This July, the D-backs are less at a crossroads, as they may have been last year, and more at a mountain peak, finally seeing the journey ahead with a high degree of clarity. The team has built for 2016 and 2017, and never at the expense of this season. But as of this writing, twelve efforts to climb back to .500 this year have failed since the team slipped to 8-8 in late April, and while nothing has happened to make the playoffs a more distant reality than they were two months ago, nothing has happened to make the team’s chances any better, either.
Patrick Corbin is back, throwing sliders and generating outs with his sinker. Rubby De La Rosa has shown enough high-ceiling flashes to bank on the team winning its fair share of games with him on the mound, at least in the regular season. Jeremy Hellickson has made a very solid contribution in the recent going, and Robbie Ray’s success shows some signs of being sustainable. All that, and yet Chase Anderson may still be the rotation’s best pitcher.
Paul Goldschmidt is making his historic pace look like a new normal, Yasmany Tomas is coming into his own, Jake Lamb is back to doing damage after a slow return, A.J. Pollock has taken a place among the game’s elite position players, Nick Ahmed has played two months as if he were a four win player, David Peralta is evolving into something more before our eyes, Welington Castillo has exceeded expectations on offense and defense, and Ender Inciarte is no longer feeling pain in his hamstring, with a return on the more immediate horizon and some promise to make the whole thing tick.
All of that sounds like a pretty damned good team. All of that sounds like a team that, with a bit of luck, could be playing meaningful games at the end of September. And it’s tempting to try to hardwire that luck with an addition or two at this year’s deadline. Doing so, however, would be a mistake.
Standing pat can be the hardest thing to do, and it is rarely a wise plan from a baseball perspective. If there’s an opportunity, do something; if future seasons are the priority, do something. After surveying the roster and the rest of MLB, however, it seems unlikely that the team can do anything meaningful to put itself in a better position for 2016 and 2017. That’s not an accident; it’s because even in a short time, this team was made to compete in those seasons. There simply aren’t meaningful rentals on this roster, with a list headlined by Cliff Pennington and Oliver Perez.
For those reasons, we have departed this year from our normal format. In past plans, Midseason or Offseason, we’ve made it a priority to outline some very specific deals that we think may be both possible and advisable. Right now, though, the only pieces that would command the market’s attention are likely to be key cogs in the 2016 machine, pieces that, if traded, would leave a new hole for next season that could then be the team’s biggest need. Instead of outlining specific transactions, we’ve described the parameters of potential deals, representative of the thresholds at which a move makes sense, and indicative of the priorities to which we’d like to see the team adhere.
Behold: the 2015 Inside the ‘Zona Midseason Plan.
Release C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Trade Util Cliff Pennington to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for LHP Tyler Deloach
Trade LHP Oliver Perez to Detroit Tigers for OF Daniel Fields
Offer an extension to 3B Jake Lamb, 5 years $12M, $10M club option with $2M buyout
Offer an extension to RHP Chase Anderson, 6 years $28M, $12M club option $2M buyout
Explore trade possibilities for:
Listen on, but do not shop:
Release C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: What the D-backs are up to right now is not normal. Three catchers is doable, especially if you’re relying on one of two of them to pinch hit in most games — having Oscar Hernandez on the roster may not be about him stealing many starts, but he is certainly one hell of an emergency catcher, if, say, Welington Castillo has to leave the game after Salty has already pinch hit. This is every bit a short term solution, however. With two off days this week and the All-Star break looming, the pitching staff is in line for a bit of a breather. That will not be the case in ten days, and there will be a decision to make. Castillo has a large platoon split this year, but the team requires intelligence in order to reduce their error rate this coming offseason. Understanding who Castillo is will be a pretty big piece in that puzzle. If Hernandez can’t catch even sparingly at this level, well then it’s going to be hard to keep him on the roster for nearly three months. If he can but Castillo can’t start five or six games a week, well then Jordan Pacheco still looms as a third option, and that could make everything work if Cliff Pennington or Aaron Hill are no longer on the roster and there are a few starts for Pacheco to claim at third. Salty probably can’t be traded — it was just a short while ago that the Marlins couldn’t mitigate their losses at all. The team still cannot afford to muddy the waters not only for the needed Castillo intelligence, but in the much bigger issue, figuring out which pitchers belong in the grand plan for 2016 and 2017.
Trade Util Cliff Pennington to the Angels for LHP Tyler Deloach: contenders are looking to put the finishing touches on their teams at this stage in the game – they know where they’re weak and want to shore up those gaps. Defense is a big priority, especially when it comes holding on to late leads. Cliff Pennington is perfect here as he can still play short, is excellent at second and can even play third base or left field in a pinch. While he won’t hit much, he’s not a complete black hole and he’s cheap with no commitment beyond this year. That’s an attractive set of attributes and the Angels just happen to have issues at second base and could use a defensive upgrade at both middle infield spots. Pennington makes a ton of sense, but he won’t fetch much in return. Instead, the big motivations here are to save nearly $1.5 million this season and open up a spot for Brandon Drury as the season wears on. Tyler Deloach is fringy as a starting pitcher candidate, where he is right now, but should see his stuff play up in the bullpen as a matchup lefty. He’s 6’6”, 240-pounds with some funk, so it’s a big league profile, just not likely as a starter. Sounds a bit like Andrew Chafin, who’s paying some dividends, don’t you think?
