- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Three-team deal!
There. Got your attention. Didn't I?
There's nothing that gets hearts pumping at any winter meetings more than those words:
But unlike a lot of modern baseball trades, the three-team extravaganza the Diamondbacks, Angels and White Sox pulled off Tuesday was a real, live baseball trade. Imagine that.
"It's nice," said White Sox GM Rick Hahn. "It's a pure baseball deal."
And that's how all three teams sold it. They had a need. They traded for guys who addressed that need. And now everyone can live happily ever after.
But did all three teams really solve their problems as perfectly as advertised? Good question.
The White Sox got the high-energy, high-on-base "dirtball" (Hahn's affectionate description) they'd been hunting all winter, in Adam Eaton. … The Diamondbacks got a monster bat to plug into a lineup that was stunningly power-challenged last summer, in Mark Trumbo. … And the Angels got two young, low-cost, controllable starting pitchers who addressed their dire rotation-depth crisis, in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago.
But are all three perfect fits? Let's take a closer look.
Trumbo to the desert
What the D-backs were thinking: All the Diamondbacks' outfielders combined hit three more home runs last season (37) than Trumbo hit all by himself (34). So … any more questions? And it isn't just this team that's getting desperate for power, said GM Kevin Towers. It's every team. As he looks around, there's no power in the free-agent market. There's virtually no power coming in next year's free-agent market. And there's not a whole lot coming in the draft, either.
"So if it's not at the amateur level, and it's not in the minor leagues, and it's not at the big league level or internationally," Towers said, "you'd better jump on it and get it when you can."
And if it's pure, unvarnished mash-ability the D-backs need, then Trumbo -- whose average home run distance over the past three years (412.3 feet) is the sixth best in the sport -- is a great fit. But his package also includes a sub-.300 OBP (.294), a climbing strikeout barrage (120, to 153, to 184 over the past three seasons) and questions about whether he can play left field effectively. So with all that thump come major issues.
What the outside world is thinking: Towers shrugged off Trumbo's strikeouts, saying: "With power is going to come strikeouts." He also said confidently that Trumbo can handle left field, predicting he would put in the work to become "at least a solid, average defender in left field with a plus arm."
But one scout I surveyed Tuesday gave this wary review: "I'm not as excited about Trumbo as a lot of people. Oh, he can hit 40 [home runs] there. I'd say 40 would probably be my magic number if you backed me into a corner. So they'll get some homers, and some game-breaking homers. But with the homers are going to come a ton of strikeouts and a ton of lousy at-bats. And I'm not sure if he can play the outfield. So he's a mixed bag for me."
The view from here: Towers knows the upside, and he can live with the downside. But if Skaggs lives up to his hype from two years ago, the Diamondbacks might have overpaid for what Trumbo is.
Angels' call to arms
What the Angels were thinking: GM Jerry Dipoto walked into the winter meetings thinking he was highly unlikely to trade Trumbo. But by Monday afternoon, when Towers -- who had been talking to the White Sox about an Eaton deal -- texted Dipoto to present a deal for Skaggs and Santiago, everything changed. "We were always committed to the idea," Dipoto said, "that, if we were going to move Mark, it was going to be for young, controllable pitching. And lo and behold, we were able to access it."
Santiago projects as a dependable, left-handed, back-of-the-rotation innings-eater. But it's Skaggs, a former supplemental first-round pick in 2009 and a longtime Dipoto favorite, who looms as the key to this deal. Two years ago, at age 21, he dominated the Arizona Fall League and was viewed as a potential star. But by late last season, scouts say his fastball velocity had dropped from 91-93 mph to 86-87. And that raised bright red flags for some people.
But Dipoto -- who, as Arizona's former interim GM, was involved in trading for Skaggs once before, three years ago, when the Diamondbacks sent Dan Haren to the Angels -- said the Angels had investigated Skagg's velocity drop carefully. And they concluded it occurred only late in the season, after he'd tired, and didn't find it "at all concerning" for a 22-year-old left-hander whose out pitches are his high-end curve and developing changeup anyway.
"I've had Tyler before," Dipoto said. "And when Tyler is himself, he's pitching from 88 to 92, and varying speeds up and down. His fastball switches planes, and then he uses his curveball and change off the fastball. So stuffwise, he has not changed markedly."
What the outside world is thinking: Several scouts I spoke with were much more concerned with Skaggs' drop-off in velocity than Dipoto, with one saying: "I liked him in the Arizona Fall League two years ago. He was the guy out there. But this year, his velocity was definitely down a little bit. And it seemed like the innings and the workload might have caught up with him. So how much quality did they really get in this guy? I think it's going to turn out to be less than the draft position said it would be. If they don't mind plugging him into the back of their rotation, then I like it fine. I like Santiago. He's a lock for me. Skaggs is the key guy in this deal."
The view from here: This was no steal for the Angels. But they saved about $4 million, which they desperately needed. They have a shot to replace Trumbo's missing homers if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton stay healthy and do what they're getting paid to do. And they accomplished what many people thought they couldn't -- they found two low-salaried starters who are upgrades on what they had. "Yesterday, finding starting pitching was something we needed to do," Dipoto said. "But today, after making this deal, we have the freedom to do what we want to do."
Eaton to the South Side
What the White Sox were thinking: Only one team in the American League -- the Astros -- had a lower team on-base percentage than the White Sox (.302) last season. So Eaton, who had an incredible .450 OBP in four minor league seasons, is such a made-to-order fit for this team, GM Rick Hahn admits he was close to being accused of stalking Towers all winter in a quest to deal for this guy.
"I harassed KT quite a few times," Hahn laughed. "I don't think I violated any federal or state laws, in either Illinois or Arizona. But he certainly was aware of our interest. I'll put it that way."
Eaton did miss 89 games last season with a sprained left elbow ligament. But that "wasn't something we felt, and our medical people felt, would be a long-term issue," Hahn said. So the White Sox pounced on a guy who has been compared to a young Lenny Dykstra, in his style, his position and his energizer persona. Now all he has to do is stay healthy.
What the outside world is thinking: Eaton may have been expendable in Arizona because of the emergence of A.J. Pollock. But it's hard to find anyone who has seen him who has a negative word to say about him. Asked if he had any fears about him, one scout said: "I guess you could say that kids who play with that kind of aggression and energy are guys you'll always worry about with injuries. And I'm not sure if he's a difference-maker or a nice complementary player. But I think he fills in a lot of cracks for them. I love the way he plays the game. He brings them a lot of intangibles that I don't think we value enough."
The view from here: Of the three teams involved, the White Sox's end of this trade probably carries the least risk, unless Eaton turns out to be a kamikaze who runs into a never-ending string of injuries. "I like what the White Sox did in this deal," said one scout. "My biggest questions are: Will Skaggs be the pitcher -- or close -- Jerry thinks he will be, and will Trumbo produce the way Kevin thinks he will? Those are the two big questions. I really don't have a lot of questions about what the White Sox got. I think Eaton will be exactly what they expect him to be."