Well, no one saw that coming. Saturday evening, while the Diamondbacks were taking part in their arduous journey to reach .500, they completed a trade with the Braves, sending Bronson Arroyo and Touki Toussaint to Atlanta for infielder Phil Gosselin. The idea was obviously to clear the remaining salary owed to Arroyo, which at this juncture was somewhere between $9-$10 million dollars. They had to ship Toussaint, one of the game’s best young pitching prospects, to get Atlanta to take on the remaining money. The deal was discussed over a month ago, and once Toussaint had cleared one calendar year from his draft date, it was completed. Atlanta essentially bought Touki for $10 million and gave away a piece they didn’t need in the process. Arizona cleared some salary and lost its third-best prospect. And while that may sound troubling on the surface, let me assure you that it’s a whole lot worse when you start digging deeper.

The Diamondbacks signed Arroyo back in the winter of 2013. When he got two years and $23.5 million, it seemed like a lot for a rotation-filling arm that was 36-years old. But when the breakdown of the contract was announced, things got murkier. He was only going to earn $9.5 in each of 2014 and 2015, then had a team option for a third. The buyout of that option was a staggering $4.5 million, far more than we usually see in baseball, at least proportionally. If Arroyo wasn’t going to be part of the plan in 2016, it was going to be expensive to get rid of him. Paying a guy $4.5 million to go play for someone else is a lot to swallow, especially with an additional poison pill that increased Arroyo’s 2016 option by $2 million in the event of a trade. Of course, this was Kevin Towers’ mess, but Ryan and I had speculated that his option year was going to be an issue moving forward. Apparently it was a more immediate one.

This deal stood out and shocked the astute baseball community for one reason: teams don’t do this. Moves of this variety rarely happen because people around the game are smart enough to know that first round picks don’t grow on trees. Toussaint has as high of a ceiling as any current minor league pitcher outside of perhaps Lucas Giolito and Julio Urias. For a team short on impact prospects, he was easily the player with the highest potential impact. The team obviously agreed with that assessment when they gave him $2.7 million as a signing bonus, about 15% over his slot allotment. That did happen under La Russa. So when you consider that the team already sunk $2.7 million into the guy they sold for $10 million, it’s not nearly the savings that it might sound like. Baseball budgets generally work year-to-year, but it’s worth noting that Toussaint wasn’t free, although that’s the way prospects are generally discussed.

With salary relief the return, the D-backs settled for virtually no talent back in moving Toussaint. Phil Gosselin is a throw-in to complete this deal, nothing more. He’s 26 and has 70 professional games under his belt over three seasons. He’s replacement level and he’ll take Arroyo’s spot on the 40-man roster. The team clearly wanted the financial flexibility as maybe they want to take a run at the playoffs this year, which isn’t the best idea. This was the year to grow your assets, not trade them away for a half-hearted attempt to reach a play-in game. But is the flexibility worth tossing aside Toussaint? I don’t’ think so, and neither does just about anyone else around the game. This is the most one-sided trade in recent history and the Diamondbacks are on the short side.

And this, unfortunately, has been a trend:

  • The team acquired Jeremy Hellickson for two low minors prospects in Justin Williams and Andrew Velazquez, Dave Stewart offering their distant timeline as reasoning for the deal (more).
  • They moved Miguel Montero to the Cubs to free itself of a hefty financial commitment, receiving little talent in return despite a lack of backup backstop plans (more).
  • To land Yasmany Tomas, the D-backs backloaded their franchise-record commitment to the final two years of the six-year pact, essentially guaranteeing they’d only pay the full amount if Tomas wasn’t providing surplus value on the field (more).
  • The tailspin continued shortly thereafter with the Yoan Lopez signing, paying $8 million in tax for the privilege of signing him to a $8 million deal and blowing their bonus pool for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international amateur signing periods (more).
  • The team promoted Archie Bradley to the major league rotation to start the year, putting him in a position to become a free agent at the end of the 2020 season.