Trade LHP Oliver Perez to the Tigers for OF Daniel Fields: Perez looked like a guy the D-backs would definitely trade at the deadline when the season began. They had a ton of depth at the AAA and AA levels, plus Perez was thought to be on a team-friendly deal. That possibility looked rather precarious in April as Perez got lit up all over the place, but if you’ve been watching, you may have noticed that he’s gotten better with each passing month. At this point, he’s coming off of two decent months and one amazing one (June), so the market has likely reformed. The Tigers could use help in their bullpen, as per usual, and Perez makes a ton of sense as a relatively cheap option who they’re not committed to beyond this year. Blaine Hardy has been okay for them, but he’s also pitched a lot and doesn’t have Perez’s track record. Getting Fields back in return represents an upside play at a position of need for the Diamondbacks as a Fields has plus tools in the speed and arm departments, but he hasn’t made a ton of contact to date and only have average-ish power. Batting lefty, he may be a strong fourth outfielder option in the not so distant future with platoon or pinch-hitting skills against righties.
Offer an extension to 3B Jake Lamb, 5 years, $12M, with $10M club option for 2021 and $2M buyout: yes, consider the source. But as obvious a move as the Paul Goldschmidt extension seems now, former GM cut against the grain in offering a deal to him so soon. It may be too late to sign A.J. Pollock at a discount, but signing Lamb to an extension right now makes at least as much sense as it did over the winter, for exactly the same reasons. We’ve been over this dozens of times: quite a few hitters have miraculously outperformed expectations with Arizona (and quite a few pitchers have struggled more than expected). Will Jake Lamb be the next hitter to take a big step forward? It’s possible, and that’s all we need to know that a reasonable extension is a good move to attempt. It doesn’t even have to be likely that the contract generate surplus value. By 2021, a league average player at an important position might command $15M a year as a free agent. If Lamb proves to be league average, he might make close to $30M in his three years of arbitration, 2018-2020. If that means $18M in surplus value during club control and the opportunity to control him under market for one extra year, the risk that Lamb washes out would have to pretty high for this to not make a ton of sense for the D-backs. Put him in a position to have to turn down his first fortune, two and a half years before he stands to get a single arbitration salary. It’s highly unlikely that the team will seriously regret it, and even if it’s a gamble, it’s a gamble worth taking.
Offer an extension to RHP Chase Anderson, 6 years, $28M, with $12M club option for 2022 and $2M buyout: Anderson is on the same club control track as Lamb, and may be a free agent after the 2020 season if he sticks on the roster for the next year and a half. But where an extension offer to Lamb would be mostly about cost control, an offer to Anderson would be that, but also extending his tenure with the team. Anderson is not a young guy at 27 and 7 months right now, and he’d probably be 33 years old when he signed his first free agent deal — he may want to preserve his shot at a real free agent contract. But as with any player in his position, turning down money that would leave him financially secure for life could be very difficult. Anderson seems as good a bet as any mid-rotation starter to be able to handle Chase Field long term. He’s not going to break the bank if the D-backs take him to arbitration year to year — it’s unlikely he will put up ERAs under 4 — but he probably will be a Super Two player, meaning he’ll start his climb up the arbitration ladder in 2017 for the first of four years. That will start to add up, maybe $35M over that span. If the team can convert some part of that money into an extra year at a reasonable price and the ability to bring him back in 2022, it’s something worth considering. Two starts with Salty behind the plate have really obscured what he’s been able to do this season, and come winter, Anderson will be just one year removed from his first arbitration payday. This deal would essentially pay him $5M a year for each of four arb seasons (but backloaded), giving you a Bronson Arroyo type, but with an out pitch in his pocket and at half the going rate. A $8M salary for a free agent season and what is likely to be a nice salary on the option are good things for the organization, as well.
Explore trade possibilities for Jeremy Hellickson: there are a couple of reasons why trading Jeremy Hellickson makes sense for Arizona. First and foremost, he’s not that good and one could argue that as the season wears on, he’ll be stealing opportunities from other players, such as Archie Bradley and Aaron Blair. He’ll be entering his third and final pass through arbitration this winter and should earn something in the neighborhood of $6 million, maybe more. That’s a potential overpay for a guy with no further team control and performances that are only a bit above replacement level. So the D-backs could save some future cash and open up a roster spot by dealing Hellickson. The problem is finding a buyer and getting something worth more than a bag of baseballs in return. While he seems every bit like a San Francisco Giants reclamation project, at the end of the day, Hellickson sticks with Arizona for the remainder of 2015 as there just isn’t a market for him that justifies dealing Hellickson at this time.
