Significant Acquisitions: 3B Martin Prado, RHP Brandon McCarthy, OF Cody Ross, SS Cliff Pennington, RHP Heath Bell, LHP Tony Sipp, LHP Matt Reynolds, 3B/1B Eric Chavez, 1B/OF Eric Hinske, RHP Randall Delgado, SS Didi Gregorius
Going into the offseason, forward-thinking baseball people seemed to have a decent opinion of Arizona Diamondbacks’ General Manager Kevin Towers. Sure, he’s an old school guy, but going back to his time as the GM of the Padres, he seemed to have a decent grasp on how to intelligently run a baseball team. Then, in a matter of a few wintery months, that opinion changed.
Right from the beginning of the offseason, Towers and his crew made questionable decision after questionable decision. First he acquired overpaid and overrated reliever Heath Bell from the Marlins in a three-team trade that saw him jettison talented centerfielder Chris Young; then he dealt another high-upside player in former third-overall pick Trevor Bauer. The right-hander had been in the organization for only a little over a year and had already skyrocketed to the Majors, but he apparently didn’t gel with the coaching staff and he was sent to Cleveland in another three-way trade that brought shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius over from Cincinnati.
Finally, Towers capped off his talent-purge by trading his most talented player in rightfielder Justin Upton to Atlanta for a package of players centered around third baseman Martin Prado.
Towers and his brass ostensibly acquired an overpaid reliever, two middling glove-first shortstops, a decent pitching prospect and Martin Prado for one of the game’s most talented outfielders, one of the game’s most highly-touted pitching prospects and an above-average centerfielder. He told the media that he wanted to build a team in manager Kirk Gibson’s image—tough, gritty and leadershippy. That means fans in Arizona are going to see a lot more Willie Bloomquist-types than Justin Upton-types from here on out.
Having said all that, the D’Backs are still a very good team. You could make the argument that even if they made themselves worse in the long run by trading away Bauer and Upton, et al, they might still have made themselves better for 2013. Whether or not you think that’s a good strategy is up to your philosophy on contention.
The Diamondbacks do not have a true ace on their staff, but they might have more rotational depth than any other team in the NL. Ian Kennedy is probably the team’s best hurler heading into the season and will start on Opening Day. He has proven durable over his three years in the desert averaging 208 innings pitched per season while maintaining numbers that have entrenched him as an above average pitcher. His flyball rates in a homer-friendly environment like Chase Field will always present a problem, but the rest of his peripheral numbers are good enough that it shouldn’t be much of a worry.
Joining Kennedy at the top of the rotation are incumbents Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley. Cahill’s peripheral numbers in Oakland in 2011 suggested regression in 2012, but he improved his strikeout-rate and kept the home runs down while throwing 200 innings for the second straight year. Miley, meanwhile, had a terrific and surprising rookie season throwing a lot of innings and finishing fifth in the NL in walk-rate. He led the team’s pitchers with a 4.8 WAR according to FanGraphs.
Arizona’s lone completely defensible move this winter was the signing of sabermetric darling Brandon McCarthy to a two-year, $15-million deal. McCarthy turned his career around while with Oakland over the last two seasons, but had his year cut short last July when he was struck in the head by a line drive which led to brain surgery. He’s fully recovered now and should be a nice fit in the middle of Arizona’s rotation. He is an injury liability outside of the concussion, however.
The final spot in the rotation will go to one of four pitchers. The pitcher with the most upside of this group is lefty Tyler Skaggs who’s one of the game’s top pitching prospects. At just 21-years-old, Skaggs already has six Major League starts under his belt and seems to keep getting better at each level. If Arizona decides he needs more time in the minors, lefty Patrick Corbin and righty Randall Delgado (part of the package acquired in the Upton deal) could make the team. Both have moderate upside and pitched significant Major League innings last year. Daniel Hudson, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, is also in the mix and depending on the state of his recovery, could be as good as anyone in the rotation currently.
One thing teams run by Towers always seem to have is deep and talented bullpens. On the same day that the Washington Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28-million deal with a vesting third year option to be their new closer, Arizona extended their closer J.J. Putz for the 2014 season and will now pay him a total of $14-million over the next two years. By all counts, Putz is and always has been a better pitcher than Soriano and is one of the most consistent relievers in baseball.