All four of these decisions pointed in one direction: prioritizing the not-too-distant future over the longer-term future. And each was defensible. The price for Hellickson was probably an overpay for a guy who was down on his luck and had seen his stock drop thanks to his true talent level catching up with him. Hellickson’s contact-management skills were a risky proposition to bet on in the first place and they’ve come and gone this season, as expected. He’s the 93rd-best starter in baseball with at least 50 innings pitched. His ERA of 4.94 and FIP of 4.47 aren’t any more inspiring. If anything, Hellickson’s main contribution so far may be in blocking younger experiments — reasoning also offered for moving Arroyo. An iffy trade for Stewart, and when soon after the front office expressed confidence in the availability of other catchers, we were relatively pleased with his ability to deal Montero without having to eat any part of his salary, even if the return was merely an org player and a total project arm. when moving Williams and Velazquez were and are valuable commodities in their own right.

The unusual Tomas contract was also defensible. Initially, we were pleased that the team landed Tomas. We believed that the front office deserved a lot of credit for acquiring a potentially impact talent without sacrificing other talent to do so, and for accomplishing that by being very creative with the opt-out. It’s possible that the opt-out wasn’t the difference maker for Tomas — his agent indicated that he picked the D-backs because he wanted to join them — but it was a way in which the D-backs were able to make a competitive offer without as many dollars as other clubs. By structuring the deal with an opt-out, the D-backs put themselves in a position in which they’d only pay his backloaded 2019 and 2020 salaries if it looked like he’d be worth a fair bit less than that. Prioritizing the near-term made that a justifiable risk.

Things soon took a different turn. The team’s decision to sign Yoan Lopez required the D-backs to pay $8 million in tax, but also a potentially larger price: an inability to sign any international amateurs over $300,000 in the next two signing periods. They failed to capitalize on the window with more signings in the current period. And because they had the worst record in baseball in 2014, they had the biggest international signing pool to use in the period that starts next month — until they put themselves in a voluntary time-out to sign a guy who’s generally regarded as a #4 starter type who could be ready at some point in late 2016 (he’s been injured in most of his debut season).

The Bradley promotion was more cut and dried: although the cost analysis favored waiting a couple of weeks, a commitment to the near term is an easy sell. But we have to reconcile all this with Toussaint. If they thought Toussaint was worth $10 million in trading him to the Braves, but thought Lopez was worth $16 million up front, plus the inability to sign a single player internationally for more than $50,000 over the next two years, they’re wildly mistaken. Those two things just do not mesh. Toussaint had legitimate impact upside, as much as Archie Bradley ever did, and nearly as much as any minor league hurler in the game. Lopez does not, and just about anyone in baseball will guarantee as much. Yes, Toussaint has a long way to go and may have more risk than other high-ceilinged prospects, but the payout has the potential to be franchise-changing in a land short on upside. And if there’s any team that’s benefited from franchise-changing players in recent years, it’s the Diamondbacks (#VoteGoldy).

The trade of Mark Trumbo was beneficial in a bunch of ways, but there’s no denying that the return for the slugger was a bit on the light side. Trumbo is a no-doubt major leaguer even when playing out of position, but Welington Castillo is a fringy starting catcher. Sure, Jarrod Saltalmacchia is worse than fringy, but the two prospects they acquired with Castillo are on down years and they definitely didn’t get back equal value. That goes overlooked because of the drastic need for catching help, but the team had created its own reality in the catching department. When Dave Stewart neglected to improve the team’s depth at the position, they were begging for a disaster without answer, and when Tuffy Gosewisch went down, they got one. This left them with no leverage and they had to take the short side of a deal again just to get functional.

These are all problems with the process. The process by which the Diamondbacks are operating is a problem. It was a problem under Kevin Towers, and now under Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart, it’s still present. They work in a unique and puzzling way. There’s nothing wrong with trying to gain an edge on the league, but this doesn’t seem to be that. Instead, they seem to be getting shortchanged at nearly every junction and either don’t see it or don’t really care. These moves are acceptable to them, but probably not to any other team in baseball. The industry is left scratching its head for good reason.

