On Friday, Ryan and I shared some thoughts on the trade deadline and the Diamondbacks’ and potential deals that ultimately didn’t go down. That’s mostly fine, but it does leave Arizona in a very familiar position: they’re still a team without an “ace.” Now, Patrick Corbin has been nothing but stellar since coming back from Tommy John surgery as we discussed on the latest episode of The Pool Shot. That’s surely a relief. But even as the team talked about making another run at a frontline arm prior to the deadline, something has become clear: the Diamondbacks don’t have the trade assets needed to get the pitcher they want.

The minor leagues and minor league players are something of a niche interest. There’s an entire community of scouts, evaluators and those that crave information on the next wave of major league talent. Whether that’s of interest to you or not, prospects play an important role. Well, I should say roles:

  • Prospects are future players, obviously. They can be developed and incorporated into the major league squad.
  • Prospects can serve as currency. They can be developed and traded to fill major league needs.

The first of these roles is obvious and the way most tend to view minor leaguers. But the second role is an important one, and when you’re a team like the Diamondbacks that can’t generally compete in total dollars on the free agent market, this second role is extremely important. Arizona isn’t a franchise that can buy an ace on the open market. The closest they come in recent years is getting outbid for Masahiro Tanaka and James Shields. Those two aren’t really aces, but that just goes to show what the D-backs are up against. As we know, they’ll have some extra money to spend this winter and a lot of extra money to spend the following winter, but in the meantime, they’re at a financial disadvantage. David Price will be a free agent this winter, but no one expects Arizona to be able to outspend other clubs on him. Zack Greinke might opt out of his deal with Dodgers and Johnny Cueto will be a free agent, too, but their prices will be sky high. Hisashi Iwakuma and Jeff Samardzija will be available but they’re not aces. In reality, the D-backs will have to spend a ton of money just to acquire another Patrick Corbin-level arm. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good pitcher, but it’s not the frontline starter that’s eluded them for a few years now.

To trade for a number one, Arizona would need to put together a substantial package. Fans, however, tend to overvalue their own prospects. What sounds like a great package of prospects to fans might sound paltry to other clubs. Archie Bradley is kind of a mess right now and can’t be traded anyways as he’s injured. Braden Shipley is a high-upside mystery. Aaron Blair still profiles as more good than excellent. Brandon Drury is most likely a league average player, nothing more. From there, it’s all downhill. As I spoke to Mauricio Rubio of baseball prospectus a while back, the Diamondbacks’ system is in the bottom half of baseball. Many other teams can put together packages that far exceed what Arizona can and they don’t have to gut the entire farm to do it.

Let’s take a look at the group of prospects that netted David Price. He’s a rental as he’ll be a free agent this winter and Toronto will not get a compensation pick if he turns down a Qualifying Offer per rules around players traded midseason. Here’s what it took to pry Price away from a non-contending Detroit squad (with the Baseball Prospectus Midseason Top 50 Rankings included):

  • Daniel Norris (#9): a nearly MLB-ready lefty with big stuff and some command struggles. Projects as a number two starter.
  • Matt Boyd (n/a): a pop-up lefty that’s made big strides in the upper minors. More solid than impact, probably a number four starter.
  • Jairo Labourt (n/a): a projectable lefty with big time velocity. Has three pitches and depending on how the secondaries play, he could be a number three or an eighth or ninth inning arm.

Okay, so we have one impact starter with some questions who’s still very young, a safe back-end starter and a high upside arm with a long way to go but a track record of success. All of that was surrendered for two months, plus the playoffs, of David Price. Yes, Price is damn near elite, but that’s not a lot of time to secure him. If the Diamondbacks wanted to match that package, they could have offered Braden Shipley, Aaron Blair and maybe Jimmie Sherfy. Shipley isn’t Norris but Blair may be better than Boyd and Sherfy is a reliever all the way but he’s closer to contributing than Labourt. In my opinion, Toronto’s offer was probably better.

