By now, you’ve likely read or heard Kevin Towers’ comments regarding what’s on the Diamondbacks’ shopping list. If you’ve been reading Inside The Zona, you’re probably well aware of what those purported needs are, as we’ve been covering them for a couple of months. In short, Towers feels that the team needs a clear-cut leader of the pitching staff to go along with the present depth. Ryan and I agree with this assessment, at least in principle. Additionally, Towers says that the team is still searching for a power corner outfield bat, which I weighed in on a while back, and it should come as no surprise that the names Trumbo and Cespedes came up in rumors yesterday. But I’ll leave that alone for now as I want to focus on these notions that Arizona needs an ace for the rotation.

First we have to define the word “ace.” It’s been thoroughly abused in recent years as the definition of the term has expanded tremendously from what it once meant. Randy Johnson was the team’s ace from 2000-2002 as he collected three Cy-Youngs in as many years. Keep him in mind when you remember that heading into 2013, many writers and fans (somewhat loosely) referred to Ian Kennedy as the team’s ace and leader of the rotation. I can think of no better example to paint the picture of this word’s distortion, as we know how the tale of Ian Kennedy ends. And I think  it’s important to acknowledge that just because a pitcher is a team’s Opening Day starter does not necessarily mean he’s an ace. Some teams have more than one (Tigers), most teams have zero (way too many to list). Aces should have the following attributes in one form or another:

  • Durability/Dependability: to be a true ace, the team needs to be able to count on 200 innings or more year in and year out. The team has to be able to count on this guy every fifth day to deliver consistently favorable results.
  • Dominant Stuff: there’s no more sure out in the game than the almighty K and when you close your eyes and think of aces, I’m guessing most of them weren’t soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact guys.
  • Leadership (#rig): I’m a Jason Parks apologist and if you don’t know #rig, you should start reading him, but that aside, any true ace has to have the “it” factor. This the guy that just takes the mound and absolutely owns it. A sign of this is when opposing teams’ best hitters get a “random off day” when this pitcher takes the mound.
  • Favorable Playoff Experience (preferred, not required): no one’s going to argue that King Felix isn’t an ace just because the Mariners haven’t made the post season during his tenure, but a strong postseason track record is surely a plus.

With these attributes in mind, let’s take a look at some of the potential “ace” options that Arizona has this offseason, some inside the box and some outside of it.

David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

  • Ace status: definitely an ace
  • Age: 28
  • Years of team control: two
  • Available via: trade
  • Cost: you won’t like it. Archie Bradley is only the start of the conversation. It would likely be a clean sweep of valuable minor league pieces, way more than a mid-market team should give up. On top of that, he’ll cost nearly $25 million over the next two years in arbitration salaries before becoming a free agent.
  • Thoughts: Price is the best pitcher available. He been very durable over the years, although he missed some time in 2013 and one wonders if the innings are wearing on him. The stuff is excellent, he has the dominance to be the clear leader of the rotation and has some quality postseason experience. These types of pitchers aren’t available very often.
  • Likelihood of acquisition: not at all likely. He’s way too expensive for the Diamondbacks’ taste in trade demands alone. If they were to acquire him, they’d have to do some serious budget stretching only to watch him change uniforms in two years as he’ll command a free agent salary that Arizona almost surely can’t compete with.

Max Scherzer, RHP, Tigers

  • Ace status: definitely an ace
  • Age: 29
  • Years of team control: one
  • Available via: trade
  • Cost: nearly as much as what Price would command, including Archie Bradley. There’s no quantity in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system that can replace the quality that Bradley represents. I took on this possibility a few weeks ago and proposed Bradley, Chris Owings and pieces to Detroit in return for Max.
  • Thoughts: Scherzer looked like a definite possibility before the Tigers freed up an amount of cash equal to the payroll of the Miami Marlins when they pushed away Prince Fielder. The thought with that move was that Detroit can now afford to extend Scherzer and while that extension hasn’t happened yet, it almost surely will. He has the all the pedigree that Price does so he’d be a organization-changing player in Arizona.
  • Likelihood of acquisition: not at all likely. It appeared to have potential before the trade that nearly crashed my twitter but now seems like an almost impossibility. I actually thought this one had a chance but it was not to be. Even if it had, Arizona would have found it challenging to keep Scherzer beyond 2014 given his potential free agent demands.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs, RHP

