D-backs shed more pitching to acquire valuable commodity: power

Tuesday December 10th, 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The team with the highest slugging percentage in the National League last year by righthanded batters traded for another righthanded power bat on Tuesday. To acquire Mark Trumbo from the Angels, the Arizona Diamondbacks further depleted what was once a deep reservoir of young pitching. Though Trumbo neither gets on base at a decent rate nor plays defense well (Arizona will use him in leftfield and cross its fingers), he has proven power from the right side, averaging 32 home runs per year in his three full seasons. Even for a team that could use more pop from the left side, Trumbo was too valuable for general manager Kevin Towers to pass up.

"Look around the game," Towers said. "If [Yoenis] Cespedes doesn't come out after [the 2015] season, there's nobody out there with righthanded power to acquire for a long time. Where can you find it? We like the fact that Trumbo has a proven track record."

I thought Arizona would have been better served to deal pitcher Tyler Skaggs -- who went to the Angels in the three-way deal in which the White Sox obtained centerfielder Adam Eaton from Arizona and sent pitcher Hector Santiago to L.A. -- in a package for outfielder Dominic Brown from the Phillies. Brown, 26, is younger than Trumbo, 28, has more years of control, bats from the left side and was the better player last year (.818-.747 in OPS, for instance). But the Diamondbacks were wary of Brown's defense (though they admit Trumbo is also a liability in the outfield), they didn't see the same track record Trumbo has, and they understood the asking price would have been higher.

Now the Diamondbacks, according to Towers, have Miguel Montero to protect Paul Goldschmidt in the batting order, with Trumbo slated to bat behind Montero. In a down year last season, Montero batted .230 with 11 home runs.

Just how rare is righthanded power? Goldschmidt, with 36 homers, was the only righthanded batter in the National League to hit 30 home runs last year. It was only the third time the NL had just one righthanded 30-homer guy in a full season since 1950 (1992 and 1988 were the only other seasons in that 63-year span). The NL righthanded hitter closest to joining Goldschmidt in the 30-homer club was Hunter Pence, who hit 27, which might explain his $90 million extension from the Giants. And just wait until a post-Biogenesis Nelson Cruz signs his deal; the righthanded Cruz has averaged 27 homers the past five years.

In Goldschmidt and Trumbo, the Diamondbacks have two of the five most prolific home run hitters from last season. Meanwhile, what was once a much-envied cache of young pitching for Arizona continues to be drawn down.

Just two years ago, the organization's Double A Mobile Bay Bears went 84-54 and won the Southern League championship. The pitching staff of that team included Trevor Bauer, Ryan Cook, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Jarrod Parker and Skaggs, all of whom were between 19 and 24 years old. Bauer and Skaggs were rated as the top two prospects in the organization by Baseball America. Today only Corbin and Miley remain in the organization from that Mobile team loaded with young power arms. The Diamondbacks, however, still hold Archie Bradley, the seventh overall pick that year, and he's not going anywhere.

"It's not just about trading pitching," Towers said. "It's about keeping the right ones. Look at the Giants. They have traded some pitching over the years, but they've kept [Tim] Lincecum, [Matt] Cain and [Madison] Bumgarner."

The truth about Gardner

If outfielder Brett Gardner is the Yankees' best trade chip to turn into a starting pitcher, don't expect them to get much in return. Use Dexter Fowler as an example. Fowler, 27, is younger than Gardner, 30, has one more year of team control and has played more major league games with a better career on-base percentage and OPS. In short, he has more value than Gardner. The Rockies recently dealt Fowler to the Astros for Jordan Lyles, a pitcher with potential but with a 5.35 career ERA.

And so when a rumor begin to circulate at the winter meetings that the Yankees were talking to the Reds about using Gardner in a deal to acquire pitcher Homer Bailey, a 27-year-old with strikeout stuff, 143 major league starts and coming off the best season of his career (3.49 ERA and his second no-hitter in as many years), you figured there had to be a twist.

Turns out, yes, there is a big twist to the rumor: According to a team source, not only have the Reds not discussed Bailey with the Yankees, they haven't discussed Bailey with any team and have no plans to do so.

