The biggest news in the baseball universe in the last week was that some team in San Francisco won the World Series. The biggest news in the D-backs universe: the club is listening on Miguel Montero.
That was the news from Fox Sports’s Ken Rosenthal, who credits the information to “major-league sources.” Those sources aren’t necessarily with the D-backs, although Rosenthal also notes that the D-backs are continuing “to draw interest in their young middle infielders,” something that would probably mean at least one internal source. He also notes that teams are asking about Wade Miley and A.J. Pollock, but not getting any traction (at least in contrast to Montero?).
As Rosenthal notes, the D-backs do not really have any catching depth behind Montero. Indeed, that’s why Jeff and I had not really considered a Montero move. But then RG wrote this:
One thing that has not been advocated for is a Miguel Montero trade. I think there’s one primary reason for this: there is no organizational depth at catcher. I certainly don’t dispute this notion. Instead, I don’t think it matters because this team won’t contend in the near future. Your opinion on trading Montero might come down to whether you think the Diamondbacks can be good in the next few years.
RG made an excellent point: the fact that the D-backs aren’t in a good position to handle the aftermath does not mean that trading Montero doesn’t make sense just either 1) as an asset with likely-to-decline value, and 2) the team’s place on the win curve. RG went on to say:
I’m advocating selling high on an asset. Right now, Montero is projected to finish the season as a three-win player. At his peak in 2012, he was worth almost five wins. Even if you consider his 2013 season an aberration, these two data points from 2012 and 2014 fall exactly on the aging curve. He’s lost about 20 runs (every 10 runs is worth one win) between his age-29 season to his age-31 season. Next year, the drop off is supposed to be steep. Right now, his $10M salary for 3 wins is a pretty good deal. Montero will probably continue to decline at an average rate, which will make his contract less team-friendly.
Russell Martin will get a ton of interest this offseason; as ESPN’s Buster Olney put it, he might be the best positioned of all free agents. But there are a few catchers out there who are above replacement; we’ve pushed J.P. Arencibia before as a crappy hitter with power who is actually a pretty good framer, and the team could reunite with old friend One-a-Day Wil Nieves. The information we have suggests that Bobby Wilson and Tuffy Gosewisch would be a halfway decent plan for 2015 — Wilson can catch and throw and all that good stuff, not necessarily making up for the loss of Montero, but providing a base of production good enough for the D-backs to fight through the season.
Cobbling together a time share at catcher is not a horrendous worst-case scenario. Let’s hope the team doesn’t ever opt for a defense-never option like Peter O’Brien soon or down the road, because the cost of doing so is just so damned high. But I can think of only one big reason to not trade Montero, especially considering how the pitching staff routinely does worse than its projections and peripherals would indicate despite metrics that say Montero is a great framer. That reason: if no offense is coming from catcher, the team might be less likely to play the hand it was dealt in the outfield with two supreme defenders in Ender Inciarte and A.J. “Action Jackson” Pollock. We’ve seen just how tough it is for a team (this team) to buy into a defense-first guy at a typically offense-first position, when it took so long for Gerardo Parra to get a starting role. It might be tough to ask the team to do that at multiple positions, even though a run saved is (almost) as valuable as a run earned.
Nick Piecoro also covered this “Montero is available” news, with some actual quotes from GM Dave Stewart. From that piece: the D-backs aren’t “in ‘salary dumping mode,'” and if they move a player like Montero, they’ll need to be doing something to help their rotation. Another great note from Piecoro: keep your eyes on the Cubs as a potential Montero trade match.
Last Tuesday, Piecoro had yet another must-read piece: the D-backs have zeroed in on $90M as their payroll target, according to CEO Derrick Hall… forget that $80M-$110M figure from La Russa that we’ve been using. Yeah, so, slight problem with that: counting major league minimum salaries, the D-backs are already staring $92.9M, and that’s if they non-tender or trade Cliff Pennington. What the what? In the Piecoro piece, Hall mentions that they have to budget in money for the high draft picks they get in June. That sounds like an excuse to me; there’s only a few million difference between what they will spend and what they would have spent if they had picked in the middle of the order again, unless some kind of Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg superprospect comes out of nowhere.
But at any rate, now the Montero trade rumors make more sense, right? In that payroll exercise, I thought the best that the D-backs could do was about $80M, by trading Aaron Hill and Trevor Cahill but eating a fair bit of the money owed to both of them. Trading Montero could help the club avoid eating money while fixing two problems (payroll and rotation help) at once. There could be a good trade out there. But I do trust this front office to know the difference between a good move and a bad one.
