When the Diamondbacks won the National League West division in 2011, they looked like they had a pretty decent future. This week, things don’t look quite as rosy. According to our Playoff Odds page, only four teams have less of a shot at reaching the postseason as of this writing — the Astros, Twins, Cubs or Marlins. None of those teams were expected to contend for a playoff berth this season. The Dbacks were. Unless things change fast, they will not actually contend for a playoff spot, and then the question becomes how can the organization right the ship?
Since Jonah Keri had a great look over at Grantland at how we got to this point, and since I try to follow the mantra of Chris Tucker/Smokey and not bring up old ‘ish, I won’t waste your time repeating it. Here though, if you don’t feel like clicking through, is the money quote:
Teams don’t go from first to fifth in three years without people losing their jobs, so change was inevitable.
Jonah was actually talking about how Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers attained their jobs back in 2010, but here we are in 2014, and the same scenario has a chance to play out. The other four teams in the division all look at least decent, while the Dbacks have looked anything but. The duo do have new contracts, but that might not be enough to save them. However, we’ll leave their situation be for the moment. The point is simply that the team needs to make some changes.
Let’s begin with the players who you would, in a vacuum, build your team around:
That’s about it. You could make cases for Gerardo Parra, Braden Shipley and maybe Mark Trumbo, but when push comes to shove, those aren’t guys who you would go to the mattresses for when building a team from scratch. And therein lies the main problem with the Dbacks. They just don’t have a lot of studs. They have a lot of solid guys, which is nice, but it’s hard to get a bunch of solid guys to consistently play over their talent level. To compound the situation, very few of the team’s players are young. As Dave Cameron showed on Tuesday, Arizona is an unenviable position. In the representative graph, we see that Arizona has the eighth-highest team age. On the bright side, they’re not the Phillies, but that’s about the only way you can put a positive spin on things. The team is at or above the median weighted age for both hitters and pitchers.
So, in a very real sense, the Dbacks should be trying to get younger. In another, more real sense though, that’s kind of a pipe dream at this juncture. The team ranked in the middle of the pack in Keith Law’s organizational rankings. They had three consensus top 100 prospects, and two of them find themselves with at least some playing time on the depth charts from which Cameron pulled his info. And since Marc Hulet made his 2014 top Dbacks prospects list back in November, the team has traded away two of the other close to the majors talents in Matt Davidson and David Holmberg. So while the organization should be trying to get younger, perhaps we’re past that point for the moment. Given its lack of youth and abundance of fungible players surrounding a decent core, the team is actually in a position to re-load quickly, should they have the fortitude to do so in a big way. Let’s walk through the process of how that could happen.
1. Call up Archie Bradley
As Wendy Thurm pointed out on Thursday, Kevin Towers was recently quoted as saying he didn’t want Bradley to come up and be the team’s savior. But if the team is indeed damaged beyond repair for this season, then he really won’t be able to save it anyway. IE, there’s no reason to hold him down. Since the Dbacks are rocking a franchise-high payroll this season, keeping him down for arbitration-related reasons doesn’t make a ton of sense, so Towers can likely be taken at his word that they don’t want to rush their prized prospect, but the sooner Bradley learns to adjust to the level of play at the major league level, the better. If you’re looking to reload for 2015, then you want Bradley to hit the ground running in 2015. Get him up.
2. Trade Aaron Hill
The Dbacks have Hill, Owings and Didi Gregorius, and only have jobs for two. Hill doesn’t project to be more than a two-win player. That is still better than Gregorius, who projects at one win and change, and you might adjust Gregorius down a little as he slides down the defensive spectrum ever so slightly to second base. But Gregorius is eight years younger and makes the league minimum, while the 32-year-old Hill is just beginning a three-year, $36 million extension. It’s highly unlikely that Hill is $33 million and change better than Gregorius, and coming off of his two best offensive seasons, there will never be a better time to trade Hill than right now. He has started the season slowly just like most everyone else on the roster, but his past two seasons plus the fact that he is cost controlled and the paucity of second-base solutions available will outweigh his slow start.
3. Trade Cody Ross
He was a luxury signing, and that is even more true now that Trumbo is on board. The deal they also signed him to was rich. Ross only excels at one thing, and that is hitting left-handed pitching, but if you look at the versus left-handed pitching leaderboard, you see a few guys who earn significantly less than did Ross, such as Corey Hart, Jonny Gomes and Chris Denorfia. Still, it’s a marketable skill, and if the Dbacks can clear him off the payroll while getting a B-level prospect in the deal, that’d be for the best.
4. Trade J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler
Speaking of luxuries, 37-year-old set-up men earning $7 million are pretty much the definition of luxury. The same is true of 34-year-old set-up men making $4.5 million. Putz wasn’t all that spectacular last season, but since he returned to full-time action in 2010, his 2.69 FIP ranks 15th out of 221 qualified relievers. He won’t be hard to trade, though like with Ross, the team likely won’t get much in return. At the very least, the team needs to be sure to not re-sign him at the end of the season. At least not for $7 million. Ziegler is signed through 2015 with a club option, for not prohibitive money. It’s more than you would want to pay a getting-on-in-years set-up guy, but Ziegler still shouldn’t be hard to deal.
5. Trade Trevor Cahill and Bronson Arroyo
Cahill probably isn’t beyond saving, and Arroyo has more lives than Freddy Krueger. But even at their best, they’re not pushing Arizona closer to a championship. There’s a good chance the team won’t be able to get anyone to take their full salaries, but if they can find someone to take half of their salaries, they’ll be ahead of the game.
If you can trade those six guys and get at least half of Arroyo’s and Cahill’s contracts covered in the process, and then be sure to let Brandon McCarthy walk as a free agent at the end of the season, the team would suddenly have somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million to play with in free agency, assuming the team wants to maintain the current payroll level.
Since that’s a reasonable assumption, we’ll go ahead and make it. Yes, the team will need some of that for arbitration raises to Wade Miley and Addison Reed, but Cliff Pennington can be non-tendered, and Eric Chavez and Joe Thatcher will also be free agents, and I wasn’t including their savings in that $50 million figure, so that is probably a wash.
In other words, the team could legitimately keep Goldschmidt, Bradley, Owings, Parra, Trumbo, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Martin Prado, A.J. Pollock, etc., and set their sights on signing two of Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Max Scherzer and James Shields in free agency. If they can pull that off, suddenly you’re not in such horrible shape. The offense is still productive, and a rotation of Bradley/Corbin/Miley plus two of the free agents is something that you could comfortably run out against the Dodgers without bracing for another pool party invasion.
Now, this won’t fix everything. Miguel Montero looks like he is going to be a huge sinkhole on that roster. He is owed $10 million this year, and then $40 million over the next three seasons after that, and it doesn’t look like his drop in power last season was a mirage. According to Baseball Heat Maps, his fly ball batted ball distance fell by nearly eight feet from 2012 to 2013, and his .086 ISO this season isn’t painting a different picture than one of rapid decline. Arizona is probably stuck with him, for better or worse (probably worse).
The Dbacks likely aren’t as bad as they have been — they’re still expected to be nearly a .500 team the rest of the way — so while you always want to strive to get younger, they don’t need to tear it all down completely. All of their dead weight actually gives them a unique opportunity. It finally looks like there will be some top shelf starting pitchers on the market this winter. The Diamondbacks won’t be able to get a ton in return for their dead weight players, but clearing them out to make a run at said pitchers won’t really make them much worse. If they can pull that off and get some more impact guys to supplement their decent core, they actually could quickly get back to where they want to be. Otherwise, it’ll be time for a new regime in the desert, because what they have now is just not working.