Since becoming GM of the Diamondbacks about 43 months ago (September 22, 2010), Kevin Towers has completed 32 trades with 22 different teams. What would the current roster look like if we reversed each and every one of them?

Understand, I’m asking you to suspend disbelief for a purely academic exercise. It’s not so simple, of course, and Towers would undoubtedly have made different decisions about player extensions and free agent signings if the roster was this much different. Also, one of the main motivations for trades are gluts at certain positions, and erasing them all could therefore lead to some very unrealistic situations. I was still curious about the results, however, and thought you might be, too.

So here are the rules: this is about the May 13, 2014 roster only, although we will pay attention to significant minor league players. Players traded away whose contracts expired will therefore not be considered – except if that player signed an extension while under the contract traded away by the D-backs (this is a moot point, it turns out). We will assume all other transactions, including free agent signings, would be unchanged.

Only 13 of Towers’s 32 trades at the helm of the D-backs front office would have an impact right now. Check out the full list if you like, but here are the ones that matter for this exercise:

To be sure, there are trades here that worked out well for the D-backs — especially the trades for Brad Ziegler and Aaron Hill. I’d add the Matt Reynolds move, as well, but this exercise is about erasing all of Towers’s trades, not just the bad ones. I think the above list is a little misleading, because some players were included in those trades that wouldn’t impact the current roster. So here’s a summary of the players involved, either major leaguers or minor leaguers likely to impact the major league team:

Players currently in the organization who wouldn’t be: Brad Ziegler, Aaron Hill, Trevor Cahill, Cliff Pennington, Didi Gregorius, Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Brandon Drury, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, Matt Reynolds, Tony Campana, Joe Thatcher, Matt Stites, Justin Choate, Mark Trumbo, A.J. Schugel, Brandon Jacobs, Addison Reed, and Lucas Harrell.

Players currently out of the organization who would be: Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Ryan Wheeler, Trevor Bauer, Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, David Holmberg, Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson.

Clearly, there’s a quantity shortfall here that, in the real world, probably would have been made up for in the free agent market. In fact, we can’t even field a real team if we reverse all of Towers’s trades because of a lack of middle infielders. As of now, the team has four shortstops (Chris Owings, Cliff Pennington, Didi Gregorius, and Nick Ahmed) and two second basemen (Aaron Hill, Tyler Bortnick) who could at least play in a pinch. But five of those six players were acquired in Towers trades, leaving just Owings. Kelly Johnson became a free agent after Towers traded him to Toronto, but for the sake of filling out a team, let’s say he stayed with the D-backs. Here’s how the current roster would compare, then, to our “alternate universe” roster:

Alternate Universe Dbacks

Rotation

Opening the 2014 season, the Alternate Universe D-backs wouldn’t necessarily have had a significantly better rotation. The D-backs would have made national news, however, for losing both Patrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker within a few weeks of each other, especially with Daniel Hudson also on the shelf. Remarkably, the rotation would still be full of depth. In place of Corbin and Parker, Tyler Skaggs would step in instead of Randall Delgado. One would hope that Dave Duncan could do with Skaggs what the Angels were able to do with him this spring; though he has just 28 strikeouts in 45.2 innings, his 4.14 ERA is supported by a shiny 1.12 WHIP. The iffy Josh Collmenter-in-the-rotation experiment would never happen.

More importantly, the Alternate Universe D-backs would be set up for the near term and the long term in the rotation. If Ian Kennedy struggled, he would be replaced by a resurgent Trevor Bauer who has a 1.12 ERA in AAA in 40.1 innings, with 40 strikeouts and a 0.94 WHIP. We wouldn’t even be talking about Archie Bradley, who might be inserted into the rotation at the end of the season in case of injury or if the team decided to write off Brandon McCarthy. And 2015? Wrap your head around this scary rotation: Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, and Archie Bradley. That’s, essentially, a rotation full of #2 starters, and for every one that might be more of a #3 (Skaggs?), there’s one that might be more of a #1 (Bradley?). The team would also have Jarrod Parker and Bronson Arroyo, and could safely trade one of its starters to fill another need with David Holmberg there as an emergency #7 starter. Its depth in premium pitching would be the envy of the sport.

