When you play in a division with "the New Yankees" and the winner of the World Series in two of the last three years, it is easy to be forgotten. Yet since 2011, Arizona has won more games than Los Angeles and just five fewer than the champion Giants. They won the NL West title as recently as 2011 and are very much in contention for 2013.
Lest you forget about the Diamondbacks, Kevin Towers made plenty of noise this offseason. The quantity of his transactions would have been enough to stay in headlines, but the stunning nature of some of them upped the ante. No team had a more interesting off-season. Maybe interesting isn't the right word. Confusing? Jarring? Daring? Hilarious? Bold? Foolish? Take your pick.
Towers started out with a benign-looking shopping list this off-season: shortstop, third baseman, power arm for the back of the bullpen, situational left-hander for the bullpen, and starting pitcher. As spring training starts, Towers has reached the checkout stand with each of those needs on the list checked off. And he did it by targeting men of character, guys with grissle, grime and grit.
The big headline grabs out of the desert this off-season resulted from trades. Despite bringing back both 2012 shortstops in Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald, Arizona acquired all-glove shortstop Cliff Pennington from Oakland for their starting center-fielder in Chris Young. Young had regressed and was getting expensive, but it was curious to flip him for a third all-glove shortstop.
The same day, they flipped the prospect they received to Miami for Heath Bell. They will pay him just $10million of the $18million left on his contract through 2014, with Jeffrey Loria picking up the rest. Thrifty move.
One month later, Towers sent a spare part in Ryan Wheeler to Colorado for Matt Reynolds. While Reynolds isn't a prototypical situational lefty, it isn't too much of a stretch to check off that bullet on Towers' list. In 2010, Arizona's bullpen had a 5.74 ERA and -2.0 fWAR. In 2012, they had the fourth best FIP in MLB, yet Towers is still obsessively adding to it.
The first three trades didn't set the world on fire, but the last two did.
Arizona Diamondbacks Trades, 2012-13 Offseason
|Players acquired||players dealt||team||date|
|SS Cliff Pennington, SS Yordy Cabrera||CF Chris Young||OAK
|RHP Heath Bell||SS Yordy Cabrera||MIA||10/20/12
|LHP Matt Reynolds||1B/3B Ryan Wheeler||COL||11/20/12|
|SS Didi Gregorious, LHP Tony Sipp, 1B Lars Anderson||RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Bryan Shaw||CLE||12/11/12|
|UT Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed, 3B Brandon Drury||RF Justin Upton, 3B Chris Johnson||ATL||1/24/13|
On December 11, the Diamondbacks dealt the second highest draft choice they'd ever made, and just 18 months after drafting him to boot. Jerry Dipoto was still the general manager when Trevor Bauer was drafted in spite of his well-publicized long toss program. The new regime was not as impressed with the headstrong young pitcher, and the elite prospect hurler quickly earned a reputation as "uncoachable." Allowing 13 runs in four big league starts did not help either.
It is not new for a top prospect to fall out of favor with a club, especially if the front office changes. It is, however, fairly new to loudly publicize that displeasure to the media, driving down his value, and then trading him at age 22 at a low value.
In return, Arizona got another glove-leaning shortstop, except this one has an elbow strain that might have existed when the trade went down, except Towers was so eager to acquire Didi Gregorious,they did not subject him to a physical. He also isn't even their best shorstop prospect, according to Baseball Prospectus. Also acquired were lefty reliever Tony Sipp (hello shopping list) and 1B Lars Anderson, who lasted one month on the roster before being DFA'd.
A month later, Towers pulled off his biggest move of the off-season, finally shipping off former first overall pick Justin Upton to Atlanta after over a year of rumors. The Diamondbacks franchise has selected in the top three of the amateur draft just twice in their franchise's history, and Towers traded both of them away 43 days apart.
Insodoing, the Diamondbacks got the improvement at third base they coveted with Martin Prado, whose excellent defense and plus bat make him incredibly valuable. Arizona also received a young power arm in Randall Delgado to help offset the losses of Bauer and Jarrod Parker, with three other prospects coming from Atlanta to fill out the deal.
