Diamondbacks Pay for Ace, Get Shelby Miller

Just yesterday, we thought the Wade Miley trade might’ve been lopsided. And, you know, maybe. But now we’re on another level. Forget the Wade Miley trade. Now we have the Shelby Miller trade. Kudos to the Diamondbacks — they got Miller, who they wanted. They also got Gabe Speier, who is a player. But Miller didn’t come for free. In exchange, the Braves got Ender Inciarte. Also, the Braves got Dansby Swanson. Also, the Braves got Aaron Blair. Inciarte being a quality, cost-controlled outfielder. Swanson being last year’s first overall pick. Blair being possibly or probably a top-100 starter prospect who’s close to the majors. Don’t get me wrong, Miller is plenty interesting. He ought to help Arizona. Yet the trade looks like a clear, obvious mistake.

You always want to let the first impression settle. You always want to think these things through, to try to make sense from both sides if you can. Sometimes, though, you remain feeling how you initially felt. There’s a parallel you can draw here — the last time I felt like this about a trade, the Royals picked up James Shields. At this point, the Royals don’t regret what they did. There was a way for that to work out for them, just as there’s a way for this to work out for Arizona. But the Shields trade went almost as well for Kansas City as possible. And there’s no Wade Davis in this move. Inciarte might play the part of Wil Myers. Swanson might play the part of Wil Myers. There are two options, with Blair more or less playing the part of Jake Odorizzi. This could easily be a bigger haul, for very probably a lesser return. Occasionally there are bad trades. This is among the worst of them.

The Diamondbacks are trying to win. They made that statement when they signed Zack Greinke, and there’s no denying their quality core talent. Miller adds to that talent, and there’s the skeleton of a contender here. The Diamondbacks could really be building something. If they get to the playoffs a few times, or if they win it all, with Miller coming up big in October, this is going to look great. Or at least, it’ll look worth it. Maybe they sneak up on the Dodgers in the season ahead. You don’t have to be awesome to win the World Series — you just need to be good enough. Maybe they’re there.

And I actually like Miller. I wrote about him the other day as a player with real 2016 upside, on account of having expanded his repertoire rather significantly in 2015. I think Miller has it in him to reach a higher level, and the Diamondbacks clearly agree. He has the pitches, and he has another three years of team control. That rotation in Arizona is rather big on raw tools.

But, you know, Miller’s career xFIP is worse than the league average. His regular career FIP is worse than the league average. Last year, his ERA looked good because of home-run suppression. He’s not a proven No. 1, nor is he a proven No. 2. He’s a No. 3 with potential and a lot of innings of not quite tapping into it. He could and should be useful for Arizona, but there’s another thing — Inciarte was going to be useful for Arizona. Inciarte projected as a pretty good starter in the outfield, and by taking him out, it’s not clear the Diamondbacks just improved. Any rotation upgrade is at least partially countered by an outfield downgrade, and then you get to Swanson and Blair, on top of the rest.

Not to go there just yet. About Miller having three more years of control: Inciarte has five more years of control. He’s all contact and defense first, so maybe he’d be relatively underpaid through arbitration, but Inciarte has already been good. He’s probably a slightly below-average hitter, but he’s an outstanding defender, and there are teams who see him as an elite-level center-field glove. He’s sort of like an outfield version of Andrelton Simmons, with more bat and less glove. A little like Juan Lagares, without the elbow injury. Inciarte might well be a more valuable asset than Miller. The Diamondbacks can try to replace him with Yasmany Tomas, but then last year Tomas was a nightmare.

All that, and little has been said about the prospects. These aren’t just interesting prospects. These are major prospects, including literally last year’s first player drafted. Say what you will about how Swanson is unproven — you’re not wrong — but he was just drafted before everyone else, and MLB.com rated him as baseball’s No. 10 prospect. That’s one slot in front of Trea Turner, and two slots in front of Orlando Arcia. The most valuable prospects in the game are high-ranking position players, and though Swanson could absolutely bust, he’s the sort of guy you include as the centerpiece for an ace. And there was Blair, too.

Some people like Blair more than others. MLB.com put him at No. 61 overall. That’s one slot in front of Andrew Benintendi. Blair might well not be that good, as he had a statistically unimpressive 2015. Maybe he deserves to be at the bottom of the top 100, or maybe he deserves to be left just off of it. But he’s 23, with stuff that should work, and he’s already started a dozen times in Triple-A. Blair isn’t far away, with an improvement or two, so he shouldn’t be forgotten. He throws more strikes than Archie Bradley does. Blair is a very solid third piece.

