Today, news broke that the Diamondbacks have traded Brandon McCarthy and cash considerations to the Yankees for Vidal Nuno. It was absolutely a good move to trade McCarthy, and to do so as soon as possible — but a terrible move to do so for Nuno, who is the least useful type of player that the D-backs could possibly have acquired.

GM Kevin Towers has been vocal about the team’s needs, and it wasn’t that difficult for us to figure out. The organization is short on impact pitching (starter or reliever), has zero catchers in the minor leagues who project as major leaguers (even as backups), could use a low-minors second baseman, and is empty on bat-first (or power-first) outfielders.

One thing that the organization absolutely does not need: replacement level pitching. Oh, there’s some value to having an extra man or two to provide innings in case two or more of the first-stringers go down with injury at the same time. But the D-backs already have that. They have Trevor Cahill available to bring back up. They have Randall Delgado, who was not great but not bad in the rotation. They have Mike Bolsinger, and Chase Anderson, and Charles Brewer, and Zeke Spruill. Few organizations are short on these guys, but the Diamondbacks have them in spades.

That’s the principal reason why getting Vidal Nuno back in return seems so ridiculous. Towers knows better than I do what McCarthy’s value was on the market — it could be that few teams, if any, saw past McCarthy’s 5.01 ERA and 3-10 record to see a pitcher with a very fluky HR rate (20% of fly balls) and bad luck (3.79 FIP). Given McCarthy’s peripherals and a league-average HR rate, McCarthy would rank 7th among all 93 qualified starters (2.89 xFIP, which is engineered to be roughly equivalent to ERA). But maybe the market just wasn’t valuing McCarthy as high as we had thought it should.

Another possibility, though: Towers didn’t realize what he had. Maybe he didn’t see past the 5.01 ERA and 3-10 record. There’s no way to know that, either way, although I really can’t imagine that there weren’t other teams who would value McCarthy at least a little bit more highly.

Answering that kind of question should always start with: if McCarthy was put on waivers, would any team have claimed him? I think so. In our internal analysis leading up to our Midseason Plan last week, we identified eight teams who might be a fit for McCarthy: the Yankees, Royals, Indians, Athletics, Mariners, Braves, Pirates, and Giants. Obviously the Athletics were no longer an option after they acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, and the timing of the two trades at least suggests that Towers was negotiating with both teams, then made the best deal he could with the remaining contender. But I truly believe that there were several teams who would have had an interest in McCarthy had his contract been available for free.

To get Nuno, the D-backs kicked in half ($2.05M) of McCarthy’s remaining salary ($4.1M). That means that Nuno’s current value should be something like $2.05M or $3.05 (the Yankees have to pay McCarthy a $1M assignment bonus) plus McCarthy’s current value at a zero salary. I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it. Not every contender has payroll flexibility right now, but most contenders with a need for a decent starter could afford to shell out $3M. That means McCarthy had some excess value. And the very trade that took the Athletics out of the pool of potential McCarthy suitors also made the number of available starters fewer by two.

You know that line: just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they can’t be useful. The 2014 season became irrelevant  some time ago, and McCarthy was not under contract beyond this season. OK, so maybe it’s reasonable for the D-backs to seek some salary relief. But no one was willing to give up a single player more useful to the D-backs than Nuno?

In addition to being precisely the type of player the D-backs least needed, he’s also not particularly good. Our Jeff Wiser had this to say about Nuno:

At 26, he’s not young, and with a 5.08 FIP over 22 major league games (17 or which have been starts), he’s not effective. He was effective throughout his time in the Yankees’ minor league system…No list I could find has ever had Nuno inside the top 20 prospects with the Indians or Yankees during his minor league career, so to call him “unheralded” is an understatement.

Those xFIP rankings that have McCarthy 7th so far this season? Nuno has also been burned by the long ball at a higher than league average rate, and so his 4.41 xFIP is lower than his 5.15 FIP for this season. But even the 4.41 xFIP would rank just 80th out of 93 starters if Nuno were qualified for the ERA title. Nuno has been atrocious this season, even if you strip luck from the equation.

Nuno was so terrible this year, in fact, that the Yankees were looking to replace him. Then they determined that the gap between McCarthy and Nuno was so high that they were willing to eat some money and give up the remaining five and a half years of control over Nuno. The Yankees didn’t treat Nuno as valuable, perhaps thinking that he’d never stick with them through his arbitration years anyway. But if the Yankees don’t think Nuno is valuable, why should we?

Again, just because McCarthy was something of a dead asset doesn’t mean he couldn’t be useful. In our Midseason Plan last week, we made the “mistake” of assuming that the return for any player, including a relatively thin asset in McCarthy, should be a good fit for the organization. When we researched teams, we looked for players that teams might be willing to give up (given other, similar players in their systems).

It’s true, our recommendation for McCarthy was a trade to the Pirates. That potential trade was headlined by Tony Sanchez, a minor league catcher (though not a great one) that the D-backs so desperately need, and it included $3.5M to help the D-backs obtain him. But, knowing that the Yankees were also a good match for McCarthy, we included an “alternative” trade to New York: with no cash at all, for low-ranking, low-minors catcher Luis Torrens. The Yankees have one of the best catching prospects in the game (Gary Sanchez), so we thought Torrens was gettable.

Either Torrens wasn’t gettable, or Towers didn’t ask, or Towers preferred Vidal Nuno. Preferring Nuno would not be a huge surprise; after all, Towers is the man who acquired all of the other Nunos that the organization already has. But, [expletive] [expletive], having acquired all of those other Nunos should have made Towers want Nuno less. Yeah, you just take best player available in the draft, given that those players are years away from the majors. But in trade, not paying attention to your organization’s needs is not excusable.

