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.
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.