Before the news of the Trumbo trade broke yesterday, the D-backs camp at the Winter Meetings was working furiously. One note we heard from the organization was that while they planned to add an outfielder and a starting pitcher, one would come via free agency, and one would come in a trade. I’ve heard a few people speculate that the D-backs were “in” on Choo just to get a sliver of leverage with the Angels, and I think there’s something to that. But either way, now that Towers has added the hitter he wants with a trade, if a started pitcher gets added, it’s likely to be one of the so-called “front line” options that Jeff Wiser examined this morning.
Or is it? Although trading for Trumbo moved two of Arizona’s best trade chips in Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs, Towers went to Orlando for the Meetings with an extra shortstop in his pocket. Even more importantly, Matt Davidson is now blocked completely with Martin Prado the full time third baseman (and with an offer still out to Eric Chavez).
Jeff concluded this morning that none of the free agent starters offered a significant upgrade, and that it might not be worth $15M or more per year to land one of those guys. I agree, and maybe the Diamondbacks will too.
So with a shortstop and Davidson in hand, Arizona could make a deal. Last week, Jeff discussed David Price, Max Scherzer, Jeff Samardzija, Masahiro Tanaka, and Brett Anderson, before concluding that the guy who might best fit for Arizona might be Archie Bradley. Price and Samardzija are still eminently available, if with high price tags, and Scherzer is no less available than he was a week ago. But Anderson was traded to Colorado, and I have my own reasons for thinking that Tanaka is probably out of reach.
It may be that after Price, there’s no pitcher available that fits the “ace” criteria that Jeff identified last week: Durability/Dependability, Dominant Stuff, Leadership. But with Towers stating that he’d be fine with sliding Randall Delgado over to the bullpen, even a #2-3 type could be in play.
A couple of the names below have been bandied around this week, but be warned: some of these fits are the work of my imagination, and nothing more. You can treat this list as a continuation of Jeff’s from last week.
- Ace status: more of a good #2
- Age: 28
- Years of team control: one
- Cost: with only one year of control remaining at an only slightly-below market salary, Masterson would not cost as much as Samardzija, despite some similar stats. Cleveland voiced support and commitment for Lonnie Chisenhall early in 2013, but he struggled — it’s Matt Davidson that would be a great fit for the Indians, in all likelihood. If Asdrubal Cabrera is moved soon, they could also be a fit for Chris Owings — but whether either one of those guys is fair value for Masterson is anyone’s guess.
- Thoughts: since going to Cleveland from Boston in the Victor Martinez trade, all the Jamaican-born Masterson has done is log innings (between 180 and 216 each of the last four years), with very good results in 2011 and 2013 and middling success in 2010 and 2012. He profiles as an above-average pitcher in 2013, perhaps a true #2, and that might not even tell the whole story. Popular wisdom has always supported staggering pitchers with similar stuff in the rotation (putting a soft-tosser in between guys with great fastballs, etc.), and a recent look at the after-effect that R.A. Dickey had this last year on subsequent pitchers’ success is really quite cool. Masterson is no Dickey, but his arm slot is so low that in addition to having significant platoon splits, it may be that Masterson could make other Arizona pitchers effective.
- Likelihood of acquisition: almost nil. Masterson’s name was a popular one in the last 24 hours with reports that he and Asdrubal Cabrera were being shopped, but Cleveland is looking like the second-best team in the AL Central right now, and he’s not worth less to Cleveland than he would be to Arizona. Add to that the fact that Masterson was just told he wouldn’t be traded. Towers could always overpay (and he might always overpay, after all), but this is looking unlikely.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 3.0 WAR over 192 innings.
- Ace status: no longer an ace, but more of a fringy #2 or very good #3
- Age: 32
- Years of team control: one, with an impossible player option
- Cost: unknown, but the Red Sox did just trade defensive whiz Jose Iglesias and a trio of low minors prospects for him at the end of July. Because Peavy’s contract was at market rate ($14.5M in 2014), he might not fetch the price that Boston just paid.
- Thoughts: Peavy is not the pitcher he once was, and he battled injury for three years before posting 219 innings in 2012 and a respectable 144.2 in 2013. I like Peavy; he’s come back from an unheard of injury (snapping a back muscle used by pitchers to slow their arm down) and he bought the duck boat that carried him through Boston in the recent World Series parade (here it is near his home in Alabama). He might miss time, but Arizona has the depth to handle that.
