In a three-team trade, there are a lot of moving parts that often leave it difficult to fully gauge a winner, which we must now do immediately, of course, because we can’t wait for anything anymore.
As with every trade, we won’t know who is the “winner” and who is the “loser” until much further down the road, but we can understand what teams were thinking immediately after the move happens. Except for the Arizona Diamondbacks this past week.
The Diamondbacks took on $13 million in salary in order to gain the services of Heath Bell, the same Heath Bell who posted a 5.09 ERA this season and lost his job as the closer of the Miami Marlins, despite signing a three-year contract last off-season to fill that very role.
Of course, the Diamondbacks are banking on the fact that Bell will regain his 2009-11, the form that made him a three-time all-star and warranted that contract from the Marlins in the first place.
But isn’t that a huge, and unnecessary, risk?
The Diamondbacks don’t plan to use Bell as their closer, even if he returns to full-strength, meaning they are paying $13 million over the next two years for a set-up man, when they are already getting strong set-up production from David Hernandez for $2.5 million over the next two seasons combined. Their bullpen was a strength, and their organizational pitching is even stronger. With a stable of young arms, such as Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs to go along with returning rotation members Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and Daniel Hudson, the Diamondbacks already have more arms than they have available spots. Some of that talent, specifically the young arms like Corbin and Skaggs, could easily get their feet wet in the majors pitching in relief until room opens up.
There is plenty of pitching talent within the Diamondbacks organization. Spending $13 million over two years with the hope that Bell returns to form seems extremely frivolous.
But there were three teams in this deal.
The Diamondbacks didn’t just agree to take on the salary of Bell. They cleared room on their payroll first by trading away their most valuable off-season trade chip for pennies on the dollar.
Chris Young isn’t a perfect player, but he is still a valuable one. He still offers great defense in center field and, when he plays a full season, he offers around 20-25 home runs. He hasn’t developed into the all-around performer that the Diamondbacks hoped he would become when they bought out his arbitration years after his 32-home run rookie campaign, but he would still start on most major league teams.
But the Diamondbacks have a logjam in their outfield, with Jason Kubel, Juston Upton and Gerardo Parra still there and Adam Eaton fighting his way to the majors at the end of the season. Moving Young, who has value and one moderately-priced season remaining (with an expensive option for 2014), made sense for the Diamondbacks. who have cheaper in-house options.
But not moving him for Cliff Pennington. In 2010 and 2011, Young was a 4.6 win player, and he was on his way to a similar season in 2012 had it not been for an injury that cost him time in the middle of the season, and losing playing time to Eaton down the stretch. Even playing in just 101 games, he posted a 2.8 WAR, and there’s no reason to think he won’t return to four-win territory next season.
Pennington, on the other hand, is another player whose defensive game brings more value than his offense, but not nearly to the same degree as Young. Pennington is a fine shortstop, but at least Young offers some offensive production, even if it is flawed. Pennington does not.
In his best season in 2010, Pennington was a 3.9-win player, and he hasn’t come close to that since. He offers no power at the plate and doesn’t walk nearly enough to bat anywhere other than 8th in a decent lineup. The only thing Pennington offers the Diamondbacks is that he is capable of playing a solid major league shortstop for cheap, but that’s not enough value in return for Young, who likely was garnering interest from a number of teams.
It’s clear what the Marlins were trying to do here. They were willing to essentially take a loss just to rid themselves of as much of Heath Bell’s contract as possible, as well as Bell himself. They found a team willing to take him on, and found a third team to get involved to help the Diamondbacks clear the salary to make room for Bell. The A’s were happy to get involved and collect more talent in exchange for a replaceable middle infielder and a marginal prospect.
Yordy Cabrera, the prospect sent to the Marlins, is brimming with potential but has done nothing in terms of production in his short minor league career. Currently a shortstop, there are many scouts who believe he will have to move off the position, mainly due to his 6’4″ frame, but also due to his inconsistency. And with 61 errors over his first 159 minor league games, it’s hard to think they don’t have a valid point.
Cabrera is still growing into his size and should develop more power, but he hasn’t shown any of it yet, hitting just nine home runs as a professional, including just three in 60 games in the hitter-friendly California League this season. With an impending shift to third base seeming evident, that power becomes even more important if he is to have any value, but if it does develop, his pop and athleticism could allow him to develop into a nice utility infielder.
Which is something the A’s were more than willing to part with for Chris Young. It remains to be seen how the A’s will use Young, but if Billy Beane has shown us one thing over the past few years, it’s his willingness to simply collect talent and figure out how and where to use it later. No one knew how he would use Yoenis Cespedes when they signed him this off-season, but the A’s found plenty of at-bats for him Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and others. We don’t know how Young will fit into this equation, but Beane wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to acquire talent for cheap (trade value-wise). Someone else from the A’s outfield is likely to be on the move, it just remains to be seen whom.
Which brings us back to the Diamondbacks. Much like in “Field of Dreams,” when James Earl Jones‘ character says “now we know what everyone’s purpose is here… but mine,” this trade makes sense for everyone but Arizona. But unlike Terrance Mann walking into the cornfield, I don’t think we’re going to figure it out what the Diamondbacks were trying to accomplish with this move.
Even if Bell returns to his all-star form, it seems like the money being paid to him could have been used more wisely elsewhere. And even if it was the only option, was it necessary to trade Young now in order to free up room? We don’t know exactly how the discussion went down, but it sure seems like there would have been more teams interested in Young than just the A’s, and that the price would have been a lot higher than Cliff Pennington had the Diamondbacks waited to trade Young rather than trying to make both moves at once.
The strategy of the Diamondbacks, to take Young’s salary and put it towards their bullpen, isn’t a poor one, but their execution of it was.