I don’t need to go into math-y prospect-valuation stuff. Let’s just look at this for what it is. The Diamondbacks are getting three years of a talented pitcher with some room for growth. They’re giving up five years of a pretty good center fielder, and they’re including one of the best position-player prospects, and a legitimately good starting-pitcher prospect. Miller for Inciarte, straight up, might’ve favored the Braves. They got two high-talent prospects, too. No matter how you felt before about the Braves’ rebuild, it just took three steps forward, with the system in phenomenal shape.

It’s tempting to make fun of the Diamondbacks front office. It’s tempting to point to this, and to the Touki Toussaint trade, as evidence that they just don’t know how to properly evaluate prospects. And I can’t dismiss that. I want to, because it doesn’t make sense that there would be a real front office in that position, but this is where we are. They haven’t earned any benefit of the doubt. You can expect that Dave Stewart’s phone is blowing up, as other teams want to get in on this action. They won’t be happy about missing out on Swanson and Blair.

It’s hard to figure how talks even got to this point. If this is what Arizona agreed to, what didn’t Arizona agree to, earlier in negotiations? You wonder if this is something like the sort of package they offered to the Marlins for Jose Fernandez. The Marlins said no, but once the players were on the table, perhaps Arizona just got comfortable with the idea of those players being moved, so they might’ve taken the same package and just shifted focus to the Braves. It’s easier to trade players you’ve already mentally thought about trading, and if they got psychologically locked in on Shelby Miller, maybe they didn’t want to have to settle for an alternative. So then it’s Miller or bust, and the Braves took advantage.

That’s speculation. What isn’t speculation is the trade that happened. We know what took place, and we have a pretty damn good idea it’s extremely lopsided. One of the more lopsided trades in recent history. Of course, there are ways for the Diamondbacks to come away looking good. Miller could blossom, the other players could bust, and the Diamondbacks could streak into the playoffs. This isn’t all downside — such moves don’t exist. But there seems to be a lack of good understanding of player valuation here, and that makes for an awful dangerous front office. It’s a confident front office, but a dangerous front office, and though some might see the Diamondbacks as greatly solidified for 2016, they could be this year’s Padres. A busy offseason drew the Padres considerable hype, but they mortgaged a lot of the future in building what remained a flawed team, and the experiment didn’t work out. Odds will be against the Diamondbacks experiment working out. This year, and the years after that. In many ways, despite the talent that’s arrived, the outlook grows increasingly dim.

We hoped you liked reading Diamondbacks Pay for Ace, Get Shelby Miller by Jeff Sullivan!

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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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Vickie
Guest
Vickie

Shelby Miller had a really good first half of last season. He looks to be a number three starter. This deal is insanely in favor of the Braves and it isn’t even close. It is like the DBacks put this deal together for Gray or Fernandez, and were told no so they just offered it for Miller. He’s not even the same species as those other pitchers.

Old School
Guest
Old School

It will be fun watching the genius Freidman spend 300M and horde his prospects like Fabrege Eggs and still finish 2nd to Dave Stewart and the Dbacks. It’s funny the Fangraphs reaction to this trade sounds a lot like after everyone piled on the idiot Dayton Moore after the James Shields trade. Moore hoisted the World Series trophy way before Friedman or Beane. Now we’ll watch Stewart before those two as well.

Horn Please ThankYou
Guest
Horn Please ThankYou

Let’s not plumb the depths of outcome bias too much. The Shields trade was justifiably panned – the only thing that has given it a shred of credibility is the completely unforeseeable string of Myers injuries, and the fact that a relative throw in (Davis) turned out well.

jdbolick
Member

Huh? Some people (like me) noted at the time that Myers had worrisome contact issues in the high minors and that Wade Davis was already a valuable reliever. The part I criticized for the Royals was including Odorizzi.

grumbleshoes
Guest
grumbleshoes

Those sound more like quibbles, not like you anticipated Wade Davis’s transformation into a nearly superhuman reliever. And unless Will Myers’ contact issues somehow precipitated his wrist injury, these consequences were not anticipated by anybody.

frug
Guest
frug

Actually, there were people who anticipated those outcomes (or at least something comparable to them); the Royal’s front office.

What this very website noted in article last year (written by I believe Dave Cameron) is that what people who panned the Myers-Shields swap initially (including himself) had failed to consider was how high the potential payoff for the Royal’s was (i.e. everyone simply looked at the risk but not the potential reward).

Yes, on paper it was more likely that the Rays would get the better end of that deal based on what the public knew at the time; but that fact, in and of itself, is irrelevant. If the best case scenario is a previously moribund franchise winning back to back pennants and a WS, then it completely justifiable for the Royals to make that trade even if they would only be expected to “win” the trade 20% of the time. (And that is not counting the fact that the Royals knew much more about Will Myers than any of us did).

