Gerardo Parra is playing well this Spring, and the Nationals are interested. However, there are five reasons why D-backs fans should ignore the rumors of Washington's interest in Arizona's young left-fielder.
It's Spring Training, and with the return of baseball comes the renewal of a select few off-season trade rumors that never materialized. This year, the latest rumor to catch steam involves the D-backs, with every reporter in the Washington D.C. area and their brother-in-law reporting Washington to have serious interest in acquiring Arizona's Gerardo Parra to be their center fielder. As SB Nation's Rob Neyer recently pointed out, it's pretty easy to see why the rumor won't die: Washington needs a center fielder, and Arizona has an extra starting-caliber outfielder who can man center.
Additionally, said outfielder - Parra - happens to be the only outfielder of Arizona's quartet earning less than a million dollars in 2012 despite a solid 2011, so he a) has a lot of trade value, b) might not get enough playing time to maintain that trade value in 2012, and c) theoretically could be used to fill more pressing holes on the D-backs roster. Washington, not looking for a stopgap solution, has been scouting Parra in the Cactus League:
So it's pretty clear to see why the rumor has gained some traction, despite Nick Piecoro's objections (credit to the naming of the post goes to his tweet). But should we be preparing for Parra's departure? Not so fast. Follow me after the jump for five reasons why D-backs fans should expect their Gold Glover to remain in the desert.
1. What Can Washington Offer?
Every time I've seen this trade rumor, the same question has popped into my mind: What can Washington offer us that we'll want? Sure, we would be more than willing to take Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, or Ryan Zimmerman off of their hands, but Washington would be absolutely insane to part with any of those pieces for Gerardo Parra. What else can Washington offer that fits the needs of the D-backs?
It's not too hard to see who Washington would be willing to part with, but their fits in Arizona's organization are shaky at beset. John Lannan would be somewhere around the tenth slot on our starting pitching depth chart (Kennedy, Hudson, Cahill, Saunders, Collmenter, Bauer, Skaggs, Corbin, Miley, Lannan) and represents negative value to Arizona. Tyler Clippard's ground ball rate was 20.2% in 2011, making him a terrible fit for the park, particularly with no Parra around to run down fly balls in left field.
Drew Storen is solid, but Arizona is bound to value him lower than Washington, since Arizona's bullpen is already so stacked. Same goes for Henry Rodriguez. Ian Desmond has been a pretty huge disappointment over the last few years - unless Arizona's scouts are really high on Desmond as a shortstop of the future, there's little reason to consider him an upgrade over Parra, particularly with the huge supply of backup infielders Arizona already has. Everyone else of remotely similar value on the big-league club is a heavy overpay for Parra. 2-for-1 deals on the big-league club make little sense, since Arizona's 25-man roster is already full.
As for the minor leagues, the Gio trade had a toll on the system, but didn't leave it completely devoid, even outside of Harper and Anthony Rendon. The next three prospects on John Sickels' Nationals top-20 list for 2012 are all 2011 draftees, and thus aren't eligible to be traded yet: Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer, and Matt Purke. Steve Lombardozzi is a scrappy second baseman who doesn't have enough long-term upside to be worth grooming as a successor to Aaron Hill and long-term solution, and wouldn't make the roster out of the gate in 2012. Sammy Solis would rank even lower than Lannan on Arizona's pitching depth chart. Destin Hood is a nice, toolsy outfielder, but is a project and odds are that he ends up being worse than Parra. Robby Ray is a promising arm in the low minors, but, again, does Arizona really want to move Parra for pitching prospects?
Come to think of it, outside of someone like a Harper...
2. Win-now mentality
... Does Arizona want to move Parra for any prospects?
Over the winter, GM Kevin Towers shelled out some pretty heavy cash on the free agent market, particularly compared to the tight-spending of his San Diego days. Here's a reminder, courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts:
- OF Jason Kubel, 2 years/$16MM
- LHP Joe Saunders, 1 year/$6MM
- 2B Aaron Hill, 2 years/$11MM
- SS/UTIL Willie Bloomquist, 2 years/$3.8MM
- SS/INF John McDonald, 2 years/$3MM
- RHP Takashi Saito, 1 year/$1.75MM
- C Henry Blanco, 1 year/$1.2MM
- 1B Lyle Overbay, 1 year/$1MM
Add in some significant arbitration raises, and the salary added to the roster from the pickups of Craig Breslow and Trevor Cahill (~$5.3MM), and you have ~$32.65MM in AAV acquired or re-signed through free agency (remarkably all on one-year or two-year deals). Is that the off-season of a club that's looking to trade a player of Parra's caliber in a package deal for players who would receive less MLB playing time in 2012 than Parra?
