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Eight Men Out...But Six Men In

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Even statistical analysis would have shown that "something" big happened in the Diamondbacks world yesterday. Here are the numbers of visitors to the site this week:

  • Monday: 311
  • Tuesday: 294
  • Wednesday: 309
  • Thursday: 366 [small Mitchell Report spike]
  • Friday: 921

With eight players traded away and six arriving, December 14th 2007 will likely count as a defining watershed in the history of the Diamondbacks. The rebuilding which has been going on for the last four years has, it can be argued, been leading up to this day. Here is a look at the fourteen players involved in the day's action: you might want to go get a sandwich, this could take a while. ;-)

ADDED

Dan Haren We have finally got the #2 starter we've been needing to back up Webb. Actually, #2 might be an understatement. Over the past three years, 112 pitchers have thrown 350 total innings or more: Haren is ranked #23 by ERA+. That's borderline #1/#2 territory, and what you'd expect from the man who was the starter for the American League in last year's All-Star game. Another significant factor. We get Haren for a really decent salary: just $4m in 2008 - probably less than Valverde will get in arbitration - $5.5m in 2009, with a $6.75 million club option for 2010 [with a 250K buyout, in the unlikely event he should suck].

That gives the Diamondbacks cost certainty for the next three seasons - Webb and Davis are similarly signed through 2009, with a club option for 2010 in webb's case. with Micah Owings under our control until the end of the 2012 season, the rotation is basically set. If - and I appreciate this is a huge if - Johnson is healthy enough to give us 25 starts and is as effective as he was last year, the pitching is going to be a monster. And that's even compared to the arms we had last year, whose ERA was already among the best in the NL, once you took park factors into account.

Chad Qualls Looking at this purely from a statistical point, and discounting the shiny bauble of saves, you could argue that Qualls for Valverde, straight up, would be a fair swap. Over the past three years, Qualls' ERA+ is 129, not far behind Valverde's 134, and he has thrown considerably more major-league innings [251 to 180], which would increase his value. He's also been very consistent since making his debut in mid-2004, with his career Home/Road ERA only separated by 0.05. Thus far, he has pitched particularly strongly in the second-half of the year, with ERAs of 2.53, 2.85 and 2.69 from July through September.

He also has post-season experience in 2004 and 2005, and the latter campaign was very impressive, posting a 2.08 ERA over thirteen innings as the Astros reached the World Series. His peripherals are pretty good, in particular a K:BB ratio that was better than 3:1 last year. He did allow ten homers in 82.7 innings (1.09 HR/9, 20% worse than the NL relief average of 0.91) and that could pose some problems in a hitter-friendly park like Chase Field. On the other hand however, from 2005-2007, only one major-league reliever [Julian Tavarez] has coaxed more batters into double-plays than Qualls. That could be a worthwhile trick to have in the bank, late in games. He'll likely fit into the 7th-inning spot, behind Lyon and Peña [in whichever order]. Now, we have to come up with a good, Apocalyptic name for him...

Chris Burke In the comments on yesterday's post, DiamondDog said, "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by Chris Burke next season. Give him a chance. He had a bad shoulder last year and never got his swing going. If he gets to play every day at 2B, he could become the heart of this team. I guarantee he won't hit .230 again." I'd think Burke's role is really more of a Callaspo one, though there's a dumb-ass "analyst" on ESPN who is even more optimistic, saying, "Burke probably takes over as the favorite to start at second base for the Diamondbacks on Opening Day." This likely comes as surprising news to our Gold Glove All-Star Orlando Hudson. Given this, it's difficult to take seriously the same writer's belief that Burke "could bat around .270, steal 20 bases and approach double-digit homers."

Billy Buckner Or, as he will forever be known: Billy "No, Not That One" Buckner. This one was born in August 1983, three years before his namesake's unfortunate error in the World Series. That ours ended up a baseball player is merely coincidence, a bit as if Mr. and Mrs. Gacy had a clown-loving son in the mid-70's, and named him John Wayne. Buckner was the Pitcher of the Year for Kansas's Triple-A affiliate in Omaha, going 9-7 with a 3.78 ERA. He is a ground-ball pitcher, who doesn't walk many hitters (32 in 124 minor-league innings) and, though he probably won't have a rotation spot this year, could potentially replace Johnson for 2009.

Juan Gutierrez I'm not quite certain about this one. He was looking good after a solid 2006 campaign, where he posted a 3.03 ERA and K:BB ratio above 3:1. But 2007 seemed to be a step backwards, his ERA going up to 4.15; that is perhaps to be expected, with a better level of hitters at Triple-A. However, his K-rate dropped dramatically, from better than one per inning down to 6.23/9 IP, and his walk-rate increased as well. Baseball America rated him as high as the Astros' #4 prospect last month. Though this probably isn't saying much, when the Houston farm system is poor and badly-handled - they failed to sign anyone in the first four rounds of the 2007 draft.

