Over the weekend, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks made a pair of related transactions. On Friday night, after failing to find a suitor due to the specter of a potential lost draft choice, Howie Kendrick re-signed with the Dodgers for a relative pittance; $20 million over the next two years. Given that Kendrick turned down the qualifying offer, which would have guaranteed him $15.8 million for just the 2016 season alone, Kendrick had to settle for far less than he thought he would get this off-season, and at that price, the Dodgers decided the value was too good to pass up, even though they didn’t really need another infielder.
Kendrick is better than Chase Utley and he should make the team better in both 2016 and 2017; however, they did surrender the possibility of obtaining a compensation pick if another team had eventually decided he was too good to pass up at that price as well.
For a good chunk of the winter, the assumption was that a team would make that choice, and for the last few months, the Dimaondbacks looked liked the obvious fit. General manager Dave Stewart publicly talked about his desire to add some offense at the top of the order to replace Ender Inciarte, and some combination of Chris Owings and Aaron Hill didn’t inspire a lot of confidence that second base was going to be well-handled in 2016. The D-Backs had talks with Kendrick, and had tried to trade for Brandon Phillips, so it was clear that they wanted to make a move for a more established second baseman, pushing Owings into the utility role that he’s probably better suited for.
But, after having surrendered the 13th pick to sign Zack Greinke, the Diamondbacks became fiercely protective of the 39th overall pick, a competitive-balance selection they were awarded that they would have to surrender if they signed Kendrick (or Ian Desmond, another free agent would could have helped them). Stewart even stated outright that they weren’t going to give up that pick:
“We’re not going to give up the pick,” Stewart said of the D-backs, who have the 39th selection (Competitive Balance Round A). “It’s just tough after we’ve already given up our first pick. To give up our top two picks, that would be difficult for us to do.”
So, in lieu of signing Kendrick and losing the 39th pick of the draft, the team pivoted on Saturday, making a trade to acquire Jean Segura from the Brewers. The deal sent Aaron Hill — but only half of his contract, as the Diamondbacks remain on the hook for $5.5 million of the $12 million he’s owed in 2016 — to Milwaukee along with starting pitcher Chase Anderson and infield prospect Isan Diaz. Segura, who has played shortstop in Milwaukee, is being brought in to ostensibly compete with Nick Ahmed for the starting job in Arizona, but given Ahmed’s defensive wizardry and Segura’s average-at-best glove at the position, it seems pretty obvious that Segura should shift over to second base.
So instead of giving up the 39th pick in the draft to sign Kendrick, the team gave up a major league starting pitcher and a quality prospect to trade for Segura. There are two problems with this.
1. Anderson and Diaz may each have more value than the compensation pick.
2. Howie Kendrick is good. Jean Segura is bad.
Let’s deal first with the acquisition cost of the two options. The Diamondbacks now seem to be putting a pretty high value on the 39th pick, and it is a valuable asset, but the net value of a pick in that range is somewhere in the range of $5 to $10 million. We’ve seen teams buy draft picks before — the Dodgers effectively bought the 74th pick in last year’s draft for $2.75 million by taking on Ryan Webb’s contract before immediately DFA’ing him — and of course the Diamondbacks were involved in the Touki Toussaint/Bronson Arroyo deal, and then they traded Dansby Swanson just a few months after taking him #1 overall, so the organization’s love of draft picks seems to be a very recent development.
But instead of surrendering the 39th pick, they decided to trade Anderson and Diaz, a depth-starter who probably wouldn’t have cracked their opening day rotation and a prospect who spent last year in rookie ball. Except that Diaz’s performance in rookie ball makes him a very interesting prospect — he ranked 69th on KATOH’s Top 100, for instance — and likely nearly as valuable as anyone the team would be able to get with the 39th pick this summer. Dan Farnsworth graded Diaz as a 45+ FV prospect, making him roughly equivalent to a back-end first round selection.
And while Anderson might just be a “depth starter” due to his lack of stuff, he’s been roughly a league average starting pitcher during his first couple of years in the majors, and projects to perform around that level going forward. Without Anderson around to serve as the team’s sixth starter, the club will now be relying on Archie Bradley, Zach Godley, and Josh Collmenter when the team needs to replace someone in their rotation, and so there is a loss in expected performance even if Anderson wouldn’t have begun the year in the rotation. No one gets through a season with just five starters anymore, and Anderson would have been able to help Arizona this year, at least raising the floor for the back-end of their rotation.
