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SnakePit Round Table: Post-trade deadline edition

No more Starling, Andrew, Archie or Robbie. What do our writers think?

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Overall, what grade do you give Mike Hazen for the trade deadline moves?

Makakilo: B. Mike Hazen thought several steps ahead, easier said than done. Although he had intended to contend this season, he had the flexibility to not “...go chasing something that isn’t there.” He reached the emotionally hard realization that the team will not contend this season, and therefore started a mini-rebuild early. His trades accomplished multiple objectives: He obtained value for players who would soon be free agents. He increased his payroll flexibility. He reduced the loss of players after the 2021 season to a more manageable level.

His grade was reduced from A to B because of an uncertain return for Starling Marte. Starling Marte played a hard-to-fill position (CF). He was above-average defensively (UZR .05, DRS -2); he was excellent offensively (OPS .827); and he had high worth (fWAR 1.1, bWAR 0.9).

What did the Diamondbacks receive in return for Starling Marte? Two pitchers with high potential and a PTBN.

  • Caleb Smith is currently on the IL. He has high potential with 84th percentile fastball spin. He has high risk with 4th percentile barrels. He could be the Diamondbacks’ #2 pitcher through 2023, or he could be Robbie Ray version 2, or he could return from the IL as a lesser pitcher.
  • Humberto Mejia advanced to the Majors likely due to COVID (highest minors was A+). He started 3 games with a 5.4 ERA in an average of 3.1 innings per start.
  • Manny Navarro wrote, “There are layers to every trade…” This trade has layers - a high performing center fielder was traded for two pitchers with high ceilings and low floors.

Dano: Incomplete, though if the semester ended now, he’d have a C in my grade book. Past performance doesn’t justify granting someone a better grade in the current academic year. I like Hazen and I haven’t given up on him, and he’s done some very good things for the franchise in terms of bringing our farm system back into the realms of respectability while still not plunging wholeheartedly into rebuild mode. We’ve fielded broadly competitive teams every year, and as a fan I appreciate that.

But. One thing that he has demonstrated, each year, is that he’s unwilling to spend any real money to improve our bullpen. It’s been dumpster-diving from the very start, and it hasn’t worked, and this “season” especially, it’s not working well at all. Our starting pitching has been kinda grim, and our offense has been kind of absent, but there have been a number of games, especially of late, that were at least still in reach by the time the bullpen got involved, and the bullpen let those games get entirely out of reach.

Meanwhile, last year, Greg Holland was great until his arm fell off halfway through the year. The year before, Brad Boxberger was decent as a closer until his arm fell off three quarters of the way through the year. The pattern here is not hard to detect, I don’t think. If Hazen can’t figure out how to make the necessary moves to give us a reliable bullpen, he’s heading toward flunking out in his senior year.

Wesley: An average C grade, at best, unless the ptbnl from Chafin is amazing. It seems like he waited too long on trading some of these players, but hindsight is 20/20.

Jack: C- My opinion has gone down a bit since the trades occurred. Even if I completely disregard factoring in timing and whether or not any of this should have been done earlier, there just isn’t much return here. They only got one player I view as a potential starting position player or pitcher, and that’s Caleb Smith. Essentially I don’t think they did anything to improve the organization. All they did was dump salary.

What were the best and worst trades made by Arizona?

Dano: Ugh, who knows? I’m glad that we’ve moved on from Robbie Ray, and glad not to see Andrew Chafin no longer in the ‘pen. Sorry to see S-Mart go, because he was actually good and I was growing to like him. Archie? Meh. I’ve been kinda over Archie for some time, though he was one of the relative bright spots out of the bullpen in 2020 (which is a comment on the bullpen as much as it is a comment on Archie’s performance).

For all of those trades, though, what we got in return was basically lottery tickets. So who the hell knows? Ask me again in a few years, I might have a meaningful answer.

Wesley: I actually suggested and predicted that Hazen would trade away everyone traded except for Chafin, who I just didn’t even think about since he’s in the injury list. Getting some lottery tickets is fine. Collect enough, and some of them will be jackpot winners. It’s really a wait and see and all of them.

Jack: The same trade was both the best and the worst. Trading Starling Marte, who is a good player on a team friendly contract is a huge red flag because it indicates there is true financial distress. And the return for that is iffy. On the other hand, Smith is the best player received in any of the trades, and if we’re lucky he can be a 4th or or 5th starter for a couple of years. Yay!

Makakilo: Having covered the worst trade (Starling Marte), let’s look at the best trade (Robbie Ray).

