Going into the offseason, I wasn’t too completely sure if the Diamondbacks were going to stand put, sell, or make a run at adding to the MLB roster to make a run in 2018. The Diamondbacks certainly overachieved in 2017, but the roster going into the offseason has more holes than solutions available internally. One of those holes was in the bullpen where the only reliever the Diamondbacks could probably count on was Archie Bradley. The team used a bunch of scrap-heap veterans as part of a makeshift pen that was mostly average for most of the season. The back end of the bullpen with Bradley and Fernando Rodney performed to expectations, but the rest of the bullpen was a jumbled mess and ultimately cost the Diamondbacks in the playoffs.
GM Mike Hazen has made a move towards strengthening the bullpen, by trading for Tampa Bay Rays reliever Brad Boxberger. Boxberger was a very effective reliever early in his career, posting strong numbers for the Rays in 2014 and 2015. However, he’s been mostly on the shelf the last two seasons, limited to 57 games and 53 2⁄3 innings over that span. The Diamondbacks are clearly hoping that he pitches to his 2014-15 effectiveness and is healthy for the whole season. That should make him an upgrade over the likes of JJ Hoover, Jake Barrett, and Jimmie Sherfy in terms of what value he brings to the team. The Diamondbacks late inning situation is still uncertain, although the team is interested in bringing back Fernando Rodney to close for them again. In today’s game, you need at least 3 shutdown relievers to work the late innings in order to win with starters going less further into games. That move brings them a step closer to that.
Boxberger relies mostly a fastball that sits 91-95 with a lot of life, generating a lot of whiffs despite not having exceptional velocity overall. He also mixes in a change-up and the occasional slider with a usage split of around 70/20/10 for his three pitches. Boxberger also profiles as a fly ball pitcher because he loves using high fastballs for swinging strikes. As a reliever, he can use his fastball to bully hitters inside and set up his less than stellar secondary stuff down and away as a change in pace. Curiously enough, he’s been better against left-handed hitters over his career, holding them to .264 wOBA vs. .325 against right-handed hitters. Given that his change-up is used twice as often as his slider, that’s not too surprising.
On the flip side of the trade, the Diamondbacks gave up pitching prospect Curtis Taylor. Taylor wasn’t on my list of untouchables due to a questionable long term fit and pitching in A ball in 2017. A right shoulder impingement limited him to 13 starts on the season although he pitched very well in his 13 starts, with a 3.32/3.40/3.60 ERA/FIP/xFIP in 62 1⁄3 innings to with solid solid strikeout (26.1%) and walk rates (8.8%), but it’s also the case the organization likely saw him more as a reliever than a starter long term as well. Taylor’s sinker-slider combination is good enough to get him through the minors quickly, but the lack of a consistent third pitch is what may limit his role to a late-inning guy at best.
When it comes to pitching prospects, you definitely want to hold onto the ones that have starter potential. That’s why I don’t want to see the Diamondbacks move Anthony Banda, Jon Duplantier, or Taylor Clarke at all. In the case of Taylor, the lack of starter upside made him expendable to the organization and ultimately moved for a guy that makes the Diamondbacks bullpen a lot better if healthy. Boxberger’s health issues are a bit concerning considering the list of injuries includes a flexor strain, an injury that knocked out Randall Delgado for the entire second half of 2017. For the Diamondbacks to be able to compete in 2018, they were going to have to take calculated risks like this move. Boxberger comes with a projected salary of $1.9M and is controllable for one more season. In the Diamondbacks’ perspective 2018 could be the last season they are able to contend with the current core of players with Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock headed for free agency after the season.