But a rental isn’t really what the Diamondbacks are after. They want a controllable asset that will be with them when the team is competitive in 2016, 2017 and, most likely, 2018. Cole Hamels fit that mold precisely. He’s owed $22.5 million per season through 2018 with a vesting option for 2019. That’s a lot of money, but these days, $22.5 million per season for a bona fide number one is by no means an overpay, and in three years, well, that might just be a bargain. The Rangers ultimately got a deal done for him (and reliever Jake Diekman) in exchange for the following (again, with the BP Midseason Top 50 included):

  • Nick Williams (#21): a left fielder with immense tools, Williams is finally starting to grow into his game. His upside remains insane, and even if he never reaches it, he’s still a very talented player.
  • Jorge Alfaro (#34): catchers with massive raw power don’t grow no trees and Alfaro had really started to refine his game before he went down with an ankle injury.
  • Jake Thompson (#30): with power stuff, Thompson has been traded multiple times as a key asset. He projects as a number three starter with a move to closer also in the mix.
  • Jerad Eickhoff: although his upside is limited, Eickhoff projects as a number three or four starter, but could be effective in the back end of a bullpen.
  • Alec Asher: Asher was a effectively a throw in who projects as middle relief prospect.

This was the guy Arizona wanted, but they couldn’t come close to competing. Texas was able to include three top-50 guys and still keep their two best prospects. Arizona would have to include Shipley, Blair, Brandon Drury, Gabby Guerrero and Touki Toussaint to even join the conversation. Of course, they don’t have Toussaint any more and the package above wouldn’t compare to what the Rangers offered. The Diamondbacks would have had to have cleaned house completely and it still would have been light. Texas, meanwhile, got an ace and kept their two best prospects with a bevy of other impact guys still in the fold. When comparing the two systems, the difference is stark – it’s the talent equivalent of a $95 million payroll and the $220-plus million the Dodgers have at their disposal.

So, let’s take stock of the situation. The Diamondbacks can’t afford to buy an ace and they don’t have the resources to trade for one. They’ll have to hope to get Archie Bradley back up to speed whenever he’s done with his thing and hopefully smooth out the inconsistencies in Braden Shipley’s game. Shoot, they can trade Dansby Swanson this winter if they want, but I don’t think that’ll go over very well. And, it sure seems like having Toussaint to deal, if that were in fact the right thing to do, would be pretty useful right about now, but I digress.

So while it’s easy to look at the farm and see a couple of guys that you want to pencil into the 2017 starting lineup, keep in mind that it’s not just light in terms of future stars, it’s also light in terms of currency. By the time you get to #6 on The D-backs 2015 Midseason Top 10, you’re into bench player territory. Meanwhile, teams like the Rangers, Twins, Cubs and Dodgers are deep organizations, ones that can wheel and deal without stripping themselves bare. Sure, lots of minor leaguers don’t work out in the end, but they still have value long before they make it to the majors. Arizona has dealt from the system frequently in the past and the cupboard is thin, even after the 2015 draft. That’s part of why I argued that they should have taken more chances, but again, I digress.

Maybe a year from now, Archie Bradley and Patrick Corbin are a hell of a one-two punch with Aaron Blair and Chase Anderson following them up. That might put Arizona on the edge of contention. At that time, will they make a Price-like trade? Will they be able to do that? Will they have enough to push themselves into contention, not just for the playoffs, but for the World Series? Or, will they still find themselves needing another front of the rotation arm but without the financial or prospect resources to get the deal done? They’d probably better hope they get lucky from within because at this stage, it appears their working at a deficit in terms of currency in every sense of the word.

24 Responses to Diamondbacks Coming Up Short on Currency

  1. Jeff says:

    The problem seems to be the squads over abundance of 3s and 4s without any true ace. However when evaluating a teams stock you also have to take a look at the big league club as well especially on the youngest team in baseball. What about ray and godley? Not even a mention of them up above! Just because a guy isn’t pitching in the minor leagues shouldn’t take away any of his value. I think we are getting a little too carried away with this whole prospect tag. Ray at 23 and godley at 25 both assets due to being young, talented and being under long term control. A package including a pair of one of their major league prospects as well as a minor leaguer or 2 could definitely represent a formidable package.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      That’s certainly a good point, especially in regards to Ray. With three starts under his belt, I’m going to reserve judgement on Godley until after the season. But, in these kinds of deals, prospects were the currency exchanged, and so that’s what I stuck with in the evaluation. Plus, you take a loss in terms of value obtained when you trade a young arm under team control like Ray for an expensive front line starter.

      For example, if Ray’s a 3-win pitcher, dealing him for a 5-win pitcher is only a net gain of 2 wins whereas trading prospects and keeping a guy like Ray doesn’t come with the immediate cost in production. That said, it might be the only way to get a deal done, it just reduces the overall impact, both financially and on the field.