Setting him up will be incumbent David Hernandez and the aforementioned Bell. Hernandez was at least as good as Putz last season, posting an excellent 4.45 K/BB ratio to go along with one of the best infield-flyball percentages in the NL among relievers. Bell, meanwhile, was the best at nothing—except maybe pissing off his former manager Ozzie Guillen. Bell was shipped out of Miami just one year in to his three-year, $27-million deal after posting a 5.09 ERA and a career-worst walk-rate.
Returning right-handed-specialist Brad Ziegler will be joined by two new lefties in Tony Sipp (acquired from Cleveland as part of the Bauer-Gregorius deal) and Matt Reynolds (acquired from Colorado for third baseman Ryan Wheeler)—neither of whom was especially good last year. Josh Collmenter—who could also start—is expected to make the team as a long reliever although Delgado or Corbin could also fill that role.
There is a case to be made that the Diamondbacks’ lineup will be better in 2013 than it was in 2012. Although going forward, one would expect Upton to put up better numbers than Prado, Upton wasn’t especially great last year. Also, the drop off from Upton to his replacements in rightfield is less of a negative impact than the upgrade from Chris Johnson to Prado at third is a positive.* Prado posted a 116 wRC+ last season in Atlanta and has been a well-above-average hitter in four of the last five seasons. His move from leftfield to third base should improve his overall value.
Joining Prado in the infield will be Aaron Hill at second base and Cliff Pennington at short. Hill somehow posted a 6.2 WAR according to FanGraphs last season after a big bounce back year. He led the team with a .375 wOBA and swatted 26 home runs. He was rewarded with a three-year, $35-million extension which will net him more than $40-million total over the next four years. That could end up being a terrible contract if Hill falls back to what he had previously been before coming to the desert from Toronto.
Pennington was acquired in the Bell-Young three way trade and is at best a second-division starter. His 65 wRC+ was higher than only Brendan Ryan, Clint Barmes and Drew Stubbs for players with more than 450 plate appearances and although he’s steady defensively—he’s hardly elite. If he struggles, Gregorius could be ready at some point this year and is at least a better defender.
Rounding out the infield is slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt who slugged .490 last season while posting a 123 wRC+, but he was a below-average hitter against righties and may end up being the less-impactful half of a platoon someday. Eric Chavez and Eric Hinske are also around and could get some time at first against some of the better righties.
The best player on the team might be catcher Miguel Montero who’s 115 wRC+ over the last four seasons ranks fourth among all catchers behind only Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli and Carlos Ruiz. Last year, he posted a terrific .391 on-base percentage while hitting 15 home runs. Either Wil Nieves or Rod Barajas will back him up this season with Nieves having the inside track.
In the outfield, Jason Kubel will get the bulk of the playing time in leftfield and although he’s not talented with the glove, he has proven himself to be a very good hitter. In centerfield will be Adam Eaton who’ll get his first chance at an everyday job after more than holding his own in 22 games last season. Eaton’s prospect stock has risen dramatically over the last few seasons as he has gone from a fringe prospect to a future fourth outfielder to a legitimate starting centerfielder in a matter of a couple seasons.
The D’Backs will likely give free agent signing Cody Ross most of the playing time in rightfield after an excellent season in Boston last year. Ross kills left-handed pitching but should probably be platooned against righties. Defensively-gifted fourth outfielder Gerardo Parra might end up being his platoon partner if Ross really struggles against righties.
Arizona finished 13th in the NL in defensive efficiency last season and the loss of Upton and Young in the outfield probably won’t help that this season. Kubel would seem at first blush to be the only real defensive liability on the team, but no one seems to jump out as especially elite either. Montero is considered to be a decent defensive catcher according to the metrics and is an excellent pitch framer. Overall, the Diamondbacks should be at least an average defensive team in 2013.
The Diamondbacks were one of the unluckiest teams in baseball last season finishing a full five wins below their Pythagorean record. Had they played up to what their run differential suggested, they’d have been tied with the Dodgers for second and their outlook might be much rosier heading into this year. Even with all the seemingly counter-intuitive moves made by Towers this winter, the team should be at least as good in 2013 with enviable pitching depth and a surprisingly deep lineup. There are no stars on this team, but there also aren’t a lot of glaring holes. They should at least be in the conversation with the Giants and Dodgers this season.
2013 Prediction: 89-73, 1st NL West
*That made sense. Read it again if you don’t believe me.