  • Ace status: usually not an ace
  • Age: 29
  • Years of team control: two
  • Available via: trade
  • Thoughts: ugh, I feel like I’ve beaten this one to death already and if you follow me on twitter, you might agree. Samardzija is a very good pitcher who can pitch like an ace 20% of the time, pitch like a good #2 starter 60% of the time, pitch like a #5 starter 10% of the time and round out the totality of his starts with the occasional clunker. The stuff is relatively good but not completely ace-like. He’s durable and has far less mileage on his arm than almost any other pitcher in his category. He’s not without #rig and does a pretty good job of commanding the mound. Samardzija is affordable for the Diamondbacks in 2013, 2o14 and beyond. As an uncategorized bonus, he’s tall, has a big nose and a mullet, and last I checked, that plays up in Arizona (think: Big Unit, at least in terms of appearance).
  • Likelihood of acquisition: pretty likely. Towers and Theo Epstein have been dancing around this deal since last summer. Initially, it sounds as if the Cubs demanded Bradley in return but have recently backed off of that demand. Now it sounds as if a package of Tyler Skaggs, Stryker Trahan and something else may get it done, which is affordable. I’ll actually be a little surprised if this doesn’t happen.

Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Rakuten Eagles (Japan)

  • Ace status: unknown, ace potential
  • Age: 25
  • Years of team control: depends on contract signed
  • Available via: Rakuten posting fee plus free agent contract
  • Thoughts: I’m probably unqualified to really say a whole lot on this one other than I was really impressed by Tanaka in the WBC and it sounds like most people that are knowledgeable on the topic have come away with the same feeling. I’ve heard “a younger Yu Darvish” in terms of his production, although I believe they go about pitching somewhat differently. Towers and the Diamondbacks have been scouting Tanaka for some time now and were among the first to get serious in his pursuit. Personally, I’m not sure I like the uncertainty involved and given the small margin of error for a team of Arizona’s size, a deal as big as the one Tanaka will receive is just too risky.
  • Likelihood of acquisition: very low. I expect the Diamondbacks to be involved but the price will escalate to a level that pushes them out of the discussion. I’m not holding my breath and, given the risk, I think the team should focus its efforts elsewhere.

Brett Anderson, LHP, Athletics

  • Ace status: not an ace
  • Age: 26
  • Years of team control: two
  • Available via: trade
  • Thoughts: Anderson is interesting in that he’s only 26 and is a former Rookie of the Year candidate signed to a very team-friendly deal. He was originally drafted by Arizona but flipped in the Dan Haren trade. Anderson was excellent in his debut and solid in his sophomore campaign before undergoing Tommy John. Since then, he’s essentially pitched 2/3 of a season worth of baseball over the last three years. An oblique strain and stress fracture in his foot have kept him off the mound. He is reportedly healthy and offers more upside at a discount than anyone else on the market. The durability issues keep him from being considered anything more than a lottery ticket in my eyes, though. With that said, he has the stuff and demeanor to be a real attribute if he were able to somehow throw 180 innings.
  • Likelihood of acquisition: low-ish. He’s the kind of guy that Arizona can afford to take a gamble on given their rotation depth. I’m expecting other teams to be more desperate for his upside, however, such as the Jays or Mariners.

Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks

  • Ace status: unknown, ace potential
  • Age: 21
  • Years of team control: six, maybe seven depending on call-up date
  • Available via: call-up
  • Thoughts: this one’s almost too easy. Bradley will supposedly get a chance to make the team out of Spring Training and while I don’t really expect him to be ready right away, there’s always the chance that he pulls a Matt Harvey/Jose Fernandez/Michael Wacha before the end of the year. In this sense, he won’t be the team’s ace from the first pitch of the season but can refine his command in AAA, then be the shot in the arm that the Diamondbacks need down the stretch. He’s been durable in the minors and clearly has the stuff to get big league hitters out. I can’t personally speak to his demeanor but all indicators point to him having the mental makeup necessary to lead the rotation.
  • Likelihood of acquisition: very high, especially since this isn’t an acquisition at all. Unless the organization trades Bradley, which I simply don’t see happening, I believe we’ll see him in Phoenix at some point, likely after the All Star break. Next time you walk by a water fountain, do us all a favor and toss in a penny while wishing for his continued growth and health because an injury seems to be about the only thing that can stop him at this point.

