If you would have told fans the Diamondbacks could be .500 at the All Star break, most would have gladly taken it. Five over? Even better. Ten over? Now you’ve got to kidding, right? In reality, the team just got swept in Los Angeles and is still SEVENTEEN games over .500. It seems unreal. You know the reasons why — the team has four All Stars, the supporting cast is getting the job done, a smarter approach is paying off and it finally feels like the team has enough depth to weather the storm. Still, they are coming off a tough sweep to the division-leading Dodgers and the break couldn’t come at a better time. With the team positioned as the leading candidate for the first Wild Card spot, things look good.
But, as we’ve talked about in the past, it’s no longer about making the playoffs, but about making sure they team can make a run in the playoffs. They’ll likely have to face the Rockies (or a NL Central team) in a one-game play-in contest just to earn the opportunity to face the Dodgers in a best of five series. Frankly, the team could be better. If they want to make a deep run and get over the LA hurdle, it’s reasonable to suggest the team makes an addition or two. The D-backs also face the toughest schedule of any National League team in the second half, so some reinforcements make sense. They’ve gotten off to a great start and the stars have aligned, but they’re not out of the woods just yet. A better team is always, well, better. Especially when you’re looking to make a deep run in the fall.
Not helping matters, the Diamondbacks have a dirty little secret at the plate. Against right-handed pitching, the team has been awesome. They’re collectively slashing .270/.341/.464, good for 361 wRC, the fourth-best mark in baseball behind only the Astros, Yankees and Nationals. Against lefties, however, they’ve scuffled. They’re slashing .225/.287/.378, good for 75 wRC, the third-worst mark in baseball ahead of only the Padres and Athletics. They’re also hitting for less power and striking out more often against lefties, only adding to their issues against southpaws. Sure, you can easily argue that the team could use more help in the bullpen, but it seems clear that they could also use some help at the dish with a priority on performing better against lefties. Should they win a play-in game, they’ll be seeing Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood, and if they can manage a win or two, they’ll certainly see Kershaw twice and maybe even see Wood a second time. They need some help here, clearly, so a right-handed bat makes sense.
The problem, of course, is that they don’t just need any right-handed bat. This is a team that’s deep on productive players, and just replacing one productive player with another productive player isn’t much of an upgrade, if it is one at all. So the team needs a guy that can really make an impact. Looking at the list of trade candidates, there aren’t a ton of guys who fit the mold.
- Zack Cozart hits right-handed and crushes lefties, but he’d force Chris Owings back to the outfield and that’s not necessarily ideal. Plus, how much do you want to pin your hopes on a BABIP that’s nearly 80 points higher than his career average?
- Jed Lowrie comes with some positional flexibility, but the switch-hitter has been better against righties than lefties.
- Yonder Alonso and Lucas Duda both play first base, so, yeah… And they’re lefties.
- Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson bat left-handed.
- Alex Avila is a left-handed batter and the team seems to like their catching situation.
That really leaves a trio of outfielders who just might work. One is the Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna who’s 26 and is in the midst of a career season. His OBP is up and he’s hitting for far more power than at any point in the past. In a pinch, he can play center field, but he’s best in a corner. He’s making $3.5 million this season and comes with two more years of team control where his arbitration salaries will escalate. The problem is, Miami is going to want a ton in return. Arizona likely doesn’t have the prospects to pull off such a deal and might be faced with having to surrender a core player from their major league roster. With the team’s plans for the next few years still cloudy, Ozuna is likely too expensive for Arizona’s taste — not in terms of salary, but in terms of completing the transaction.
Another outfielder that could work and fits a bit better is the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen. He’s no longer plus in center field, but can easily slide to a corner where he’s played some in Pittsburgh. Cutch has put a dismal 2016 behind him and is mashing this year. He walks, doesn’t strike out much and has shown a resurgence of power from the right side. He’s killing lefties this year and has always been better against them, although he’s no slouch against righties, either. He’s owed the remainder of his $14 million deal this year and has a team option for $14.5 million next season (with a $1 million buyout). Doing the math, he’s either owed about $6 million for just the remainder of 2017, or about $19 million for two years. It’s an option that probably should get exercised, but do the Diamondbacks want that second year? They still have Yasmany Tomas floating around and David Peralta‘s not leaving. The Pirates, like the Marlins, are going to want a big haul for their franchise player and the cost, again, looks prohibitively high. That extra year of team control drives up the price, and while the D-backs could try to trade his remaining year this winter and recoup some of their loss, that’s going to be a tall order. This may be a little too complicated unless the team is all-in for 2018, too.
