Building a major league roster is a lot like building a sandcastle while the tide is coming in. Focus on some positions to the detriment of others, and you’ll never complete it adequately. Take too little care in order to complete it sooner, and you’ll never win the contest. One must be methodical and effective — and also realistic about the time one has and the resources available. Maybe you’re the Dodgers, Red Sox or Yankees, and can afford a nice little concrete wall to block out all but the highest waves and to retain all of your best pieces until the sand dries out. But most teams’ competition windows are tidal. For those teams, it’s terrible to go a long time without competing, perhaps like the later part of Towers’s tenure in San Diego. But it’s also terrible to do what the Phillies are doing — falling in love with the sandcastle they had finally built up a few years ago, and then trying like hell to save the castle despite the inevitable tide.
What follows is not a grand plan for the organization — that comes later, and at Inside the ‘Zona we’ll approach that as a team. But let’s be realistic, and say that as the trade deadline approaches, the priority will most likely be to reload. It could be a quick pitch reload, or it could be going into the crevasse like the Astros, and the Nationals before them. My guess is that the D-backs organization will aim in the middle, but err on the “quick” side as the White Sox have recently done. It may be that the White Sox org’s quick reload was only effective thanks to the D-backs’ cooperation (on which the D-backs cannot themselves count), but I digress.
The fact that the D-backs will reload means that prime prospects aren’t really “trade assets” this summer — so on this list there is no Archie Bradley, Jake Lamb, or Braden Shipley (who can’t be traded right now, but theoretically could be for the deadline). The fact that it won’t be a long-term roster recycle also most likely takes the youngest, best, cheapest assets off of the block, as well. I gave a lot of consideration to putting Paul Goldschmidt on this list. He is quite possibly the best trade asset this side of Mike Trout or Bryce Harper: late enough in his career to feel confident about his very high level of production, but with a fair bit of length on a greatly under-market deal. If the team were to adopt the “into the crevasse” approach, Goldschmidt could be moved, and the return would be obscene in terms of both quality and quantity. But, again, I’m expecting a plan closer to the “quick pitch” side of the spectrum, and with the baseball club a business, the team would have be very sure about the return in order to trade its most marketable star.
Since this list is intended for the trade deadline season (next two months), I’m excluding injured players who would otherwise be eligible (Patrick Corbin, David Hernandez, Cliff Pennington, A.J. Pollock, and in a different way Cody Ross and Eric Chavez). My ranks for D-backs trade assets in order of best likely return, based on the assumption that the D-backs will sell, but aim to compete in either 2015 or 2016:
1. Wade Miley
Miley is no ace, and it’s been a while since I’ve heard a James Shields comp. But starters who can pitch 200 innings a season with three and a half years of cost-limited club control still have a lot of value. The team would have to swallow hard to trade a player who could otherwise be, at least theoretically, part of a winning team in Arizona. Still, of all of the likely or realistic trade chips the D-backs have this summer, Miley probably offers the most return. Dave Duncan notwithstanding, another thing working in Miley’s favor as an asset is that the D-backs don’t have a recent reputation of getting the most out of their young pitchers. Miley’s numbers have also been harmed this season with an unsustainably high HR/FB rate — his is the second-worst in the majors, behind only a different pitcher on this same list.
One or the other, but not both. Seattle has an extra piece like Owings and Gregorius (Nick Franklin), and in more of a rental fashion, Steven Drew could also be available. But there aren’t likely to be many options quite like either player on the trade market this summer. The problem is that one could reasonably assume that one or both of these players were shopped in the offseason. From that and the fact that neither player was in fact traded, one could reasonably assume that in Kevin Towers’s eyes, neither player was adequately valued by other clubs. That could change, based on need. If it doesn’t, the D-backs will likely sit on their hands, moving one player to 2B if that position is vacated.
Despite my efforts to read the tea leaves, we have no idea why the D-backs haven’t signed Parra to an extension. He’s a very unusual type of good player, making him very difficult to value. And while defensive statistics are down on Parra this season (much more so than expected regression), he’s proved to be effective at the plate when used best. Since he started out as a pitcher, I also wonder if he has room to grow at the plate despite his age, like Carl Crawford a few years back, another good-fielding, low-power corner outfielder who struggled mightily against LHP and was late to hitting (in Crawford’s case, he was just late to baseball in general). Despite his salary and limited control (through 2015), Parra could bring a decent return — but even more so than other assets on this list, whether or not there’s a fit with a trade partner is very dicey. A partner would need to have a need in RF and be open to properly valuing him (a non-trivial detail), in addition to being a contender this season. Parra is probably much more likely to get moved in the offseason, if he gets moved at all.
