The somewhat unexpected signing of Madison Bumgarner to a five-year contract with the Diamondbacks certainly enhances the depth of the Arizona rotation. Unlike last year, when we lost Patrick Corbin and Clay Buchholz from the year-end roster to free-agency, this winter the D-backs have had no significant departures. Right now, the 2020 Opening Day starting pitching would appear to be five of (in alphabetical order) Bumgarner, Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Mike Leake, Robbie Ray, and Luke Weaver. Depth behind them would include Taylor Clarke, Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener and Alex Young from those who pitched in 2019, plus new arrivals J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin in the wings.
That includes six front line candidates. Five of them were specifically targeted and acquired over the last year or so by Mike Hazen, so it probably seems safe to assume they aren’t going anywhere. The exception, of course, is Robbie Ray, who will be entering his final year of team control before hitting the free-agent market next winter. He’ll is projected to earn about $10.8 million in arbitration this season, so dealing him would also give Hazen a significant chunk of salary room. Adding that on to the total currently available would give him about $21 million left, which should be plenty to address, say, an outfield spot and an additional bullpen arm.
The case for trading Ray has been strengthened as a result of the free-agent market this winter. Most recently, we saw Hyun-Jin Ryu sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, on a four-year, $80 million contract, and Dallas Keuchel join the White Sox. They followed Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Cole Hamels, Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson, Tanner Roark, Julio Teheran, Wade Miley and Bumgarner off the board. It’s not even Christmas, and every single starting pitcher in the top three-quarters of MLB Trade Rumor’s Top 50 free agents has already signed [even though I was assured baseball’s system was irreparably borked, with teams refusing to spend money or something. Quality has a market. Who knew?]
In terms of what’s left as free-agents, teams looking to improve their rotation are gazing into the eyes of injury-prone names like Rich Hill and Alex Wood (the former recently arrested!), or Ivan Nova. The value of Ray has therefore increased, and there are no shortage of teams that appear to have need of an additional starting pitching arm. The Astros, Twins, Braves, Phillies and, heck, even the Dodgers are all teams with at least aspirations of contention in 2020, who might be in the market for an additional arm. And with Ray being a one-year rental, trading him now rather than at the trade deadline would potentially be the way for Hazen to maximize the return.
There are downsides to this. Ray’s 2019 campaign, despite the highly impressive strikeout rate, was not all that great in terms of overall production. As we’ve previously noted, his ERA and K:BB ratio were basically indistinguishable from Kelly’s. There’s something to be said for holding on, and hoping he can improve his value in the same way that Zack Greinke’s strong first half did this season. That’s the siren lure of those strikeout numbers, which should indicate an ace on any team... if only he could get the walks under control. Losing Robbie probably also weaken the D-backs’: as ever, we need to remember that almost every team uses more than five starters in a season, so depth matters.
In terms of what the team would want in exchange for Ray, filling the obvious gaps in the outfield seems the most blatant necessity. We don’t even need anything for the long term, just to cover a couple of years before the prospects we have in the low minors come through. While the service time is the same as for Paul Goldschmidt, Ray clearly won’t get anything like the same return. In that deal, I would have settled for Carson Kelly or Weaver in a swap for Ray. But with the market currently skewing towards the side of the seller, perhaps Hazen can work his wizardry again and pull off a significantly better deal than we expect. That’d be a nice Christmas present!
Should the D-backs trade Robbie Ray?
This poll is closed
Yes, get what you can
Only if the return is impressive
No, we need the rotation depth here.