reps in winter instructs and I was going to talk about how the two players, Davidson and Trumbo, have similar profiles as high strikeout, bat-first power players with limited defensive ability in the outfield. Then, in like the blink of an eye, my twitter was abuzz with news that the Diamondbacks had shipped Davidson off to the White Sox in exchange for relief pitcher Addison Reed. Well, there went my game plan. Oh well…
If you’re not on twitter, you’re really missing out. To observe the reactions from all corners of the internet when these things happen is really something to behold. There’s frustration and elation, anger and excitement, skepticism and guarantees all happening simultaneously on my twitter timeline. I generally try to stay above the fray for a few minutes and just observe, but I’m not going to lie, I liked this trade the moment I saw it. That surprised some people given my usual twitter tone, but let me explain my position.
This trade can be expressed as the Diamondbacks trading an unknown commodity for a known commodity. As a rule of thumb, most fan bases over-value their own prospects. Because of this, a lot of the reaction to flipping Davidson was negative as fans usually want to believe that their homegrown, unknown commodity is going to develop into “something special.” I’d actually argue that the Diamondbacks organization didn’t value him nearly as much as the baseball public did, myself withstanding.
In fact, I haven’t necessarily been high on him for a while now and neither have a number of respected scouts and analysts. Most people feel that he can be a roughly average hitter at the hot corner with slightly below average defense. That’s not a bad player, but it’s hardly anything to get worked up about, either, especially when the Diamondbacks have Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury in the minors. Davidson is ready for the majors now but did not have a fit on the current team. He’s blocked at third (Prado), left field (Trumbo/Ross) and first (Goldschmidt). The team is trying to bring back Eric Chavez and signed Matt Tuiasosopo this winter, muddying the bench waters. In terms of Davidson, he was an unknown commodity with no fit, making his trade a no-brainer.
This is not the same thing as we saw with the Eaton/Skaggs deal, however, as they would likely have had a real role on the major league club. They were also pegged to be better major leaguers than Davidson from just about anybody with an informed opinion. Ryan is right, the team did not get a fair exchange on value once again, but this trade is a step in the right direction. Value-wise, Davidson was a better bargain but also a riskier proposition than Reed.
Speaking of Addison Reed, let’s take a look at the known commodity that Arizona got back. He’s a power pitcher to an extent although there have been some concerns about him losing fastball velocity over the last year or so. He couples his fastball with a good slider and is under team control for four more years. He’ll pitch 2014 at the league minimum before being arbitration eligible next winter. He’s a pitcher who relies on strikeouts and fly balls for outs, making him a bit of a boom or bust candidate. Either he gets whiffs and those fly balls stay in the yard or he gives up a lot of dingers. We can hope for the prior but shouldn’t be surprised to see the latter.
Looking at Reeds 2013 line, it’s awfully impressive at first glance. But there are some reasons to be concerned, too, notably his home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). He yielded only six home runs in 2013 despite a 45% fly ball percentage over 71.1 innings. It’s probably unrealistic to expect that many fly balls to stay in the yard at Chase and one can’t help but wonder why the team is acquiring more fly ball relievers. I’m aware that US Cellular in Chicago is a hitter’s park, too, but it looks like Reed has gotten lucky with fly balls over the last year or two and that may be about to catch up with him. A recent drop in velocity could be another reason for concern and so might be the health of his elbow considering he throws his slider over 30% of the time. Hey, nobody’s perfect. His BABIP was .260 last year, well-below the major league average, and we should expect that to regress to the mean just like his home run frequency. It’s unlikely that he repeats his 2013 performance in 2014 even if all things are equal because it looks like Reed benefitted from some incredible luck last year.
At this point, you might be wondering why I like this trade if I just pooh-poohed Reed’s peripherals (after all, I am trying to be positive here). We knew before the offseason began that Arizona was going to, once again, need to address the bullpen. Less-than-premium bullpen arms have been going for incredibly high rates on the free agent market so far this winter, as is evidenced by the deals signed on behalf of Boone Logan, JP Howell, Javier Lopez, Matt Belisle and others who are getting between $6-$10 million per win. Given the payroll constraints that the team is under and that they are likely saving what they can to make a run at Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza, this is a cost-effective, if not value-effective, move for Arizona. Reed will likely be a bargain for two more years and after that it’s anyone’s guess as bullpen guys are simply hard to project. Trading for a good reliever was much more realistic for this club than buying one in the current climate. If you would have told me before the offseason that the Diamondbacks could swap Heath Bell for Addison Reed and save $5 million in the process while having to surrender David Holmberg and Matt Davidson as compensation, I would have strongly considered it.
This move raises a number of questions, including what this means for prospects like Matt Stites and Jake Barrett, the number of lefties that will be in the ‘pen, how Gibson arranges his relievers and more. But in the end, Towers swapped a blocked prospect who many thought was just “okay” for a reliever who, even if he regresses some as expected, will still likely be a valuable player for Arizona for the foreseeable future.
Yes, it’s swapping a potentially full-time player (Davidson) for a part-time player (Reed), but given that Davidson likely didn’t figure into Arizona’s plans anyways, that might be a moot point. Instead, we should read this as Arizona swapping an unknown spare part for an above average reliever. And given the prices for above average relief help, this was the more affordable route for the organization. You’re going to hear this reported as the Diamondbacks giving up an average major league third baseman for a reliever, which places them at a deficit, and that’s true on some level. But considering that that “average major league third baseman” was never going to see the field, I’m less concerned than usual about this type of of move. By re-signing Chavez, which is expected, and developing Lamb and Drury while Prado plays every day, Arizona can afford to make this move.
In principle, I don’t like trading controllable position players away for older, less controllable relievers. I say “in principle” because one should never say “never.” In this case, Arizona has higher upside players in the minors at third base (Lamb and Drury), did not have room for Davidson at a infield corner (Prado and Goldschmidt), did not think Davidson was going to be above average (similar to many other scouts and analysts), already has plans for their bench (Chavez and/or Tuiasosopo) and needed bullpen help that they couldn’t afford to go out and buy on the free agent market.
In this case, this trade makes sense even if Reed isn’t as good as he was in 2013.
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