Attempting to draw up and execute an all-encompassing plan for the trade deadline is a bit like forming a battle plan while the battle is already raging. But we’re taking a run at it, because we’re good like that.
It’s a foregone conclusion that the D-backs will be sellers at the deadline this year. We know the front office has already held meetings to decide who to dangle and who to keep, and while we don’t know who those players are, we can make reasonable inferences. We are of the opinion that the front office is committed to making at least a few moves, but that it intends to be flexible, with the few players moved coming from a longer list of players the club would be happy to trade.
After a lot of detailed analysis of where the team is and where it’s going, and after breaking down the other 29 organizations, we are proud to present: the Inside the ‘Zona Midseason Plan.
Two weeks ago, Jeff Wiser laid out the three real possibilities for the team’s approach to the deadline: stand pat, do a quick-fix rebuild, or do a full scale rebuild.
We are of the mind that a quick-fix rebuild is the way to go. Said Jeff:
This team has useful pieces that can be part of the long-term future in place, they just need to dump the heavy stuff weighing them down and continue to add assets for the future. This should be more palatable than a full-scale tear down and quicker to boot. We’ll still have to hope that they go deep enough in redirecting the organization, but if they do, there’s no reason some shrewd moves, coupled with past and future strong drafts, can’t turn things around.
The truth is that it takes two to tango, and although the Chicago White Sox are the recent model, the White Sox themselves were able to make two youth-replenishing trades with the D-backs. We are open to the idea of trading several current D-backs players, but can’t advocate for any specific move because whether or not a specific trade makes sense (especially a deal for one of the D-backs’ young shortstops, and for Brad Ziegler) depends in large part on the trade partner.
The D-backs do have a core of players to count on for 2015 and 2016: Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero, A.J. Pollock, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, and almost definitely Archie Bradley. Rather than tearing down and starting anew (a viable option), we think it’s appropriate for the D-backs to see what they can accomplish this summer in fielding the best possible squad in 2015.
That means trading to replenish the system. But some players, like Cody Ross and Oliver Perez, should get moved any price, because part of preparing for 2015 is seeing what the team has in other players. Dumping Perez, for example, could mean an opportunity for the team to see what Jake Barrett can do at the major league level, or for Matt Reynolds or Daniel Hudson to get some adjustments out of the way. In examining what it means for a team to put itself in a position to get lucky, Ryan put it this way:
I happen to love Cody Ross as a player and a human, and there’s every reason to give him more time to put things together at the plate. Come deadline time, though, Ross should get moved at whatever price (he may be attractive as a lefty-killing bench option), not so much because moving him would net a nice return, but because moving him also moves him out of the way. That’s what 2014 is now. It’s all about folding on the gambles that can only ever pay even money, instead gambling on options that may have a chance of paying out.
The only traffic jam on the roster right now is at middle infield, but one of the things we identified as methods to get in a position to get lucky was time shares. For that reason, we’re only advocating for the trade of one of the four players: Aaron Hill. Although time shares are uncomfortable, each of the trio of Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed can get enough plate appearances while on the same roster for the organization to get a better idea of what it has. Similar principles should apply in the outfield, even if that’s been painful so far. As Nick Piecoro recently put it, the D-backs are in fact-finding mode.
The list of players the D-backs are willing to move almost definitely includes Mark Trumbo and Bronson Arroyo, despite their current injury issues; it also likely includes Gerardo Parra and Cody Ross, whose performances this season have been well below expectations. We think it’s possible that both Arroyo and Ross could get moved before the deadline, but potential fits for Arroyo are nearly impossible to determine at this stage, and if a team were to pick up Ross, it would most likely be due to a July injury. We think there is virtually no chance, however, that any team will pay a price the front office would require for Trumbo, and we see zero fits for Parra.