- At this point, it would almost seem weird if there were no major front office news to report, and once again, Piecoro has the scoop: amateur scouting director Ray Montgomery has left the organization for an enhanced position with the Brewers, the club from whence he came. We talked about this on The Pool Shot: it was hard to see him staying. After Montgomery was in contention as a GM candidate for Arizona and in San Diego, we at least thought that he might move up the ladder in some way with the D-backs; the hiring of De Jon Watson made that seem impossible. It’s not that his role was reduced, but that Montgomery had a ceiling put over him, and that he was going to have to contend with a new front office style that would have seen Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart, Watson and potentially others all overlapping with him in terms of responsibilities. This is a pretty big loss, especially with the prep showcases done; the D-backs will have to rely more heavily either on old notes or the looks they get in the spring. But hopefully, the impact will not be felt nearly as much after the June draft.
- The week’s other major news: the D-backs have exercised the $800k 2015 option on Daniel Hudson and the $600k 2015 option on Matt Reynolds. Both were expected, but in September Hudson made himself look like, at the very least, a very good reliever going forward (we went crazy about his excellent return). We have less information on Reynolds, who only went under the knife at the end of September 2013. It wouldn’t have taken much to make Reynolds a good $600k bet for next season, but at least we have financial confirmation (the best kind) that nothing bad has happened since Reynolds started throwing. I expect both to be in the April bullpen, although the number of candidates for those seven spots is very high. It could be an embarrassment of riches in the pen next season, especially if David Hernandez is tendered a contract (not a no-brainer decision) and performs well in his return. Check out Episode 3 of The Pool Shot for more on how we think the pitching staff shapes up for April, and here for another Piecoro article, on the Hudson and Reynolds options.
- The offseason is interesting for us as writers, because in terms of research posts, anything we do is valid all offseason. On the transactions front, the sands can shift quickly. But jeepers… I wrote about how Tsuyoshi Wada could be a good free agent target for the D-backs on Friday, and this morning, the Cubs signed him to a new deal (h/t MLBTR). They got a nice bargain at $4M. The D-backs couldn’t have moved on him this soon, but this serves as a reminder: second-tier guys wait for first-tier guys to sign, but that’s not necessarily the case with third-tier guys, who have valid concerns about being the one standing once the game of musical chairs is over. Since that’s the type of guy the D-backs will be after, it may be better to move sooner rather than later, or else be left to pick through the leavings of the market. It worked with Oliver Perez, but it doesn’t work that often.
- Jeff Wiser attended the Arizona Fall League All Star Game on Saturday, and he picked up some great notes that we’re looking forward to including in the podcast (I watched on TV, and very comfortably so, I might add). The Baseball Prospectus prospects staff was also there in force, and today, they published some of their notes ($). Definitely check it out (IMO, BP’s subscription price is well worth it), and I want to respect their paywall, but let me tease the piece: Ethan Purser saw command may be a permanent problem, fastball great, curveball ok, changeup promising, and the New Bradley Slider looks really good. If Bradley can simply aim for the center of the plate with very good fastball and slider offerings, mixing in the other two pitches, can he still be a #2 guy with fringy command? It’s not impossible…
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan did his payroll exercise, and came out at $90.2M. That’s a bit lower than my $92.9M figure, and I was similarly high last offseason. There’s a simple explanation: I’m counting some additional major league minimum salaries as a guess of how many extra the D-backs will pay next season (injury replacements, mostly — everyone on the DL still draws a salary). Think of McLennan’s figure as an Opening Day projection and mine as an overall one. They don’t contradict each other, they’re just measuring different things. Based on Derrick Hall’s comments that they’ll figure in the cost of draft bonuses, I don’t regret the overall approach.
- Also from McLennan: a rundown of single-game Win Probability numbers from 2014. The best single-game performance from a position player is quite a surprise. Actually, the best single-game performance from a pitcher is also unexpected…
- And finally, a pleasant reminder of days gone by. Before Game 7 of the World Series was played last week, David Schoenfield of the mothership SweetSpot blog ranked all 36 previous Game 7s in World Series history. Phew! But it’s nice to remember that 2001 happened, even if it ranked just 3rd on the list (I demand a recount!).
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