  • From a 2021 perspective. He was about to become a free agent, and it would be unwise for the Diamondbacks to extend him a qualifying offer that he might accept. Any mildly positive trade return would improve the team.
  • From a 2020 perspective. Robbie Ray’s ERA of 7.84 and WHIP of 2.000 are worth less than his $9.4 Million salary. A negative intangible was that Robbie Ray tinkered with his mechanics every game, likely taking a lion’s share of Diamondbacks’ analytics and coaching resources.
  • “But he’s a power pitcher who survives less by command than by the brute force of his fastball and the sweep of his slider.” — Zach Buchanan, December 2019. Likely, he will not age well due to lack of command on pitches of lesser stuff. The chances are low that his next contract passes the $50 million required for draft pick compensation.

Were you surprised by the sheer volume of them?

Dano: I suppose, a bit….I didn’t expect all four of them to go, but then I didn’t really expect we’d find takers for Ray or Chafin, given their performance thus far in 2020. So good for Hazen, I guess (?!?) for getting them all done, maybe?

Wesley: Not at all. That was my prediction last roundtable, and as I said earlier I was only surprised by Chafin being traded. I’m surprised that we didn’t trade away anyone else.

Jack: The volume aspect is way overblown. 3 of the 4 were expected to be traded all along. Trading two impending free agents that were pitching like crap and a closer heading into an expensive final year of arbitration is standard practice. The only trade that surprised me was S. Marte. A couple of days before the trade deadline I wrote :

“On the flip side it’s hard to imagine him doing any hardcore selling of veterans under contract. Not at this moment anyway. But I do believe he’ll need to move a contract or two during the offseason.”

Had I really thought it through I would have realized moving a player under contract now was just as likely as moving one during the off season. I’ve been saying for a long time that I was certain Arizona would have to move one of the higher paid guys under contract to reduce 2021 payroll and that’s exactly what Hazen did. But I was thinking one of Escobar, Peralta, Calhoun, or Ahmed. (Or maybe even Bumgarner early on before velo decline and injury made him unsellable) It surprised me that it was Starling. But again, maybe it shouldn’t have. He had the most trade value among the veterans perhaps. Which then takes me back to my grade above. Hazen traded a valuable asset and got maybe a 4th starter in return.

Makakilo: Yes. I was surprised, which was not a surprise (attempt at humor).

What do they tell you about the future direction of the franchise?

Dano: That Hazen’s still not embracing full rebuild mode, which I am happy about. He shed some salary, got what he could for some depreciated assets that were gonna go away soon anyway. I think we’re still aiming to compete, in some sort of coupon-clipping, bargain-basement way, in 2021. I’m pretty sure I approve of that.

Wesley: Dano’s analysis is spot on. I actually wish the opposite, I wish he’d have embraced full rebuild mode, but that’s because I am a weirdo who’s more into prospects and player development than I am interested in the actual major league games at this point.

Jack: As I wrote in my payroll article, 2021 is a rebuilding year, whether they call it that or not. Knowing Hazen he’ll probably still make a move or two that they’ll be able to sell as trying to compete. But the bottom line payroll total will expose that for the marketing it will be.

Makakilo: Trading away Starling Marte’s performance in 2021 tells me either A) Hazen is planning on a better center fielder in 2021 (great news for 2021), or B) 2022 starts the next contention window.

Who will be our 2021 closer?

Dano: A player to be named later, I would imagine. Possibly one plucked off a rubbish tip. Sadly.

Wesley: I have a feeling that one of our starting pitching prospects like Duplantier, or one of the Taylors may end up with the job after being converted to a relief role, and they are going to for some reason surprise everyone. That or the garbage heap.

Jack: I’ve been thinking about making Luke Weaver into an instant elite closer. I don’t think they’ll do it. Starters are just much more valuable than closers. And 2021 is not likely to be a competitive year where you’d get maximum value by having an elite closer vs. just a guy. But Weaver would be a perfect candidate to convert into an insta elite closer. He has good control and doesn’t walk many guys. He already throws mid to upper 90’s fastballs and has a really good changeup. If he gained a tick or two on the fastball pitching out of the pen then you’d really have something. Most importantly I think with that extra tick he might be able to cut down on the long balls. He can mix an occasional cutter or curve in there just to avoid the two pitch pitcher syndrome but as a closer he can get away with using them minimally. (By the way in his last start he threw just 5 cutters and 5 curveballs. He threw 37 changeups and 50 something fastballs). Like I said, this won’t happen, but I’ve thought about it.

