DBacks Land Closer, Further Build White Sox Core

The easiest part of the three-way Mark Trumbo trade to forget was the White Sox’s part. Given that we all call it the Mark Trumbo trade, of course a lot of interest followed Trumbo to the Diamondbacks. And given that it was the Angels giving Trumbo up, people have wondered about the return. But the White Sox were in there as a necessary component, and they arguably got the best of it, turning Hector Santiago into one-time quality Arizona prospect Adam Eaton. Eaton, now, is considered a potential part of the long-term White Sox core.

Monday, the White Sox and Diamondbacks struck again, and this time there was no third party. Being a team in little present need of a closer, the Sox gave up Addison Reed. Being a team in little present need of an extra third baseman, the DBacks gave up Matt Davidson. The focus for Arizona, again, is getting better right away. And the focus for Chicago, again, is adding another potential part of the long-term White Sox core. While it’s a trade I wouldn’t want to call lopsided, I like it more for Rick Hahn than I do for Kevin Towers.

Towers critics and cynics should be able to have a field day with this. After all, the general manager went after a label. With Trumbo, Towers wanted proven right-handed power. Reed, meanwhile, is a proven closer, with 69 saves the last two seasons. He looks the part an awful lot more than Brad Ziegler does. Davidson’s a talented prospect, blocked at the moment, and this might reek of Arizona focusing more on what he can’t do than on what he can. And just because a guy is blocked doesn’t mean a situation can’t change, and it doesn’t mean the guy has to be sold quickly for a better immediate fit. This’ll be a fairly easy trade to pick apart.

I don’t think it’s that simple, and I do think there’s a case for Arizona. The case relies on Reed’s talent and remaining team control, and on an honest evaluation of Davidson’s most likely future. Arizona might not come away regretting this at all.

Reed’s a week and a half away from 25, and he debuted in early September 2011. What he has in front of him are four years of team control, including one at a near-league-minimum salary. He’s by no means a short-term acquisition; it’s entirely possible he’ll be closing in Arizona through 2017, if not beyond. Though he’ll never be confused for Craig Kimbrel, he’s a lower-tier kind of effective, and though he’s an extreme fly-baller moving to Arizona, he’s also leaving one of baseball’s most dinger-friendly bandboxes. He’s a fine pitching moving to what’s ultimately a similar kind of park.

Over the last two years, Reed has posted an 81 FIP-. Jim Johnson comes in at 80, and the A’s picked up both him and his eight-figure salary. Grant Balfour comes in at 82, and by the time the offseason’s over he might have a new three-year contract. This past season, Reed lowered his rate of contact allowed, and he throws about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. He’s allowed a lot of fly balls, but he hasn’t allowed a lot of home runs. You can understand how Reed’s been able to keep his job.

You can also understand why there might be some nervousness. Right there, one of Reed’s strengths has been keeping fly balls in the yard, and his numbers look a lot less impressive if you look around that. The Diamondbacks were happy to get rid of Heath Bell specifically because too many baseballs flew out, in between the strikes and whiffs. For a closer, even a few extra dingers a season are memorable and significant. There’s also the matter of Reed losing velocity between 2012 and 2013, especially in last season’s final couple months as Reed seemed to wear down. There’s been no diagnosis of anything wrong, but while Reed sat around 95 miles per hour a couple years ago, last August and September he was hovering around 93. He walked eight batters in his last seven games.

Maybe, these are red flags. Alternatively, maybe Reed’s able to keep on racking the saves up. In that case, it’s worth acknowledging that he could be in line for some real money in his arb-eligible years. It’s estimated that Jim Johnson will have gotten more than $17 million over his last two years, and Johnson didn’t really start closing until 2012. Cost-controlled assets are vitally important organization resources, because they make for relative bargains, but within that population of relative bargains, closers tend to be relatively expensive. The outlook is that Reed should be all right, and a year from now he’ll start costing millions of dollars.

So, that might seem a little gloomy. The last two years, there are a ton of similarities between Reed and new teammate David Hernandez. Between 2011-2012 for the Diamondbacks, Hernandez pitched well, allowing fly balls but not allowing home runs. Then the home runs came in 2013, and now Hernandez is down the depth chart. These things can happen fast. But in exchange for Reed, Arizona gave up a project. It was a sensible time for Davidson to be subtracted from the Diamondbacks, and it was a sensible time for him to be added by the White Sox.

Three years in a row, Davidson was a top-100 Baseball America prospect, although he didn’t get higher than 88. Marc Hulet just ranked him third in the Arizona system. He’s 22, he’s powerful, and he’s improved to the point where he looks like he can be a real third baseman for a while.

Davidson is a real prospect, who’s close to the majors, and for that reason he’s a real potential asset. The big issue remains his ability to make contact, and without gains in that department, he’s unlikely to be of all that much use.

In a brief trial in the majors, he made just 64% contact. In Triple-A, he made a below-average 71% contact, and he didn’t do enough other things well to be much more than average overall when you adjust for his park. He did make more contact in Double-A the year before, but he was still below the league mean, and that was at a lower level. Davidson doesn’t miss because he swings too often, or because he’s over-aggressive — he just misses, in the zone and out of it. He’s a fly-ball hitter, and whiffs are a side effect.

He isn’t a player who adds value on the bases, and he isn’t a player who’s going to add a lot of value in the field. Davidson has boosted his own defensive stock, but his career is going to come down to his bat, and he’ll either need to make more contact or do a more consistent job of turning the contact he does make into well-hit fly balls. Given that he walks some, he’s capable of perfectly fine OBPs, but it could end up a question of whether the power offsets the whiffs. Of course, being 22 until the end of next March, it’s not like Davidson is necessarily running out of time.

He didn’t have a place in Arizona, not with Trumbo in the outfield and therefore Martin Prado at third. There was the possibility that Davidson’s stock could go down with another year in Reno. There’s nobody blocking him in Chicago, and right now Davidson looks like the White Sox’s probable Opening Day starting third baseman. He’s a risky sort of prospect, but now he’s in line for an extended opportunity, and at least this year there won’t be much pressure on the White Sox to win, aside from what’s self-inflicted. So the organization can worry less about winning each game, and more about doing what needs to be done to maximize player development.

Davidson could be a long-term piece. He could bust, but a bad team is better off swapping a possible long-term reliever for a possible long-term infielder. In the Eaton trade, the White Sox turned a low-ceiling possible long-term starter into a possible long-term outfielder. In the Avisail Garcia trade, they turned a short-term starter into a possible long-term outfielder. The Sox also paid for Jose Abreu, and Chris Sale is under contract for a long time. There’s a core there that might take shape around the staff ace. There are also a lot of questions, and the core is by no means proven, but it hasn’t taken Hahn long to infuse the upper levels with players who could be around for a while.

At the end of the day, competitive teams need better bullpens, and rebuilding teams need better players. The Diamondbacks upgraded their bullpen. The White Sox upgraded their future. Rick Hahn seems to have done better than Kevin Towers did, and for the second time in a very short while, Hahn has added to Chicago’s potential core at Arizona’s expense.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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9 years ago

As a White Sox fan, I don’t mind giving up Reed. Relievers come and go and have limited value. Reed was nice, but he wasn’t the second coming of Mariano Rivera or even Bobby Jenks. I like the return of a young position player with upside. I just wonder at Rick Hahn’s continued infatuation with hitters that strike out a lot.

He is getting better. Most of the kids he picked up last year have a 4:1 K:BB ratio and Eaton and Davidson are better than that.