    • Julian G. says:

      I think that’s why the dbacks wanted chapman, to show guys like Price, Cueto ect that you can have your 30 mil a year, play with one of the best hitters in baseball and have Chapman and Ziegler ensuring their hard work doesn’t go to waste. i agree the dbacks need to present more than money to get a top pitcher, but a trade isn’t out of the questions. Guys like Danny Salazar or Carrasco is out there. Possible number one guys, maybe more of a two but would the dbacks be crazy enough to trade a guy like Tomas? I like the outfield with Inciarte, Pollock and Peralta. Dbacks need to call up Blair or Shipley to see just how good these guys are and showcase them for the winter.

  2. rye says:

    I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why this team would be out on Price or Cueto. The core of this team is very young, controlled, and cheap. Allowing for arb raises the team will be looking at a 2016 payroll of $40M-$45M. The D-Backs typically keep payroll around $90M and have been known to cross $100M when it’s deemed they’re good enough to compete. A rotation anchored by Price or Cueto coupled with slight internal adjustments to the bullpen and this team is very, very much such a team. Even signing Price for $210M/7yrs and the D-Backs would still project to be in the bottom 1/4 in payroll for the foreseeable future. The argument I hear all the time on why the D-Backs won’t sign one of these guys is, “The D-Backs don’t have the financial muscle to play with the big boys,” and “The D-Backs aren’t a team that goes out and spends $30M AAV on a pitcher”. In my option, that is exactly the move that his team is going to make. With an “ace” in Price or Cueto and the youth it already has at or in the majors, this team, over the next few years will be able to restock it’s prospect currency through the draft. In 4-5 years, Price/Cueto should be right around where Hamels is this year and $30M/yr might look like a good deal to a buying team. This would further allowing the team to turn it’s current surplus of actual currency into the prospect currency to which this article refers.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Let’s not forget, it’s more than just money. Those guys will have offers from the Dodgers if Greinke walks, as well other major players. Coming to a secondary market like Arizona, one that has a hitter-friendly ballpark, may not be as palatable. That’s a big unknown, but it will factor in. Ownership has also been skeptical about going over four years on guys and they’d obviously have to eschew that to get a Price-type player, so their willingness to do so remains to be seen. Could they afford it? Maybe, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

      • rye says:

        In the end, it’ll still boil down to money and years. Plus, Phoenix doesn’t look so bad in the winter. This team is young and poised for a consistent run. Price or Cueto would be the undisputed “top-dog” on this team which might have some appeal over playing 2nd fiddle to Kershaw. The D-Backs have one glaring hole and have been blatantly piling up money. I really hope I’m right as it’s the exact kind of move the team need to make to truly compete.

      • Mark says:

        don’t forget about one little thing, that’ll help the payroll starting next year… the New FSAZ TV Contract starts opening day next year, and they’ll have the extra $$ from that

        • Jeff Wiser says:

          The thing with the TV contract is that it STARTS with the opening day game and runs through the season. It’s not like the D-backs get a big lump of money on January 1st. They can do one of two things:
          a) let the extra money accumulate over the season and spend in the winter of 2016, or
          b) borrow from the future and spend this winter, but limit themselves in the winter of 2016.

          They’ve already stated that they borrowed a bit from their future in the Tomas and Yoan Lopez deals, so I’m not sure how much money there is to work with this winter. There will surely be some, but I doubt they’ll have the full spending power that some are imagining. But they do have options, so we’ll see how they decide to work the budget.

          • rye says:

            I don’t get the “borrowed from the future” argument either. It can be debated whether Lopez was a good purchase or not but anyone playing in the international market should be expected to pay this kind of “tax” up front. This is a cost of doing business that ownership would have had to sign off on anyway beforehand. If some sort of payback was expected, I’d hope sacrificing Touki to the ownership gods for $10M would have been enough. For me, this winter is shit-or-get-off-the-pot time for the D-Backs. If they try and slap some lipstick on a Fister or Leake and call him TOR this fan-base should scream bloody murder. Anything less than Zimmermann would be a joke and Price or Cueto should be expected not hoped for. Like I said, with an maximum in expected 2016 payroll of $45M right now, this team could go out and spend $30M/yr on a pitcher and still be projected to be very near the bottom payroll wise for the foreseeable future.

          • Jeff Wiser says:

            The comments about borrowing from the future came from the organization, for what it’s worth. That’s not my analysis, that’s from the front office a few months back.

          • Ben says:

            I’ve heard you say this a few times. To me it seems like both the TV contract and the contracts for the players they sign in the 2015-2016 off season would start once the season starts. I’m fairly sure players a paid as the season goes on and not in one big chunk. Unless the signing bonus is huge, which we could most likely negotiate out of anyway, we should be able to match revenue with expenses.

