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Should the Diamondbacks be buyers or sellers?

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It's trade deadline month, and the Diamondbacks will have to decide what their position will be in regard to their roster.

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The standings

As good a place as any to begin is the current standings, so we can take a look and figure out what the team might need to do, if they want to secure a play-off spot. Here are the combined National League standings, going into play today. I've marked the division leaders and the two wild card teams. I've also included the average runs scored and allowed per game; their expected record based on those two; how teams have done against opponents at or above .500 and those with losing records; and their recent form.

Rk Tm W L W-L% GB R RA pythWL ≥.500 <.500 last10 last20 last30
DL
STL 53 28 .654 --- 4.0 2.8 53-28 26-15 27-13 6-4 13-7 20-10
WC1
PIT 47 34 .580 --- 4.0 3.3 48-33 16-17 31-17 7-3 13-7 20-10
DL
WSN 46 36 .561 --- 4.4 3.9 45-37 19-15 27-21 7-3 14-6 17-13
DL
LAD 46 37 .554 --- 4.2 3.5 48-35 8-18 38-19 6-4 9-11 15-15
WC2
CHC 44 36 .550 --- 3.9 3.7 43-37 25-19 19-17 5-5 11-9 17-13

SFG 42 41 .506 3.5 4.2 4.0 43-40 15-11 27-30 3-7 8-12 12-18

NYM 42 41 .506 3.5 3.5 3.6 40-43 13-23 29-18 6-4 9-11 13-17

ATL 40 42 .488 5.0 3.9 4.3 38-44 17-25 23-17 5-5 10-10 14-16

ARI 40 42 .488 5.0 4.6 4.5 41-41 17-25 23-17 5-5 10-10 15-15

So, the Diamondbacks are currently five back of the second wild-card spot. That's certainly not insurmountable, but the Giants and Mets also stand between them and the Cubs, with the Braves possessing the same record, which makes things harder. In the three years of the dual wild-card format, the average win total for the 12 teams to take those spots is 91, However, the trend seems down: the average was 92 in 2012, but last year, none of the four even reached 90. That seems in line with a general closing-up of the standings; in 2012, the difference between the best and worst teams was 43 games; in 2014, it was 34.

Right now, the second wild-card belongs to the Chicago Cubs, who are currently on pace to win 89 games, just about in line with what was needed last season, so that seems a decent target. To match that, the Diamondbacks would have to go 49-31 over the rest of the season. Going with the Pythag projection, which has them pegged as a .500 team, and thus likely to go 40-40, that means they need to pick up at least nine games from somewhere. Part of that gap might come from within: Welington Castillo over Tuffy, Patrick Corbin's return helping the rotation, but it seems a big gap to close in half a season, without a blockbuster trade.

What do we need?

These are the positions where we are currently below average by bWAR: starting pitching (13th in NL); relief pitching (11th); catching (11th); second base (14th); third base (10th). Some of these seem more important than others: as noted above, the catching situation looks a lot better with Welington Castillo behind the plate, even in Jarrod Saltalamacchia seems like dead weight, and the return of Jake Lamb makes me feel more confident about the hot corner, than when Yasmany Tomas was giving it the good ol' college try [now, give him some frickin' bats against left-handed pitching, Chip. M'kay?]

Second-base has certainly been an issue, but I'm not sure if the team is prepared to pull the plug on Chris Owings as an everyday starter at this point. Brandon Drury has been hitting much better for Reno than in Mobile, and this year's first overall pick Dansby Swanson may not be too far down the pipe, so it seems unlikely we would be looking for any kind of long-term upgrade. A rental for the second half of the season might be possible, picking the carcass of a team that's out of contention. Though one of the things the second wild-card has done, is to restrict the number of obvious deadline sellers. Right now, for example, no-one in the AL is more than 6.5 games back there.

Starting pitching is another grey area. I still think the team will go hard after a top-tier free-agent this winter, to front a 2016 rotation of... Well, it's hard to say exactly, but pick four from [alphabetically!] Chase Anderson, Aaron Blair, Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, Jeremy Hellickson and Robbie Ray. Again, I'm not seeing any obvious long-term spot, though if we could get the top-tier starter now, rather than having to compete for them in the free-agent marketplace, there's something to be said for that, even if it's a "trade and sign" scenario [like with Prado, only hopefully one that works out for us this time]. But would the cost of that be too high in prospects?

What have we got to offer?

On the other hand, the team might decide to tout their wares, with the lack of sellers perhaps leading to a scarcity of available players, and helping drive up the market price. But it has to be said, the D-backs don't exactly have a lot of obvious pieces to move. Part of this is by design: the team has gone young, meaning almost all the roster are under control for the long-term. Right now, the only members of the 25-man squad who will become free agents at the end of this season are Cliff Pennington, Oliver Perez and David Hernandez. The end of 2016 ends team control of Aaron Hill, Brad Ziegler, Jeremy Hellickson and Daniel Hudson, so they could also be shopped.

Pennington may be surplus to requirements when Phil Gosselin returns, who offers the same kind of player at league minimum through the end of 2017. Shifting Hill would certainly be nice, and I'd be pitching hm heavily to the Yankees, who are currently trotting Stephen Drew and his .178 BA out there every day [let's just hope they don't look at the two players' OPS+...] But it's Ziegler who may actually be our best trading chip, sad though I'd be to see him go. Brad has been excellent over his entire time, but I think Hudson could be as good a closer, and those shiny saves picked up by Ziggy will only help his market value.

Conclusions

There's no reason the Diamondbacks must do one or the other, of course. They could end up taking a little from Column A, a little from Column B, or simply standing pat and seeing what the second-half of the brings. That would be in line with an apparent philosophy that this season is a laboratory experiment, designed less for playoff success in 2015, than to figure out what works and what gaps need to be filled for 2016 and beyond. Some of those question have already been answered e.g. Tuffy is not the answer (if he ever was), but others have arisen that need to be handled (Archie Bradley is now a significant question-mark).

It's the first time the new front-office will be approaching the trade deadline, and it promises to be an interesting one, not least because, unlike previous years, we have learned to take anything Dave Stewart says with an entire pillar's worth of salt. The Touki Toussaint deal has, understandably, got the fanbase restlessly nervous about the future, and that feeling only seems likely to intensify over the four remaining months until the end of the month.