- Likelihood of acquisition: fairly low. Even though the Red Sox are likely to make one starter available this winter, they seem determined to let the market play out. It might be that they only sell if there is significant demand. The real killer, though, is that the Red Sox tend to shy away from “probability” prospects, and they are set in the infield, with Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrooks unlikely to yield to Davidson or a D-backs SS.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 3.0 WAR over 173 innings.
- Ace status: more of a #2
- Age: 35
- Years of team control: one, plus the best one-year option of all time
- Cost: high. Like Peavy, Lackey has missed a lot of time recently (missing 2012 for Tommy John), and like Peavy, Lackey hasn’t been the same pitcher he was in his mid-aughts prime in southern California. Lackey was very good in 2013, though, and while his $15.25M salary in 2014 is nothing to sneeze at, trading for Lackey’s contract means trading for a below-market option year. By below market, I mean major league minimum (the contractual price for missing 2012 because of his pre-existing elbow injury). So yeah — Lackey will cost a pretty penny.
- Thoughts: if a Red Sox pitcher can be had, it’s going to be interesting to see how different the talent price is between he and Peavy. As acquisitions in this post go, he’d be my favorite — but he also might be one of the more expensive, and he’s not a lock to pitch 400 innings over the next two seasons.
- Likelihood of acquisition: low, about equal to that of Peavy, for the same reasons.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 3.2 WAR over 173 innings.
- Ace status: not an ace
- Age: 29
- Years of team control: one, with a one-year option
- Cost: since he hasn’t been shopped, the price for Morrow would be hard to tell. Morrow’s $8M salary and $10M club option would be below market for a guy with his stuff if he were expected to top 150 innings. Right at 150 innings, it’s still below market, especially with the protection that the option year brings. I’d suggest that the Brett Anderson trade provides a baseline, as the contract obligations are similar (Anderson is owed $8M in 2014, with a $12M club option for 2015), and like Morrow, Anderson has the reputation for being brittle, but quite good when healthy. The main piece for Oakland in the Anderson trade was faded prospect Drew Pomeranz, so a single cost-controlled player likely to be league average could get a deal done.
- Thoughts: since joining Toronto from Seattle and being converted from relief, Morrow has had problems staying healthy; topping out at 179.1 IP in 2011, Morrow has pitched 504.2 innings in the last four years combined. As you might expect, Morrow is not perfectly healthy now, but a report earlier this month had him throwing without restriction and likely to be ready for the spring. Like I noted above with Peavy, Arizona has the depth to handle some time off.
- Likelihood of acquisition: like most figments of my imagination, a Morrow trade is not likely. As I explored a while ago, though, Toronto matches up with Arizona for a trade. The Jays have not yet filled their hole at second base, and considering that Jose Reyes is likely to miss some time, wouldn’t Owings be perfect for them? They can also afford to ship out a reliever, even after trading Sergio Santos. Toronto is prepared to double down on this season, but reports are that they can’t stomach the price for Price or Samardzija. Would they prefer reliable innings from Randall Delgado to Morrow’s upside? While it could blow up in Arizona’s face, a trade based around Delgado and Owings to Toronto for Morrow and Brett Cecil would be a masterstroke.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 1.9 WAR over 144 innings.
- Ace status: unquestioned
- Age: 35
- Years of team control: two, plus one of the most terrible club options of all time
- Cost: to land Lee, a team would have to be willing to send at least one legitimate prospect to Philly and take Lee’s entire contract off the hands of Ruben Amaro Jr. And quite a contract it is: $25M salary in both 2014 and 2015, and a $27.5M club option for 2016 with a $12.5M buyout. Holy mother… even if the buyout eventually gets treated as a sunk loss, a $15M salary for an age-37 pitcher might not be worth exercising. As for the prospects involved, Amaro’s insistence on getting someone of substance back makes a deal difficult to swallow. It was only a week ago that Kevin Towers broke the mold by selling a prospect to move Heath Bell. Fair value for Lee might be receiving a prospects package just to take the Lee contract.
