Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dumb Diamondbacks

Kennedy is the latest Diamondback to be traded for pennies on the dollar
The two most notable trades leading up to an otherwise quiet trading deadline involved starting pitchers not named Cliff Lee. The first had Jake Peavy changing Sox (from white to red). The second was consummated between divisional rivals--the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres--sending Ian Kennedy from the former to the latter.

Since I already analyzed the Peavy trade in this space last week, I wanted to breakdown the Kennedy trade while it was still fresh. My first impression is that it's a curious move for the Diamondbacks, who led the NL West for most of the summer before slipping behind the hard-charging Los Angeles Dodgers (cue Yasiel Puig highlights). Arizona's fighting to stay above .500 at the moment, but they're still within striking distance of first and could feasibly make a run down the stretch. So why trade Kennedy, a sturdy starter who takes the ball every fifth day, when it's common knowledge that one can never have too much pitching?

The explanation is quite simple, really. Arizona's GM Kevin Towers has a history of trading away young, struggling talent. In fact, this trade makes four times in the past year that Towers has sold low. Let's take a look.

Stephen Drew: traded to Oakland on 8/20/12
J.D. Drew's kid  brother was one of the National League's top shortstops before a fractured ankle took him out of commission for 11 months. When he returned midway through the 2012 season--his walk year--he clearly wasn't the same player. He was still shaking off the rust off when the Diamondbacks traded him to Oakland on August 20th.  Though he was batting below .200 at the time, Drew bounced back in September, helping the A's stun Texas and win the division on the season's final day. Billy Beane gave Arizona Sean Jamieson, a 24 year-old who's yet to play a single game above Single-A. Rather than deal a slumping, rehabbing Drew, Towers should have held on to Drew and let him recoup some of his lost value. The Diamondbacks weren't in contention last year anyways, so what was the harm in letting Drew play out the string and seeing if he could rediscover his stroke? Had he continued to flail, then nobody would have thought twice about letting him go as a free agent.

Trevor Bauer: traded to Cleveland on 12/11/12
Arizona's first round selection (third overall) in the 2011 draft pitched all of 16 innings in his lone season with the D-Backs before he was sent packing to Cleveland in a three-way trade that acquired Drew's replacement, Didi Gregorius. Gregorius has been solid, but his ceiling is nowhere near as high as Bauer's. The future ace has yet to take off, but he's just 22 and still has plenty of time to figure it out. Even if he never pans out, I would much rather roll the dice with the next Tim Lincecum rather than settling for a competent but unspectacular shortstop.

Justin Upton: traded to Atlanta on 1/24/13
The Diamondbacks were downright foolish to move B.J. Upton's younger brother, whom they still controlled through 2015. Frustrated by his inconsistency, attitude problems and inability to realize his massive potential, they gave up on him after a down 2012. Towers could have and should have been able to get more for a budding superstar than two complementary players (Martin Prado and Randall Delgado) packaged together with three so-so prospects. The result has been a punchless Diamondbacks outfield that's slugged just .383 with 25 home runs. Upton has 20 by himself. He should be hitting in front of Paul Goldschmidt instead of playing in the same outfield with his older brother and Jason Heyward.

Ian Kennedy: traded to San Diego on 7/31/13
Once a treasure of the Yankees farm system, Kennedy was dealt to Arizona after the 2009 season as part of the three-way trade that put Curtis Granderson in pinstripes and sent Max Scherzer to Detroit. Two years later, he emerged as one of baseball's best starting pitchers when he won 21 games and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race. While that superlative season now appears to be a fluke, he's still a durable starting pitcher who should approach or exceed 200 innings pitched for the fourth consecutive year. And yet, all Towers could fetch for him was a prospect and a lefty reliever (Joe Thatcher). Granted, teams aren't lining up for someone with an ERA over five, but Kennedy's 4.29 xFIP and strand rate suggest that luck was not on his side. He's not as bad as his year-to-date numbers suggest. With regression to the mean and some assistance from PetCo Park, he should be able to turn his year around. Expect a second-half resurgence similar to the one Josh Beckett enjoyed with the Dodgers last summer.

In an alternate reality where Towers didn't make these trades, it's quite possible that Arizona would still be sitting atop the NL West, or at least giving LA a run for their money. Instead, the D-Backs are fading fast. When October comes around they'll be on the outside looking in, giving their fans plenty of time to ponder what might have been.


  1. Justin Upton has been a "budding superstar" for five or six seasons now. If you're still "budding" over that long a period of time, then maybe you're not really "budding."

    Martin Prado's versatility will be valuable to Arizona. Plus, he was an All-Star in 2010, he should have been an All-Star last year, and he's now showing his ability for the Diamondbacks. Randall Delgado, meanwhile, helps replenish Arizona's starting rotation. He's just twenty-three, he is sporting a strikeouts-to-walk ratio this season of 4.00:1.00, and his ERA in ten starts is 3.30. Be patient here and show some appreciation for subtlety. I can understand the frustration of losing Justin Upton, but the Diamondbacks could become a better all-around team via this trade, especially when you consider that Arizona received three minor league prospects as well.

  2. Your criticism of the Drew trade strikes me as petty. Even if he had "rediscovered his stroke" over the final month of the 2012 season, Arizona was going to let him leave as a free agent rather than pay him about $10M this season. Indeed, not allowing him to defect for nothing made sense.