In fact, I’d argue that Anderson was probably also worth more than the 39th pick. Colby Lewis — a similar kind of back-end starter surviving without much in the way of stuff — got $6 million as a free agent for the 2016 season, a year in which he’ll turn 37. Anderson might not have Lewis’ track record, but he’s also a lot younger, and I don’t think it’s any kind of stretch to say he’d have landed a deal for around that $5 to $8 million that back-end starters for signing for this winter, had he been a free agent. And, of course, Anderson is under team control for five years, so he’s got some potential long-term value that guys like Lewis, Bartolo Colon, and Rich Hill don’t offer.
So, in dealing for Segura, the D-Backs gave up a prospect that has something like equal value to the 39th pick, plus a major league pitcher who probably has more value than the pick they didn’t want to surrender. The D-Backs gave up significantly more long-term value in this trade than they would have by just signing Kendrick.
And in return, they got a significantly worse player. Segura hasn’t hit well for the last couple of years, and his career 78 wRC+ is probably in line with what the Diamondbacks should expect in 2016. As an extreme groundball hitter who doesn’t walk, he neither gets on base or hits for any power, so at this point, he’s just a contact hitter who puts the ball in play with little effect, and he’s not even that great at that one skill. He does add some value as a base stealer and he’d likely be an above average defensive second baseman, so he’s not worthless, but Segura projects as something like a +1 WAR player for 2016. Realistically, he probably shouldn’t be an everyday player for a team trying to win this year.
Kendrick, on the other hand, has been an average or above average player every year for the last decade, and projects as roughly an average player again in 2016. He’s reaching the point where his skills are beginning to decline, but in the short-term, he should still be expected to be a roughly league average hitter who can still hold his own at second base. It’s pretty likely that he will he be a good bit better than Segura in 2016.
Of course, comparing just the output between them isn’t entirely fair. For one, Segura will make just $2.6 million next year, while Kendrick will make ~$10 million even on the cut-rate deal he gave LA, and we don’t know if he would have gone to Arizona for that price. Segura is under control for three seasons, while the Dodgers get Kendrick for just two. The D-Backs also valued the cash they saved by dumping Hill, which could be spent to bring in an upgrade elsewhere, probably in the bullpen. So the team didn’t just trade for Segura; they traded for Segura and cash, both the savings they didn’t spend on Kendrick and the money they got by unloading half of Hill’s deal.
But this is a weird time for the Diamondbacks to suddenly be pinching pennies and worrying about their long-term outlook. They pushed in on Zack Greinke to accelerate their window to contend, and made the ill-advised Shelby Miller trade because they wanted to try and run down the Dodgers sooner than later. Going into the season with a bad player at second base seems like a poor way to maximize the effectiveness of those win-now moves, especially when it thins out the depth of the big league roster and removes another quality prospect from the farm system in the process.
Like with the Miller trade, the D-Backs are giving up real long-term value in a deal that I’m not even sure makes them better in 2016. The marginal difference between Segura and Owings as the starting second baseman is probably not that much larger than the downgrade in rotation performance that will come from replacing Anderson with worse depth-starters, and at this point in the winter, freeing up some cash to sign a free agent reliever isn’t going to bring back a lot of added value. Meanwhile, the team now has surrendered another interesting prospect and a cheap back-end starter who wouldn’t have been a free agent until after the 2020 season.
This off-season has highlighted the stark contrast between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks front offices, and this move continues to show that LA will pivot away from their original plans when a value proposition presents itself, while the Diamondbacks bizarre valuation of draft picks and prospects continues to lead to head-scratching decisions. Howie Kendrick could have helped the D-Backs try to beat out the Dodgers in the division race, but instead, he returned to LA because Arizona overvalued a draft pick, then paid an even higher price to acquire a worse second baseman instead. Instead of narrowing the gap between the two clubs, the pair of moves only highlights just how far the Diamondbacks really have to go, and how many things will need to go right for them to compete in the NL West in 2016.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.