The final candidate is J.D. Martinez of the Tigers. He’s the biggest bat on the trade block and after getting healthy, has been absolutely crushing. His right-handed bat fits in left field and he has absolutely murdered lefties in a small sample this season. For his career, the 29-year old hits lefties better than righties, but can hold his own against same-handed pitching. He’s owed the remainder of his $11.8 million deal (which should be something like $4 million), but is in his walk year and will be a free agent at season’s end. In that sense, he’s purely a rental and the D-backs would owe him nothing in 2018 and beyond. With their long-term plans still a mystery, a rental makes sense. The Tigers will want valuable parts back for Martinez, but with just two and a half months of control remaining, they’re asking price can’t be sky-high if they want any chance at trading him. If you’re looking for a short-term addition that is conceivably affordable and helps shore up a weakness, this is your guy.
The question become the cost. To get an idea, let’s take a look at some trades from the last two deadlines. Here are a couple of deals that might be able to inform our view of what acquiring Martinez might entail.
The Ben Zobrist deal is a better comparison, but Zobrist was able to play several positions and owed a bit less cash. This is somewhat close as he was hitting well at the time of the trade and added some positional flexibility. Sean Manaea was the Royals’ third best prospect at the time with the upside of a #3 or #4 starter. Aaron Brooks was an up and down arm that slotted as a fill in starer. The cost here isn’t tremendously high and Manaea was the obvious headliner, though Zobrist as a trade candidate probably falls just short of J.D. Martinez.
Yoenis Cespedes is one of the biggest deadlines names to be traded in recent history. His deal included two more years of team control, but he had an opt-out in his contract and at the point of his trade, it was clear that he’d exercise that provision. That essentially made him a two-month rental, though he was owed over twice as much as J.D. Martinez will be owed, and he was likely a better hitter than what we should expect from Martinez going forward. Their defense is relatively similar, however, and Cespedes netted the Tigers Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa in return. Fulmer immediately slotted in as one of the Tigers’ best prospects and has emerged as a quality #2 or #3 rotation piece while Cessa has filled the role as a swingman type and has been shuttled back and forth between AAA and the majors. Fulmer was a quality prospect here, but Cessa is little more than a depth piece.
Maybe you split the difference a bit here, maybe you hedge a bit close to Cespedes than Zobrist. Either way, you’re looking at a strong rotation piece and another option with some fill-in type upside that can become a bench piece or a middle inning bullpen arm. If that’s what we’re looking at, some names start to emerge. The Tigers probably don’t want the headline piece to be a guy that will take two or three years to mature. That makes left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda, whom I just rated as the team’s third-best prospect, a headline piece. He likely lacks the upside of a Manaea or a Fulmer, so the other piece(s) would need to be a bit more promising. A guy like third baseman Dawel Lugo could fill that need, and throwing in a bullpen piece like righy Bud Jeter could complete the package. Given that the D-backs have a relatively thin farm system, you’re looking at two players from their top-10 and a bit of a throw in. That is expensive, but Martinez is a marquee piece approaching the deadline. It also puts a bit of stress on the D-backs’ pitching depth as Banda could be called on should an injury crop up. There’s plenty to consider here.
Of course, this is just one scenario. Maybe Detroit would rather get a player like Jon Duplantier, Pavin Smith or Marcus Wilson. Maybe they’re interested in Socrates Brito who’s doing big things in AAA right now and looks primed for another big league shot. Maybe they’d like to re-acquire Domingo Leyba. Either way, you’re looking at subtracting a name from the top three prospects, probably another name from the top ten, and likely another piece. Would Arizona be willing to subtract a young player from the major league roster? I doubt it, but that does provide another option.
Looking at things, the Diamondbacks are going to need some help. A bullpen arm would be a welcomed addition, but J.D. Martinez would help shore up a major weakness and helps position the team well heading into the post season. It shouldn’t prevent them from making a deal for a solid reliever to help add some depth to the bullpen, either. They can do both. Should they? That depends on how invested they are at truly making a run and what they envision for the long term. It also depends on what the Tigers are demanding. The Dodgers are reportedly interested and the Tigers are looking at Alex Verdugo, but it’s not clear that the Dodgers would move Verdugo. It is clear that adding Martinez keeps him away from Los Angeles and that’s a potentially big swing.
If the team really wants to make a run at this thing, they probably need to pony up and do this, or something similar. We don’t know what they have in mind for 2018, and yes, Yasmany Tomas is still around. But at some point the organization is going to have to decide to either make a big run at the playoffs, which will cost them, or they’ll have to decide to stand pat and let the chips fall where they may. If it were me, I’d push for the former. These opportunities don’t come around often and it could be years before they find themselves in this kind of position again. The time is now.
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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).