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Analyzing the Hellickson trade

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The Diamondbacks added a starting pitcher for 2015, but at what cost?

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What we get

I'll start by quoting what I wrote earlier in the week. "His true talent likely lies between the over-performance of 2011-12 and the under-performance of 2013-14." Admittedly, that's not exactly a stretch, since the covers a pretty big range, from the sub-three ERA in 2011, when he was Rookie of the Year, to the 5.17 figure posted two years later. His FIP last season, probably as good a guide as any of what to expect going forward, was 4.15, though you can probably take a slice off that for moving out of the American League. On the other hand, he's another fly-ball pitcher, and that's a tendency which can spell trouble at Chase Field.

For now, it would appear he can be inked in to the rotation alongside Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter and Trevor Cahill at the start of the year. However, looking a little further down the line, the team should be getting Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo back, and subject to further change, that would currently appear to set up a tricky situation the rest of the way. And indeed beyond, with all bar Arroyo under team control for 2016, as the likes of Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair also loom on the horizon - perhaps providing better options than Hellickson's career FIP of 4.36. In his defense, there is the question of how much health played into his struggles over the past few years.

Another interesting angle is the salary aspect. When I crunched numbers a couple of weeks back, we seemed already to be at or near the $90 million number which team President Derrick Hall said "makes a lot of sense" for the team. The trade does nothing but take on additional salary, Hellickson is estimated by MLBTR to get $3.9 million next season, in his second year of arbitration eligibility; that's not expensive, but right now, would need to be added onto the team's budget. It seems likely one or more salary-cutting moves will follow.

What we gave up

Shortstop Andrew Velazquez was ranked our #12 prospect by MLB.com, and became famous earlier this season after reaching base in 74 consecutive games, setting a minor-league record. He spent all of this season in A-ball at South Bend, but is still very young, having only turned 20 in July. After posting a .655 OPS over 65 games in his first stab at the level last year, Velazquez took a stride forward, improving his walk rate and showing a bif of power, putting up a line of .290/.367/.428 for a .796 OPS. However, the depth ahead of him at the position does mean he had no obvious path to the major-leagues with Arizona.

Justin Williams was a second-round pick by the Diamondbacks in the 2013 draft, and split time this year between rookie ball with Missoula, and alongside Velazquez in South Bend. He hit a storm for the Osprey, batting .386 with a .904 OPS in 46 games, but cooled off at the higher level, where his line was .284/.348/.461 in 28 games. He's even younger, his 19th birthday having been in August, and like Justin Upton is a shortstop converted to an outfielder. He was ranked our #14 prospect by MLB.com.

Conclusions

Both Velazquez and Williams are clearly "future endeavors", and as such, the move does make the team better for 2015. However, does it make it much better? I'm less convinced of that. It seems to me that we've enhanced the depth of our pitching - but with the likes of Nuno, Anderson, Delgado, etc. as well as the prospects mentioned earlier coming through, this wasn't an area which seemed in particular need of assistance. It's the front of our rotation which is in need of help, not the back-end, and Hellickson is now two entire seasons away from demonstrating front of the rotation form. Will he come back over the next two? Seems doubtful.

As a first trade, it's concerning. Many fans were hoping the arrival of new GM Dave Stewart would mean the team would no longer trade young players away to chase after the "win now" unicorn through questionable additions (a.k.a. The Trumbo Principle), but this deal is almost the archetype of that approach, dealing away two players who aren't even old enough to drink, for someone who is only under team control for two more years, and seems to represent a marginal upgrade over in-house alternatives, Whether Velazquez and Williams amount to much, we won't know for some time. But the philosophy here feels almost like "Meet the new boss - same as the old boss."