Simply put, the only way that Washington gives Arizona a significant enough present talent upgrade and overall value in return for Parra is if they fork over one of Espinosa, Ramos, Harper, or Zimmerman. Even Rendon - a phenomenal prospect - will probably start the year in A-ball, has shoulder injuries on his dossier, and is not a sure thing like Parra can be considered to be. With legitimate aspirations to defend their 2011 NL West pennant, what's the point of downgrading at the big-league level now?
3. Chris Young's Rising Salaries
This goes without saying, but Arizona's 2013 prospects need to be considered before rushing into a trade that doesn't materially improve the club in 2012 (and may actually materially hinder the club in 2012). Miguel Montero and Stephen Drew are hitting free agency, and with a mere $13.65MM owed in salary to the two of them in 2012, Arizona may need to invest some more cash into those positions a year from now if Arizona has hopes to fill those slots with comparably-skilled players (though Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald are a solid insurance plan for the position - certainly better than most teams have).
Outside of what we already know from a cost standpoint, the team is scheduled to provide arbitration raises to Ryan Roberts, Brad Ziegler, and Craig Breslow, while providing first-time arbitration salaries for Ian Kennedy, David Hernandez, and - should he be on the roster - Parra. Particularly with Kennedy's high wins totals and Hernandez's handful of saves recorded in 2011, those are going to be some significant raises.
That's a lot of new money that the team is going to owe to players/positions that are already filled on the roster, with the only high-money roster spots Arizona could feasibly replace on-the-cheap being the $6MM owed to Joe Saunders, the $1.35MM owed to Geoff Blum, the $1MM owed to Lyle Overbay, the $1.2MM owed to Henry Blanco, and perhaps some bullpen dollars (Saito, Putz). That's not a lot of money coming off the books, and if Arizona wants to keep its roster together without significantly upping payroll, there's reason to believe that Arizona could try to move some salary from a position of depth.
A top candidate for this, as both Jim and I have touched on before, is center fielder Chris Young. A fixture in the Arizona lineup since 2007, the thought of Young in a uniform other than Arizona's is strange to fathom, but as he inches closer to the final years of his contract, he becomes more and more an ideal candidate to be moved. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Young is slated to make $7MM in 2012, followed by $8.5MM in 2013, then a club option for 2014 worth $11MM and a $1.5MM buyout. Young is certainly worth those salaries, and the option pickup is, at this point, a no-brainer after two straight solid years. There's a lot of value in that contract, and Arizona could use Young as a trade chip to fill a different roster hole and shed payroll in one fell swoop.
However, the $10MM guaranteed - $19.5MM with the option - on his contract after this season would go a long way in keeping the rest of the roster intact and securing the likes of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson to longer-term deals, should Arizona be so inclined. If Parra shows himself to be a capable defender in center field during the 2012 season, it could make Young a piece that Arizona can afford to move. Additionally, with another year of seasoning in the minors for prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock, the D-backs would still have a quality fourth outfielder to use for 2013. Pollock, in particular, is promising because of his ability to naturally handle center field and his right-handed bat, which would provide excellent platoon coverage for both Parra and Jason Kubel.
Should Arizona choose to move Parra now, though, they'd be locking themselves in to the final years of Young's contract and limiting the financial flexibility they would have to address Kennedy, Hudson, shortstop, and catcher. Unless Washington feels the need to overpay for Parra, waiting a year to see if Parra can comfortably man center field on a more regular basis and instead move Young looks like the best course of action for Arizona.
4. We've Heard This Before
Well, maybe we as Arizona fans haven't heard this before, but Nationals fans certainly have. After signing Rick Ankiel in 2010-2011 off-season to man center field, Washington was on the hunt for other center field options by mid-season, wrapped up in trade rumors for Minnesota's Denard Span and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton, and all of the tell-tale signs of a hot-button rumor were present. Washington had scouts following them like a jilted, crazy ex-boyfriend. Washington had "heavy interest." Washington was painted as desperate for a center fielder. Washington... didn't do anything.
This certainly doesn't mean that this rumor is completely invalid (I think points 1-3 do that well enough), but it does make it a bit easier to understand why there has been a flurry of tweets and news reports despite the lack of a trade fit move from Arizona's perspective. It also indicates that the Nationals aren't all that desperate to pick up a center fielder - if they were going to overpay to fill the position, they'd have probably gotten a trade done by now.
5. Bryce Harper
Washington recently sent their star prospect to the minor leagues, and are having him play center field at Triple-A to start the year. They would certainly like a long-term solution at the position and are seeking center field options, but as long as there's some glimmer of hope that Harper could handle the position, the Nationals don't need to be desperate for a center fielder. As such, there's little reason that the Nationals would trade someone like Espinosa or Ramos - each of whom play at tougher-to-fill positions - for a downgrade in talent. Given Harper's sheer athleticism, his venture into center field is not doomed to fail before it begins, so if Washington is willing to wait half of a season, they might find that they already have their long-term center field solution under control for at least the next six seasons.