Arizona motivated to make a trade
Acquiring an elite starting pitcher tops the Diamondbacks' offseason wish list
Some organizations prefer to conduct their business under the cover of darkness. The Arizona Diamondbacks are not among them. General manager Kevin Towers is perpetually forthright about his team's needs, and refreshingly candid about sharing them for public consumption.
Last winter, the Diamondbacks were awash in Hot Stove buzz after Towers let the world know he was soliciting trade offers for outfielder Justin Upton. The Upton saga was a perpetual topic of discussion until late January, when the Diamondbacks sent him to Atlanta in a seven-player deal that brought Martin Prado to Arizona.
This winter, the Diamondbacks are looking to add a big name or two rather than subtract a franchise face. They're not lacking for ambition.
After going 81-81 to finish 11 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West, the Diamondbacks are searching for a top-of-the-rotation starter and a corner outfield bat with power. Towers expects the conversations to gain momentum when the winter meetings begin Monday in Orlando, Fla.
"I'm not afraid to move real good players as long as we're getting a real good player back -- where we think there's not a lot of risk and it's going to make us a much better club," Towers said. "I think we have the players to get any available pitcher out there on the market. It's just a question of how much we have to give up. It may take a little while. We're not forced to do anything."
If the planets ever aligned for a team to make a splash, that's the case in Arizona, where the Diamondbacks fulfill all the prerequisites for a team in true shopping mode:
They have clearly defined needs
The Diamondbacks have starting pitching depth with All-Star Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill and youngsters Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado. But they've determined they need an upgrade to compete with the Dodgers, who can run out Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu in succession, and the San Francisco Giants, who have Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner leading the way.
Arizona's starters posted a combined 46-59 record last year, and ranked 11th in the National League in strikeouts (725) and ERA (4.13). When the D-backs made the playoffs in 2011, Ian Kennedy finished fourth in Cy Young balloting and the Diamondbacks' starters went 71-54 with a 3.84 ERA.
Since the end of the season, the Diamondbacks have fired pitching coach Charles Nagy, hired Mike Harkey to replace him and brought in pitching guru Dave Duncan to share his wisdom in spring training. Now they're looking for a veteran who can provide some stability and consistency at the top of the rotation. It has been an elusive proposition since Brandon Webb blew out his shoulder after averaging 227 innings a season from 2004 through 2008.
"When you look back two years ago when Ian Kennedy pitched like a No. 1, you see what a difference that made to our outcome," said Derrick Hall, the Diamondbacks' president and CEO. "We haven't had that No. 1 the last couple of years. Corbin tried to become our No. 1, but that's a lot of pressure to put on a young kid, and he ran out of gas after pitching great for two-thirds of the season. We feel like we need that horse."
Although the Diamondbacks have interest in Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, they'll probably be hard-pressed to compete with the likes of the Dodgers and New York Yankees. The Arizona payroll could approach $100 million in 2014, but about $65 million of that total is already committed to Prado, outfielder Cody Ross, catcher Miguel Montero, second baseman Aaron Hill, McCarthy, Cahill and reliever J.J. Putz. The Diamondbacks shed about $6 million when they sent Heath Bell to Tampa Bay in a three-team trade Tuesday.
If the Diamondbacks try to acquire an elite starter by trade, the natural targets are Tampa Bay's David Price and the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija, both of whom are being mentioned in speculation because they're two years shy of free agency. At the moment, the Cubs are still trying to sign Samardzija to an extension, and sources say Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman has yet to fully engage in discussions about Price.
A corner outfield upgrade is Item B on Towers' agenda. Even if Ross makes a full recovery from a dislocated right hip, the Diamondbacks could use a power-hitting wing man for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. A.J. Pollock, Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra and Ross -- Arizona's incumbent outfielders -- hit a combined 29 homers in 1,611 at bats last season and each logged an OPS under .750.
The Diamondbacks might not be able to achieve both of their goals without bankrupting the farm system, so Towers said he's inclined to try to add a pitcher through a trade and sign an outfielder off the free-agent market. But which free agent?
Payroll limitations appear to rule out the D-backs on Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson or Carlos Beltran. If Towers is interested in more budget-friendly options, Corey Hart and Michael Morse better fit the profile. Both players are coming off injury issues that make it likely they'll sign short-term deals, and they have the potential to be sleeper signs if they can stay healthy.
