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Trading for power: do the Diamondbacks need a slugger?

Do the Diamondbacks need to beef up their power output? Recent comments from Kevin Towers suggest that's certainly being considered:

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Eaton, Pollock, Parra: who will survive, and what will be left of them?
Eaton, Pollock, Parra: who will survive, and what will be left of them?
Harry How

At the time of writing, Paul Goldschmidt is the only Diamondback on pace to hit 15 home-runs this season. It would be the first time in franchise history that has happened, and be a radical departure from last season, when five Arizona hitters reached the mark. Some of them - Jason Kubel and Justin Upton - are gone, and will be missed to varying degrees. Some of the problem is health-related: with a full season, Aaron Hill, who reached the mark last year, would almost certainly have done so again. However, yesterday, Kevin Towers suggested it's a shortcoming that may be addressed this winter.

Something new

This seems a definite change in philosophy, from what Towers was looking for before this season:

"Hopefully it's not a ball club that relies on the three-run home run to get back into games or win ballgames. I think when you look at our lineup, we're still going to hit a lot of home runs. But, we have more contact-type hitters, hopefully higher on-base early in our lineup and an ability to apply pressure... With Eaton at the top of the lineup and potentially Parra when he's in there, I think there's a speed dynamic that we haven't had the last couple of years."

Accepting a need for change is perhaps not a bad thing because, while the team in on pace for 20% fewer homers (165 last year, 117 through Tuesday night), the hoped for alternative to the three-run homer hasn't materialized. The team's on-base percentage has dropped by seven points, and the top two spots in the order have declined by about the same amount. The "speed dynamic" hasn't materialized either, with the 2013 version of the Diamondbacks on pace to steal significantly fewer bases, and at a lower success-rate than last year's model. The bottom line: a pace for 58 fewer runs scored this time. Acknowledging there's an offensive issue may be sensible.

Despite the recent struggles, things have been better for the D-backs hitters in the second half, with a wRC+ of 93, which is almost exactly in the middle of the pack - our first-half figure of 90, was good only for 13th. The return of Hill and Adam Eaton, plus the recovery of Martin Prado, have certainly helped. Also, home-runs are not a universal panacea. Easily the best offense in the NL, by runs per game, are the Cardinals, who have hit fewer bombs than the D-backs, but scored close to half a run per game more. Conversely, the Cubs have 43 more homers, but trail us overall by forty runs. And if he wants more long-balls, Towers is probably going to have to accept more whiffs.

Prado's role

It's worth bearing in mind that we don't necessarily have to trade for an outfielder. Indeed, it might be easier not to, if our major trade-chips are outfielders, as Towers' comments above imply. We could trade for a third baseman instead, and move Prado back to the outfield, where he was an everyday player for the Braves in 2011-12. It's worth noting that, while he was acquired by the Diamondbacks with the aim of him playing at third, this is the first season in Prado's career where he'll have started more games there than anywhere else.

This position flexibility, as well as providing useful depth in the event of injury (as we saw with Aaron Hill this year), means that the Diamondbacks aren't restricted to teams looking to deal one flavor of outfielder for another. However, this doesn't actually deepen the possible trade possibilities very much. If you're looking for someone currently under 30, with twenty or more home-runs this season, there are barely a handful of third-basemen to begin with. And I don't rate your chances highly, of prying Pedro Alvarez from the Bucs, or Evan Longoria out of Tampa.

The other three, for what it's worth? Kyle Seager of the Mariners, who might welcome an alternative next year to Mike Morse in right. There's Josh Donaldson of the A's, who is still not even arbitration eligible; but I start to twitch nervously, whenever the prospect of trading with Oakland crops up. And there's Ryan Zimmernan in Washington, who would certainly bring some degree of team control, being signed through 2019, with a team option for 2020. Though I suspect the $88 million he's owed over the next six seasons might be a bit off-putting.

Eaton, Parra or Pollock?

Which one of these might be deemed most surplus to Diamondback requirements going forward? Gerardo Parra is the most expensive: while Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock are both not even arbitration-eligible until 2016, Parra is already in arbitration, coming to an agreement with the Diamondbacks at $2.35 million this season: he'll likely cost $4 million or so next year, possibly more if there's another Gold Glove in his future. With three more outfield assists than anyone else this year, I wouldn't bet against that, and I'd certainly wait to see the results there, before putting him on the market.

However, a counter-argument might be, that trading Parra would leave the outfield rather unbalanced, with Eaton the only left-handed option (regardless of whether we have Prado or Cody Ross as the other cog). On that basis, A.J. Pollock might be considered surplus to requirements, as his departure would leave a two + two split. There has also apparently been talk concerning signing Parra to a long-term extension. Said Towers, "It just depends on if the price is right. We value him a great deal... If you look at his (offensive) numbers, he probably profiles better as a center fielder and has more value there, because you don’t care as much about the power and the RBIs."

Into the off-season

I do have some concerns about the approach, simply because the last "prototypical corner bat" we had ended up being a disaster overall: Kubel, who gave us one decent season, followed by the worst in team history. The long-term signing of Cody Ross also looks on shaky ground, with his recovery uncertain, both in time-frame and completeness. However, going by Towers' comments, it does seem unlikely we'll be going the free-agent route for any replacement (largely because there isn't enough room in the budget), and personally, I find his trade record gives more cause for hope than his free-agents.

Towers previously said that his focus was "pitching, pitching, pitching," and I don't expect that to change overall. However, you still have to score some runs: there's no doubt that the offense this year has taken a step backward, and that has left the defense with too little room for error. As of this morning, we're now at 14 consecutive games scoring four runs or fewer, and when you've got to hold the opposition to less than that, night after night, it's a tall order. While I'm not expecting wholesale changes this winter, I suspect there's going to be some action: where and who, we'll have to wait and see.