Nuno was acquired by Cashman after Towers left the Yankees organization to take the helm of the D-backs (to a minor league contract in June 2011 because he had already been released by the Cleveland Indians), so it’s not like Towers was familiar with Nuno from that position. But Towers has a cozy relationship with Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and in this instance, that relationship may have been a little too cozy.

Trading McCarthy and cash for Vidal Nuno was very much a failure, even if it has a minor effect in the grand scheme of things. I honestly think that Towers probably put some stock in Nuno’s extremely misleading 2.25 ERA from last season (in 20 innings — but he was extremely lucky, with a 5.32 xFIP in that time). And it doesn’t matter whether Nuno’s true talent level may be a bit better than it has appeared to be this season — even if he’s better, he’s still quite bad, and he’s exactly what the D-backs don’t need. Either Towers let himself get fleeced, or Cashman had a much more accurate understanding of how valuable McCarthy appears to be. Given Towers’s track record, I think the latter is the more likely.

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19 Responses to D-backs Trade McCarthy for Least Useful Player in the Majors

  1. Shawn Toso says:

    It’s another perfect example of how KT valuing players by his own internal “gut feeling”–which is to say by no valuable metric whatsoever. As a Diamondbacks fan, I continue to be frustrated by a large majority of his “deals”.

  2. HowardNeal says:

    I fully agree with your assessment, but feel it should be noted that at any moment McCarthy could hit the DL with his annual shoulder injury… leaving the D-Backs without any trading options and stuck paying his full salary for the remainder of the season. I think this is the reason why they traded him sooner, rather than later.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Agree, and this is a point I didn’t make. It may be that the Athletics were in negotiations, and offering a bit more — but when they made their deal and took themselves out of the McCarthy sweepstakes, it was probably a good thing for Towers to just pull the trigger.

  3. Puneet says:

    It takes us back to the Upton trade, doesn’t it? Did Towers have the option to take Julio Teheran (and thus took the worse pitcher)? If we use that starting spot to promote a young pitcher and get them some experience, it makes the trade look slightly better.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I think trying out a young guy would be the good/right move for the org, but I’m not sure it makes the trade better, necessarily. But yes, that’s a good point and part of the overall picture. I’m not sure there’s a substantive chance that Nuno will improve given more reps, though. He’s already a command guy, so there may be no realistic way for him to improve that part of his game; and his “stuff” might not. But, it’s true, you never know what might happen with a new catcher, a new pitching coach, and Dave Duncan in the shadows.

      • Puneet says:

        I was mainly thinking DFA Nuno and bring up Bradley or someone else.

        • Ryan P. Morrison says:

          Gotcha. Yeah… with Bolsinger and Anderson both up, that cupboard might be dry right now. See if Spruill can hack it? Brewer time? If they’re going to call up Bradley this year, I guess they might as well do it as soon as he’s healthy to do so.

  4. Colin says:

    Our system is empty, this season is a wash and this is what Towers decides to do with McCarthy? My god its going to take years to get us out of this hole hes put us in as far as system depth.

  5. Kevin says:

    According to AZSnakepit, McCarthy went through waivers in May and no one was interested in him. While KT has clearly proven himself a buffoon in the last season and a half, I think blaming him for not getting something useful for a 3-10 5+ ERA starter with an significant injury history is a bit extreme…

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Understood. And in the just-posted roundup, I’ve updated my stance a bit in light of the irrevocable waivers thing (but just a bit).

      I can’t and didn’t mean to disparage Towers for not getting MORE value for McCarthy, although as a separate point I’m surprised this was McCarthy’s market value.

      What I did mean to disparage Towers for was getting Nuno back, instead of some other, equally-valuable asset. Or some other, lesser-valuable asset. As someone on Snake Pit put it, Nuno is about as useful to the org as a sweat-soaked towel.

      • Shawn Toso says:

        Agreed. I’d rather KT traded McCarthy for a Class A “might-be-something-one-day-but-doubt-it” player, rather than a clone of six pitchers that we have on the roster already. At least that way there’d be a small chance of getting a positive return.

  6. Truxton says:

    3 – 10. Loser. Glad that he is gone. Nuno, who cares? Reno needs lefties, so send him there. The main thing about a turn around is get rid of the worst first. 10 losses was the worst. Talent evaluation of the minor leagues comes next. Where has LaRussa been? Maybe he has lived thru this scenario before because he is where he should be. Is there enough talent on board for him to bring up, or to develop for next season? If not trades for valuable assets can be considered. He seems to be doing a process that is based on logic and not emotion. Keep the faith. Trades for assets are in the works.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Fair enough, but I do think there’s such a thing as bad luck, especially in half a season. And as Eno Sarris noted, there may be no pitcher traded mid-season with a gap between ERA and xFIP greater than the one McCarthy has. Unfamiliar territory, but if xFIP turns out to have been the better predictor for the second half, the Yanks made out like bandits. They’re getting all the potential upside.

  7. […] D-backs Trade McCarthy for Least Useful Player in the Majors […]

  8. TC says:

    McCarthy was on waivers for apparently 6-8 weeks and no one picked him up….

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I believe irrevocable waivers are only open for two days, but yes, this should make us more confident that no more value was possible for McCarthy. Which is surprising, and disappointing, but this post was less about how much value KT got back, anyway… just the type of asset they got back. More in the July 7 roundup that went up today.

  9. TC says:

    McCarthy was on waivers for 6-8 weeks and no one picked him up…

  10. […] Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees for Vidal Nuno […]

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