Why would the Braves think that Shelby Miller and Arodys Vizcaino are worth A.J. Pollock and Aaron Blair? Even by just making a quick calculation, it’s pretty clear that Arizona would come up short in that deal from a value standpoint. Yet the Braves asked anyways and were fine with being turned down for now. They’ll leave their ringers on and hope that Arizona gets desperate enough to call them back. We’ll all hope they don’t. After all, giving Zack Greinke all of the money in the state of Arizona has a way of fixing some things.
Trading from the major league team is something that we tried very hard to avoid when creating The D-backs 2015-2016 Offseason Plan and something the team did when they landed their ace. We did include Yasmany Tomas in that plan as potential trade chip, but that’s it (for clarity, that wasn’t necessarily the strongest possible offer, but rather a “hey, let’s see what Billy Beane says” kind of thing). Prior to the plan being published, I even dove specifically into Tomas’ trade value, something that about as uncertain as uncertain can be. Other guys like Pollock, David Peralta, Jake Lamb and the untouchable Paul Goldschmidt are all bargains to begin with and make very little to no sense for Arizona to move.
The prospects, though, that’s a different story. Here’s the thing: they are a form of currency as assets but many don’t figure to be productive enough in the short term to help the team as Arizona clearly wants to win at the big league level right now. So even though they’re guys I’ve scouted and/or written a lot about (and in some cases, for almost three years now), there is a case to be made for parting with them in the right context. Even with a mediocre system, Arizona has extra assets aside from payroll if they’ll include prospects in trades.
We’ve explored this before, but I’m starting to feel like there’s a disconnect. When I rolled out The 2016 D-backs Top 30 Prospects, I followed it up with a note on the system as a whole. Basically, I tried to put everything into it’s proper context, noting that as excited as we are about Blair, Dansby Swanson, Brandon Drury and others, the system is probably in the bottom half of baseball. Even these top names, the ones listed above, have a lesser value to other teams than they do in the minds of Diamondbacks fans. The tendency to overvalue your own prospects is a well-known phenomenon, and with as bad as Arizona has been in the recent past, we’ve tended view prospects as the solution to the team’s maladies (at least prior to Friday night). But that’s not an honest, market-based assessment of value. This is where the disconnect comes from.
So instead, let’s look at some prospects that might be overvalued by the mainstream and identify a couple of targets who might be undervalued by the same crowd. After all, there are still a couple of final moves to be made by the Diamondbacks’ brass to put the finishing touches on this newly-formed contender.
Aaron Blair – look, part of what clouds the collective perception of Blair is how bad the actual Diamondbacks rotation has been in recent memory. That’s not to disrespect Blair at all, but his ceiling hasn’t changed at all. There’s a 15% chance he’s a #3 starter, a 65% chance he’s a #4 and the remaining 20% is split between being a #5 and completely unproductive. Number four’s are nice, but they’re not fetching a ton in return.
Brandon Drury – the offensive struggles up the middle in recent memory have left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. Drury doesn’t have the chops to be anything more than an average defender at second who probably slides to third in a few years. He can be an above average hitter, maybe, but probably plays closer to average. That’s not without merit, but it’s not an impact profile either. He’s going to be viewed more as a complementary piece than a headliner in a trade for something significant.
Dansby Swanson – yeah, Swanson went 1-1, but don’t confuse him with the Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Byron Buxton types. The 2015 draft was without an obvious generational talent, which was unfortunate timing for Arizona. He’s good, though, and potentially an All-Star caliber player at a marquee defensive position. But without much of a professional track record, other teams could still see significant risk here. I think Swanson has big value, but he’s not fetching Sonny Gray or Carlos Carrasco by himself. There’s major value here, but maybe not as much as some think.
Peter O’Brien – as we’ve seen with Mark Trumbo most recently, one-dimensional sluggers just don’t have the value they used to. He’s not going to provide any value defensively and he’ll more or less clog the bases in the near future. We saw what Daniel Palka was worth and the difference between the two in terms of trade value probably isn’t all that different, although O’Brien probably has slightly more.
Jack Reinheimer – guys who can provide solid defense at more than one spot up the middle have a way of having long big league careers. Yeah, I’m looking at you Cliff Pennington. Reinheimer might hit a little more and can be useful in a number of capacities for an acquiring team making him more valuable than one might think. I’ll take an adequate hitter who can cover a couple of important defensives positions on my bench all day long.
Oscar Hernandez – catcher are always valuable, and even though I don’t know that Hernandez will ever hit much at all, his ability to receive the ball will keep him employed. Obviously, the Diamondbacks would love to bring him along in their organization and I don’t think he’ll be traded, but don’t confuse his current offensive inability for his value. It’s surely higher than what meets the eye right now.
Daniel Gibson – lefty relievers are always desirable and the stuff that Gibson flashed in the AFL proved that he’s not far away. He also hasn’t made his big league debut yet, and as we’ve recently witnessed, having relief options at low salaries with minor league options is incredibly valuable. When relievers hit a funk, having some flexibility is key. Being a reliever isn’t great on it’s own, but Gibson might have a bit more value than what’s perceived.
I started this post before the Greinke frenzy. Even though the D-backs have addressed their biggest need to a large degree, they’re not done. They could use another starter and/or some bullpen help. The guys they had weren’t going to net them the frontline starter they sought on the trade market. The news of Atlanta’s request made that pretty clear. Teams knew Arizona’s needs and they were going to drive a hard, unrealistic bargain in exchange for even just okay starters in return. In Greinke, they were able to add without subtracting. It’s just money.
But there are still needs and still guys to part with to fill those needs. Can Brandon Drury or Aaron Blair net a good reliever? Probably, but you’re trading every day assets for occasional ones. Could Blair, O’Brien and a low level prospect get you a back end starter? Maybe, but Blair’s a back end starter anyways. The value that has been commonly associated with these guys isn’t equal to the actual value that other teams are willing to part with. Prospects are risky, after all, and other teams are assuming all of that risk if they pull a trade for a D-backs prospects (or any prospects for that matter). It’s hard to get equal guaranteed production for possible production.
The lack impact in the Diamondbacks’ system hurt their ability to get what they needed on the trade market. Now we just have $206 million less and Zack Greinke to show for it. I’m okay with that. But when it comes time to fill the remaining needs, keep things like risk and transaction costs in mind. We might be surprised at how little the team can get for its young assets, which is probably why they’re still around. For now…
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