Grand bargain

The career arc of Curtis Granderson has been so strange that the Mets can't be sure of what they just bought with $60 million. What they know is that Granderson does profile as a legitimate lefthanded bat behind David Wright, something New York lacked and, because the team wasn't going to spend Carl Crawford money on Shin-Soo Choo, the only true option available to fill the role. It was a risk worth taking for a franchise trying to buy back trust from its fans.

VIDEO: Signing Granderson a statement by Mets

But Granderson's transformation as a hitter has been so odd that it's hard to know what's next for him, especially in Citi Field, a place where a lefthanded hitter's power numbers go to die. Granderson said Tuesday his swing has "evolved for a variety of different reasons." But he would not admit the evolution was as simple as tailoring his swing to fit lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium, as imported Yankees such as Wade Boggs, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira have done.

While Granderson did not have enormous home-road splits at Yankee Stadium -- in his back-to-back 40-homer seasons in 2011 and '12 he hit 47 at home and 37 on the road -- he did become a different hitter from in his best days with the Tigers in a more spacious ballpark. Granderson, who played just 61 games in 2013 because of injuries) became much more of a pull, flyball hitter.

Compare Granderson's 2007-08 seasons with Detroit (when he hit .292) to his 2011-12 seasons in New York (when he hit .247) and you will see how he increased his power but compromised his batting average by using the pull side of the field more prominently:

YearsHits to RFHits to CFHits to LFHR to RFHR to CFHR to LF

What does this mean going forward as Granderson ages through his 33-36 seasons with the Mets? Nothing good. Pulling the ball that often for power involves hitting the baseball farther out front, and doing that leaves a smaller margin of error for the hitter. Granderson hit 62 of his 84 home runs in 2011 and '12 to rightfield, an extremely high rate for sustained power.

Now think about taking his game and putting it in Citi Field. How tough is that ballpark on lefthanded hitters? Last year it accounted for the worst platoon split in the National League as ranked by slugging (.344) and OPS (.639), making it the inverse of righthanded hitters at Coors Field.

The question is not whether Granderson can hit 40 home runs again; it is whether he can use more of the ballpark again. Is it that easy for a hitter to just switch gears again and hit at age 33 the way he did at 26? Probably not.

When I asked Granderson if he had come to regard himself as a home run hitter, he said, "No. I wasn't trying to hit home runs. They just happened to come. I was just trying to get hits. And I'll be trying to do the same things with the Mets."

Part-time players, everyday money

On the heels of the $7 million setup man/backup closer and the $10 million back-end rotation guy, baseball has established a new financial template that may take some getting used to: the $5 million fourth outfielder. The Nationals (Nate McLouth, $10.75 million over two years) and the Tigers (Rajai Davis, $10 million for two years) spent what used to be everyday-player money on platoon outfielders who aren't very good at getting on base.

"Are the Nationals trading Denard Span?" asked one agent. "Or is McLouth getting everyday money to be a fourth outfielder?"

McLouth, a 32-year-old lefty, is getting paid to hit righthanded pitching and to supply defense that plays well in all three outfield positions, not to play everyday. Similarly, Davis, a 33-year-old righty, is getting paid to hit lefthanded pitching (he hit .297 the past three years against lefties) and provide similar insurance in any outfield spot.

McLouth and Davis are essentially the same player:

Nate McLouth32.250/334/.418.246/.329/.378
Rajai Davis33.268/.316/.377.252/.299/.369

The $5 million fourth outfielder trend began last year with Jonny Gomes. The Athletics wanted to extend Gomes' contract toward the end of the 2012 season at two years and about $5 million. Two months later, when Gomes hit free agency, the Red Sox doubled the money as part of their winning strategy to overpay for high character guys while limiting the length of contracts.

Just two years ago, the Cubs signed David DeJesus, then 31, to a two-year contract worth $10 million -- to be their starting rightfielder. Now Davis is getting the same deal to be a fourth outfielder in Detroit.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.