If you’ve watched any Diamondbacks baseball at all in the last couple of weeks, you may have asked yourself just how this team is actually in the lead of the NL West. The bats can go silent from time to time and the team’s supposed strength, pitching, has been hit-and-miss with far too many misses for comfort. Luckily the rest of the division is beating itself up and injuries have kept a competitor from really catching fire. But how long can Arizona bank on that?
Given the issues the pitching staff has had, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the team is shopping for a starting pitcher on the trade market. According to the rumors, the DBacks have interest in a couple of starters. They’re interested in guys that are relatively young and cost-controlled beyond this season. Essentially, they don’t wish to acquire a veteran rental and would rather get someone that could be part of the 2014 rotation at the least.
Gallardo is only 26 but has been part of the brewers’ rotation since 2007 when he made his debut as a 21 year-old. In the four season from 2009 through 2012, Gallardo averaged just over three WAR and 195 innings per season. He’s always generated an above-average number of strikeouts, which offsets his walk rate that is perennially higher than you’d like to see.
A potential trade is not about what he’s done in the past, however, it’s about what he’s doing currently and how he’ll perform in the future. Gallardo is having his worst season since 2008, primarily due to a drop in the strikeouts that usually save his outings. The walks are right in line with his career average, suggesting that it’s not a lack of control that’s doing him in. Since 2008, he’s lost nearly two miles per hour off his fastball while throwing his breaking pitches at nearly the same velocity. Essentially, there isn’t as big of a speed gap between his fastball and secondary pitches, generating in less swings and misses. If this sounds familiar, it is essentially what happened to Tim Lincecum and led to his decline.
Samardzija’s storied football career at Notre Dame ended when the Cubs drafted him in 2006. Now 27, he’s really settled in as the Cubs’ best starting pitcher. He’s a year older than Gallardo, but he has thrown fewer innings as he started his pro career as a reliever. Strong strikeout rates have been a calling card for Samardzija and his control has really pushed him over the edge in recent seasons, establishing him as a fantastic starting pitcher.
Going forward, all of the trends appear to be holding steady. He throws harder than Gallardo and appears to be maintaining it. If there’s one complaint, it’s that his durability could be a question mark, as he’s only topped the 150-inning mark once (2012) and although he’s on pace to do it again in 2013, it’s unclear if he’ll be a workhorse down the road. Granted, most of his low-inning seasons are due to him being used as a relief pitcher, but it’s still a possible concern.
Looking at the two candidates, Samardzija is less troubling than Gallardo. He’s also presumably cheaper in terms of salary and has an extra year of team control. With that said, he’s also going to be far more costly to trade for. Archie Bradley is and should be untouchable, but anybody else, including Tyler Skaggs, should be considered a potential piece of compensation. Theo Epstein is going to ask for a boatload in return if he chooses to move his best pitcher. The Brewers would likely ask for less in return for Gallardo, but probably not by much. Both guys will command some serious prospects.
Obtaining Samardzija could result in Arizona finally having an ace. Gallardo is a little less certain, but would still likely be the best pitcher on the staff. It’s critical that the Diamondbacks do something to shore up the rotation if they want to hold off the rest of the division. The Dodgers will wake up, Tulo will get healthy eventually and the Giants won’t scuffle forever. Oh yeah, and the Padres are pretty scrappy, too. Another pitcher is a must and either of these guys would be an upgrade.