Like many of you, I’m a member of the FanGraphs and greater advanced baseball community. When sites like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus and others make light of the Diamondbacks, fans are quick to retort that the team is younger and doing better than they were in the past. But correlation does not equal causation, which is to say even though these moves have been made, the team’s performance is not necessarily a direct result. Just because the team is close to being .500 again does not mean we should lay off the organization for the process they’re employing. They are making poor baseball decisions left and right, with a few acceptable ones mixed in, and the troubles are yet to be felt. Look no further than this year’s draft, which is just another example of a short-sighted process that will lead to deferred consequences.

The $10 million saved by selling Toussaint might be used this season. Maybe the Diamondbacks will make a run at Johnny Cueto or someone else. That’ll cost them more prospects. Maybe they’ll look for someone with more team control, which may cost even more. The peak of the team’s window for contending is 2017 and Toussaint wasn’t going to help with that. Neither was Bronson Arroyo. Neither will Phil Gosselin. Maybe the team is trying to speed up that window, but doing so will come at a significant cost. Most that cost will be deferred to the future, because if Toussaint wasn’t off limits, one has to wonder who is.

This organization is failing to make smart baseball decisions with any kind of consistency. Giving Nick Ahmed a chance was great. Making room to grow Jake Lamb was, too. But locking themselves out of the international market when they had a financial upper hand, trading Toussaint, dealing promising players for Jeremy Hellickson and they giving themselves no wiggle room in the catching department, causing them to sell short on Trumbo, are all troubling signs. This will catch up with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and just because they’re playing better now does not mean it’ll last. Shooting for 2017 made sense but it required patience, patience that the front office and/or ownership just wasn’t willing to exercise. They’ll pay the price eventually and even with an influx of television money in 18 months, they’ll still have a long hole to climb out of to remain relevant. Meanwhile, we’ll have to sit back and watch this front office tear the team’s future down, one transaction at a time, unless they get their acts together quickly. And even then, it may be too late because you can’t fix a problem you don’t even acknowledge exists.

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37 Responses to Toussaint Sold as the D-backs’ Process Continues to Fail

  1. Eddie says:

    I mostly agree, as you know, Jeff. Still, I’m less critical of the Montero/Trumbo moves. I just don’t think Trumbo is that valuable at all and only dumb teams (see AZ and Seattle) would want to acquire him in the first place. I’m surprised it took so long for those GMs to match up in the first place Montero is playing considerably better this year and his framing is valuable yet he’s on the wrong side of the age curve and I expect this year is more the outlier than his 16 and 17, when it appears the team is gearing up for a wildcard.

    That said I’m with you completely on the Toussaint trade. Even if AZ somehow didn’t believe in his upside, then, well, package him in a deal that nets the team something valuable! This, coupled with peeing in the international bonus pool is regrettable. It’s hard to say the 2015 draft is disappointing when you land a top 3 talent, what looks like a surefire left handed starter, and possibly a higher upside high school arm in Rodriguez to go with what might be useful bullpen pieces. I’m not ready to lambast that quite yet.

    But the dismissal of early-stage prospects is concerning especially when the payoff is marginal… Williams + Veláquez +Touki should not =Hellickson and Gosselin. Just can’t. They should be packaged for a meaningful SP upgrade or hell even a starting point for a Lucroy trade. THAT part of the process is really disappointing. And leads me to think that 3-4 years from now we will be talking about the 5th Diamondbacks administration. When they might finally face the music and hire somebody capable of building a 21st century baseball team.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I don’t have any issue with the Montero trade, and the Trumbo one is a total nitpick. But those are just two of the major deals and they don’t outweigh the negativity of the others. I didn’t like the run on relievers in the draft and really think they could have done more with their third round pick.

