Friday night, rather late for my tastes, the Diamondbacks executed a trade, sending right-handed reliever and Chase Field darling Brad Ziegler to the Boston Red Sox for two prospects. It’s a move that was a little shocking in the sense that it occurred in early July and not right up against the trade deadline. Trading Ziegler in and of itself is not a bad idea and even one we suggested in The 2016 Midseason Plan if the D-backs couldn’t work out an extension. The kids coming back are young and talented but will surely not be helping out during The Contention Window, if they help out at all. And trading Ziegler is possibly the tip of the iceberg, signaling the team’s position in this market. We just have to wonder, did the Diamondbacks get enough back for him and what do they do next?
We’ve been over the particulars before: Ziegler is about to turn 37 but he keeps getting ground balls at crazy rates and is set to be a free agent at season’s end. With all of the space in Chase’s outfield, the fourth-largest in baseball, hits to the outfield are always dicey because there’s so much room for balls to fall in and, if they do, rolling to the wall takes a very long time, helping create extra-base opportunities hitters. Brad Ziegler eliminated all of those factors by just being who he is — a ground balling mofo that didn’t let leads slip away. In reality, he was more helpful for the Diamondbacks than just about any other team you can imagine outside of the Rockies.
And now he’s gone. Arizona can and should court him this winter when he’s a free agent. Boston likely accelerated the Diamondbacks’ plan a bit by being a motivated buyer wanting to get Ziegler into Fenway as quickly as possible. For this trade to happen now, the offer the Red Sox submitted must have been better than the other interest that the team was drawing for its closer across baseball. That said, we’ve seen this team fail to maximize value time and again. Would holding out for the deadline have drawn a better package? To answer that question, we need to look at what they got in return in the first place.
Luis Alejandro Basabe is the twin brother of Luis Alexander Basabe. The two were a package deal to Boston on the international market, and while Luis Alexander has the bigger tools, Luis Alejandro (the one Arizona acquired) is noted for having the better feel for the game. And his performances are nothing to sneeze at, either. The 19-year old second baseman is doing well in full season ball, hitting .311/.414/.471 with four homers, four triples and 16 doubles in 63 games with 14 steals. He’s struck out around 24% of the time throughout his four professional campaigns, but always walked around 15% of the time, showing some pretty impressive plate discipline for a kid that’s not even 20. Not a big guy at 5’10 and 160-pounds, there’s a little projection left for the switch-hitter.
Jose Almonte is a 20-year old right-handed pitcher who had been playing alongside Basabe in the South Atlantic League with Boston’s affiliate, the Greenville Drive. While there’s not much in the way of scouting reports on Almonte, he’s been noted for a high-80’s/low-90’s fastball that may well have gained a few ticks as he’s added weight and matured over the last year and a half. His best secondary pitch is a changeup, which helps explain his success in the lower minors where hitters just don’t often see good cambios. His future may entail a shift to bullpen where his stuff can play up, but that’s a ways off. You’re probably looking at a fringy back end starter or middle reliever here who gets a few more grounders than flies, but not on any sort of grand scale that slaps the “contact manager” label on him.
Both of these players are three or more years from the majors, should they not get injured, stall out, or decided to run away from their team. You might see an everyday regular with a well-rounded profile in Basabe and a swingman in Almonte. Those can certainly be useful pieces down the road, post-contention, when the D-backs may be needing to fill some spots vacated by players that have grown too expensive. These are also guys that can be traded at some point down the line to keep the team competitive through the 2018 and/or beyond. They’ve gained some currency here, the flexible kind, something they need badly as they’ve hemorrhaged talent from the farm over the last few seasons without replacing it.
If Brad Ziegler was not going to sign an extension on the team’s terms before the trade deadline, getting something for him was the right move. We can’t speak to his willingness to sign an extension at this point, but maybe details will emerge on that over the coming days. His desire to hit free agency, whether big or small, matters here because letting Ziegler get there in the first place is a major risk. When I looked at trades for impending free agents like Ziegler (and Daniel Hudson) two weeks ago, I noted that they often fetch paltry returns. Most of these trades netted one AA or AAA prospect that had fringy ability and was likely to end up a bench player or middle reliever. I think the Diamondbacks did better than that here, if only by diversifying the return by going to lower in the minors and getting two players instead of one. Both players they’ve acquired have big league upside that you don’t have to squint to see. That’s a good thing.
But losing Ziegler hurts in a major way. If they’re going to subtract the best pitcher from a not-so-good bullpen, they’d might as well start dismantling things. If winning in 2016 were the priority, this deal doesn’t happen in the first place. So we’ve got to hope that Arizona maximizes the opportunity, trades the other players it can and should, and pulls in as much as possible in each transaction. Hudson, Welington Castillo, Yasmany Tomas and several others should all be up for sale, and while we didn’t really see trading Robbie Ray and other starters as a sound tactic, the team might still do best to explore those types of moves, too, at least listening to offers.
Unfortunately, the team has not done well in maximizing opportunities before. Strategy seems to elude the front office at times, as was the case when the D-backs blew past their bonus pool to sign the failed Yoan Lopez, then didn’t continue to spend like their contemporaries have. That maneuver cost the team the opportunity to sign marquee international talent for two years while not doing enough in 2014 when it had the chance to cover up for the opportunity cost. They also had the largest draft pool in 2015, then didn’t use about $2 million when they had the chance, loading up on college players and basically throwing their financial leverage in the garbage.
Losing Brad Ziegler is a big blow, but he can be re-obtained if desired and Arizona should really consider spending serious money for him this winter. He’s just the best fit imaginable. The return for him was probably adequate given that he’s been historically undervalued, even though I could very well argue that he was worth more. Sometimes the market just doesn’t bear it and you have to take a lesser deal than you wanted given that they were going lose Ziegler one way or another. I get that. But where this whole thing can really get off track is if they drag their feet on subsequent moves. If you’re going to dismantle it, dismantle it and re-tool for another run over the winter. This team has stopped short of maximizing it’s opportunities numerous times and if Brad Ziegler was sold just so the team can hang on to everyone else and win 70 games, we should be disappointed. Let’s hope this is just the beginning.
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