That said, I think the Braves made a great decision here as the risk the Diamondbacks are taking looks considerably higher than the Royals.

The hammer
Guest
The hammer

Oh the outcome bias police come around. My analysis was spot on- it was just wrong because of unforseable, unknowable factors and just random bad luck. Puhhhlease…..

Lets just look at this from one side- Dave Stewart’s. He is the GM and only guaranteed that for a few years- he has a roster that he views as able to win now and most likely has expectations from ownership to do that. He just signed the best arm available as a free agent, has a team that is solid in hitting, and needs to improve his rotation. As far as player values, Inciarte is the only net negative from Dave’s perspective. He was the 4th outfielder, glove first type & the other two have essentially zero value to Dave except for what he can extract from other teams. The prospect bust rate is what ? Greater than 50% – even for number one picks. I imagine Dave shopped this around, and didnt get interest from one of the better arms (Carrasco, Fernandez, Etc) which seems likely given that Cleveland is in win- now mode and this doesnt help that end, and the marlins are on crack for what they want. So… In 5 years this may look like a lopsided trade for the Braves, but Dave doesnt care- because he may not be there in 5 years. If he wins with this team (like that bumbling moron Dayton Moore) will anyone care?

So continue to chery pick your outcomes. I told you so when right and “outcome bias” when wrong. Secure in your perfect analysis of very uncertain topics.

Dayton Moore
Guest
Dayton Moore

Laughable blather. I won, the haters lost. Maybe I just know more about baseball than you do, since I’m…you know…a GM?

Horn Please ThankYou
Guest
Horn Please ThankYou

“Yes, on paper it was more likely that the Rays would get the better end of that deal based on what the public knew at the time; but that fact, in and of itself, is irrelevant”

That is in fact totally relevant, and the whole point of my initial reply. It’s simply not reasonable to pat yourself on the back for making a decision that, more likely than not, is a poor one, just because the stars aligned and it worked out.

Also, you reference the World Series several times, despite the fact that the central piece of the trade for the Royals – Shields – (1) generally stank during their postseason run and (2) wasn’t even on the team that eventually won the championship. If we’re going to talk about outcomes, why include only the positive ones?

Not to mention Myers and Odorizzi will still be under team control for several more years, so neither is the book closed on either of their ceilings nor do we even have the full tally of how much this trade really cost the Royals. Myers is only 24 years old and under control until something like 2019 – he alone has plenty of time left to affect the value of this trade.

Dayton Moore
Guest
Dayton Moore

Now we’re re-writing the Shields portion??? LOL. dude had 7 WAR as a starter and logged 450 IP. They don’t even sniff the WS last year without him. Who cares what he did in the playoffs, those games are littered with #1 and #2 starters getting lit. (David Price, Clayton Kershaw?)

Anyway this is stupid. Deal was done for a 72-win Royal team. The 3 years since: 92 average wins, most in AL. And two pennants. It’s over, you lost.

frug
Guest
frug

That is in fact totally relevant, and the whole point of my initial reply. It’s simply not reasonable to pat yourself on the back for making a decision that, more likely than not, is a poor one, just because the stars aligned and it worked out.

Yes, it is.

It’s just like gambling. Given the proper odds it is completely reasonable to place a bet on an outcome that is unlikely to occur. In other words, if someone is offering you 100/1 odds for an event that you think is more likely 75/1, then it is totally justifiable to place a bet even though you are more likely than not going to lose.

(If you read The Signal and the Noise Nate Silver devotes an entire chapter to this very concept).

Also, you reference the World Series several times, despite the fact that the central piece of the trade for the Royals – Shields – (1) generally stank during their postseason run and (2) wasn’t even on the team that eventually won the championship. If we’re going to talk about outcomes, why include only the positive ones?

Well since the the Royals would not have made the playoffs without Shields in 2014 I’m not sure what your point is.

And Shields was not the only piece of that trade, Wade Davis brought value as well and the Royals would not have won the WS without him.

Not to mention Myers and Odorizzi will still be under team control for several more years, so neither is the book closed on either of their ceilings nor do we even have the full tally of how much this trade really cost the Royals. Myers is only 24 years old and under control until something like 2019 – he alone has plenty of time left to affect the value of this trade.

From the Royals perspective is does not matter how well Myers or Odorizzi perform for the rest of their time under team control. The value the Royals have derived from back to back pennants (which would not have happened without the trade) vastly exceeds whatever surplus value Myers and Odorizzi could ever provide.

frug
Guest
frug

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/where-i-was-wrong-about-the-royals/

This is the article I was referencing and explains my point pretty well, though keep in mind that it is over a year old and if Cameron were to revisit I think he might be even more favorable to the Royals position.

