In addition to clearing payroll for this season, the D-backs’ deadline moves that saw Martin Prado go to the Yankees and Gerardo Parra to the Brewers erased somewhere around $18M in likely salary for 2015. Clearing that kind of payroll made the underwhelming return on those trades reasonable — but is the team necessarily done?
Theoretically, at least, the D-backs could pull off a waiver trade during the next two months, although August 31 is something of a de facto deadline for waiver deals because it is the deadline for playoffs eligibility. Teams routinely attempt to pass many players through revocable waivers in August — there is no risk of losing anyone, and at worst, a team might will gauge the league’s interest in a player, as a claim means that at least one team thinks the player’s value outstrips his salary, at least to them at that point. If a player is not claimed, he can be traded to any team during that waiver period; if he is claimed, the team that put him on waivers can revoke waivers, work out a trade with the claiming team, or simply let the claiming team take the player and his contract. Trades that follow waiver claims often involve minor leaguers, especially players to be named later, as major league players would also have to pass through waivers.
Of the players most likely to be traded in July, Oliver Perez is the only one still standing in a D-backs uniform. Brad Ziegler also generated interest, and both relievers are extremely unlikely to pass through waivers. So we can forget them.
Looking at it another way, there are only five players to whom the D-backs have committed more than Ziegler’s $5M salary for 2015 (Mark Trumbo could also surpass that mark in his second arbitration year). Those five, with their 2015 salaries: Trevor Cahill ($12.2M), Aaron Hill ($12M), Miguel Montero ($12), Bronson Arroyo ($9.5M), and Cody Ross ($9.5).
Let’s start with the easy ones: Arroyo and Ross. Both are on the disabled list, which means the D-backs can’t pass them through waivers at all. I’m not sure any team would have had interest anyway, but the D-backs could have eaten money to facilitate a trade. Alas, those players’ two salaries will almost definitely be on the payroll not only for this year, but for next year, with Arroyo serving as a late-season rotation option and Ross likely released early in the year if he doesn’t prove productive (he could end up being a pretty good RF option behind Peralta, if he returns to killing lefties).
Miguel Montero is also almost definitely going nowhere, but for different reasons. If Montero were placed on waivers, I have little doubt that several teams would put in claims. We’ve had some reason to doubt his pitch-calling skills, but Montero has been an excellent pitch framer (and is again this season). Add to that a return to his above-average ways at the plate (106 wRC+) and you have yourself a player that many teams would love to have. Those things, combined with his age, may make trading Montero make sense, as RG explained last month. But in terms of August deals, they also make Montero not movable. And, of course, there’s the minor detail of no other catching in the organization, as Jeff Wiser revisited earlier this week.
Aaron Hill is unlikely to get moved for yet another reason: he’s not doing so hot. 2014 has been another strange chapter in a bizarre career that has seen Hill be either significantly above average (wRC+ of 114 in 2009, 133 in 2012, and 124 in 2013) or significantly below average (77 wRC+ in 2010, 77 in 2011, and now 79 in 2014). Considered above-average defensively by both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Range earlier in his career, Hill’s defense also seems to have slipped in recent seasons (although he still makes an inordinate number of excellent plays). It seems reasonable to guess that the D-backs front office would have been happier moving Hill than Prado, especially since second base might be a more natural fit for Didi Gregorius, but Hill would have been a tough sell — and he would be during the next two weeks, as well.
It may be a pretty big leap to consider Trevor Cahill a trade target just over two months after he was designated for assignment. After a 3.49 ERA in six starts at Triple-A Reno in which he issued 20 walks in 28.1 innings, there was reason enough to think that Cahill could be a passable starter, but no reason to think he’d solved the control problems that caused his performance to be so terrible at the beginning of the season. When he was called up during the All-Star break, I had this to say:
I’m definitely on board with the team figuring out what it has in the remaining games this season, and Cahill is under contract for 2015. He fits the bill. And he’s always had the stuff, even if he sometimes loses it — this is an example of a player who only needs to make one adjustment to be very helpful, and those are players a team can get lucky with. This move, though, is a gamble. It’s a gamble to see if Cahill can show enough in 6-7 starts to be moved in August, after the non-waiver trade deadline. If GM Kevin Towers can get anything for him — even just salary relief — that’s worth something.
Cahill may be on target for such a move. In 29 innings since his return, he’s put up a 3.72 ERA — and much more importantly, he’s issued walks in just 4.1% of plate appearances, 5 of the 121 batters he’s faced. That’s an outstanding walk rate, and it explains Cahill’s outstanding 2.61 FIP.
Jeff Wiser broke down Cahill’s improvement last week, noting Cahill’s control:
Digging a little deeper into Cahill’s performance, we can see some really encouraging signs that have led to the turnaround. This isn’t simply the case of luck. According to the numbers, he’s really been very good, and it all starts with throwing strikes. Before being sent down, Cahill was throwing only 57% of his pitches for strikes. It’s no wonder the walks were piling up. Since his return, he’s up to 62.1% strikes. That may not sound like a lot, but I can assure you it’s huge. Because of the way pitches are sequenced, if he can throw those strikes early in the count, it allows him to throw balls on purpose and try to entice batters to chase out of the zone rather than having to give in and throw them meatballs. Throwing strikes was hurting him more than anything else when he was demoted to the ‘pen after just four starts in April. To see a positive change in this department is a big improvement.
Since that writing, Cahill has only started one other game (he starts again tonight). He did issue two walks in that game, but had a strike percentage of exactly 60%. For the second start in a row, he racked up seven strikeouts.
Cahill is owed a lot of money: the rest of his $7.9M salary for this year (about $2M), but also the $12.2M for 2015 and a $300k buyout of the (first) option on his contract for 2016. If Cahill was only under contract through this year, it seems likely that he’d have been traded within the last week or so, if he hadn’t been simply released earlier this season when he was designated for assignment. The salary for next year is a pretty big drag, however.
But for the recent D-backs history of doing so poorly with pitchers, I don’t think we could float Cahill’s name at all. But if you ran the Yankees, and you were watching Brandon McCarthy find immediate success in pinstripes… wouldn’t you at least wonder if Cahill could be dramatically better after a trade? He’s probably not worse than Shane Greene, at any rate, and the only thing Cahill would cost is money. Heck, if the D-backs could trade away the approximately $14.5M owed Cahill without eating more than $6M, that’d be a coup for Arizona — and if all that Cahill cost was $8.5M for a season plus, that could be hailed as a good move for teams with some money to spend. I don’t see this as trying to push the D-backs front office in a direction they aren’t already moving in. Having Cahill come up in mid-July (when he wasn’t necessarily ready) was absolutely about getting enough time in for an audition. Spending that rotation space on Cahill for that time frame was a great move — it put the team in a position to get lucky. Now that the D-backs apparently have gotten lucky, it may be time to cash out.
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