The Diamondbacks also could opt to make a run at the Angels' Mark Trumbo, he of the monster power and .299 career OBP. Trumbo is still relatively affordable, and the teams seem to match up well given Los Angeles' chronic need for pitching and the Diamondbacks' abundance of that commodity. But the presence of Goldschmidt at first base and lack of DH at-bats would require Trumbo to shift exclusively to the outfield, which isn't exactly his strong suit.
They have young talent to move
When teams call Towers, they invariably bring up 21-year-old right-hander Archie Bradley, the pride of Broken Arrow, Okla., and the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft. Bradley has 318 strikeouts (and 153 walks) in 290 minor league innings. Towers compares him to a young Chris Carpenter in terms of competitiveness and temperament, and if Bradley can improve his command and put the finishing touches on his changeup, he has a chance to do for the Diamondbacks what Michael Wacha did for St. Louis in 2013.
I think we have the players to get any available pitcher out there on the market. It's just a question of how much we have to give up. It may take a little while. We're not forced to do anything.” -- Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers
Understandably, it's going to be next to impossible for a team to pry Bradley loose from the Diamondbacks under any trade scenario.
"I don't see that happening," Towers said. "Not that anybody is untouchable, but we're hoping he's our David Price, and we can control him [for several years].
"He's gonna get every opportunity to crack our rotation this spring. He's pretty much dominated every level he's been at. The more you test him, the better he is. He's not looking to make our rotation as the fifth guy -- he's looking to make it as the ace."
If the Diamondbacks include a young pitcher in a deal, it might be Skaggs or Delgado, a former Atlanta Braves prospect who went 5-7 with a 4.26 ERA in 20 appearances last season. Skaggs endured some growing pains during a disappointing 2013 season, but still has considerable value as an athletic, 22-year-old lefty with a three-pitch repertoire.
Beyond the pitching, Arizona has some excess inventory at several positions, and that's where Towers has the opportunity to assemble a more diverse package of prospects:
• The Diamondbacks have a potential logjam at shortstop, where Didi Gregorius flashed a nice glove last season, but hit .200 against lefties and batted .207 after the All-Star break. Gregorius could receive a spring training challenge from Chris Owings, who hit .330 with Triple-A Reno in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
• In a perfect world, the Diamondbacks will play Prado at third base, which would free them up to trade Matt Davidson. Scouts envision Davidson as a 25-homer man in the majors, but his footwork is subpar and he projects to an average defender at best at third base.
• Arizona has another possible trade chip in center field, where Pollock and Eaton expect to compete for the starting job. Eaton is a more classic leadoff hitter and on-base/catalyst, while Pollock is smoother and more polished defensively.
There's enough overall talent at Towers' disposal to put him in the mix for Price or Samardzija. The main issue is, the Rays would probably insist on Bradley in any deal for Price. And the Cubs already have enough outfielders (Jorge Soler and Albert Almora) and young infielders (Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Dan Vogelbach et al) in the system that they might not be buyers for what Arizona is selling. Any deal between the clubs would require some imagination, and probably have to focus on Arizona's stockpile of young pitching.
They're motivated trade partners
Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick made some news recently when he declined to exercise the 2015 club options on both Towers and manager Kirk Gibson. That decision led to speculation that both men are entering the 2014 season with a little more than the garden-variety heat on them. Kendrick didn't exactly dispel that notion in an interview with Arizona Sports 620 radio.
"Frankly, it's a performance business," Kendrick said. "People that are in the position of manager, general manager and player are rewarded for their performance. I'm comfortable where we are with [Gibson] and Kevin, and I think they're comfortable."
Then again, Towers has never required much of a push to talk trade. He's an old-school guy who values scouting judgments and gut instincts about makeup and intestinal fortitude over Sabermetric calculations. Towers has taken his share of hits for his fascination with toughness and "grit." But he always keeps it interesting, and this winter will be no different.
"It's going to ramp up," Hall said. "We're getting a lot of calls and making a lot of calls, and we can see the interest is there. We're probably a good fit for a lot of clubs."
Will all that talk translate into some noteworthy transactions in the desert? Time and the vicissitudes of the market will tell. If the Diamondbacks fail to make a splash between now and spring training, it will not be for lack of effort.
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