Listen, if you want to the think the Royals overpaid, fine, a lot of people would agree with you. But given the substantial upside, it was at most a mild overpay and not something deserving of the vitriol the move was originally met with.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

The discussion is going sideways, folks. Whether KC was destined to win the Shields trade or not is irrelevant. Whether Arizona is likely to win this trade is irrelevant.

The relevant question is around the market value, and how out of touch Dave Stewart is with what prospects are worth. As the title of this post suggests he just offered ace prices for a pitcher who is not currently an ace. Even if Arizona sees something in Miller that no one else does and they think they can turn him into an ace, AND even if they know something about Inciarte/Swanson/Blair that no one else does, they should have squeezed more out of Atlanta. Those three prospects should return more value than just Miller and Speier.

Unless they win the world series with Miller on the roster, it’s pretty hard not to suggest that Arizona should have got more for that haul than they did.

BurleighGrimes
Guest
BurleighGrimes

The first problem with this thinking is that Shields was a superior pitcher to Miller at the time of the trade, and that even if Swanson / Blair roughly equate to Myers / Odorizzi in terms of value, Inciarte makes this deal a laugher.

The other problem is that the DBacks seem to simply not value their own assets enough. Toussaint, Swanson, and Blair turned into not nearly as much as they might have had the DBacks valued them more highly.

jim tampa bay
Guest
jim tampa bay

yes i am one of the six tampa bay fans but let me respond to your comments….first no james shields is not better than shelby miller now or back then. Second will Myers was a no. 1 draft pick like dansbury swanson. Third Jake Odorizzi is better than Blair. I do remember all the hate Drayton Moore got when he made the shields/myers trade. It was so bad I felt sorry for poor old Drayton and started rooting for the royals. People should go back and read some of those comments, Drayton was completely skewered and vilified. I am so glad they won the world series. There is one problem with the deal, there is no other player (or wade davis equivalent) who saved Drayton’s buns in this deal.

Sean O'Neill
Guest

A couple of corrections/arguments. First, Wil Myers was a third round draft pick, not a first, let alone a #1 overall. He was however a higher rated prospect at the time of his trade than is Swansby. Second, it is almost impossible to argue Miller is a better pitcher than Shields was. In his last 3 years with the Rays, Shields never Ked less than 20% of opposing batters, and never walked more than 7%. In his 3 seasons in the MLB, Miller has struck out more than 20% of batters once and has never had a walk percentage below 7%. Shields also averaged over 220 IP his final three seasons with the Rays; Miller has pitched over 200 IP once.

I did like Odorizzi as a prospect better than Blair, so agreed on that point.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

It’ll be interesting to see if 3 season of Shelby is more valuable than 2 seasons of Shields. I’m going to say “yes,” but it could be close.

But yeah, Myers turning into a complete bust was just fortuitous for the Royals. They could have been even better if Myers were around and health for them, compared to paying $11 million for Rios to be nearly worthless.

OrangeJoos
Member
OrangeJoos

Billy Beane has one of the two smallest markets, Friedman has the highest payroll, Beane is not a messiah and even I can say that as an A’s fan, but what Beane does with our limited payroll compared to what some bigger markets do is actually quite insane, yes the Royals won and great but the A’s are still a bigger brand than the Royals, and the A’s won a few WS as Kansas City.

Eltorostrikesagain
Guest
Eltorostrikesagain

So the D-Backs should be winning the Series soon. Which GM’s have caught more flack than Dayton Moore and Brian Sabean?

Oh, and go back and read the lovefests with Jack Z after his first offseason. He figured out “market inefficiencies”, blah blah blah, etc…

Keep thinking you know everything, these guys are paid professionals, this is what they do.

Dayton Moore
Guest
Dayton Moore

“A’s are a bigger brand”

Is that what you’ve been reduced to? Arguing about “brands”? That’s just pathetic.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

Kevin Towers was hated by the stat-minded community, and he got his ass fired. You can’t just count the ones that support your thesis.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

Sorry, forgot to add: Ruben Amaro, Jr. Hated by statheads, led his team further and further into the wilderness, got fired.

jim tampa bay
Guest
jim tampa bay

Getting back to sean o’neils comments. I do like your response but let us not forget that even though will myers was a 3rd round pick he was the baseball america minor league player of the year. If you take a look at who won that award over the last 30+ years (trout, gordon, jetter, manny ramirez, jose canseco, dwight gooden, andruw jones, frank thomas, etc. etc.) hell yes will myers was a better prospect than dansbury swanson, so again this looks very similiar to the shields/myers trade except for one thing …..no wade davis equivalent