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Trading a D-backs outfielder

Difficult decisions loom for Mike Hazen

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Yeah, I know. Trading any of the D-backs’ outfielders feels like selling one of your children to a conglomerate of Russian oligarchs, represented by Harvey Weinstein. But the reality is that there are only going to be so many at-bats available. There’s definitely an argument that it makes sense to trade from a position of strength, in order to address weaknesses. So let’s look at what we have, and what we might want.

The contenders

There are currently eight outfielders on the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster. The table below lists them, along with their handedness, date of birth, how much playing time they saw in 2022, and what they did with it.

D-backs outfielders

Name B/T DOB 2022 PA 2022 bWAR
Name B/T DOB 2022 PA 2022 bWAR
Jorge Barrosa S/L 02/17/2001 N/A N/A
Corbin Carroll L/L 08/21/2000 115 1.2
Dominic Fletcher L/L 09/02/1997 N/A N/A
Kyle Lewis R/R 07/13/1995 62 -0.1
Jake McCarthy L/L 07/30/1997 354 2.4
Pavin Smith L/L 02/06/1996 277 0.4
Alek Thomas L/L 04/28/2000 411 1.4
Daulton Varsho L/R 07/02/1996 592 4.9

If it seems unlikely Barrosa will see 2023 playing time, considering he hasn’t appeared above Double-A, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. And of course, he could still be a trade piece. We saw, in the Jazz Chisholm for Zac Gallen trade, Mike Hazen feels no obligation to wait for players to reach the major leagues in order to deal them - if the right offer comes along. On that basis, we should perhaps also consider the top outfield prospects not currently on the 40-man roster. Those are Druw Jones (#2 on MLB’s prospect list), Wilderd Patino (#16), and 2B/OF Tim Tawa (#22). For comparison, those on the 40-man roster are ranked as follows: Corbin Carroll (#1), Dominic Fletcher (#13) and Jorge Barrosa (#18).

However, let’s focus on the eight above. I think it’s safe to say that Carroll and Varsho are going nowhere, and we know exactly what Lewis’s trade value is right now: it’s Cooper Hummel. Part of the perpetual dilemma with prospects is that the better each one of these plays, the greater the return they will bring... but the higher their value to the team. The reverse it true as well. With hindsight, the time to trade Pavin Smith was probably before the 2018 season, when he was the #91 prospect in all of the game, according to After batting .220 this year, the team would be selling low on Smith. You want to do the opposite; ideally, sell a prospect who over-performed, before they fall back to their expected level.

Judging this comes with its own set of risks. For instance, you might be forgiven for trading an unranked 8th-round pick, who moved up from High-A to Double-A but managed to reduce his ERA from 3.99 to 3.14. That’s selling high, right? Well, congratulations: you dealt away future Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. Sometimes a player isn’t over-performing: he’s just better than you thought. All a team can do is try to predict the future - an inexact science, to state the obvious. The question I obviously have to ask would be, was Jake McCarthy’s 2022 “for real”? Alek Thomas came into this season as a consensus top 50 prospect, but it was the unranked McCarthy who ended up getting Rookie of the Year votes.

If you think it was the blossoming of an under-rated prospect, then maybe you make McCarthy the everyday outfielder, and sell Thomas. But if you’re not convinced Jake will be a 4-5 WAR player going forward, perhaps now is the time to sell, before he turns back into a pumpkin. Me? I really don’t know, and I’m very, very glad it’s not a decision that I will have to make. But here’s a poll, so please feel free to explain your answer in the usual location...


You’re forced to trade on outfielder. Who goes?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Jorge Barrosa
    (29 votes)
  • 12%
    Dominic Fletcher
    (42 votes)
  • 13%
    Jake McCarthy
    (45 votes)
  • 48%
    Pavin Smith
    (163 votes)
  • 17%
    Alek Thomas
    (59 votes)
338 votes total Vote Now

Since starting this, Jack published a good article which had the D-backs potentially reaching 84 wins, without trading away anyone, and the "big four" of Varsho, Carroll, McCarthy and Thomas all just about getting 500+ PA (Thomas 496). However doing so involved Jake McCarthy getting 90 starts as our DH. This doesn't seem to be how Torey Lovullo works. This year, nobody even reached 40 starts; McCarthy made 11. Additionally, you would want the DH spot to be used for the worst defender on the team, get their glove off the field. That should be Ketel Marte (though McCarthy certainly was no great shakes by the defensive metrics). I suspect the signing of Lewis makes the idea of McCarthy as DH more often than not, even less likely. Anyway...

What would we want?

Where is the team in most need of improvement? To find out, a good starting point is this chart, which breaks down bWAR by position, then ranks the 30 teams at each spot. You can use the drop-down to highlight the 2022 D-backs. There's one obvious area of the team, which is ripe for improvement. Getting it up simply to league median would be an improvement of about eight wins, taking the team above .500. The bad news? It's relief pitching. I tend to the view that trading top prospects for bullpen arms, makes about as much sense as spending big on them in free agency. Which would be, not very much. There's too much volatility to risk it.

There are certainly other positions with room to upgrade. The team was ranked 17th for starting pitching, 16th at catcher, 19th at second and 27th at shortstop. However, the last two of these seem unlikely to be targets. Marte is under contract through the end of 2027, while the long-term future at short is lurking in the wings, and is called Jordan Lawlar. However, the team could conceivably move Marte to full-time DH, and open second for someone new. However, the higher a position currently ranks, the bigger the price of improvement. Getting eight WAR better in the bullpen would require only average relievers. Getting eight wins better at second would mean bringing in an MVP candidate.

That's the issue which Mike Hazen and team face this winter. Improving from 52 wins to 74 was the relatively easy part. Adding the next 15 wins, needed to get the Diamondbacks into at least a wild-card position, will be considerably tougher. It'll require careful thought, no small amount of luck (or, at least, the avoidance of BAD luck) and the willingness to make tough decisions. The last may well involve trading from the current stockpile of outfield prospects, to give the team its best chance at success. Never forget: having the best AAA team counts for nothing in the major-league standings.


What position should Arizona trade FOR?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Starting pitching
    (73 votes)
  • 39%
    Relief pitching
    (114 votes)
  • 3%
    Second base
    (10 votes)
  • 3%
    (10 votes)
  • 25%
    (72 votes)
  • 3%
    Somewhere else (explain in comments)
    (9 votes)
288 votes total Vote Now