A Tale of Two Offseasons: The Arizona Diamondbacks
It was the mediocre of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of trading prospects like there was no tomorrow, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of misguided belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.
It was last winter's offseason for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks completely gutted their farm system last year in an attempt to break free from the frustration of consecutive 81-81 seasons. It's safe to say that plan did not work, as Arizona finished 64-98, good for last place in the N.L. West.
Now, things are different for Arizona. The offseason that cost general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson their jobs has resulted in a total change in philosophy for the D-Backs. Now, instead of gutting their own farm system, they are replenishing it with the pieces of others.
With potential additional moves coming, have the Diamondbacks done enough to reverse last year's missteps? What else do they need to do to complete the rebuild? Let's take a look.
A Gutting for the Ages
If you pull up the list of top 10 prospects for the Diamondbacks from January of 2013, you'll see a lot of packed bags and flight plans out of Phoenix.
Trumbo only played in 88 games because of injury, but those 88 games weren't exactly sparkling ponies. Trumbo had a .293 on-base percentage (which was actually only one point lower than 2013), and his slugging percentage dipped to .415 from .453. He's also still very bad at defense, so there's that.
In a separate deal, the D-Backs escorted their number-four prospect from that list, Matt Davidson, to the Windy City as well. In return, they received Addison Reed, a reliever who finished with the exact same fWAR as you and me. His ERA blooped up to 4.25 in 59.1 innings and took his FIP with it to 4.03. Another dandy exchange!
Basically, the Diamondbacks traded away good players for bad ones. That's usually an effective strategy!
With a new front office in place, the reversal process is underway. But is it enough?
The Prospects Cometh
Since the turn of the calendar from November to December, the Diamondbacks have either traded or are on the verge of trading three separate pieces in order to acquire six pieces in return. Aggressiveness abounds -- but not in the venomous way this time.
The first was sending Didi Gregorius to the Yankees as part of a three-team trade. Gregorius will be 25 on Opening Day and took a step back from his 2013 rookie campaign.
In return, they netted pitchers Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba. Ray struggled for the Tigers this year between Triple-A and the majors to the tune of a 4.22 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 100.1 in the minors. But he's 23 and had silly-high strikeout numbers when he was in the Nationals organization, so what the hey. Risk can be good sometimes.
Leyba is a 19-year-old shortstop who had a .420 wOBA in his 124 plate appearances after being brought to West Michigan for the Tigers' A affiliate. That wOBA was at .487 in rookie ball in 2013. Yum. Not a bad get for a guy like Gregorius.
Then there was Miguel Montero. He was in his age-12 season on the tee ball field when Leyba was born. His best years were in his past (he had a composite 2.1 fWAR the past two years), and he wouldn't have been useful once Arizona was ready to contend again.
The Cubs sent the Diamondbacks Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley as compensation. Mejia is 20 and loves strikeouts, though he sometimes delves into the sweet, sweet nectar of the base on balls.
Godley is 24 and has never pitched above High-A. His 11.60 strikeouts per nine in 40.1 innings at the level in 2014, though, does make things tastier. You can't expect a lot more for this than an average catcher that is past his prime.
The top guy that got dealt in this firesale was Wade Miley. Well, you know, assuming it actually goes through, which it apparently will on Saturday. We'll just assume for funsies that the deal goes through.
Miley was better than his numbers would suggest this year. When he wasn't pitching at the launchpad known as Chase Field, he had a 3.17 ERA in 105.0 innings. He allowed only five of his 23 home runs on the road. I'm sure he's not too torn up over the trade.
Right now, that's about all that's sweet about Rubby. He split 2014 between Pawtucket and Boston and issued more than three walks per nine in both locations. His strikeouts dipped to just 6.55 per nine in the majors while his ERA jumped to 4.43. This was the only year since 2011 in which he had thrown more than 12 big-league innings. He's another project.
Webster is still 24, but he, too, has struggled in his time in the majors. In 19 MLB appearances (18 of which have been starts), Webster has a 6.25 ERA while recording just 5.94 strikeouts per nine and 4.63 walks per nine.
Webster posted decent strikeout totals in 2012 and 2013 in the minors, but he has never had a walks per nine total lower than 3.25 at a level in which he has thrown at least 50 innings. Blech.
Then there is the third prospect. That is apparently holding this deal up from being official. What the Diamondbacks end up getting in that deal could easily swing the deal one way or another. If it's a lower-level guy with upside, then this trade could swing in Arizona's favor.
As you can see, a lot of these prospects the Diamondbacks have acquired are question marks. But when you lose 98 games, uncertainty isn't a bad thing.
By acquiring a high volume of young guys, the Diamondbacks are accounting for their own fallibility. Not all prospects pan out. But by flooding your system with more guys that could pan out, you're increasing the odds that you find two or three players that can contribute to your team. That's exactly what Arizona is doing, and it is so magnificently more intelligent than whatever on Earth they were trying last year.
This turnover isn't done yet, though. The rotation ranked 26th in the league in fWAR last year. The offense was also 26th in fWAR. It wasn't pretty.
If they can pawn off some of their lesser pieces that still have any trade value, things could easily turn around. Any line-up with a healthy Paul Goldschmidt will score runs. A.J. Pollock's offensive production sky-rocketed with a .372 wOBA last year, adding to his already nice defense. Having Ender Inciarte (who had a 23.7 UZR/150 last year) out there with him ensures that not a lot of balls will fall in the outfield -- unless they're hit to Trumbo, who'll probably have to go back to the outfield once Goldschmidt returns.
The thing in Arizona's favor is that they have those solid pieces that are still fairly young. If a couple of the prospects that they acquired this offseason work, they'll be able to turn things around. It may not be immediate, but Arizona, unlike last offseason, is doing things right this time.