Today, news broke that the Diamondbacks have traded Brandon McCarthy and cash considerations to the Yankees for Vidal Nuno. It was absolutely a good move to trade McCarthy, and to do so as soon as possible — but a terrible move to do so for Nuno, who is the least useful type of player that the D-backs could possibly have acquired.
GM Kevin Towers has been vocal about the team’s needs, and it wasn’t that difficult for us to figure out. The organization is short on impact pitching (starter or reliever), has zero catchers in the minor leagues who project as major leaguers (even as backups), could use a low-minors second baseman, and is empty on bat-first (or power-first) outfielders.
One thing that the organization absolutely does not need: replacement level pitching. Oh, there’s some value to having an extra man or two to provide innings in case two or more of the first-stringers go down with injury at the same time. But the D-backs already have that. They have Trevor Cahill available to bring back up. They have Randall Delgado, who was not great but not bad in the rotation. They have Mike Bolsinger, and Chase Anderson, and Charles Brewer, and Zeke Spruill. Few organizations are short on these guys, but the Diamondbacks have them in spades.
That’s the principal reason why getting Vidal Nuno back in return seems so ridiculous. Towers knows better than I do what McCarthy’s value was on the market — it could be that few teams, if any, saw past McCarthy’s 5.01 ERA and 3-10 record to see a pitcher with a very fluky HR rate (20% of fly balls) and bad luck (3.79 FIP). Given McCarthy’s peripherals and a league-average HR rate, McCarthy would rank 7th among all 93 qualified starters (2.89 xFIP, which is engineered to be roughly equivalent to ERA). But maybe the market just wasn’t valuing McCarthy as high as we had thought it should.
Another possibility, though: Towers didn’t realize what he had. Maybe he didn’t see past the 5.01 ERA and 3-10 record. There’s no way to know that, either way, although I really can’t imagine that there weren’t other teams who would value McCarthy at least a little bit more highly.
Answering that kind of question should always start with: if McCarthy was put on waivers, would any team have claimed him? I think so. In our internal analysis leading up to our Midseason Plan last week, we identified eight teams who might be a fit for McCarthy: the Yankees, Royals, Indians, Athletics, Mariners, Braves, Pirates, and Giants. Obviously the Athletics were no longer an option after they acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, and the timing of the two trades at least suggests that Towers was negotiating with both teams, then made the best deal he could with the remaining contender. But I truly believe that there were several teams who would have had an interest in McCarthy had his contract been available for free.
To get Nuno, the D-backs kicked in half ($2.05M) of McCarthy’s remaining salary ($4.1M). That means that Nuno’s current value should be something like $2.05M or $3.05 (the Yankees have to pay McCarthy a $1M assignment bonus) plus McCarthy’s current value at a zero salary. I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it. Not every contender has payroll flexibility right now, but most contenders with a need for a decent starter could afford to shell out $3M. That means McCarthy had some excess value. And the very trade that took the Athletics out of the pool of potential McCarthy suitors also made the number of available starters fewer by two.
You know that line: just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they can’t be useful. The 2014 season became irrelevant some time ago, and McCarthy was not under contract beyond this season. OK, so maybe it’s reasonable for the D-backs to seek some salary relief. But no one was willing to give up a single player more useful to the D-backs than Nuno?
In addition to being precisely the type of player the D-backs least needed, he’s also not particularly good. Our Jeff Wiser had this to say about Nuno:
At 26, he’s not young, and with a 5.08 FIP over 22 major league games (17 or which have been starts), he’s not effective. He was effective throughout his time in the Yankees’ minor league system…No list I could find has ever had Nuno inside the top 20 prospects with the Indians or Yankees during his minor league career, so to call him “unheralded” is an understatement.
Those xFIP rankings that have McCarthy 7th so far this season? Nuno has also been burned by the long ball at a higher than league average rate, and so his 4.41 xFIP is lower than his 5.15 FIP for this season. But even the 4.41 xFIP would rank just 80th out of 93 starters if Nuno were qualified for the ERA title. Nuno has been atrocious this season, even if you strip luck from the equation.
Nuno was so terrible this year, in fact, that the Yankees were looking to replace him. Then they determined that the gap between McCarthy and Nuno was so high that they were willing to eat some money and give up the remaining five and a half years of control over Nuno. The Yankees didn’t treat Nuno as valuable, perhaps thinking that he’d never stick with them through his arbitration years anyway. But if the Yankees don’t think Nuno is valuable, why should we?
Again, just because McCarthy was something of a dead asset doesn’t mean he couldn’t be useful. In our Midseason Plan last week, we made the “mistake” of assuming that the return for any player, including a relatively thin asset in McCarthy, should be a good fit for the organization. When we researched teams, we looked for players that teams might be willing to give up (given other, similar players in their systems).
It’s true, our recommendation for McCarthy was a trade to the Pirates. That potential trade was headlined by Tony Sanchez, a minor league catcher (though not a great one) that the D-backs so desperately need, and it included $3.5M to help the D-backs obtain him. But, knowing that the Yankees were also a good match for McCarthy, we included an “alternative” trade to New York: with no cash at all, for low-ranking, low-minors catcher Luis Torrens. The Yankees have one of the best catching prospects in the game (Gary Sanchez), so we thought Torrens was gettable.
Either Torrens wasn’t gettable, or Towers didn’t ask, or Towers preferred Vidal Nuno. Preferring Nuno would not be a huge surprise; after all, Towers is the man who acquired all of the other Nunos that the organization already has. But, [expletive] [expletive], having acquired all of those other Nunos should have made Towers want Nuno less. Yeah, you just take best player available in the draft, given that those players are years away from the majors. But in trade, not paying attention to your organization’s needs is not excusable.
Nuno was acquired by Cashman after Towers left the Yankees organization to take the helm of the D-backs (to a minor league contract in June 2011 because he had already been released by the Cleveland Indians), so it’s not like Towers was familiar with Nuno from that position. But Towers has a cozy relationship with Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and in this instance, that relationship may have been a little too cozy.
Trading McCarthy and cash for Vidal Nuno was very much a failure, even if it has a minor effect in the grand scheme of things. I honestly think that Towers probably put some stock in Nuno’s extremely misleading 2.25 ERA from last season (in 20 innings — but he was extremely lucky, with a 5.32 xFIP in that time). And it doesn’t matter whether Nuno’s true talent level may be a bit better than it has appeared to be this season — even if he’s better, he’s still quite bad, and he’s exactly what the D-backs don’t need. Either Towers let himself get fleeced, or Cashman had a much more accurate understanding of how valuable McCarthy appears to be. Given Towers’s track record, I think the latter is the more likely.
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