The Diamondbacks signed Bronson Arroyo last week to a 2-year deal worth $23.5 million, and with an option, could be for 3-years and $30 million. You know the dialogue on Arroyo; he’s durable but unspectacular and takes his turn every fifth day. He gives up a lot of home runs but he walks no one and limits the damage despite being a soft-tossing righty who spends a lot of time pitching backwards. You can look all of this stuff up and don’t really need to hear about it from me. Besides, it’s not necessarily Bronson Arroyo that I have a problem with. Instead, it’s the consistent thinking of the man who brought the soon-to-be 37-year old pitcher aboard that has me underwhelmed.
It’s become increasingly clear this winter that Kevin Towers does not value young talent. He simply doesn’t see the need to keep cost-controlled assets and extract surplus value from them. Instead, he’s seemingly happy to overpay for guys who’s salaries will only escalate while getting nearly identical production from them as he could have from the assets he already had under control.
Case in point, let’s take a look at what the Diamondback have acquired in their four major transactions this offseason:
- SP Bronson Arroyo
- RP Addison Reed
- 1B/OF Mark Trumbo
- The riddance of Heath Bell and a savings of $6 million
Now, let’s see what they gave up in these deals:
- $23.5-$30 million over two or three years
- 3B/OF Matt Davidson
- OF Adam Eaton
- SP Tyler Skaggs
- SP David Holmberg
Of course, those are just the personnel costs associated with this winter’s moves. There are also opportunity costs that will take place as a result of them. Those include, but are not limited to:
- Randall Delgado heads to the bullpen
- Will Harris likely losses his spot in the bullpen
- AJ Pollock is now the full-time CF with no true backup
- Cody Ross heads to the bench despite being the team’s best offensive outfielder in ‘13
- There is no longer the opportunity to groom one of the four prospects shipped away into a building block of the franchise
So, yeah, the team got their power hitter, some bullpen help and a starting pitcher. We knew these things were on Kevin Towers’ offseason shopping list because, well, he can’t keep a secret. While other GM’s are building savvy ball clubs around young, cost-controlled talent, Kevin Towers is shipping it away in multiples. Trumbo has already entered arbitration and Reed will do so next year. They’re only going to get more expensive in the future. Arroyo is affordable and his deal won’t break the franchise by any means, but you have to ask yourself if he’s kind of guy you want your team spending money on. If you answered ‘yes’ to that inquiry then I’d suggest you need to brush up on the value of baseball players.
Of course, all of this was done under the alleged presumption that it will make the team better. But is that really the case? Let’s dig deeper to find out.
Just forget the salary for the time being. Is Bronson Arroyo more valuable to the Diamondbacks than Randall Delgado? The projection systems are split on the matter, but most analysts agree that he’s not a for-sure upgrade. If he’s an upgrade at all, it’s likely only to the tune of a half a win, maybe a full one if Arroyo has his best season in recent memory. Now, remember the salary. Arroyo will make $9 million more than Delgado. I’m thinking that $9 million could come in hand at the trade deadline, but that’s (apparently) just me.
- Net cost in ‘13: $9 million
- Net gain: .5 win
Trading for Addison Reed
Yes, the bullpen was in need of a bit of boost and Reed can presumably supply that. Davidson is thought to be a useful major leaguer long-term, but Reed is a more immediate need. There are some warning signs with him, notably some scary peripheral and a drop in velocity. Should he stay healthy and effective, this can be considered a small upgrade.
- Net cost in ‘13: none
- Net gain: .5 to 1 win
Trading for Mark Trumbo
Towers was seeking more power for the lineup to “protect Paul Goldschmidt.” Lineup protection as a theory has been debunked a number of times before, but like Towers himself, it just won’t go away. Cody Ross appears on track for a quick and healthy recovery but will now go to the bench even though he’s just as valuable as Trumbo, maybe even more so. Yes, Trumbo hits the bombs, but he also strikes out a ton and is a first baseman running around in the outfield. Ross, on the other hand, plays surprisingly good defense, has a nice OBP and is a valuable hitter. Ross is the better overall package but doesn’t wow the public (and Towers) the way Trumbo can.
