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The Bard’s Take: A Farewell to (Ziegler’s) Arms

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The Arizona Diamondbacks bid farewell to the best releiver they have ever had, sending Brad Ziegler to Boston for a pair of prospects.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Diamondbacks consummated their first trade of a disappointing 2016 season by sending Brad Ziegler to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for two very young, somewhat unheralded prospects from the Dominican Republic, Luis Alejandro Basabe and Jose Almonte.

Logically speaking, this trade makes sense for both teams. The Red Sox were in need of bullpen reinforcement and someone who could close games. The Diamondbacks wanted to make sure they received some sort of return on the departure of Brad Ziegler. Depending on if you are a Diamondbacks fan or a Red Sox fan, that’s about where things stop making complete sense though.

For Boston, the timing of the deal makes all the sense in the world. Earlier in the day their heralded closer, Craig Kimbrel, went in to get an MRI on his bum knee and the results were poor. This left Boston needing to pull the trigger on a deal to bolster a bullpen that was starting to get pretty thin. By not wasting any time to pull the trigger on a deal, the Red Sox don’t sacrifice any games without a quality arm available in the bullpen. They also get to avoid the price inflation that applies to pitchers piling up saves at the trade deadline. In essence the timing of the deal was the best of everything. Kimbrel’s loss, while substantial is mitigated, and the Red Sox get as affordable a price as they could possibly hope for one of the most reliable high leverage relief arms in all of baseball.

For Arizona, the timing is strange in numerous ways. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the window for being a playoff competitor this season has slammed shut. With Ziegler being a free agent at the end of the season, there is every chance he walks away. Even if the team wants to bring him back, the chances of a deal in which any sort of discount is going to be given are about zero. In other words, extending him now saves them no money, only the stress of having to bid for him. Either way, Ziegler is going to cost full market value. With that being said, Ziegler is one of those “no-brainer” trade chips. He had company while he was on that list, and it is that company which makes parts of the trade a bit strange.

The first part of the timing that seemed a bit odd about the deal was the hour at which it was completed. Given the news that Daniel Hudson was being reinstated from the bereavement list today does clear up some of the oddity though. By trading so late at night, the Diamondbacks were able to get one last night of service out of Ziegler (just in case) and then have him replaced right off by Hudson.

It’s that Ziegler was moved last night at all that feels a bit off. Granted, he needed to be moved. However, both Daniel Hudson and potentially Tyler Clippard are also on the list of strong trade candidates. Now it is entirely possible that Boston had little or no interest in either of those pitchers, but both will command some attention. Whatever attention they do garner would have made an attractive minimum negotiating base from which to trade Ziegler. Furthermore, as noted above, the trade deadline massively inflates the value of the save statistic at the deadline, and over the last two seasons, there have been few better than Brad Ziegler. Given that Ziegler was traded for a pair of such low-level prospects, it seems a bit odd that the team did not wait until his value was fully inflated, trading him at the deadline. Whether Boston or another team eventually made the trade, it seems unlikely Ziegler brings back much less.

That is not to say that Ziegler was sold low. The reality is that Ziegler is a 36-year-old, two-month rental player, with a market value contract. As unfair as it is to fault Ziegler for it, his performance in 2016 just is not as dominant as it was in 2015. The fact that 2015 was an unbelievably good and likely unrepeatable season make little difference in trades like these. 2016 still shows a decline from peak performance. On top of that despite Ziegler’s ability to pile up saves, he does so in a very atypical manner. Ziegler allows a high(ish) WHIP for a closer, does not strike out batters, and has generally average “stuff”. His groundball rate and ability to dial up double plays at will are not what teams are generally looking for in their high leverage relievers. The trade deadline is when old-school stats reign supreme, and when newer concepts of how to find success generally are undervalued. Brad Ziegler was never going to bring back a top prospect.

So what about the prospects he did bring back? Only time will tell. On one hand, there is plenty to like about both of them. Basabe is another talented middle infielder, one who finally breaks the pattern of hitters that the Diamondbacks seem to have been accruing the past few years. Basabe generates plenty of contact, does not strike out very often, and has a tremendous walk rate for a non-power hitter. As for Almonte, the consensus seems to be split on the young right-handed starter. There are those that think he could be a mid-to-back of the rotation starter with a lively fastball and decent curve, and there are those that think he will eventually be a late-innings reliever. What was a problem for him early in his career, his control – especially with his 11-5 curve, has been greatly corrected this year. This has caught the attention of many viewers and has improved opinions of the kid in general. With this increased command has come more depth into games. He still is not missing a ton of bats, but he is missing more than enough for his age and level to have plenty of hope.

***Here is a scouting article written about Almonte almost exactly a year ago. One thing of note is, the biggest knock made on him in the article is also where he has made the biggest strides, namely in finding control, and not just average control, but very good control.***

Had I been dealing with Boston, I might have tried to pry away Austin Rei. Who knows though, he may not have been available, or the Red Sox may simply have not been willing to part with him for Ziegler (if the Diamondbacks were even looking that direction). My biggest concern is not with the prospects selected, it is with the organization’s track record over the last 4 years. These two prospects are both in their fourth year of playing organized ball, yet they are both two years or more below league average for age. They are showing results such that they should be promoted at the end of the year, meaning they should stay ahead of the aging curve, possibly even gaining some on it. There is plenty of reason to like these young men. On the flip-side, talent has, across the board, been somewhat underwhelming in the minors the last few years. Young/developing talent evaluation has not been this organization’s strong suit lately. So I when I see that the team has elected to trade Brad Ziegler for two players still three years from the show, rather than being excited about two potential pieces to step into roles on the team just as the current superstars are starting to leave, I find myself instead cautiously optimistic that either one of these will ever amount to more than organizational filler in the mid or upper minors.