Connor Robertson I am inclined to like the acquisition, mostly because of a K:BB ratio of better than 3.35:1. He has also allowed only five homers in his entire professional career, covering 230.1 innings. His breaking ball is of particular appeal, though speaking of breaking, that happened to his right thumb early in the season last year, when his pitching-hand was hit by a line-drive off the bat of the White Sox's Pablo Ozuna. Hard to say if that affected him, but taking him in a trade is somewhat odd, since if we wanted him, we could have had Robertson for free in October when Oakland placed him on outright waivers.

LOST

Jose Valverde So, we were there for his final game: the last act of Valverde was walking in the winning run for the Rockies in the NLCS. Still, classic sell-high here - except, I can't say I am overwhelmed by what we received in return. Looking at the free-agent market, where closers are getting money hurled at them as if it were no longer legal tender, I am disappointed we got nothing more than a replacement bullpen arm, a fringe superutility guy and a prospect who was rated only a C+-grade by John Sickels, and would likely not make the top ten in most organizations. Given none of these players are exactly likely to play a major part in the 2008 campaign, might we have been better off to hold up and see if the market offered something better after Opening Day? Bound to be some teams who discover their closer can't close.

Salary issues likely factor into this; with Jose leading the majors in saves, he was due for a huge rise in arbitration pay, perhaps up to somewhere around the $5m mark. And we may also not have wanted to wait, only to find out that it was us who ended up in need of a closer: we all remember Valverde's 2006 issue. And Keith Law said on ESPN.com that a key factor was "the probability that Valverde is going to blow out at some point in the near future. He hasn't thrown 70 innings in a pro season since 2003, and his delivery puts a good amount of stress on his arm, with a stabbing action at the start and a very quick whipping motion as he brings his arm through."

The question this leads to is, obviously, who do we get to pitch the ninth for us? Peña and Lyon are the two obvious candidates: the latter has experience, with 13 saves and a 1.96 ERA for Arizona in 2005, before blowing out his arm and missing three months. He was replaced in the role first by Brian Bruney, then Valverde - and the rest, as they say, is now history. Jack Magruder seems to be leaning towards Peña. One thing is certain: stock up on things to throw at the TV, when Papa Grande starts flailing around like a madman after clinching a save against us. ;-)

Carlos Gonzales Our top prospect, according to Baseball America - only 22, but I would not be surprised to see him in the outfield for Oakland before very much longer, if not on Opening Day. The major knock is his poor plate discipline - he spent most of the season in Double-A Mobile, where he struck out 103 times while walking only 32. Given this, it's a surprise Beane wanted him, as he's the very antithesis of the OBP-based philosophy described in Moneyball. Whether it's corrected or exacerbated by his arrival in the majors will likely determine whether this is a boon or a bust.

Much as with Quentin, the signing of Eric Byrnes likely sealed CarGon's fate, locking up the third outfield spot. I do worry how thin this has left us in the outfield; in five months, we have lost Hairston, Quentin and Gonzales. I guess the next imminent prospect coming up the pipeline is Alex Romero, who batted .310 with the Sidewinders. But that was with only 5 homers in 131 games and an overal OPS of .775, not good for that park, I did briefly get excited about Jarred Ball's .346 with Tucson last year, until I saw a) that was in 23 games, and b) he hit a hundred points lower than that at the Double-A level over 2005-2007.

Alberto Callaspo Just another one in the seemingly-unending string of our prospects who raked at Tucson, then proved to have a very hard time translating it to the major-league level for Arizona. [See also Quentin, Hairston, Drew, etc.] In his time with the Sidewinders, Alberto batted .338, with an OPS almost at .890; for the Diamondbacks over the same period, his line ends at a hardly overwhelming .220/.272/.280. He is still young - he'll still only be 24 on Opening Day next season - so might amount to something with the Royals, though probably not until Mark Grudzielanek's contract with them ends, after this year.

He will likely be remembered, mostly, for the domestic-violence arrest; Mrs. SnakePit never forgave him for that, hissing gently through her teeth every time his name was mentioned. We should note, too, that he wasn't a product of the farm system as such, having been traded from the Angels in exchange for Jason Bulger - who has given them exactly eight major-league innings since. I guess we call that trade a win thus far, and can now compare Bulger to Buckner as we go forward. The deal also means Emilio Bonifacio's future in the organization appears to been secured, having not been included in the Haren trade.

Dana Eveland His time in Arizona ends with the non-impressive line of 5 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 8 ER, and an ERA of 14.40. It's worth noting that half the players we are losing came to the team in trades - here, as part of the Doug Davis deal with the Brewers. Eveland has been lights-out in the minor-leagues, posting a 2.61 ERA over 413.2 innings since his 2003 debut, but has not been able to stick in the majors, where his ERA is 7.55 in 64-plus innings, over the past three years. He missed a month with a finger injury but came back strong for Tucson, posting a sub-two ERA in seven games and 27.2 innings, despite a 1.41 WHIP. He's a lefty, so that likely gives him more rope than most, and only turned 24 in October.