      But you raise a good point. What about some kind of package around Toussaint, Velazquez and Williams? What could you get for that? More than Jeremy Hellickson.

      These are missed opportunities and you’re right on about that. The smarter organizations continue to take advantage of Arizona’s internal evaluations, which are far, far off of the market consensus. I understand that we often value our prospects more than we should, but damn, they just don’t seem to value them at all. You can’t make a living off of that, at least not for long. Time will catch up with this front office eventually, and we’ll have to suffer for that while they take jobs somewhere else.

  2. Eddie says:

    “We’re committing to our young pitching…by trading our best pitching prospect.”
    -Dave Stewart

    “We think he could be a major league pitcher down the road (But we aren’t interested in winning in 2019, either).”
    -Dave Stewart

    I need a break. I just cant get into futebol. Or go for another baseball team. It’s too embedded in my DNA. I hate it.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      This is the path we’ve chosen or has chosen us. Nothing we can do! I feel you Eddie!

    • Jim says:

      Since when was Touki our best pitching prospect? I must have missed that memo.

      • Doug says:

        He was our number 4 but the pitcher with the highest ceiling. He already has a 92-96 fastball with a potential plus-plus curveball. He could have been a potential top-10 prospect in all of baseball within a few years

  3. Kevin says:

    I’ve been waiting for your commentary on this trade, hoping you might be able to provide some hidden insight that would make the whole thing make sense. Darn. It would appear that there is no sense to be made of it.

    Now I just wish I knew who to blame. Is the front office really incompetent, or is it the ownership that is mad? Maybe the team is just really broke THIS year?

    Regardless, my hope for the future is crumbling into despair and its sad. Go D-backs 🙁

    • Kevin says:

      Don’t get too down. There’s a rumor that Stewart is working on another trade: the entire Reno Aces organization for a stick of bubble gum and a burnt-out light bulb. That stick of bubble gum is really what the D-backs are all about and the light bulb can help the team NOW. Everyone is triple A was too far away from the big leagues to value and had to go.

  4. Kyle says:

    Long time reader. Always great stuff here. Thanks for your dedication and insight.

    What are you thoughts on all this pointing to Kendrick selling team after 2017?

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      You know, that’s crossed my mind. We don’t have a lot insight there and I feel like writing on that would be pure speculation, but why else mortgage the future so obviously? It kinda feels like you might be on to something…

  5. Dave-Phoenix says:

    It is starting to sound like this was part of the original Cahill deal. If Cahill continued to be a bust then the Toussaint deal kicked in. Considering Cahill was just DFA’ed by the Braves, this is a possibility.

    If so, and this was all about dumping Cahill’s and Arroyo’s salaries, the D-Backs should have demanded the Braves eat all of Cahill’s salary, instead of just half of it, if it meant giving up Toussaint.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I thought that, too, until I saw the report that the deal was first brought up earlier this month. I don’t think that precludes the idea that this is part of a further reaching discussion, though. Who knows, they could have kicked the tires on this over the winter.

  6. Dave-Phoenix says:

    So which top prospect are we going to have to give up to dump Reed’s salary?

  7. Anonymous says:

    well geez. Where to start, so far they’ve cleared off Bronson, Trumbo, Miggy, and Cahill, all for Toki? and you guys are complaining. Not that losing toki was ideal….. Castillo is looking like a steal, If he’s used right, and stays healthy. 1.Rdlr is real close to something, come on his stuff is pure electric. 2.chase is looking a solid 2. Collmenter is where we all expected him to end up just because he’s 88 on a good day. 3. Hellickson, is looking like a Duncan specialty. 5. Delgado electric. 6. Ray electric 7. corbin’s, close to coming back….The only real problem right now is reed. We’ve gone from a bunch of 4’s to 2.5’s. With the Salty and castillo emergence, the only thing stopping this team from a wild card is Lamb. If Lamb gets it going the pitching now maybe enough. If they land an Ace and Corbin is who we think he is why not us? Time to start giving these guy’s some credit. Their shifts have been working. Hale has been a great job with Tomas and the personnel decisions on a daily basis. who’d a thunk we would be where are, and gotten rid of the personnel they have, and so far the biggest loss has been toki.