While supporters of the trade are quick to point out Prado's WAR advantage over Upton since 2010, that ignores several key factors: 1) Upton played through a thumb injury in 2012, limiting his effectiveness, 2) Upton had a 6.4 to 1.6 fWAR advantage in 2011, 3) Upton is 25 and Prado is 29. It seems Arizona sold low once again.
It is actually the second time Arizona has traded two young first-round picks before their prime in the same off-season. I didn't like it last time, but it worked out very well for Arizona.
The Snakes did not lose much of their roster in free agency or waivers, and those they did lose were hardly important.
Arizona Diamondbacks Free Agents, 2012-13 Offseason
|Sam Demel||N (waivers - HOU)||Pre-arb
|Matt Lindstrom||N||1 year, $2.8mil (CWS)|
|Henry Blanco||N||1 year, $750k (TOR)|
|Wil Nieves||Y||1 year, $800k|
|Konrad Schmidt||N (waivers - NYY)||Pre-arb
|Jake Elmore||N (waivers - HOU)||Pre-arb|
Towers was, however, active on the free agent market, getting solid cheap deals for role players in Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske and Jeremy Reed. While Brandon McCarthy comes with injury concerns, his 2-year, $15.5million deal could be the steal of the off-season.
To replace Chris Young, the Diamondbacks inked 32 year old Cody Ross to $26million, more than doubling his $17 million earnings to date in his nine year career. Ross has been a fringe starter and strong half of a platoon since his Florida days, never playing more than 130 games.
Arizona Diamondbacks Free Agent Additions, 2012-13 Offseason
|Eric Chavez||12/8/12||1 year, $3mil
|Mark Teahen||11/24/12||Minor League Deal|
|Eric Hinske||12/6/12||1 year, $1.35mil|
|Jeremy Reed||10/24/12||Minor League Deal|
|Cody Ross||12/22/12||3 years, $26 mil
|Brandon McCarthy||12/11/12||2 years, $15.5mil|
|Starling Peralta||12/6/12||Rule 5 draft choice|
The last notable off-season exercise by the Diamondbacks came by working out extensions for their own guys. With Cody Ross already owed eight figures over his age 32-34 seasons, Towers got to work affording the same pleasure to other men on the roster.
Arizona Diamondbacks Extensions, Past Year
|C Miguel Montero||5/26/12||5 years, $60 mil
|UT Martin Prado||1/31/13||4 years, $40 mil||29-32|
|2B Aaron Hill||2/7/13||3 years, $35 mil||32-34|
Montero actually signed last May, and to his credit performed just as well after the deal as before. One could see that deal hurting a bit in 2015 to 16.
As a way of mitigating the hurt of losing Justin Upton, Towers worked quickly to extend Martin Prado through 2016 as well. Prado was due to be a free agent after 2013 but is now under contract with Arizona longer than Justin Upton would have been. Prado's versatile toolbox limits the risk of him bottoming out his value from injury or age, so I like that deal.
Kevin Towers was the subject of much internet mocking for the Bauer and Upton trades, but it is extending Aaron Hill that is most indefensible to me. Towers sold low on Bauer/Upton but bought even higher on his second baseman, tossing $35mil to Hill following a career year at age 30. Second basemen don't tend to hold up into their thirties well, and Jonathan Herrera's .668 OPS in 2012 was better than Hill's OPS in 2011. Or 2010.
Perhaps Hill has turned a corner. Teammate Brad Ziegler believes Hill's poor 2008 and 2010-11 were a result of a concussion suffered in 2008. But not 2009.
Kevin Towers also tried to sign Paul Goldschmidt to an "extension" this offseason following a decent rookie year.
When all the dust settled, Arizona ended up with an older, more expensive core. It appears they are attempting to compete now, before the Dodgers gel and hopefully, after the Giants magic runs out. It is a daring move, something Rockies fans are certainly unfamiliar with. They filled all of their self-identified needs and truthfully, have a strong, balanced roster while maintaining an above average farm system. Arizona is in good shape.
Are they in good enough shape to take the division? Perhaps, but unlikely. In 2012, the Diamondbacks finished with 81 wins, though their Pythagorean expectation was 86 wins. So what did all of Kevin Towers' gymnastics this off-season do? PECOTA projects the Diamondbacks to finish with 84 wins. All that work for a team just as talented as before. How exhausting.