Bullpen

We have to be a bit more creative to round out the Alternate Universe D-backs’ bullpen with Ziegler, Reed, Thatcher, Cahill and Delgado all gone. Like the revolving door 7th-man slot currently filled by Evan Marshall in the real world, I’m not super concerned with sketching that out. But just like the rotation losing Corbin and Parker, the bullpen would bemoan the loss of David Hernandez and J.J. Putz, with Daniel Hudson more clearly destined for the bullpen with such depth in the rotation. We know Kevin Towers, and we know he probably wouldn’t let the bullpen have less than five veterans — even though letting kids pitch in the bullpen would be the right way to go.

Either Towers would have signed some free agents like Manny Parra, or else he’d have to promote from the minors. Behind Oliver Perez, we’d have Will Harris, if he didn’t pitch himself out of a spot, and Collmenter would be right where he belongs. Ryan Cook would be a key piece of the bullpen, however, and well on his way for a third consecutive sub-3.00 ERA in his third full major league season. On the same place on the arbitration scale as Addison Reed, Cook might close, and his career 2.01 ground ball to fly ball ratio and 9.47 K/9 rate might make for less of a homer-prone closer than Reed. Rounding out the ‘pen might be Rule 5 pick Marcos Mateo, but after the top 4 (Perez, Harris, Collmenter, Cook), the bullpen would definitely be filled out with kids like Andrew Chafin (lefty killer?) and Jake Barrett. Again, going young in the bullpen is good thing, and if one of those guys struggled, they could simply be optioned. It’s hard to know if the Alternate Universe D-backs’ bullpen would be better than the current one, but it seems unlikely that it would be worse.

Infield

Paul Goldschmidt would still man first base, and there’d still be a Miguel Montero/Tuffy Gosewisch behind the dish. I’ve already alluded to the middle infield situation above, but shortstop is another position that would be unchanged; Chris Owings may have had an earlier crack at the shortstop gig in 2013. Kelly Johnson or no Kelly Johnson, second base would be an area of need for the Alternate Universe D-backs, who would also need a utility infielder.  Matt Davidson would get a chance at third base at the outset of this season, with Eric Chavez a mentor starting twice per week; that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, with Davidson really struggling in AAA to start off the 2014 season (.174/.240/.321).

Aaron Hill and Martin Prado leave big holes, which Davidson can only partially fill. Still, the signing of a cheap Skip Schumaker or Alberto Callaspo type would help avoid the infield being a liability. And you never know, the Braves might not have signed Prado to an extension — and Towers would have been ready to swoop in with an offer this last offseason. Overall, I think the Alternate Universe D-backs’ infield would be a tick worse than the current one.

Outfield

Here’s where we get unrealistic again. Assuming Adam Eaton still had his elbow injury from spring 2013, A.J. Pollock would have gotten the same shot to play center field; but with Justin Upton also in the fold, an Upton-Eaton-Parra starting crew would be possible. Chances are that Gerardo Parra would never have gotten a shot to play right field full time, and it’s at that position that his throwing arm plays up, with great results. Right now, the Alternate Universe D-backs would probably have Pollock in reserve, with Parra getting the occasional start in center while platooning with Cody Ross in left field. Upton would still man right, although flipping him and the Parra/Ross platoon would have been better for the club.

Mark Trumbo isn’t playing left field in either reality or our alternate universe, and so a Parra/Ross-Eaton-Upton seems like a very significant upgrade over the Inciarte/Ross-Pollock-Parra arrangement the team has now. Normally I’m all for defense, but Eaton and Upton are such a big upgrade offensively that the Alternate Universe D-backs’ outfield would definitely be better than the one the D-backs are fielding right now. Chances are pretty good that one of Eaton or Pollock would be flipped in a trade, but there would be plenty of suitors, and the team would be in good shape regardless of which player it kept.

Money

Another advantage the Alternate Universe D-backs would have, especially given the hole at second base: they’re cheaper. Of the players the organization would have but for Towers’s trades, all are making the league minimum or are in the minors, with the exception of Justin Upton ($14.25M) and Ian Kennedy ($6.1M). The Alternate Universe D-backs may have strongly considered non-tendering Kennedy, given their tremendous rotation depth — at any rate, it seems unlikely they would both keep Kennedy and sign Bronson Arroyo this last offseason. But let’s say they do: that’s $20.35M to add to the 2014 till.

