The Arizona Diamondbacks offseason was tumultuous, two trades were made that will shape the franchise for years to come. The result of the transactions are many new faces in the lineup and the loss of one of baseball’s top pitching prospects.
Did Kevin Towers really trade Trevor Bauer for Tony Sipp, Didi Gregorius and Lars Anderson? The top pitching prospect in the Triple A Pacific Coast League and number three overall pick out of UCLA in 2011 was part of a three team trade in December. The Diamondbacks received the three aforementioned luminaries in exchange for Bauer. Instead of having two top 20 starting pitching prospects, Arizona has only Tyler Skaggs.
In January Towers shipped talented center fielder Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for a five player package highlighted by Martin Prado. Prado wore a number of gloves for the Atlanta Braves, but will be a third baseman in the desert. He averaged 12 homers and 61 RBI the past four years, and hit 42 doubles in 2012. Prado signed a four year $40 million contract.
Prado’s left side infield partner will be shortstop Cliff Pennington who was received in exchange for outfielder Chris Young. The ground ball staff will love Pennington’s solid fielding and strong arm. He has a lifetime .356 slugging percentage, never living up to his first round pedigree, and hit .215 for Oakland in 2012. Nick Ahmed, part of the Prado deal, and Gregorius are highly rated defensive shortstops now in the system.
Pennington’s double play partner Aaron Hill signed a three year $35 million dollar extension that keeps him in Arizona through 2016. He had 26 HR/85 RBI/14 SB stat line last season.
Cody Ross slugged .481, hit 22 homers and drove in 85 runs in Boston last year. He was signed to a three year $25 million dollar contract in December and is expected to fill the power void left by Upton’s departure.
Triple A All-Star Adam Eaton is the new starting center fielder. He hit .259 during a September call up, but led the Pacific Coast League with .381 batting average and had a .995 OPS with Reno.
Tower’s addition to the starting rotation was free agent Brandon McCarthy from the Oakland A’s, who signed for $15 million over two years. McCarthy went 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP from 2011 to 2012. His 2012 was ended by a line drive off the bat of Erick Aybar which cause a skull fracture and necessitated brain surgery.
Randall Delgado was acquired in the Prado deal. He will be in the competition for a back of the rotation job.
The Diamondbacks picked up Heath Bell as part of the Pennington trade. Bell had a disastrous 2012, but had 132 saves, a 2.36 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP for the San Diego Padres from 2009 through 2011. He will help set up J.J. Putz.
After winning the 2011 NL West crown, the Diamondbacks appear to have regressed. In two major offseason trades, Kevin Tower gave up the best player in both deals. The lineup is full of quality complementary type players, but the team lacks difference makers.
The contracts of Prado and Hill are questionable. Prado is a good player, but has a lifetime slugging percentage of .438 and will be paid more money than Evan Longoria over the next four years. Aaron Hill has nice power for a second baseman, but his career has been all over the map. He has followed up strong years with stinkers like 2008 and 2011.
The blueprint for success for mid market teams is with young pitching, and the Diamondbacks traded away a potential ace in Bauer. The Diamondbacks organization knew Bauer was quirky at UCLA, let the kid play long toss with a shot put if that’s what floats his boat. The San Francisco Giants rode a similarly sized and unconventional Tim Lincecum to two Cy Youngs and a pair of championships.
Without talented core players like Upton and front line starting pitchers like Bauer may have developed into, the Diamondbacks will have trouble keeping pace with the Giants in the NL West.