            Plus its not like we totally need the TV money to pay for a top tier FA. We still have 30-50 mill before that even factors in. I personally don’t think we should spend that money on an expensive FA, but if we wanted to I believe we easily could.

    • James says:

      It isn’t just about the money. Yes, the Diamondbacks CAN offer 7/210 to Cueto or Price, that will get the Diamondbacks a courtesy call to put them into the conversation. I, for one, am not entirely convinced the team, despite its available resources will actually go that long on anyone, given the team has shown such an aversion to massive commitments in the past.

      But even more than money, the Diamondbacks have very little to offer to entice one of those big names to come to Arizona. The Diamondbacks, even with one of those big names added, will be looking at the outside possibility of making a run at the second Wild Card, if they can manage to get over .500. Chase Field is a hitter’s dream, and a flyball pitcher’s nightmare. The media market stinks for endorsements. When Randy Johnson is getting his “big media endorsement” shucking A/C units for a local dealer, that does not speak well to the opportunities. LA, CHI, NY, these places will offer the opportunity for 7 or 8 figure endorsement contracts.

      Plenty of other teams, especially the Dodgers, also have a recent history of winning. The Diamondbacks have been headed the wrong direction since 2011. This season looks to finish better than last year, but the improvement to this point is not much in excess of statistical noise. The team is younger, more dynamic, and has some identifiable pieces for the future, but it hasn’t yet done anything with those pieces.

      The only way the Diamondbacks get Price or Cueto, is by finding a creative, and potentially franchise-crippling way, to outbid the competition. They can go the route of the Nationals and offer an extra $15 million or so on top of the very best offer out there (putting the conversation likely closer to 7/231), or they could try an opt-out strategy and hope it doesn’t bite them in the rear 4-5 years down the line when these pitchers will almost certainly be in steep decline. Either way, the team will be committing over 1/3 of their resources to one player. That won’t leave much room to go get ANOTHER such player, which would be a big selling point for other teams out there. The Dodgers have nearly as much money coming off the books at the end of the season as the Diamondbacks will be committing to payroll IN TOTAL.

  3. Anonymous says:

    lets talk Godley. what makes him special so far is his ability to change eye level. not only does he have plus sink, but what might be the reason he might be tor, guys cant go up there with the idea of peppering him, or the let it launch, the above the thigh let it fly, due to the cutter. he’s also not nibbling while changing eye levels too. lefties cant sit on a sinker/ change. looking forward to agon match up. corbin is tor, godley possible tor. robbie ray is throwing strikes and has a tor fb. castillo all around game has been awesome. this team right now has some ingredients. the bullpen is slowly looking nasty. didnt think that a month ago.

    • Jeff says:

      What makes godley so good is his ability to change speeds, and I am not talking about the radar gun. One of the most effective ways a pitcher can change speeds is through movement. Pitches moving away from a hitter appear slower to a hitters eye and pitches moving towards a hitter appear faster to the eye. Percepted velocity combined with location is actually much more important than actual velocity read by a radar gun. His sinker cutter combination is absolutely filthy! As he matures and command improves he should only continue to dominate. Impressive run thus far!

      • Anonymous says:

        concur with the whole post. the cutter is a major hand/eye, as mariano taught us. pitch looks fat, and the swing has started and now the swing is on plane but oh darn the bat to ball is not square. throw in batter eyes are changing with the sinker in a different way…cutter isn’t easy to master either.

    • Rizz says:

      None of those guys are tor. Corbin is a nice pitcher, but not an ace. Ray has regressed since his hot start and is more of a 3/4. It is hard to draw too many conclusions from 3 starts, but Godley is more than likely a back of rotation guy.

  4. Cole says:

    I’m betting the team will go after Jordan Zimmerman. Won’t cost quite as much and has so far been lost in the shuffle of people talking Price and Cueto. I think the Dbacks try to conduct their business early and sign Zimmerman before another team uses him as a Price/Cueto fallback. Whether that ends up being a good decision remains to be seen.

  5. Edward says:

    I just don’t see a big FA signing. Even Zimmerman will cost north of $120 mil (his agent is Boras), he’s not getting any younger, and he’s having a good but not great year. Bad sign.

    It’s not sexy. But the team is best suited both standing pat and keeping its stable of young (albeit with question mark) arms (Blair, Shipley, Bradley, Ray) and accumulating more lottery tickets ( a la Ray, RDLR) like they did last offseason. Maybe make a savvy, under-the-radar move to bolster the bullpen too.