    • Kevin says:

      …but Toki was the electricest

      • Kevin says:

        yeah and i should also note possible 2.5’s. All said, the legacy of these guy’s right now, Stewart/laRussa is Lopez. That’s so far been the signature signing, is his velo back, and why was he out? These other moves have been great puzzle pieces, although the Miley for Rdlr and Webster was a move I didn’t care for at the time, but now it appears rdlr has better pure stuff than anyone in the organization, including Bradley. Trumbo for Castillo/Guerrero. If Castillo’s knees are better then hmmph, he looked liked top prospect, before bad knees btw a couple of years ago but he’s hitting for power and has a good take charge personality. Robbie Ray is another shocking deal. What am I missing about this guy? He’s dealing easy cheese, and looks like he’s figured an arm slot with his tempo and arm with the breaking stuff since spring training. How did the Tigers overlook him? I could make the same argument for Ray as Rdlr having better stuff than Archie too. Now i still cringe when Hellickson pitches but he’s been getting it done some how. I’m giving these more than a benefit of doubt on any of their next moves.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      We’ve given them a ton of credit, when it’s been due, in even the most minor of ways.

      This isn’t golf. You don’t bogey a hole and have a good round. Each of these decisions is made independently, one at a time. This wasn’t a failure to execute — it was a failure in planning, and priorities, and in execution.

      I couldn’t get past the Yoan Lopez signing when they did nothing else to at least mitigate the harm. This is so far beyond that. It is so, so hard to get talent, even if you do have money — and so in the few opportunities left to have money acquire talent, we see teams spend exorbitantly.

      What will $10M be able to buy the D-backs that Touki couldn’t have bought? There are few teams that covet money. 29 of the other 29 teams covet talent.

      • Kevin says:

        The Yoan move, they went all in on him, so it’s always easy to criticize those signature type moves from our standpoint, but that’s their guy. That’s a sink or swim move. JB did it with Haren for instance, of course haren had a little more of a track history of success. Not all signature moves work out, so hopefully the other midlevel moves, work ones like rdlr, robbie ray, to make up for a disastrous signature one. yasmany may also be called a signature move and he works now, because with all the shifting going on, the lefthand pure rotational guy is in trouble unless he can bunt. So his right hand bat became a lot more valuable, in both keeping him, and/or being able to trade him if he’s bigtime coveted.

        so far, luck is meeting opportunity with these guys. Castillo being a major example of that. Chacin might be another example of that. That’s a Duncan arm.

        You can also say, if you bogy an easy hole, but make it up with an ace or birdy on hard hole, you’re even. These guys started with a real bad hand, and worked them selves into a possible full house. They haven’t done any major harm, and probably didn’t want to trade Toki, but it is what it is.

      • rye says:

        It bothered me a lot that they didn’t make a hard push for Moncada after the Lopez deal. I guess, given his age and how he’s doing in A-Ball this season they didn’t feel like he’d be ready to contribute or it was too big a gamble. It’s not my money but I still think that adding him would have been smart and that he’ll be a star some day.

  8. Ben says:

    The Touki trade has me depressed about this team & it does make one want to be fly-on-the-wall in the Dbacks front office to figure out how these decisions get made. As you guys noted over the fall, there doesn’t seem to be a compass or a consistency to the strategy. Are we in win-now, win-2016/17, or win-later mode? Who makes the decisions? Is it Kendrick’s meddling? Is it a too-man-chefs in the kitchen sort of thing (btw TLR, Stewart & Watson)? Maybe Derrick Hall has been the problem all along? Unfortunately, I don’t think Michael Lewis is planning a trip to AZ anytime soon.