The lasting impression here is that although Towers is seeking an ace, there just aren’t any true aces on the market that Arizona can afford, both in terms of trade costs and future salary. He’s best off acquiring a very good pitcher in Samardzija and bringing along the top pitching prospect in the game in Archie Bradley when he’s ready. It’s both affordable and realistic. While it’s not the big signing that fans clamor for, imagine a 2015 rotation of Samardzija, Bradley Corbin with Cahill, Skaggs, Miley and/or Delgado to fill out the rotation depending on who’s still part of the team at that point. That’s an excellent front three with well-above average options to fill the back end. I’d gladly take my chances with that group.

For all of the talk about aces, don’t be upset if you don’t see one come the Diamondbacks’ way. In fact, it’s probably in their best interest to stick with a combination of Samardzija and Bradley rather than mortgaging the farm for David Price, whom they’ll have to let walk after two years. Tanaka is a big risk and while there’s some upside in Anderson, they need more security than that. Besides, by keeping the cost down the team can afford to address some of those other needs. There’ll be no ace coming to Arizona, and that’s ok.

10 Responses to So Towers Wants an Ace, Huh?

  1. Bradford says:

    I think you’re spot on with the Dbacks landing Samardzija, and I hope that Skaggs and Trahan are the only major pieces Towers gives up for him. Shark is a solid 2/3 in the rotation, Skaggs grades out as a solid 2/3 and Trahan is kind of a gamble depending on if he can stick behind the dish. The bat makes him a nice piece.

    What about Chris Sale? I don’t know a whole lot about him, other than hearing that he may be available. The White Sox seem like they are in the earlier stages of rebuilding than the Cubs, so do they have a bigger need for our excess prospects? He’d be better than Samardzija and may end up not costing us Bradley, if Towers can cover enough of their needs. What about a Skaggs, Owings, Davidson, plus others package?

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I’m not sure on Sale’s availability. It was mentioned early in the offseason but I haven’t heard it since. Maybe it’s just me, but I view his elbow as a ticking time bomb. He’d be more expensive than Samardzija for sure, but it sounds like anything involving Bradley is a no-go according to Towers, which I was pleased to hear. I think the trio you mentioned might be able to get the conversation started if he were indeed available as three good prospects would be needed at the minimum. I do think that Delgado might be someone they’d be interest in, too, for what it’s worth.

      • Bradford says:

        I just saw that Chris Sale is not available as of a month ago:

        That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, especially with the Winter Meetings ahead. But Samardzija is looking more and more like the most likely candidate.

        Any chance Towers pulls off a blockbuster for Cespedes/Anderson? I’m not high on Anderson so much, just because we need a horse and Anderson would be more of a back end of the rotation crap shoot (ahem, McCarthy). I just see it as something a gunslinger like KT might try to do, especially if the Orioles or Jays can offer a better package for Shark.

        • Ryan P. Morrison says:

          I agree, it’s not like a Sale sale couldn’t happen. When teams say “not available,” I read it as code for “honestly, you’d have to really overpay.”

          We heard yesterday that there was some interest in a Pollock and Skaggs package for Cespedes. I assume other players were involved, or would have needed to be involved. Pollock was a fairly significant piece of that puzzle, seems like, and since the Athletics traded for Pollock’s older twin in Craig Gentry, a trade would require going back to the drawing board.

          I also agree that Samardzija is looking more likely. Last word I heard was that Towers knew what the Cubs’ bottom line offer was, but that he wanted to see if there was a better deal out there. Sounds like Towers would pull the trigger if all the other options dried up (although the price might then go up). If Samardzija ends up traded elsewhere, though, I’ll feel fine about it, knowing that Towers negotiated, and even he had trouble stomaching the price.

          You and I have different ideas on Anderson, though. I don’t think we need a horse — I think we have enough of those, especially if Cahill sticks around. So I like Anderson as an option. If he’s on the field, he’s likely to be above average, with a very good chance of being well above average. And even with Holmberg gone, the D-backs’ strength in the rotation is depth. A trade for Anderson would probably displace Delgado to the bullpen, and he could slide in to cover for Anderson while he was hurt.

