The Arizona Diamondbacks had a disappointing 2012 season and the front office has identified key areas in which the team must improve. The outfield isn’t one of these areas, as the Diamondbacks now boast five players who could all stake a claim for a starting role, whether in Arizona or on another team.
They could conceivably make things work if everyone was retained, but that seems like a sub-optimal use of valuable resources. With platoons — both traditional and non-traditional — and injury risk, carrying four or five competent outfielders is often necessary. However, trading one or two of these players could solve issues elsewhere on the diamond. The team would still boast a solid outfield while improving in other key areas. But determining who to trade isn’t as straightforward, as non-performance factors must be taken into consideration.
The Diamondbacks currently have Justin Upton, Chris Young, Adam Eaton, Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra under contract. Upton is the most talented of the group as well as the most expensive. Eaton is a top prospect under team control that played well in a small sample of September plate appearances. Kubel is a strong hitter who can’t run or field who is signed to a team-friendly contract. Parra is an average hitter under team control with excellent fielding marks. Young is a terrific defensive centerfielder capable of 20/20 production under team-friendly contractual terms.
The team is likely to retain Upton and play him in right field. The team also seems intent on playing Eaton in center field, which means that Young seems like the odd man out. He could shift to left field, but part of what makes him valuable would get eliminated in the process. Given his age, fielding skills, offensive pop and contract status, as well as the free agent market developing at the position, Young would instantly become a very attractive trade target if he were made available. Dealing him makes the most sense for the Diamondbacks, as he has become expendable with Eaton’s presence on the roster, and could extract the most value in return.
Young makes $8.5 million next season and has an $11 million club option for 2014. That option can be bought out for $1.5 million, meaning any acquiring team would pay him anywhere from $10 million for one season to $20 million for two seasons, if Arizona didn’t pick up any portion of the bill. According to Arizona Republic writer Nick Piecoro, however, the Diamondbacks are operating under the assumption that they will have to eat some of Young’s salary to facilitate a trade. His injury-plagued season is a contributing factor to that assumption, as Young hit .206/.284/.371 over his final 90 games and saw his offensive averages decline across the board.
The team may have to kick in some salary if it wants to improve its return, but with lucrative contracts likely headed to Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton, Young is a quality low-cost alternative for a team looking to improve its outfield. It’s hard to imagine the Diamondbacks needing to pay a CF-starved team like, say, the Phillies any money in order to facilitate a deal. And that’s just one example: there are several teams looking to bolster the roster without spending much money, who would part with a high-ranked prospect for two years of a 4.5 WAR player at $10 million per season. Young may struggle in the traditional area of batting average, but he remains a very good baseball player.
He produced 4.6 WAR in both 2010 and 2011, and his 2.8 WAR in 101 games prorates out to right around the same mark this season. No, prorating isn’t an accurate technique, but it’s important to note that he produced at the same level this year in the amount of time he played. His wRC+ has dropped from 109 to 101 to 97, over the last three years, but his fielding ratings have increased at the same rate. He has averaged over 10 runs saved above average at one of the most important positions in the field while hitting, at worst, at a league average pace.
Young has several similarities to B.J. Upton, who will probably sign for something like four years and $48 million this offseason. Both are young, with Young having just turned 29 years old. Both make less contact, but have power and baserunning ability. Upton has been the better baserunner since 2010, while Young has him bested in fielding. In terms of offensive rate stats, Young has a .336 wOBA, 103 wRC+ and a .243/.331/.436 line over the past three seasons. Upton has a .328 wOBA, 109 wRC+, and a .242/.317/.436 line. While Upton has been touted as a solid lower-cost alternative to Hamilton and Bourn, Young is a slightly lower-cost alternative to Upton.
The Diamondbacks aren’t going to enter the season with all five of these outfielders. They could make it work with Justin Upton in right, Eaton in center, and the non-traditional platoon (since they are both lefties) of Kubel and Parra in left. They could make it work with Upton and Eaton in right and center and Young shifted to left. They could look to move Kubel or Parra, play Young in center and mix and match Eaton at different positions and against different pitchers.
However, the most logical solution is to trade Young and hope that Eaton fills in seamlessly. This won’t necessarily stop the team from also dealing Kubel or Parra. At the very least, Young’s perfect mix of age, contract status, position, defensive skill, baserunning ability and offensive pop makes him a very attractive trade target for a number of teams that would rather part with a prospect package than dole out lucrative long-term deals.