Explore trade possibilities for Aaron Hill: if it sounds like trading Jeremy Hellickson might be difficult, imagine trying to offload a 33-year old infielder who hasn’t hit for two seasons, has seen his defense regress in a big way and is owed about $17 million dollars over the remainder of 2015 and all of 2016. Sounds impossible, right? Well, there’s a glimmer of hope yet as the Diamondbacks have to know that they have Brandon Drury nearly ready for a major league call-up and Hill’s playing time will be even further crunched when Ender Inciarte returns from the DL as Tomas may still get a handful of starts at third base. As was the case in the Trevor Cahill trade, Arizona will have to eat cash to move Hill, and it will have to be substantial. An acquiring team would have to believe they can revert back to above replacement level, but I can’t imagine they’ll be willing to spend more than $4 million to do so. After some quick math, the D-backs would have to eat about $13 million to move him and receive a light trade return, probably a total project type of prospect, a player with a ton question marks. In the end, the market for Aaron Hill just isn’t’ there – most contenders are set at second base and Hill will become a possible waiver-trade player or someone the D-backs look again to offload in the winter. If those can’t be accomplished, he could be released before April of 2016.
Explore trade possibilities for Randall Delgado: the Josh Collmenter contract was extraordinarily team friendly when signed, looked even better when Collmenter found success in the rotation, and still looks like a beauty of a deal. Collmenter is one of the majors’ best long men, and so there is little reason to write Delgado into the plan for next year. Two above-average long men is a luxury, and long relievers aren’t particularly difficult to replace anyway. Delgado is also eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, making him a luxury that the team may not be able to afford. He still has value, though. Delgado’s two seam fastball has been absolutely crushed throughout his career, and he still has issues with home runs. Don’t tell us there’s no team out there with a big ballpark interested in seeing what he can do if he shelves the two seam. It could be within the division, as the Padres (Ian Kennedy) and Giants (Ryan Vogelsong) have coaxed some good production out of similar pitchers. The Angels, Athletics, and Mets might be interested in a discussion. Or the D-backs might have some success engaging the Mariners, who recently took on Vidal Nuno, or the Braves, who seem especially willing to keep a channel open.
Listen on Brad Ziegler, but do not shop him: there are some smart teams out there in contention this year, and there is a non-zero possibility that teams like the Cubs or Astros might ante up to get Ziegler. Signed to a deal with an extremely reasonable $5.5M option for 2016, Ziegler may be the D-backs’ most marketable asset at this deadline this side of A.J. Pollock or Paul Goldschmidt. He fits literally every team, as either a dominant firefighter, a reliable setup man, or a lockdown closer unlikely to yield a big inning. He may not be enough to land a starting pitching prospect with a #2 ceiling and a 2016 or 2017 estimated time of arrival, but he may not be too far off, either, especially since the D-backs are in a position to kick in a little something extra, especially out of their relief corps. The main problem, though: in terms of 2016, the D-backs may need Ziegler more than nearly every other team. It’s not just having him available to fill in at closer if necessary, although given the team’s recent experiences with the Heath Bells and Addison Reeds of the world, that’s not a small consideration. Mainly, it’s that it’s hard to find a pitcher who is a good bet to have success at Chase Field. Ziegler is largely immune to the pinball effects of playing in Arizona with such a high ground ball rate, and he’s done it year in and year out — not an easy thing to find among relievers generally. That all adds up to being willing to listen, but not being motivated to make a move. With good relievers in general and Ziegler in particular, it’s liable to be a seller’s market this July. Some team may be willing to come close to the bounty the Orioles paid for Andrew Miller last year, especially with that extra year of club control. Short of that, though, the D-backs would be smart to hold onto Ziegler, and maybe even dangle an extra year in the way of an extension to keep him in the fold through the 2017 contention window.
This clearly isn’t a sexy deadline plan for the Diamondbacks. There are no major trades, no big acquisitions. One could argue that the D-backs could buy given how close they are to being .500. But at this point, being close to .500 just isn’t good enough. The team would need to not only get over even mark, something that’s proven hard enough, but perform at well over .500 just for a chance to make a play-in game as a wild card winner. That’s a risky proposition and more “ifs” than should be betted on. Instead, a move to sell unimportant pieces to free up cash and acquire a few lottery tickets fits the bill.
Cliff Pennington won’t be around after 2015. Neither will Oliver Perez. Jake Lamb and Chase Anderson look like long-term pieces and money can be saved by extending them now with low-risk deals. Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Hill and Randall Delgado offer some upside to acquiring teams, but the value they offer likely makes any deal unpalatable as the types of players that these guys could fetch aren’t likely to help the team going forward. Saving money would be great, but no one wants to take another team’s trash at the deadline unless they think they know something no one else does (like how to improve Aaron Hill). Brad Ziegler is the most interesting case as you can make a hell of an argument either way, but given the problems Chase Field has handling fly balls, a ground ball specialist in Ziegler is extremely valuable. There probably isn’t a team willing to give Arizona what it would take to pry him away. Then again, maybe someone offers something juicy, but we’re seeing less and less of that at the deadline these days.
When it’s all said and done, the Diamondbacks are able to free up some space for other players, save a little coin and start the push towards 2016 and 2017 early. There’s no big splash, there’s no major, defining move. Flexibility is increased, however, and the D-backs make some necessary tweaks as the window of contention inches closer.
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