We ranked the D-backs’ trade assets four weeks ago, and with some additional clarity, here are the players for whom we think there is at least a 20% chance of a trade, in rough order of likelihood:
- Brandon McCarthy (free agent this winter, $9 million 2014 salary, $1 million assignment bonus if traded)
- Oliver Perez ($1.75 million 2014 salary, $2.5 million 2015 salary)
- Brad Ziegler ($5 million 2015 salary, team option for 2016)
- Aaron Hill ($12 million salary in each of 2015 and 2016)
- Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings, or Nick Ahmed (all under team control through at least 2018)
- Martin Prado ($11 million salary in each of 2015 and 2016)
We would make very few adjustments to this approach. Brandon McCarthy and Oliver Perez absolutely should be moved, at essentially any price. Cody Ross, at almost any price. And if a prospect can be obtained for Hill without the D-backs kicking in more than $8 million or so, we are behind making that kind of move, as well. Brad Ziegler, however, should only be moved for a good price. Ziegler’s contract is excellent for the club, largely because traditional statistics do not capture the extra value he can have for a team when used optimally. A Prado trade would be uncomfortable, but we aren’t necessarily against it; there’s no rule that says that the D-backs couldn’t promote Jake Lamb much earlier than expected. Finally, we think the team should keep all three members of their young shortstop trio, unless the team can obtain a promising prospect to satisfy one of its two greatest needs.
Those two greatest needs: pitching with upside and young catching. To be a good target, a pitcher need not be a stud prospect with a probable future at the front of a rotation; even if the team were to entertain trading Wade Miley and siphon all of its trade assets to one club, such a prospect is out of reach for the D-backs. We are big believers in building a young bullpen for flexibility reasons, however, and pitching prospects who profile as setup men are definitely obtainable. Pitchers with a possible future in the rotation but whose probable floor is “good reliever,” like the D-backs’ own Andrew Chafin, should be atop the front office’s wish list.
Most organizations have an Andrew Chafin or two in their stables of prospects, but it will be more difficult to find a trade partner to fulfill the D-backs’ other greatest need: young catching. Miguel Montero’s down offensive performance in 2013 is in the rear view mirror, and in terms of framing pitches, he is a clear asset. But there are virtually no other catchers with a major league future in the system, especially now that 2012 first rounder Stryker Trahan has been moved to the outfield.
The D-backs certainly have other needs. A true back-end starter would be welcome, and we agree with the organization that outfield prospects with power are other players to target. A low-minors second base prospect would also be a good complement to the organization. But in analyzing the other major league organizations for trade fits, we emphasized catching and Chafin-type pitchers, noting that there really are no southpaws in the system after Chafin. Check out Jeff Wiser’s more thorough analysis of what the D-backs should seek via trade.
Now for the fun part. The reasoning behind each of our recommended moves, along with some alternatives we think are promising for each of the players we are pushing to trade. Note that trading contracts like those of Aaron Hill, Cody Ross and even Brandon McCarthy comes with a choice for the club: whether to prioritize dumping the contract, or maximizing the return in terms of talent. With respect to our recommended trades of those three players, we’ve pushed for the D-backs to include cash in the deal in order to get a useful prospect or two in return. Also, please note that all prospect grades are based upon John Sickels’ preseason work at MinorLeagueBall.com and are intended as a reference only. The Inside the ‘Zona staff used diverse websites, references and contacts to create these trade proposals. Finally, on to the trades:
If Aaron Hill were put on revocable waivers, I’m not sure a single team would claim him. $12 million per season isn’t crazy, and for production like that which he put up in 2012 and while healthy in 2013, it’s a fairly good value. But Hill has oscillated between above average and below average seasons for his entire career, and so far this season, he hasn’t been looking very good. Complicating things further is the lack of a market; Toronto has had a black hole at second all year and could welcome Hill home, but other than a move to displace old friend Kelly Johnson at the keystone for the Yankees, we don’t think there are many trade matches.