4. Brad Ziegler
We’re already at the point on this list where getting a building-block prospect in return becomes unlikely, but Ziegler is right on that line. Teams are (appropriately) loathe to trade decent prospects for relievers, working against Ziggy as an asset. But his contract terms are extremely reasonable given his track record and given that he can do very useful things that almost no one else can do, he can be worth almost a half win of value beyond what WAR would otherwise indicate. It’s about putting out fires that even strikeout artists cannot do better. For more support for that idea, check out this piece (which Ziegler read and liked!). Ziegler is very likely to retain his value, and has a unique role to play in any bullpen (other than that of the Cardinals, who have Seth Maness). His contract terms are perfect for an acquiring team (more than a rental and a reasonable option for 2016). It shouldn’t be hard to get good value on the trade market should the team decide to sell.
Rod took a look at McCarthy earlier this week, so suffice it to say: he’s actually been pretty good despite his 5.20 ERA. He has a completely outlandish 20.8% HR/FB ratio (league average is usually about 10%) which is the worst in the league (making the top two McCarthy and Miley). He might not be a member of an acquiring team’s playoff rotation, but it appears he can definitely help this season, barring a DL stint for his shoulder. Diminishing his value, however, is his $9M salary for 2014. Some teams can afford a prorated portion of that without a blink, but some of the teams that appear to be contenders are too cash-strapped to spend that kind of money on a non-primary acquisition.
6. Martin Prado
I tried not to let this list be affected by whether I thought the team would move certain players, although that did affect my thinking with Addison Reed (and Mark Trumbo to a certain extent, although injury probably prevents another Trumbo trade). It seems highly unlikely that the team would move Prado. But if they did, Prado would probably bring some kind of decent return; he’s paid about what he’s worth, but the contract length (through 2016) is reasonable. In addition, Prado’s positional flexibility brings some additional value to the table that’s not captured in a catch-all stat like WAR. It’s probably too early to move Prado, with Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury not close to the majors. But he’s still an asset.
7. Aaron Hill
Hill is similar to Prado: he’s paid more or less what he’s worth, and when he’s on, he can help a majority of teams. Hill’s track record is extremely streaky (season to season), and it’s already starting to look like this is not one of Hill’s good years. The return for Hill would be slight, and trading him might be more about clearing a spot so that both Owings and Gregorius can play. If Hill is moved, it might be a salary relief move, although I don’t think the D-backs would have to kick in much, if anything.
Arroyo has gotten by in his career with a reliably below-average HR/FB rate, but this season, he’s been bitten by the same bug as McCarthy and Miley, sporting a HR/FB rate that ranks 13th out of 99 qualified starting pitchers. He certainly would not be part of a team’s playoff rotation, but could be desirable to a club ahead in the standings that suffers a rash of pitching injuries and needs to staple something together. Arroyo’s salaries for 2014 and 2015 are not exorbitant, but if the team sells him, they will do so at a loss — any acquiring team would want the D-backs to kick in the massive buyout ($4.5M) for his 2016 option, especially considering that if Arroyo is traded, the salary for the option year would rise from $11M to $13M.
9. Oliver Perez
Perez has been more than adequate this season, with a 2.70 ERA. He’s also been extremely lucky, with just a 4% HR/FB ratio — if you normalize that to league average, an estimate of his true performance might be more in line with his mediocre 3.92 xFIP. With bullpen options like Matt Stites, Jimmy Sherfy and even Daniel Hudson possible options toward the end of this season, the team might conclude they can live without Perez. His performance would not attract many suitors, especially as his skill set doesn’t fit well for a team looking for a lefty matchups guy. His salary, on the other hand, is quite attractive — an acquiring team would only be on the hook for a prorated portion of his $1.75M salary for this season, and for his reasonable $2.5M salary for 2015. The return would be negligible, however.
10. J.J. Putz
I know, there are no injury guys in these rankings, and Putz is currently on the DL. If he were healthy right now, he might have ranked ahead of Hill or Prado. Putz still has shutdown stuff when he’s pitching, and in the right circumstances, a team might be willing to trade a player slightly more valuable than a spare part to acquire Putz’s services for the stretch run. His $7M salary for this season, however, makes a better return than that impossible.
Clearly, there are other players the team could part with — including Trevor Cahill, who has a 2.20 ERA and solid peripherals in relief, but who has a guaranteed $12M coming his way next season. Randall Delgado‘s status as a trade chip is the flip side of that, with mediocre numbers and a league minimum salary. Joe Thatcher is also a garbage trade option.
A final note about two players I did not include. Miguel Montero could bring a decent return theoretically despite his $40M in salary for 2015-2017, but the fact that the club has no one to replace him with removes him from the “trade assets” discussion, at least in my mind. For similar reasons, I did not include Josh Collmenter, who has actually been quite good in the rotation, but who is something of an enigma. Collmenter’s amazing contract extension makes him desirable, but he’s really best as a long reliever, and I’ve never heard of a team paying a good price at the trade deadline for a long reliever.
Agree or disagree with the rankings? Let us know (and please provide your reasoning), as feedback could be helpful in cooking up our Midseason Plan.
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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).