- Net cost in ’13: $4.8 million
- Net gain: up to .5 win, perhaps less depending on how Gibson plays musical chairs in the outfield
Trading Bell and Holmberg
This was a pretty solid win for Towers even though I have a feeling that the Rays are just the team to figure out how to get production from a guy like Bell. Losing Holmberg hurts a little since he’s essentially expected to become the exact same pitcher that Bronson Arroyo is currently. It freed up some cash, so this is relatively decent move. If I’d known they were going to spend the savings on Trumbo and Arroyo at the outset, I’d have rather just cut Bell in the spring, but hindsight is 20/20, I suppose.
- Net cost in ’13: ($6 million)
- Net gain: 0 wins
Looking at the big picture, the D-backs will look like a different team when they take the field in Australia, but don’t be fooled, they’ll probably be just as good as they would have been had they not made any moves at all. One win, maybe two, will not change things all that much as the current projections show. Every system has the team somewhere between 78-85 wins and if we just take the middle of that, the Diamondbacks look like a lot like a .500 team again in 2013.
But wait, this post isn’t about 2013, it’s about the long-term outlook of the franchise. So, let me run another proposition by you:
- Just keep Delgado in the rotation, save $9 million and stay just as competitive.
- Let Matt Davidson get some innings in the outfield to keep Cody Ross fresh and provide that “pop” that Towers covets (the team was already giving Davidson outfield reps over the winter). Save $4.8 million, keep former top prospect Tyler Skaggs in the organization and remain just as competitive, maybe more so if Davidson improves his approach and/or Skaggs fixes his mechanical issues.
- Trade Adam Eaton to the White Sox for Addison Reed, with a throw-in available if necessary. Eaton’s trade value was at least as high as Davidson’s, so they should have had no trouble making this trade. Clears the logjam in the outfield, costs Arizona nothing and improves the team by a win.
- Make the Bell and Holmberg deal (if you just can’t live with Heath Bell) with Tampa Bay. We’ve kept Skaggs above, so Holmberg is expendable, especially since they’re both lefties. Save $6 million and remain just as competitive.
So let’s just recap the above (admittedly revisionist) scenario: the team’s just as competitive as before, but they’ve saved $13.5 million and they will save more down the road as they’ve avoided Trumbo’s arbitration raises and Arroyo’s future salary obligations. But, even more valuable, they get the chance to see what Matt Davidson and Tyler Skaggs can become. Generally, Davidson is seen as having a useful major league bat and Skaggs is expected to a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for a long, long time. So we’ve just created a team with the same number of wins with more future potential at a lower cost.
I’m not naïve, these guys could all bust, but taking expert opinions into account, it’s more than likely that youngsters like Delgado, Skaggs and Davidson will at least be average to above average major league players. They have place on a team. After all, that’s why teams traded for them. It’s easy to downgrade the players that your team has just shipped off, but it must be taken into consideration that other teams coveted those players in the first place.
So while you shouldn’t be surprised that the Diamondbacks won’t be remarkably better in 2014 (barring some unforeseen breakouts and incredible luck), you should be a little jaded that the GM gave up a large sum of payroll and the future opportunity to cash in on developing talent for essentially the same win-loss record. I know I am, and it stings.
As Kevin Towers is talking about more home runs, a #provencloser and #veteranpresence, I just care about wins. He’s acquired the things above this winter, but I’m not sure he made the Arizona Diamondbacks a better baseball team, at least not to the degree that it matters, especially given the costs, in both the present and future. Rather than using this offseason to propel this franchise forward for the future, Kevin Towers may have just taken it a couple steps backwards.
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FanGraphs Stats Glossary
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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).