Say this for GM Kevin Towers: he knows how to pull the trigger on a trade. The last few days have seen plenty of D-backs news that has little to do with the team’s play on the field.
On Saturday, Towers spun LOOGY Joe Thatcher and speedster Tony Campana for a modest but extremely reasonable return. Jeff Wiser broke down the Thatcher trade, which brought minor leaguers Zach Borenstein and Joey Krehbiel to the organization. You should really read Jeff’s excellent analysis of the trade, but here’s the money quote:
I like this trade for the Diamondbacks, not necessarily because of what they specifically got in return, but because of what it represents: an understanding that they have assets that can be cashed in even if the return is far from a guarantee and that by doing so, they’re giving their current youngsters a chance to prove themselves. Arizona only needs one player in these types of deals to pan out as an above average player and it makes up for all of the ones who don’t.
I agree completely. Tony Campana can be a very useful player to a contender so long as he’s making the minimum; as a fifth outfielder who can play center, he allows you to deploy your fourth outfielder as needed (more an issue in the NL), and his excellence as a baserunner can be particularly useful because it can be deployed at particularly useful times. Still, we’re not talking about a prized asset here, even if Campanas are in relatively short supply.
Towers did well to get anything for Campana, but very well for cashing in Thatcher. I’ll admit to some blindness re: Thatcher — I didn’t realize that he was actually pretty effective against lefties this season (2.76 FIP). It also didn’t help (although it shouldn’t matter in analysis) that Thatcher generally did poorly in high-leverage situations (4.03 FIP, 2.08 K/9). Thatcher sports a 3.28 FIP this year, in line with his 3.38 FIP from 2013; ZiPS projects Thatcher for a 3.75 FIP for the rest of the way. That’s decent, although when rostering a lefty matchups guy, I think you really want him to outright murder left-handed batters. Regardless, like Campana, Thatcher is useful to a contender, and like Jeff Wiser said, you do well when you exchange these guys for lottery tickets of any kind, even if most don’t work out. Very good trade.
I was much less supportive of the trade that saw Brandon McCarthy go to the Yankees for Vidal Nuno. I did actually think that McCarthy could fetch more, but as I did yesterday, I concede that Towers must not have found a better return in terms of value because no better return in terms of value was out there. I did think that McCarthy and his contract had some surplus value before the trade yesterday, but it appears I was wrong.
But that’s not why I didn’t like the trade. I didn’t like it because of the flavor of the return. Minor leaguers like the ones Towers just got from the Angels would have been great. A rookie ball player would have been great. A player who projected as having a 10% chance of being a below-average major league backup catcher would have been great. But Vidal Nuno just happens to not be valuable to this club, in my (flawed?) estimation. It’s not that Nuno is valueless, although I made the mistake of implying that with a (shortened) title yesterday. It’s that if the team was getting something of small value for McCarthy, it’s a shame to get a player who almost definitely has more valuable to other teams than to the D-backs.
Put differently: either Nuno has no value, or some value. If no value, then I suppose it’s not a great trade. If some value, then why cash out McCarthy for value that happens to be worth particularly little to the D-backs?
Anyway, as to the former point about what McCarthy’s contract was actually worth on the market, we got some additional clarity last night:
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) July 6, 2014
That’s additional evidence that McCarthy wasn’t valued by the marketplace. Still, I’ll stand by my statement that I don’t think he would have gone unclaimed had he gone through waivers last week; it’s less money now, he’s kept up his peripherals and (increased) velocity, stayed off the DL, and some teams with rotation holes now didn’t have one 6-8 weeks ago.
I’ll slightly amend my take from yesterday. I have no way of knowing whether $2.05M in salary relief was the best return possible for McCarthy. If it was, then getting Nuno back is only a bonus. To the extent that getting Nuno back reduced the salary relief element at all… I still think just about any other kind of asset would have been preferable. I went too far in calling the trade “terrible.” Let’s call it not good, and disappointing, and note that we can’t necessarily throw much or any blame at Towers’s feet for that one.
On to the better news: Paul Goldschmidt is an All-Star. He had a slow start in the voting, but ended up dominating the field. The last voting results (as of July 1) showed Goldy with almost 2.6 million votes, way ahead of Mark Reynolds and Adrian Gonzalez, who each had just over 1.4 million. In the end, Goldy finished with more than 3.5 million votes, which was actually one of the lower totals for fan elections but still very impressive.
