We’ve all heard it whispered: Kevin Towers is going for it all this year. With both Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson in the last year of their respective deals (and quite possibly on the hot seat), it’s no wonder that people are coming to this conclusion. The team has been more active than any other team on the trade market and isn’t done making moves by the sounds of things. But just because the team is making moves doesn’t mean that they’re “going for broke” as some have suggested. Let’s take a closer look at the Diamondbacks’ offseason so far and decide for ourselves if it’s all or nothing in Arizona.
Towers wasn’t shy about wanting to add thump to the lineup this winter and he certainly didn’t waste much time in doing so. He added the player with the third-most home runs in the last three years when he shipped off Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs as part of a three-team trade in order to acquire Mark Trumbo. As we’ve spoken about at length, Trumbo has undeniable power and while he has his warts, there is some value to 35 home runs. Of course, there’s also a lack of value in playing a first baseman in the outfield but, well, we’ve been down this road before and we won’t do it again here. The point is, Towers pulled the trigger to get the offensive piece he deemed was missing at a significant cost.
Just as we were digesting the Trumbo thing, Towers struck yet another deal with Rick Hahn who seems to be more than happy acquiring Arizona’s spare parts. In exchange for power hitting third base prospect Matt Davidson, the Diamondbacks received 24-year old right-hander Addison Reed. We knew that the bullpen was in need of some improvements and there was room to add after Heath Bell was shipped off with David Holmberg to Tampa Bay for a PTBNL. It may come as a surprise but I actually don’t hate this trade given the context, although it’s not something to make a habit of, which Towers actually seems to be doing. That disturbing trend aside, Reed offers high-leverage stability despite some warning signs that suggest that he’ll likely just be “good” rather than “excellent” for the Diamondbacks. Arizona will benefit from this move immediately whereas Davidson, whom many scouts weren’t all that high on, was unlikely to be a big contributor in 2014.
While the two moves above are relatively big in their own right, Towers isn’t done and is looking to sign a free agent starter. While getting an “ace” may be out of the picture, there are several free agent arms on the market who could be had for a pretty penny. Although none of them appear to be the type of big upgrade that Arizona needs, the organization hasn’t backed off it’s comments about getting one anyways. Perhaps they could have targeted one via trade but that option virtually disappeared when they traded for Trumbo. I’d hedge my bets towards Matt Garza at this point but it’s been well-documented that the team is considering a run at Mashiro Tanaka should he get posted. Either pitcher would be a big signing for the team and for baseball in general as they’re two of the bigger fish in the pond.
This roster is solid already. Towers has locked a lot of good players in for the long haul to get into this position. He’s committed to Hill, Prado, Montero and a host of others that have the roster above average at most positions. It’s almost as if he knew that they’d be good across the board and ready to make a push in, say, 2014…?
To make this alleged push, Towers has traded away several young, controllable pieces at far less than fair value. Eaton, Skaggs, Holmberg and Davidson were all considered to be part of the future until, well, they weren’t. All four are considered to be productive big league regulars down the road with Skaggs and Eaton having the highest ceilings of the foursome. For some teams, that’s the nucleus of a franchise but the Diamondbacks saw them as unnecessary pieces of the puzzle. In return, they obtained Trumbo and Reed, two slightly-better-than-average big leaguers. Why? Perhaps because the organization has bigger things in mind.
Towers has one of the biggest trade chips in baseball at his disposal in Archie Bradley. While it was rumored that he would consider flipping the best pitching prospect in the game for David Price, that appears to be off the table. Although David Price would represent the type of impact pitcher that the organization seeks, Arizona has a chance to develop their own young star in Bradley. Trading away Skaggs and Holmberg depleted the ready-for-the-majors pitching depth making Archie that much more valuable. Flipping Bradley for a short-term impact would have signaled an all-out approach, but the retention of him puts this in question.
The Trumbo move wasn’t my favorite and I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Reed trade, but Towers has resisted the stereotypical desperate signing that some GM’s opt for in a panic. There hasn’t been a desperate, insane free agent deal that shows that the team is in a purely win-now state. If they had made an early run at Nelson Cruz or jumped quickly on Ervin Santana, that would change the perception, but they got creative in acquiring Trumbo and appear to be slow-playing the starting pitching market. The reluctance to go above three years in a deal for a free agent starter is encouraging as it shows that they still have the future in mind to some degree. While I’d like to give Towers credit here, there’s a strong case to be made that this might be more of a reflection of payroll limitations than managerial restraint. Either way, they haven’t pushed all of their chips in on a free agent (yet?).
The future core of the Diamondbacks has been weakened with the trades of Eaton, Skaggs, Holmberg and Davidson, but by keeping Bradley and Owings, the future still appears bright. The minor league system has been taken a blow but not one that it can’t recover from. The long-term deals given to players in recent seasons have clogged the roster and the current wave of prospects don’t have a clear place in the eyes of the organization. The long-term prospects of the team haven’t been completely jeopardized and while we all be watching to see just what becomes of the foursome traded away this winter in the future, there’s no reason to think that the organization is devoid of talent in the wings. The team has kept valuable chips for the future deliberately and while some guys have changed teams, the big picture remains promising.
I’d say that Arizona has stopped just short of “going for broke.” If they had dealt, say, Bradley and Owings plus other pieces for Price or Scherzer, then I might change my mind. Towers has done what he thinks he needs to do to improve the club and while we can certainly quibble with his mindset and/or each individual transaction, they don’t necessarily add up to an all-in approach. Instead, he’s chosen some awkward middle ground where he’s making a push and mortgaging parts of the future to do it, but the push he’s making may not be enough. It’s 90 wins or go home for the Diamondbacks, and if they finish with 88 and miss the playoffs, Towers and/or Gibson may not survive the winter.
I’ll save the majority of my feelings on this for another day, but this is exactly the kind of trap that a mid-market team has to avoid. They have enough payroll to consistently contend and build a winning club but they can’t afford to buy their way to the very top on a regular basis. Instead, they have to pick their spots and when they think they’re primed to make a run, go big in hopes of cashing in. I would have hated to lose Bradley in a Price trade, but I could justify it. Alternatively, we might commit $50+ million to Matt Garza and come up short. The outfield was already crowded and I really don’t want to be paying Shin-Soo Choo into his late 30’s, but they could have gone that direction in attempts to be playing in November. Instead, they have the anti-Choo in Trumbo and while he came at a far lesser cost, he may not be enough to get the team over the hump.
Towers isn’t going for broke. He’s opted for an in-between that may or may not pan out. Of course, this could all change tomorrow, and that’s what makes the Hot Stove so much fun. Stay tuned…
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