    • Kevin says:

      Ray, Anderson, Corbin, rdlr, archie, i think rdlr is the only one first year arb eligible? could try to be both win now and later. Organization has some depth to it. goldy and Aj both silver slugger and great types. team is in a great position.

  9. Dave says:

    Still need a legitimate #1 starter. When are we going to get Cole Hamels?

  10. josh byrnes says:

    so nats are looking for a middle infielder. Jordan Zimmerman is in his final year. Let the flags start. Blair and Owings and cash back for an Ace.

  11. coldblueAZ says:

    We have another young pitcher that has recently impressed De Jon Watson; Wei-Chieh Huang http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=658791#/career/R/pitching/2015/ALL

    Submitted as food for thought.

  12. Ben says:

    Moderately mixed (at least not totally negative) evaluation of trade up on fangraphs now here – http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/touki-toussaint-and-prospect-valuation/

  13. Planes Phil says:

    Spot on. Good read.

    I’ve been saying this all along — it’s not just the Touki trade that has me so bothered, terrible as it is; it’s the series of moves on the whole. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent process maximizing return, and they keep shifting the window for contention closer and closer — deluding themselves that this .500 team, which has overperformed this year, can make the playoffs with just a tweak or two. Same hole Towers used to fall into, as if mortgaging the future to merely make the play-in game was somehow worth it.

    The devaluing of the few advantages we’ve had is ridiculously disheartening — largest draft pool, and they decide to spend it on a bunch of college relievers with no upside. Largest international signing pool, and they burn it on one guy. Now, they’re dumping lower level prospects for a few million in walking around money.

    As I think Jim Callis pointed out, draft money is limited now. International signing money is limited now. Free agency money is not limited at our level of spending, yet they insist on not taking advantage of that.

    Would have been better off just eating the rest of the garbage contracts Towers saddled us with and looking to compete next year at the soonest. Now, they can’t even wait that long.

  14. jim ellis says:

    I only wish you could post these articles BEFORE the front office makes decisions…

    On the plus side, the Diamondbacks have more arms that prospect to major leaguers than they have room for. The only problem is, they don’t always turn out. Now, the dbacks need to be able to convert more prospect pitchers out by percentage than they needed a few days ago.

    10 million selling price makes me think smoothing was wrong under the hood. Any hint that T.T. wasn’t the talent he was expected to be?

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Agree on this middle part (well, also the other parts). The whole idea that they have too many pitching prospects to really use is incompatible with the idea that many bust and most fizzle.

      I think it’s not that Toussaint has something wrong with him… it’s just that he’s Euros, and this group only values dollars. We just need to draw them a map to the foreign exchange place around the corner. They charge a transaction fee, but they treat the Euros like real money…

      • jim ellis says:

        Ryan, great analogy. Did you remember that I’m in Europe or coincidence? Either way, always quality analysis can be found here. Thanks.

  15. Jim says:

    Time to take a deep breath and get back to baseball. You’d think that we traded someone other that a young high school kid with a less than 50/50 chance of success. I’m still a Diamondback fan; if you’re not, blog about a different team. Get a life.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      This is my favorite comment ever left on the site.

      We dig really deep on small things that still matter, because it’s all about doing everything you possibly can to win. Never letting anything go because it’s hard, or because it’s small.

      This response is like: guys, this was small, and it’s probably not going to impact the team that much. Here’s the thing, Jim: yeah, this is small. But this business is so big, and there are so many things that matter to winning, that you can’t afford to just give up on some, and “small” can still be big.

      But, that’s what I love about this comment. It simultaneously says we care too much, and says we care too little. I think maybe we just have different definitions of what it means to be a fan. If you just want to stay positive all the time, I don’t have a problem with that — but that’s not the only way to be a fan.

  16. […] draft pick Touki Toussaint, which drew a ton of criticism across the baseball landscape. We issued our treatise on the deal on Monday, but a fruitful discussion was in order to clear the air and discuss the […]

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