Fortunately, GM Alex Anthopolous of the Blue Jays has clearance to add payroll for the right move. And given Toronto’s very low replacement level for second basemen, Hill would almost definitely be a significant upgrade for them, at least for the current season. Meanwhile, if David Holmberg could be purchased for $5.5 million in the offseason, the price for Stilson may not be much higher. As a “prospect” already destined for a relief role who could get a September call up and stick from there, Stilson and his knockout stuff is probably worth around $8 million right now. We know this move is easier said than done, but the D-backs front office should be willing to bend a bit on salary to get Hill back north of the border.
RHP Brandon McCarthy and $3.5 million to Pittsburgh Pirates for C Tony Sanchez (B-) and LHP Cody Dickson (C+). Alternatives: with $2 million to Milwaukee Brewers for RHP Taylor Williams (C+) and SS Yadiel Rivera (C); with $1 million to Cleveland Indians for C Tony Wolters (C+); to New York Yankees for C Luis Torrens (C+).
Brandon McCarthy stands 2-11 with a 5.11 ERA, perhaps in the greatest recent example of how starting pitchers can get burned by bad luck. Using component stats to arrive at Fielding Independent Pitching, McCarthy ranks 31st with a 3.87 FIP. But McCarthy has far and away the flukiest home runs per fly ball ratio in the NL: 20.3%, which is almost 3 percentage points worse than the next-worst rate, and only three pitchers have a HR/FB above 15%. If you changed the FIP mark as if he had gotten a league-average HR/FB, you’d get McCarthy’s xFIP of 2.91. That ranks third in the National League, behind just Stephen Strasburg and Zack Greinke, and ahead of other aces like Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright. Chances are there’s something to McCarthy’s home run struggles, but luck is also definitely involved. There’s a lot for McCarthy’s suitors to dream on, including his newfound velocity and new repertoire, and even with a $1 million signing bonus kicking in, we think we can be fairly certain that if McCarthy hit waivers, several teams would make claims.
Several teams, then, should be willing to give something up to get McCarthy for the rest of this season. Kicking in some of the cash would help the D-backs maximize their return. And if the Pirates are unable to unite with A.J. Burnett this month, we think they remain the best trade match. C Tony Sanchez would give the D-backs the catching depth they so desperately need, and LHP Cody Dickson would immediately slot in just behind Andrew Chafin in the team’s plans.
In addition to the alternatives outlined above, it’s possible that the Athletics, Angels, Mariners and Braves could throw hats in the ring for McCarthy.
LHP Oliver Perez to Seattle Mariners for C Tyler Marlette (C+). Alternatives: to Mariners, for OF Gabriel Guerrero (C+); to Los Angeles Angels, for LHP Hunter Green (B-); to Milwaukee Brewers, for RHP David Goforth (C+).
Perez is reasonably priced and reasonably effective, and the only reason we’re in favor of pushing as hard as possible to move him is that the roster spot is needed to try out Jake Barrett, Daniel Hudson, Matt Reynolds, Andrew Chafin or even Jimmy Sherfy. He doesn’t really fit a prototype; he’s there to give a fair amount of decent innings with little risk of a massive implosion.
But the fact that Perez doesn’t fit a certain type of need might make him less easy to move. He’s left-handed, but he doesn’t have particular success against left-handed batters – so he’s not really a matchups guy. He’s not a strikeout guy to handle that plate appearance with a runner on third and less than two outs, and he’s not a double play situation guy, either. As a result, there are maybe a dozen teams that Perez would help, but just a few who may have active interest in acquiring him. A low minors prospect with some ceiling is the appropriate price, and Tyler Marlette has a major league future, even if it’s just as a backup. And no offense to Tuffy Gosewisch, whose hitting has definitely improved, but this season has probably re-taught the D-backs about the importance of a capable backup catcher.
OF Cody Ross and $7 million to Boston Red Sox for LHP Brian Johnson (C+). Alternatives: with $8 million to San Francisco Giants, for SS Christian Arroyo (B); with $7 million to Seattle Mariners, for RHP Dominic Leone (C+).