On the other side of the ledger, the Alternate Universe D-backs would not be paying the salaries of Aaron Hill ($11M), Martin Prado ($11M), Trevor Cahill ($7.9M), Mark Trumbo ($4.8M), Brad Ziegler ($4.5M), Cliff Pennington ($3.25M), Joe Thatcher ($2.375M), along with some other league-minimum salaries (like Delgado, Reynolds, Reed). That’s $44.825M less, and after putting back the Upton and Kennedy salaries, the Alternate Universe D-backs’ payroll would be about $24.5M less than the current team’s payroll. Yes, the team would probably sign a veteran reliever, a backup infielder, and a second baseman. But if you assume money would be dedicated to those positions, you also have to change your evaluation of the bullpen and infield.

Would the D-backs have signed Robinson Cano this offseason? Probably not. But Howie Kendrick could have been had for a song, and a Goldy-Kendrick-Owings-Davidson infield is not too shabby, especially with Chavez helping out at third. Say it’s still a tick below the current infield. I’m inclined to call the bullpen race a tie, however, and the Alternate Universe D-backs have an advantage in the outfield and an enormous advantage in the rotation. The Alternate Universe D-backs would also be better equipped for the future, with a great young rotation with room to grow and cost-controlled players all over the field and bullpen.

As Jeff has pointed out, it’s pretty clear that in prioritizing player types over player value, Towers has made the team worse. Reversing all of Towers’s trades seems to lead to the same conclusion. Who would you rather have right now, the Alternate Universe D-backs or the current team?

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14 Responses to What If: All of Towers’s Trades Were Reversed?

  1. Jeff Wiser says:

    Ryan, I appreciate you taking a look at the larger picture and not just playing revisionist by cherry-picking the trades you liked and the ones you didn’t. By examining the whole picture, we can see more clearly.

    With that being said, put me down for the Alternate Universe team. The upside/depth would be immense, the team would have plenty of pieces to swap if they needed to execute a trade and they would have payroll flexibility.

    But baseball is about more than winning, at least it is to ownership and those involved with marketing the team. So this is where it gets tricky: could Towers have sat on his hands this whole time? Would the fan base have turned out for games if/when there was a slide (2012, 2013) with no recourse? Would Goldy’s jersey be the only one selling (although maybe that’s already the case)? As crazy as it sounds, there are people who bought or renewed season tickets when the team acquired Trumbo because they wanted to see 70 homers between him and Goldy. They aren’t paying to see defense, as sad as that might be given some of the defenders on the team and how good they really are.

    This isn’t to say that you should make moves just to make them, but it’s to suggest that they had to do something based on public perception. Did they handle that the right way? Probably not, but doing nothing isn’t a true option given the rigors of the job.

    Still, I think this paints a glowing picture of a GM who is poor at evaluating talent, especially the talent in his own system and the major league talent he covets. I know this is the moral of the story here and I think you did a great job of pointing that out.

    The last thing I’ll say is that beyond talent evaluation, what concerns me deeply is the disconnect between winning and sales. While I pointed out above all of the reasons why they had to make moves (marketing, job security, public perception, etc), the teams that sell tickets win games. A winning team that’s fighting for the division in September brings in fans. It doesn’t matter if your left fielder is Mark Trumbo or Gerardo Parra, fans like to root for winners. It’s especially disappointing that they’ve tried to create a team identity rather than letting one form around a winning core.

  2. Anthony Hyde says:

    I never liked the trades Towers made that involved our pitchers post-2011 personally… He unloaded prospects that were once untouchable within the organization before he got here and due to a minor attitude problem (and control problems) he unloaded Trevor Bauer even though it was ONLY his rookie year and his major league inning count was a grand total of 16. Way way WAY too early to be giving up on a guy labeled as a top 100 prospect by most major media outlets.

    Same can be said for Skaggs, he was supposed to be a future #1 or #2 starter and I was beside myself when I learned that Towers traded him for a mediocre power 1B, what a joke, they already have Goldy! The Angels couldn’t say yes to that trade fast enough … always a bad sign when the other GM says yes to the trade before you even finish your sentence. Ever since the Pujols signing they really didn’t have room for Trumbo on the roster, he plays outfield sure but he was playing it more out of roster flexibility and not because he is skilled in the OF as he was brought up from the minors as a 1B and has played primarily 1B for his entire career until Pujols showed up, and then he turned into a utility luxury for LAA, which also has a DH to use with Trumbo as well. Justin Upton on the other hand, was floundering in AZ and due to the high expectations that he was failing to live up to the front office felt comfortable replacing him with Pollock and Parra. The only problem I have with this trade in retrospect is they would have never had a power vacuum and the need to go get Trumbo if they kept Upton, but Prado is a solid player and can play literally every position on the field save for catcher so I wasn’t too upset that they traded Upton, he seemed like he was never going to reach his full potential being the #1 guy here, he just wasn’t able to deal with that sort of pressure.