- Thoughts: if you really think about it, are there any pitchers out there who are as likely to be an ace in the next one-two years as Lee? Most of the best of the best have power repertoires that always carry with them a significant risk of injury, and since Lee has excelled primarily because of his control, he’s likely to age fairly gracefully. Unfortunately, even a bump to the $112M payroll range would not leave nearly enough room to take on Lee. The dispassionate fan in me would be amused to see Amaro trade Lee away a second time, though. Off topic, but if you’re involved in a Lee trade, you want to be traded with him, not for him. I’ll always wonder if Omar Minaya killed baseball in Montreal by trading Lee with Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Bartolo Colon (perhaps auditioning to get hired back by the Mets). On the flip side, none of the guys who were traded in packages for Lee (in the last three trades) have made a real dent in the majors, unless you count Justin Smoak.
- Likelihood of acquisition: it’s not good. Trading for Lee is a Dodgers move, not a D-backs move. But oh, what a rotation that would be. Lee has amassed 37.1 WAR in the last six seasons, including 10 WAR in the last two.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 3.8 WAR over 38 innings.
- Ace status: a #3
- Age: 35
- Years of team control: two
- Cost: could be significant. Only Adam LaRoche has a claim to the title of Guy Most Affected By Qualifying Offers from last year’s offseason, and now Lohse’s $11M salaries for 2014 and 2015 look like a downright bargain. This is the Scott Kazmir contract, but for a guy with less risk. The Brewers have been fence-sitting instead of going all in on a rebuild, but Lohse’s below-market contract could net them more value than the first-round pick they gave up to sign him.
- Thoughts: Lohse was a slightly below-average starter for much of his career, and his output sunk to 1.8 WAR in 2013. Other than two years marred by extreme compartment syndrome, however, he was above average in St. Louis, with WAR totals above 2 in 2007-2008 and 2011-2012. The common denominator? Maybe Dave Duncan. So if Lohse can be had, and if he’s not very expensive, one wonders if he could be a 2.5-WAR starter for Arizona.
- Likelihood of acquisition: very low, because as noted above, Milwaukee is on the fence. I haven’t heard Lohse’s name anywhere, and it’s probably Arizona that passes on this option, as his Cahill-esque production doesn’t come at a Cahill-esque salary or with Cahill-esque upside.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 1.5 WAR over 163 innings.
- Ace status: unknown
- Age: 24
- Years of team control: four
- Cost: completely unknown
- Thoughts: look, I know I’m way outside the box here. Chances are, either there’s little reason to have faith in Pineda returning to form, or there’s no chance that the Yankees will trade him. There’s really no in between. Would Yankees GM Brian Cashman look to screw Towers, after Towers reported to Cashman for a year in 2010 as a special assistant? I doubt it. But it’s not like Cashman got what he thought he was getting when he traded then-uberprospect Jesus Montero for Pineda almost two years ago. Since then, Pineda has pitched zero innings for the Yankees — and only 40.2 innings in the minors.
- Likelihood of acquisition: you’d need a microscope. Still, the Yankees are reportedly interested in Didi Gregorius, and it seems extremely unlikely that Towers would trade one of his last chips for prospects that would not help the club by early 2014.
- Steamer Projection for 2014: 0.6 WAR over 38 innings.
Jeff nailed the best trade targets last week — Price and Samardzija are the only guys who seem remotely available who are healthy, likely to be well above average, and not signed to a Ruben Amaro contract. If there’s someone else, it’s Scherzer, who Jeff also examined.
We return, then, to a theme on this site: as the D-backs scan free agents, or the trade targets most similar to free agents, they can pick reliable and average, or they can pick injury-prone and above average. Anything better than that will require a boatload of young talent to acquire.
Forced to choose between reliable/average, risky/upside, and trading a boatload of prospects — I’d pick the risky upside. It’s an easy choice if Arizona embraces its depth of average-ish players, which is its blessing and its curse. It’s depth that made David Holmberg essentially irrelevant, and it’s depth that makes the chance at some above-average innings the best play here. If Towers trades for Morrow, the starts that Morrow misses can be filled with options like Randall Delgado or Zeke Spruill. That’s Arizona’s opportunity, and, as they say, you gotta hit it where it’s pitched.
Of course, I’d still prefer, as I have before, that Towers would instead treat for a “cusp of the majors” guy, someone like who Marcus Stroman is right now, or who Carlos Martinez was last summer. Guys who aren’t the very best pitching prospects because of the risk that they might have to get sent to the bullpen, where their stuff would make them excellent.
Or, you know, a regular pitching prospect on the cusp of the majors. Maybe Towers could also call up Jerry Dipoto to see if Tyler Skaggs is available…
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