This will be the first in a somewhat regular series of pieces from now through the end of the season, in which I will be using the tool of recent reflection to examine the state of various aspects of the Diamondbacks. Many moves (or injuries) have implications that simply are not realized at the time they occur. While it could be argued that one needs to wait until at least the remainder of the season plays out (or even longer in some cases), it doesn't mean that we need to wait that long to have a develop and inform a better idea of the direction things are going. Basically, in these pieces I will be looking at the state of the team "once the dust has cleared" from various decisions or developing trends.
Last off-season, I wrote a rather terse piece, asking if Kevin Towers had a plan and examining the various moves he made, trying to make sense of what seemed at the time a number of contradictions. This February, I took a similar approach, examining the moves made by Kevin Towers looking for the grand scheme. This time however, I was beaten to the punch by a few of the Snake Pit's intrepid writers. Deadman G gave us an interesting take on one of the more popular complaints - that the Diamondbacks had parted with too much farm talent. He felt that the moves were mostly positive and improved the team. Jim countered with an article detailing how the youth seemed to have been spent somewhat unwisely.
Since the two sides have already begun to take shape, I have chosen to toss out the piece I had and start "fresh", once again looking at Towers' grand scheme and how it has (or has not) played out. This means touching on some previously covered ground, but I am hoping the keep those parts brief, so as not to lose you all before we come to the grade and final thoughts at the end.
It takes a big man to admit they have made a mistake with over $7 million of someone else's money. That's what Kevin Towers did early in the Diamondbacks' off-season when he finally gave in and admitted to the Heath Bell Experience having been a failure by shipping the embattled Bell off to the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately for Arizona, Bell's 2013 performance was so suspect, that they found themselves forced to package Bell with left-handed starting pitching prospect David Holmberg. In return, the Diamondbacks received salary relief, and two minor leaguers: Justin Choate and Todd Glaesmann. Neither minor leaguer showed even the slightest promise of ever contributing at the MLB level for the Diamondbacks. Apparently one of them, Todd Glaesmann agreed, as not too long after, Glaesmann officially retired from baseball, leaving the Diamondbacks' return in the trade a microscopic one instead of a miniscule one.
Heath Bell is owed closer money for 2014. Even with Miami paying $4 million of the salary, Arizona was still on the hook for over $7 million. This salary has been cleared from the books. By clearing away such a significant salary, the Diamondbacks opened up more financial flexibility to put themselves in a position to make a run at higher tier free agents.
Heath Bell is no longer in the bullpen. This may be even bigger than the first one. Bell was out of options and had a contract that ensured no one would claim him off waivers. This meant that the Diamondbacks were stuck with him, and as msuch, Kirk Gibson was stuck with having to use him - whether he wanted to or not. Longer games, putting more fatigue on the bullpen arms, combined with bullpen injuries placed the Diamondbacks in far too many positions in which they were forced to rely on Heath Bell to get things done - even when he showed little ability to do so.
In order to rid themselves of Heath Bell in totality, they needed to package him with David Holmberg, a somewhat promising left-handed starting pitching prospect. While the Diamondbacks technically received talent in addition to salary relief, the players acquired project as little more than AA/AAA organizational filler.
Kevin Towers had to move Heath Bell. No two ways about it, fan-confidence (or lack thereof in this case) was so against Heath Bell in this case, that his presence on the team really was quite literally driving away casual fans. Bell's continued struggles out of the bullpen simply placed too much pressure on the other pitchers, and his salary was creating difficulties in terms of pursuing free agents. However, I, like Jim, am not sure how much credit one can really give to Towers for "fixing" a problem of his own creation. Despite Chris Young's horrid season in Oakland (a place where extreme flyball hitters go to die), I can't help but think that KT would prefer to try that trade over again (though he may still have made moves to acquire Cliff Pennington). Given the Diamondbacks lack of depth at catcher, and Towers spending a decent portion of the offseason looking for one (when apparently they began the offseason with a desired talent that could have brought one), it's tough to put a positive spin on this move. Yes, the team saved money on Bell, but it isn't as though that money was then reinvested elsewhere. Even without trading Bell, the team could still have made its aggressive run at Masahiro Tanaka. Had they won the bidding, moving Bell to clear some salary could still have been accomplished then instead. So while there was certainly an unofficial mandate that Bell simply had to go, this move, like many others feels an awful lot like KT jumped the gun with his timing.
Going into this offseason, there was little question that the Diamondbacks had a hole at back-up catcher. I bring this up because the deal to move Bell was really a three-team deal involving the Cincinnati Reds. While Bell went to the Rays, Holmberg went to the Reds. In exchange (basically 1:1) the Reds sent the Rays Ryan Hanigan, a very serviceable back-up catcher that actually managed to win the starting job for the Tampa Bay Rays. While Hanigan had some fairly poor numbers in 2013, those numbers came in very limited use, and were not really any worse than the numbers put up by Henry Blanco or Tuff Gosewisch last year. Only 1 year removed from a 90 OPS+ and two years removed from a 95 OPS+, Hanigan may indeed be on the steep decline, but he would have been a legitimate alternative to Gosewisch or Blanco, with a very real chance of supplanting them both. At the very worst, he would have provided depth at a position that now, with the announcement of Gosewisch making the 25-man roster over Blanco, has no talent in the wings ready to step in should something happen to Miguel Montero or Gosewisch during the course of the season.
Whatever ceiling David Holmberg finally achieves, it seems fairly clear that he will be making starts at the MLB-level in 2014. Under team control through 2020 and not arbitration eligible until 2017, the very worst that Holmberg projects to be at this point is a serviceable left-handed option for the back end of the rotation. Cost certainty and depth of that nature are valuable commodities. Yet, in this case, it would seem that value for the Diamondbacks was merely $5 million in cash.
The Bard's Take:
This move was a somewhat big misstep on the part of Kevin Towers. While few would argue against the notion that Bell clearly needed to be moved, the cost of moving Bell was far too steep. Holmberg's value as pre-arbitration MLB-ready pitching prospect was all but completely unrealized by the Diamondbacks. When all the Diamondbacks received in return was essentially $5 million of salary relief, the team would likely have been better off eating the majority of that salary in order to move Bell for a better return, allowing them to make full use of Holmberg's value, either in their own rotation, or in negotiations to land much-needed depth behind the plate.