Arizona, of course, has done a better job of building a pitching staff, but both clubs have shipped out young, talented players for a different types of ballplayers -- guys that still have talent, no doubt -- that fit in to categories such as "great leader," "tough out," "gritty defender," etc. The Rockies did it following a mediocre 2011 season, sending away Ian Stewart, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta and Ubaldo Jimenez -- each of whom has had varying degrees of success since leaving Denver -- and ushering in Michael Cuddyer, Jeff Francis, Yorvit Torrealba and others. The Rockies also added Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez, but both players have since been dealt.
The D-Backs shipped off Justin Upton, Chris Young and Trevor Bauer prior to the 2013 season in exchange for guys such as Martin Prado, Cliff Pennington and Didi Gregorius. Upton, who was maddeningly inconsistent while in Arizona, has hit a league-leading nine home runs in his first 15 games with the Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, Prado has yet to find his groove with the D-Backs, hitting .254/.301/.433 so far. Young has struggled and so has Bauer, as you'll see below from a rather candid Jim McLellan of AZ Snakepit.
Pennington is the grittiest of the gritty mold of ballplayer, and is off to a terrible start this season. He may soon make way for Gregorius, who was recently called up to the big league squad.
For more on all of that, we bring in the aforementioned Jim, who was gracious enough to answer a few questions about Arizona's offseason moves, as well as what to expect in the future. And, of course, there's a little bit of stupid humor in between on my part.
Bryan Kilpatrick: The D-Backs are off to a good start, but Justin Upton is off to an even better one. How did you feel about the trade at the time and what are your thoughts going forward?
Jim McLennan: Here's a graphic representing how most 'Pitters feel about this topic.
But, since you ask ... once we got Prado extended, I was satisfied with it. From 2010-12, Prado put up more fWAR than Upton, and to get a couple of young prospects and save money too, balanced out Upton's much-touted "potential." Seemed like a trade that was necessary, because Upton had largely failed to live up to expectations here, for a variety of well-discussed reasons, that I think do include mishandling by the team, e.g. the horribly premature "Uptown" section in Chase Field.
Now? Well, two weeks of games is hardly enough to come to any credible conclusions. But I do have to wonder: If what we've seen is the "real" Upton, where was that for the bulk of his time in Arizona? I know there were "injuries," but still ... the bottom line is, with Upton, Arizona made the postseason only once in his five full seasons. If we make it without him, I really couldn't care less about what he does for Atlanta.
BK: Trevor Bauer is a talented guy who may or may not put it all together. He also seemingly rubbed some folks in Arizona's organization the wrong way, and Upton may have been the same way. In your mind, did the D-Backs simply swap talent for intangibles with those deals or is there something else in play?
JM: To be blunt, that's a shallow, cliched and inaccurate way to look at it. Perhaps you noticed Bauer's debut for the Indians, where he walked the FIRST FOUR batters he faced? Let's just say, he's a pitcher with significantly bigger issues than "rubbing some folks the wrong way." Meanwhile, the player we received, Didi Gregorius, homered in his debut at-bat as a Diamondback, last night, then doubled in his second. Obviously, small sample size applies, but it seems to me, in these trades the Diamondbacks got back talent AND intangibles. Or, if you prefer, they traded talent for other kinds of talent. There's no doubt Towers and Gibson like players in a certain mold, but I don't think that this causes them to ignore or discount all other aspects.
BK: Okay, now to the current team. Brandon McCarthy hasn't done so well in his first few starts with Arizona. Will he right the ship, or is his pitching style a cause for concern especially given his new home ballpark?
JM: I don't think his style is a concern, so much as his failure to execute. I wrote about his early-season struggles, and there doesn't seem an enormous amount of difference in velocity or pitch selection thus far, but he is giving up a hellish amount of line-drives, with a 30% figure that is largely the root of the problem. And he's not missing many bats either with his rate of swinging strikes down by about a third on his career numbers. If he can fix those two things, he'll be fine. Past record -- much more than three starts -- suggests he should be okay, but we'll remain nervous until that actually happens.
BK: The D-Backs have assembled the league's largest collection of burly guys with red beards, right?
JM: Actually, that's what Kevin Towers means when he refers to "intangibles;" when he says "grit," that's code for "facial hair." Really, we may have more players, but in terms of total volume, I think we're still lagging some way behind Todd Helton. Or maybe he just got all Troy Tulowitzki's.
BK: Sure, a lot of talent was shipped off during the offseason, but there are still pieces on this team that can be built around such as Paul Goldscmidt and Miguel Montero. Who else is on the way?
JM: Pretty much every position on the team currently appears solidly locked up for the next four years or longer, so there's not much building to be done: Towers is of the opinion -- and it makes sense to me -- that free-agent costs are likely to balloon in the next few years, as revenues from TV deals, etc., flood into the market. So he has signed a lot of players to long-term deals -- Prado, Montero, Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill -- while their costs are still relatively low.
We hope to get Adam Eaton back off the DL next month; he was being spoken of as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate before the season started, though his roles in the outfield and batting leadoff have been admirably filled by A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra thus far. Of course, there's also Gregorius: I suspect it's a question of when, rather than if, he takes the everyday shortstop job from Cliff Pennington.
On the pitching front, there's Tyler Skaggs, rated the top left-handed prospect in baseball earlier this year. Further down the pipeline, we have Archie Bradley, who may even be better than Skaggs. So, as Ian Kennedy or Trevor Cahill head for free agency, we should have replacements ready. This seems a team built for the long-haul, so I'm optimistic for the future.
Probable Pitchers and TV schedule
Game 1: Friday, April 19 at 6:40 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Ian Kennedy (1-1, 5.79 ERA) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (2-0, 1.96 ERA)
Game 2: Saturday, April 20 at 6:10 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Trevor Cahill (0-2, 3.50) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (1-1, 3.86)
Game 3: Sunday, April 21 at 2:10 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Brandon McCarthy (0-2, 7.47) vs. Juan Nicasio (2-0, 5.63)