    One interesting consideration: the Reds still plan to move Chapman (I mean they’d be crazy not to, righ!?) in the offseason. But won’t his price also come down as an impending FA? I know that decades of breakthroughs in advanced statistical analysis have correctly exposed the over-valuing of closers/saves/ etc.

    But I also think Chapman is unique. A bullpen ace in the mold of Wade Davis, Kimbrel, Britton. A potential difference maker and linchpin of a Dbacks in the way the KC Royals had last October w/ Herrera-Davis-Holland. He shortens games and if used outside of the 9th inning, could be a weapon in high leverage situations. Imagine a ‘pen with Chafin-Ziegler-Chapman and maybe a prospect like Burgos/Sherfy/Barrett/Miller emerges. Suddenly, this young starting staff doesn’t have the pressure to pitch 8 innings.
    I know we mock this “brain trust’s” decision making but I don’t think they were entirely off-base to inquire about Chapman’s availability. I hated the asking price and so did they, apparently. But maybe it would only take 2 grade B prospects this winter. Who knows. Thoughts, Jeff and Ryan? and OJ somewhere.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      As always, trades are dependent on expectations. If this team acquires one big time arm on the free agent market over the winter, something I’m not sure about but I suppose is a possibility, then doing the diligence to solidify the bullpen is a good idea. The benefit of getting a guy like Chapman is that you get to move Ziegler back into a role where he can kind of play fireman and get you out of trouble rather than saving him for the ninth. I think there’s some real value there.

      But the issue is likely to be the Reds’ asking price. I think they want a lot for him. And two B-level guys is essentially Blair and Drury, so if you’re comfortable with that, then that’s what you might be risking. Perhaps you do Blair and Brito, maybe Shipley and a relief prospect. The D-backs don’t have much in the way of Grade A prospects, so sending B-level guys is effectively skimming off the top of the system for a rental closer.

      If the expectations are there, then maybe that’s a good play. For me, it’s a little near sighted and I’d rather wait until midseason before jumping in, just to hedge my bets, but this team isn’t that far off, I just think that depending on what they do this winter, we might have to wait just a little bit longer before pushing the chips in.

      • Edward says:

        All good points. Truth is, I have such little faith in this FO after Operation Touki that the prospect of most deals scares the hell out of me.

        That said, lets hope Shipley’s recent run of success is something to build on. Upside is undeniable.

  6. Dave-Phoenix says:

    As much as I want the D-Backs to go buy 1 or 2 TOR starters, the reality is that it is very high risk for a mid-market team to do so.

    There just are no guarantees with pitching. If you spend $20 million on a pitcher and that pitcher has an injury, you are just plain screwed if you are a mid-market team. If something like that happens, it could ruin the D-Backs for the next 5 years.

    Remember Russ Ortiz? Prior to the D-Backs, Ortiz was a 20 game winning pitcher. He had won 14 games or more for 6 straight years, and 21 games in 2003.

    On the flip side, 1 or 2 great pitchers can win the World Series, as proven once again last year, and by the D-Backs in 2001.

    Without great pitchers, you will always be on the outside looking in. You will never get to the world series with five #3 or #4 pitchers in your lineup, and that what the D-Backs have if they don’t go outside the organization.

    It is a high risk, high reward situation, and even higher risk for a mid-market team, but it is a risk the D-Backs are going to have to take if they want to go back to the World Series.

  7. Jim says:

    The GM has spent much of his time improving the pitching staff; which has done for both SPs and the BP. The team is better this year than last; we have more talent in the minors this year and haven’t traded it away foolishly KT left us in a hole at both levels. We can’t afford an established TOR guy; Corbin and/or Hudson may be TOR, but we don’t know yet. Robby Ray may be; we don’t know. I’m enjoying the team this year and look forward to next year. In short, I concur w/ Dave-Phoenix except I think his assessment on our SPs is pessimistic; but, otherwise, he is a realist rather than a dreamer or a complainer.

    • Rizz says:

      I’m not sure how you can say the talent in the minors is better this year. Some of the top talent from last year is now in the majors (Bradley, Lamb, Ahmed, Ray) and Toussaint was foolishly traded away. A couple other top guys have disappointed this year (Lopez, Leyba). Sure, some other guys have stepped up and then there was the draft, but that is a lot to replace. It is a safe bet that when the next organizational rankings come out the dbacks will have fallen significantly.

  8. […] the team’s fortunes next year. As for whether they can accomplish that via trade — the D-backs don’t seem to have the currency for that without subtracting from their major league team. So we’re talking about free agency. A quick […]

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