Congratulations to Goldy on his second All-Star Game and first election — here’s hoping for many more to come. The D-backs would not be looking so good without him.
And so, the links:
- Nick Piecoro got some good quotes from McCarthy about joining the Yankees. He’ll absolutely be missed. I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with McCarthy for about ten minutes this March, and I was so, so impressed by his reasoning and outlook. Born and bred a Red Sox fan, it’s hard not to root against the Yankees. But McCarthy will be an exception — best of luck, Brandon.
- On Saturday, Piecoro weighed in on the Thatcher deal and the trade deadline, including links between the D-backs’ Aaron Hill and Martin Prado and the Blue Jays. Worth noting that we floated a Hill-to-Toronto idea last Wednesday in our Midseason Plan.
- At FanGraphs, Eno Sarris analyzed the McCarthy deal, with particular attention to the enormous gap between McCarthy’s ERA and xFIP. Definitely check this out. Sarris looked at a group of pitchers with large such gaps in seasons’ first halves, then looked at their second halves, and found that as a group, their ERA dropped a full run. Sarris has a number of necessary caveats in there (survivor bias not least among them), but maybe we can still take this lesson from the research: McCarthy is much more likely to see his ERA drop than to see his ERA rise. He’s a good bet to improve. Also worth noting: McCarthy isn’t the only D-backs pitcher with a gap between ERA and xFIP. As a team, the D-backs have a 4.35 ERA and a 3.60 xFIP. That 0.75 gap is the second-largest in the majors (Rockies are at 0.91), and no other team has a gap greater than 0.47. Something’s going on. It could be park factor, or it could be pitch sequencing, but neither are things that McCarthy will take with him to New York.
- At the mother ship, ESPN Insider’s Keith Law thought the Yankees finished ahead in the McCarthy deal ($). Law summed up his analysis: “The bottom line is that [the D-backs] dealt away an asset with some value and didn’t get any future major league talent in return.” In fact, Law might have been even more negative on the trade had he realized that the D-backs saved only $2.05M on the deal, not “about $3 million” (had the D-backs simply kept McCarthy, they wouldn’t have had to pay him the $1 million assignment bonus anyway).
- At Snake Pit, Jim McLennan weighed in on both trades. Re: the Thatcher deal, McLennan is part of the growing consensus that the D-backs did well to receive a couple of flawed minor leaguers who at least have a chance of panning out down the road. Re: the McCarthy deal, he had an interesting point: if McCarthy doesn’t do well, maybe the D-backs did very well just to dump part of the salary commitment — but even if McCarthy does do well, trading him was probably in the best interests of the team. That latter point is, essentially, if this is a losing season for the D-backs, the org might as well lose big and set itself up for a studly youngster in the draft next June. It’s an interesting point worthy of more thought, and if tanking the season also gives the club a chance to put itself in a position to get lucky with players who aren’t definitely future MLB starters, at this point it seems reasonable to me. That doesn’t necessarily make the McCarthy trade a good move as a transaction, though, since the argument would also apply if the D-backs had simply released McCarthy right now.
- R.J. Anderson and Ron Shah analyzed both D-backs deals at Baseball Prospectus ($). A great note from them on Campana: his “particularly useful at particular times” skill set could get used in the postseason, and will almost definitely get used in September once rosters expand. Just for September alone, Campana is really useful as an everyday pinch runner, right? Anderson and Shah also appear supportive of the Yankees’ move for McCarthy, noting again the gap between his results and his component statistics. “If you buy into the idea that McCarthy’s home run and hit rates will regress in whole, then this is a brilliant get. For those a little more cautious—particularly in light of similar rates he posted last season—adding McCarthy is a worthwhile gamble, albeit without a guaranteed payoff.”
- Following up from the D-backs’ perspective, Anderson found the return for McCarthy “underwhelming,” even accounting for “McCarthy’s ugly mainstream statistics and injury-prone history.” Shah described Borenstein as a potential “up-and-down” OF (perhaps a player similar to Nick Evans?). Good notes on Krehbiel, too.
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