Brett Anderson Our second-round pick in the 2006 draft proceded to tear up the Midwest League this season. Playing for the Silver Hawks, he started fourteen games, with a 2.21 ERA and an insane K:BB ratio of 85:10 in 81.1 innings. A promotion to Visalia (High-A) followed, and he met some stiffer resistance there, with his ERA ballooning to 4.85, though his K:BB ratio remained a credible 40:11. He's still a kid, having been drafted from high-school, with his twentieth birthday not until next February. Ranked number three by Baseball America, and won their 'Tools' awards for 'Best Slider' and 'Best Control'.

Aaron Cunningham #7 on the Baseball America list, Cunningham is an outfielder who came over from the White Sox in the trade for Danny Richar. He batted .358 with Visalia, then moved up to Mobile, where his average dropped to .288; however, he walked more often, and his OPS was still knocking on the door of .900. Much like Anderson, he is probably at least two years away from being able to contribute at the major-league level, and that fits nicely with the A's current philosophy, which appears to have switched into a full-on rebuild, heading towards their new park, scheduled for 2010 or 2011.

Chris Carter Chris Carter v2.0, slugging first-baseman with hands of stone: we hardly knew ye. He arrived in the Quentin deal and, before ever getting to pull on a jersey for the Arizona organization, is shunted off to Oakland as a minor cog in a deal for a starting pitcher. Not really much to add, since we chewed over Carter 2.0 in some depth less than two weeks ago when he arrived here. In a shift of team policy, it now appears to be Conor/Connors that we are stockpiling, rather than Chris Carters. ;-)

Greg Smith Could well see action with the A's at some point this season, though with only ten triple-A appearances under his belt, he could probably use some seasoning there first. No rush: he'll be 24 next Saturday. He had a 3.78 ERA in those ten starts for Tucson (very respectable for such a hitter-friendly park), but didn't make the Baseball America list, perhaps because of a WHIP which ended up the wrong side of 1.50 - 61 hits and 18 walks in 52.1 innings.

Perhaps of equal importance to who left the organization, is who didn't. Most obviously was retaining Max Scherzer, but we also kept on to the pitchers we picked in the first two rounds this year, Jarrod Parker, Wes Roemer and Barry Enright, as well as Emilio Bonifacio. Basically, we lost nobody who would have been any help over the past couple of seasons, or who wasn't blocked from further advancement. Another side-effect from the flurry of activity is that this would appear largely to have set the roster for next season, in particular as far as the position players go:

  • C. Snyder
  • 1B. Jackson
  • 2B. Hudson
  • SS. Drew
  • 3B. Reynolds
  • LF. Byrnes
  • CF. Young
  • RF. Upton
  • Bench: Tracy, Montero, Salazar, Burke, Ojeda
  • #1: Webb
  • #2: Haren
  • #3: Davis
  • #4: Johnson
  • #5: Owings
  • Pen: Peña, Lyon, Qualls, Cruz, Slaten, EdGon?, Nippert?

You'll notice there is now apparently no room for Tony Clark on the roster. I trust he enjoys his time in Tampa Bay, where he will get his 400 at-bats. Only, they will be on a team which would regard not finishing bottom in their division (yet again) as a major triumph. We are still apparently chasing Kuroda; one wonders what they'll do if they actually get him. Are we going to use a six-man rotation? However, I imagine our acquisition of Haren has probably thrown the Dodgers into 'By Any Means Necessary' mode. If they don't get Kuroda (and I imagine our acquisition of Haren has signalled that we are serious about winning), one wonders what Los Angeles might have to do, to try and keep up. Especially, in an NL West where the already-good pitching has now been kicked up a further notch.

Finally, an interesting post over on the DBBP, where Levski provides his updated top 10 D-backs prospects after the culling which took place yesterday.

  1. Jarrod Parker, rhp
  2. Max Scherzer, rhp
  3. Gerardo Parra, of
  4. Billy Buckner, rhp
  5. Emilio Bonifacio, 2b/ss
  6. Juan Gutierrez, rhp
  7. Reynaldo Navarro, ss
  8. Barry Enright, rhp
  9. Wes Roemer, rhp
  10. Esmerling Vasquez, rhp

Most of the players listed are still some way off contributing and/or are far from sure things, but I don't see that as a problem. Looking at the projected roster above, we are good through 2009, at the very least, in almost all positions beyond second-base and one rotation spot [Randy's]. Beyond that, the next wave of players should be about ready to arrive. The pitching certainly looks very, very scary; now, all we need is the offense to perform as we know they're capable of, and this year's pennant and Championship Series presence, could be merely an appeteaser of things to come...