  3. Ryan says:

    I was surprised about Matt Davidson at 3rd base in the alternative universe. It seems as if Chris Johnson is still the forgotten man. Whenever I hear people rail against the AWFUL trades KT has made no one ever mentions the fact that he threw Johnson in with Justin Upton and he finished 2nd in the NL in batting last year.
    KT made the cardinal mistake of failing mid-market teams which is to trade away young pitching when you can’t afford to overpay on the free agent market to replace it.
    He is supposedly a bullpen guru and the majority of those moves have failed badly, especially the Heath Bell move which cost money, wins, and was so bad that it cost ANOTHER prospect just to move him.
    Lastly, for an organization that wanted grinders, hard-nosed stubborn ballplayers, to get rid of Trevor Bauer for being to stubborn and Adam Eaton for being to “grindey” is inexplicable, inconsistent, and smacks of a directionless hypocrisy.
    Here’s to hoping Tony LaRussa drops him like 3rd period French before Memorial Day.

  4. RJ says:

    You forgot the trade of Craig Breslow to Boston for Matt Albres, unless since Bresolow was one of the qualifying acquisitions, what eventually happened to him doesn’t matter. However,since you included Albers, it seems Breslow’s being traded would need to be in the picture as well.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I didn’t include Breslow because he came in the Parker/Cahill trade, and wouldn’t have been in the organization in this exercise.

      I didn’t include Albers because he became a free agent in between the trade to Cleveland and now.

      Trust me, I was very careful in doing what I said I was doing!

  5. Cobby_Box says:

    What happened to Chris Johnson in the alternative universe?

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Still with the Astros, I suppose. Upton trade gets reversed, but so does the trade in which Johnson came from Houston.

  6. Aaron says:

    Add Bryan Shaw to the alternate universe bullpen – he’s been outstanding in Cleveland, and he’s under team control until 2018.

    And what about Craig Breslow? He’s stayed with the Red Sox, and he’s been good too.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      You’re right — I missed on Bryan Shaw, thank you. Definitely more comfortable with the Alternate Universe D-backs’ bullpen.

      Breslow came from the Athletics, though, in the Cahill trade.

  7. Joe says:

    I think you are dead wrong when it comes to Eaton and Pollock. You build your teams with defense up the middle. If Eaton is knocks in 50-70 runs per year, are you willing to let him give up +20 runs per year with his poor defensive ability? I’m not. Defense and pitching win championships.

    As far as Trumbo goes, I don’t like that Towers gave up Skaggs to obtain him but I do like that they got him. Having said that, the brain damaged manager we have refused to put this power hitter in the lineup behind Goldy for protection. This just in: POWER HITTERS STRIKE OUT AND DO NOT HIT FOR AVERAGE. You people live in this fantasy world where you think that every play on their team needs to hit .300, drive in 120+ runs and hit 40+ home runs each. You’re unrealistic.

    • Joe, what would Eaton’s RBI have to do with anything? The point in the post was only that Eaton might give enough on offense to make up for the difference in defense. We don’t know what Eaton would produce. But as an OBP monster with speed atop a lineup, his offensive production would be much more than 50-70 runs. Defense and pitching win championships, but good teams win championships. We evaluate both hitting and defense in terms of runs precisely for the reason of being able to compare them.

      As far as Trumbo goes, to each their own. I think Skaggs had about as much value as Trumbo. I also think Eaton had about as much value as Trumbo. Giving up both seems like a pretty dumb thing, but this post is mostly objective.

      I think you have no basis at all for the “you people” comment. Nowhere here have we ever written that someone isn’t a good player because he doesn’t hit .300, drive in 120+ runs and hit 40+ home runs. Aside from the fact that there are only a few players who do that every year (some years there are none), it’s all about winning ball games here. That means playing Gerardo Parra if he’s really worth 4 wins on defense alone, even if he’s a slight negative at the plate. We might be unrealistic, but not for the reasons you describe — your comment is not hinged on reality at all.

  8. Lane Fye says:

    Well researched, well written and we in Visalia will continue to send you quality players, I. E. Goldy, Aaron Hill, etc.
    Best regards, Lane

  9. […] you don’t already know if you’re a regular reader here — in fact, I think this post covers the same territory but in a way that is much easier to visualize. And Jeff had a post on the […]

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