  2. Jonny says:

    Would like to see the D-Backs look into a bigger arm than Jeff. He’s a middle of the rotation guy maybe a 2 at best which is not what the D-Backs need. Unfortunately I think Price is too “Pricey”. Tampa will likely have to get Bradley and the D-Backs can NOT part with him. It also looks as if Sale is off the market, yet the Sox should always be looking to boost their weaker farm system after their rebuilding year. Arizona and Chicago make great sense but it is up to them if they want to part with Sale.

    The D-Backs also are in need of that power bate to protect Goldy. It is simply too easy for other teams to pitch around him and take their chances with a guy like Prado who is extremely solid but not head turning. Yes Nelson Cruz is probably a little too expensive. If the D-Backs trade for an “ace” they will likely not be able to trade for a power bat without stripping their farm system. A guy like Corey Hart makes some sense but maybe a little too risky as the DBacks need an impact immediately. A lot of phone calls for Kevin Towers, hopefully he can fill these needs.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I’m also not a huge fan of trading for Samardzija — and not just because I don’t want to have to type his name over and over and over again. I do think he might be the best gettable pitcher, though, and Jeff Wiser agreed, hence the Offseason Plan suggestion.

      I agree that the White Sox are in that ‘tweener mode now, of not contenders but more than one step away from becoming one. Sure, getting a guy like Avisail Garcia is nice, but committing to the rebuild and getting four building blocks for Sale does seem like a good idea. What do I know, though.

      Two things I wanted to add:

      – I don’t want the D-backs to trade Archie Bradley. It’s just not the right direction, and to be a force in the postseason, Arizona needs to make a few calculated bets and have them pay off. Bradley is an opportunity to make one of those bets, so it seems foolish to sell him off.
      Still, there are reasons why prospects get traded for veterans all the time, and it’s not just because the team getting the veteran might be in “win now” mode. It’s also because of risk — many of the very best prospects don’t work out. Bradley is about as good a lottery ticket as exists in the majors right now, but even he is not a sure thing. He vaulted up rankings by midseason last year because of much better control, which was the only thing missing — but he might have lost some of his luster when the control problems came back. He might have ended up farther down prospect rankings, too, instead of staying in the same place, if not for a lot of graduations to the majors. There’s a reason to trade even the best of prospects, but I agree that doing so doesn’t make the best sense for Arizona.

      – A power bat would be great. No one has yet convinced me, though, that a good player with a power bat is more valuable than a good player who’s good because of other skills. And to make room for a heavy hitter, someone would have to get moved. Where would the new power bat play? Is there one out there who represents a decent return on investment? I honestly feel that Parra, Eaton, Pollock and Prado will each help the team win games as much as a power guy like Cruz might. A run saved is a run earned, and while you do need to actually score at least one run to win a game, it’s not like any of the current outfield crew is likely to be well below average offensively. Also, I note that if Davidson has a shot at being a 25-HR hitter with some other holes in his game… isn’t that as good as having a Cruz or a Trumbo? Do we really need to blow a lot of payroll dollars to get Cruz?
      I liked the idea of Hart, but just read recently that playing in the outfield more than very sparingly was out of the question, at least in 2014. And it would be hard for him to protect Goldy in the lineup if he were playing first base.

  3. Bradford says:

    What about going the route of free agency for a pitcher? Say we offer Ervin Santana 3 years/35 mil. (We were willing to spend on Beltran, why not a pitcher? Also, I know it’s a slight overpay for Santana but its comparable to the Scott Feldman signing the Astros just pulled off.) That frees up our farm system pieces not named Archie Bradley to dangle for a power bat, say Edwin Encarnacion from the Jays. They covet our young pitching anyway. Suddenly you have a thirty HR guy to protect Goldschmidt and a comparable pitcher, albeit slightly older, to Shark in Santana.

  4. […] Kevin Towers’ rumblings and what it means for the Diamondbacks. Last week we examined what constitutes an “ace” and whom Arizona might be able to afford. Now it’s on the second half of Towers’ wish list: a power-hitting corner […]

  5. […] Maybe that’s because he just traded away the assets needed to acquire an “ace,” whatever the hell that means, or it’s because he realized that there aren’t any “aces” on the market […]

  6. […] there for Arizona now that Mr. Tanaka is the latest Yankee overpay. We’ve hashed out the whole Jeff Samardizja thing before and we know that David Price will command a ransom that the Diamondbacks (and every other […]

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