Trading Ross at all may be a pipe dream, unless he’s able to put together a few weeks in July similar to his production from 2013 or 2012. But after taking a long time to get comfortable at the plate this year following hip surgery, he’s finally doing some damage, with a 108 wRC+ in June that has him just below his production from previous seasons.
More than anything else, what Ross has done is completely mash lefties to the tune of a 141 wRC+ for his career. That makes Ross particularly useful at particular times, which is exactly what contenders will look for in trading for bench players in July. What’s more, Ross’s fairly significant salary will mean he will almost definitely pass through August waivers unclaimed, making an August deal at least a possibility. Comfortable in left and in right, Ross could prove to be a capable fourth outfielder for a contender.
The return for Ross may not be significant, but he simply has to be traded given that Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra will be penciled in as 2015 starters, and given playing time this year, one of Ender Inciarte or David Peralta may make a legitimate claim for a semi-regular role. Boston purchased Cody Ross’s finest season in 2012 for a mere $3 million, and may remember his hitting tendencies; Brian Johnson could become “Next Chafin” in the D-backs system. Despite Jonny Gomes, we think the Red Sox could be willing to give him up if Arizona is willing to eat most of his salary, given that Ross could spell David Ortiz against tough lefties at DH and patrol the smallest left field in the majors as part of a mix with Gomes and Daniel Nava.
But the distinction is not so easy with respect to Martin Prado and Brad Ziegler. For those players, and for players the club is less likely to move like Wade Miley, we are not in favor of making a trade unless the D-backs front office receives a very significant offer.
Martin Prado gives extra value to the team through his flexibility. And given that the 2015 season may also not go according to plan, that flexibility could be particularly useful to the D-backs; time shares are one way to put a team in position to get lucky, and in Prado, the team has the ultimate time share partner. It’s just unlikely in our eyes that the team will get any kind of real return for Prado without eating a fair bit of the remainder of his contract. We would be happy to be wrong, however, and should David Freese continue to struggle in Anaheim, the D-backs could find themselves making yet another trade with the Los Angeles Angels, who are 45-35 and legitimately hopeful for a playoff berth.
Brad Ziegler should also not get moved unless the team gets a significant offer commensurate with his greater-than-it-appears value, and we recommend keeping him because such an offer is unlikely. In addition, Ziegler’s contract situation is something of a work of art crafted by the D-backs front office, and given his advanced age and connection to the organization, it’s highly likely that the D-backs will be able to extend Ziegler on a short-term deal after they exercise his extremely reasonable option for the 2016 season, should they wish to do so. That said, unlike with Prado, the number of likely suitors means that there’s a real chance that some team will step up with a strong offer. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, in particular, is on the hunt for relief help and has a track record of paying sticker price when the situation dictates it. But Ziegler is also theoretically a fit for the Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Braves, Mets, Brewers, Reds, and Pirates.
The same principles apply with the D-backs’ glut of young shortstops. If some other team with a need for a shortstop valued Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings or Nick Ahmed as highly as the D-backs, chances are that one of them would have been moved in the offseason. An injury for another team could change everything, but we’re confident that the trio could settle into a time share at short and second, while occasionally spreading out to third base (there’s that Prado flexibility at work again). Failure to trade Aaron Hill would stymie that plan, and Hill cannot and will not get released. Certainly, a trade of Gregorius to the Mets for RHP Rafael Montero (B+) would make sense for the D-backs, and if the Mets made a move with a package headlined by C Kevin Plawecki (B), that would solve two “problems” at once. But moving a shortstop at any price is not acceptable, and the rise of Danny Santana (C+) in Minnesota took the Twins out of the running as a possible trade partner. A trade with the Yankees could make sense, with Gregorius or Owings manning second now and shortstop later; but the Yankees don’t have a track record of clearing space or trading assets for players who promise to be approximately average. Pittsburgh is another possibility, but the Pirates haven’t traded for any player not considered a spare part in a very, very long time.
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