Let’s look beyond Blake Snell (and other top-tier pitchers), at nine other possibilities, which could be called ‘Plan B.’
Plan B includes at least four paths.
Acquire a Mid-Tier Pitcher. This approach was suggested by Oscar Goldman’s comment. There are several mid-tier pitchers. Michael Wacha was the best of the mid-tier pitchers per Steak85’s comment. In any case, Wacha is truly representative of that path.
Acquire a Bounce-Back Pitcher. In the case of injury, the burden in on the doctors and physical therapists to help the pitcher fully recover. In the case of underperformance, the burden falls on the Diamondbacks pitching coach (and miracle worker) to perceive a change that could unlock the pitcher’s potential. This path includes risk. The best medical care in the world and the best rehab in the world may not be enough. The pitching coach may not find the key. Three possible bounce back pitchers are Brandon Woodruff (suggested by 1AZfan1), Jack Flaherty (suggested by BeTeaBaseball), and Luis Severino (suggested by HAZN, Xerostomia, 1AZfan1, and BeTeaBaseball).
Acquire an Arbitration Pitcher By Trading Prospects. After acknowledging that the Diamondbacks have executed some awesome trades, what strikes me is that this path is not consistent with the long-term sustainability that is one the Diamondbacks’ bedrock values. And yet it is clear that the Diamondbacks’ goal is a winning team, not a number one farm system. As suggested by Steven Burt, two possibilities are Corbin Burnes and Dylan Cease.
Swap Two Equal Prospects. A successful example is trading Jazz Chrisholm Jr. to acquire Zac Gallen. Both teams benefit. In my view multi-player trades (for example Dansby Swanson and friends for Shelby Miller and friends) are too risky for a low-budget team like the Diamondbacks. My search was narrow - two teams with weak outfields (ranked 22nd and 24th in the Majors) and who had interesting pitching prospects (at least 5 of their top 12 prospects are pitchers at AA or above per MLB Pipeline). The two teams were Pirates and Cardinals. Their most interesting pitching prospects were Gordon Graceffo, Jackson Wolf, and Michael McGreevy.
The factors to compare pitchers were explained in this AZ Snake Pit article that looked at top-tier starting pitchers.
The following two tables compare Blake Snell and the nine Plan B pitchers.
Which bounce-back pitchers could be acquired?
Let’s consider the three bounce-back pitchers, Brandon Woodruff, Jack Flaherty, and Luis Severino.
On 13 October, Brandon Woodruff had surgery to repair the anterior capsule of his throwing shoulder. Per this article, of six players known to have had this surgery, two made it back to their previous capability. They returned 15 and 19 months after surgery. Worst case is Woodruff never pitches again. A successful rehab for Brandon Woodruff would mean he starts pitching in the Majors in April or May of 2015. As far as how well he pitches, best case is in 2025 he pitches like Blake Snell. If the Brewers non-tender him (which is very possible), it could be an opportunity for the Diamondbacks.
Luis Severino has a higher ceiling than Jack Flaherty. Last season, Severino’s strikeouts per batter faced fell from .277 to .168. With his above average fastball velocity, there is reason to believe that he can bounce back. Severino has potential to pitch like a solid mid-tier pitcher. He is a free agent.
Which proven pitchers could be acquired for prospects?
Corbin Burnes (Brewers) and Dylan Cease (White Sox) will be arbitration players next season. The Diamondbacks could offer prospects in trade to acquire one of them because those two teams are currently receptive to trades.
“Those sources, briefed on the Brewers’ discussions but not authorized to discuss them publicly, say the team is open to moving virtually any player on its roster.” — Ken Rosenthal, 9 November 2023
“I don’t like my team. We have a talented group, there is no question, but it’s not a well-rounded club right now.” — Chris Getz, GM for White Sox, November 2023
Their estimated arbitration salaries are affordable, $15.1 Million (Burnes) and $8.8 Million (Cease). Burnes has one year of arbitration remaining and Cease has two years of arbitration remaining. Acquiring one or two years of pitching is a downside because the Diamondbacks value sustainability. Trading away the wrong prospects could have a negative impact for more than two years.
Although the tables show that the pitching of Corbin Burnes and Dylan Cease are not as great as Blake Snell, they are nevertheless very good starting pitchers. Acquiring either one would likely add wins to the Diamondbacks. Although not as thrilling as Snell, they would be cause for optimism for next season.
Which pitchers could be acquired by a prospect swap?
Jackson Wolf. On 1 August, the Pirates acquired prospect Jackson Wolf (plus two additional players) by trading away two soon-to-be free agents (Rich Hill and Ji-Man Choi). Rich Hill is the oldest active player in the Majors per this AZ Snake Pit article.
Of the three prospects, only Wolf pitched in the Majors (5 inning start against the Tigers). His pitch types were 4-seam fastball (45.3%), slider (33.3%), and changeup (21.3%). His curve and slider are his best pitches. In that game, he did not pitch his curve per Baseball Prospectus. In that game, positives included a 3.46 FIP, 60% ground ball percentage, no homers in 22 batters faced, average efficiency (75 pitches in 5 innings), and he came close to zero runs (all 3 runs happened in the second inning after the first two batters failed to reach base).
In AA (his highest level in the minors), Jackson Wolf’s .259 strikeouts per batter faced (553 batters faced) shows high potential. In AA, his ERA over two seasons was 4.13. All three prospects pitched in AA. Wolf’s strikeouts per batter faced in AA was best (.259 vs .219 Graceffo and .190 McGreevy).
Gordon Graceffo. Graceffo’s windup has an unusual rocking motion. Perhaps the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach could build on his unique delivery to help him increase his strikeouts.
In AAA, his .209 strikeouts per batter faced (387 batters faced) and 0.94 homers per 9 innings show potential. In AAA, his ERA was 4.92.
“Graceffo’s special command gives him a promising floor as a No. 5 starter, and he can be more if he uses the breadth of his arsenal to generate more whiffs.” — MLB.com
Michael McGreevy. In AAA, his .180 strikeouts per batter faced (593 batters faced) and 1.14 homers per 9 innings are good. In AAA, his ERA was 4.49.
“His low-90s sinking fastball lacked the velocity to elicit whiffs, meaning McGreevy had to rely on ground balls to get outs. Those did come in droves (his 49.8 percent GB rate was third-best among Cards full-season qualifiers).” — MLB.com
Based on my intuition, my acquisiton preferences follow:
- Blake Snell is the best choice.
- Woodruff could be better than Severino who could be better than Flaherty.
- Dylan Cease instead of Corbin Burnes.
- Jackson Wolf instead of Graceffo or McGreevy.
We looked at nine Plan B pitchers. Although it’s unlikely they will reach Blake Snell’s 2023 performance, they might. Even if they don’t reach that pinnacle, they all have potential to improve the Diamondbacks’ rotation.