Makakilo: This choice will be interesting. Way too early, I predict the Diamondbacks will acquire a free agent closer - either Wade Davis or Tony Watson. Wade Davis’s option will not exercise, and he will be a 35 year old free agent. After closing at Coors, closing at Chase could improve his performance, which fell in 2019/2020. Tony Watson, also 35 years old, is an eighth inning guy who could shine as closer.

What do you want to see over the last three weeks of the regular season?

Dano: The occasional win would be nice. Lots of playing time for some of our nearly-MLB-ready prospects. And/or the team getting hot, going on a tear, and snagging the last NL wild card spot with a 28-30 record. Hey, don’t laugh. We’re deep into the interior of the wilderness of small sample sizes at this point. It could happen.

Wesley: Let’s get our young prospects everyday playing time and regular at bats. Varsho especially. Winning and playing like a not awful baseball team would be pretty neat too.

Jack: Wow, only 3 weeks left. For all our (my) kvetching I’m really going to be bummed out not having actual Diamondbacks baseball to watch again until next spring.

In order of importance for the franchise:

#1. 3-4 Good starts from Madison Bumgarner. The Diamondbacks made a bad signing. They’re not going to get value out of this signing and Bumgarner’s contract will be a weight dragging on the team for the next 4 seasons. (He’s still owed 79 Million after this season through 2024)
So he needs to continue to at least figure out the transition to finesse pitcher. He needs to reinvent himself. I’m hoping to see positive indications of that so there is at least hope he can be a league average pitcher for two or three more years. A league average innings eater in 2021 should be able to give you 30 Starts, 162 IP, and an ERA no higher than 4.50 . That may not seem like much, but that’s already what I see as Bumgarner’s ceiling for the next couple of years.

#2. Ketel Marte: I hope we can continue to see him engage his lower body and stay behind the baseball like he did Friday night. Last night he was back to front foot, hands dominant swings. I have genuine concern his back is bothering him and not just in a sub conscious way. In my 40+ years watching baseball, I’ve seen back injuries sap power from a player way too many times. From Don Mattingly to Todd Helton, to Scott Roeln, etc etc. It seems like he is avoiding the arch in the back you get when you swing hard from behind the ball. This looks like that. Remember he had a stress reaction in his lower back. From Driveline

“From a baseball or softball player’s perspective an inhibited core is only going to rob them of performance. Hitting and throwing are extremely fast motions, that require a lot of force production from the body. An injury to an athlete’s spine, will not allow them to generate the amount of power, or ability to move through the ranges of motion that are unique to the sport. An undiagnosed or improperly treated stress injury could potentially alter or prevent a player’s career.”

EDIT: After I wrote this I saw that Ketel was not in the lineup again on Sunday. Torey said he was fine. I asked him if he felt Ketel’s front foot hitting mechanics this year were related to the stress reaction. Torey didn’t rule it out, but said he felt it was more a timing issue.

#3. Daulton Varsho is the best prospect they have in the majors currently. He needs to build on the last couple of games and establish himself as a major leaguer. He needs to finish strong here so there isn’t any doubt he belongs on the opening day 2021 roster. If it were me, I would have him catching a dozen of the remaining 20 games between now and the end of the season and use that to evaluate whether I want to keep him behind the plate or not. They need to poop or get off the pot. He’s either a catcher or a left handed 4th outfielder. Figure it out.

Makakilo: Good fundamentals. Players performing at full focus and intensity. No injuries. Fun baseball – surprise fans with things like hit and run, unexpected bunts, and double steals. Players to watch:

  • Will an early look at Caleb Smith show clues to whether he will be great?
  • Let’s enjoy Ketel Marte’s All-Star defense. In the NL as 2B, he ranks first in putouts(64), assists(84), double plays(21), and fielding %(.993). He ranks third in range factor per 9 innings(3.97).
  • Let’s see more of Christian Walker at the plate. He leads the NL in doubles(14) and he is second in sacrifice flies(3). His 24 RBI’s are great, too.
  • Let’s marvel at Tim Locastro’s base-running speed.

Without saying what the category is, what are your top five?

Makakilo: Bob Melvin, Kevin Cash, Torey Lovullo, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona

Dano: Lloyd Dobler, Benjamin Braddock, Ash Williams, Tom Regan, Rupert Giles, Frank McPike*

(* I know it was only supposed to be five, but I’m using my complimentary +1 voucher here)

Jack: Double Pepperoni, Pepperoni W/sausage, Pepperoni w/sausage & mushrooms, Pepperoni w/sausage mushrooms, & Bacon, that crappy cakey thing from Chicago