While the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ 2013 season has been finished for over a week now, we here at Venom Strikes would like to offer some evaluation of the just-concluded campaign and what to expect as we await the start of Spring Training. Today, I would like to begin a two part piece I like to call, “The Kevin Towers Chronicles” which will look back at the major moves made by the D-Backs’ general manager over the past year. Today, I will focus on the trades as there were four big ones that impacted the organization not just for 2013 but for several years in the future. I will not include the Matt Reynolds for Ryan Wheeler swap as we may not see Reynolds again after some superb work and Wheeler seems destined to stay at Triple A. What follows is an honest appraisal, at least in this author’s opinion, of the work the GM did over the last 12 months. Some may read it and think I am defending Kevin Towers while others may think I am not being fair enough to him. Again, this is just my opinion. I want you the reader to come away from this saying that whether you agree or disagree with me, at least I gave a fair evaluation with some logical reasoning. Perhaps The Man himself should read this and decide for himself if I am fair or not.
For most observers, receiving Bell was a head-scratcher. He had a miserable 2012 with the Miami Marlins and even though some of the contract was being paid by the Fish, the D-Backs already had a 35-year old closer on the roster in J.J. Putz. Young and his $8.5 million dollar contract was being phased out in Arizona in favor of Adam Eaton while Pennington was in the same boat with the Oakland A’s.
Who won in 2013 - While a 4.11 ERA is anything but good, Bell was called upon to fill the closer’s role when Putz went down with an injury. He registered 15 saves but also surrendered 12 home runs in 65 2/3innings pitched. Pennington while not a big offensive threat, hit 30 points higher than in 2012 and had some key game-winning hits. Young had a typical Young season: 12 home runs and 40 RBI’s with a line of .200/.280/.379. He has not seen any time yet in the Divisional series. Edge: D-Backs.
Beyond 2013 - Bell is under contract for another year but also has a team option that becomes guaranteed for 2015 if he meets certain performance criteria. The price: $9 million. Pennington is under contract for one more year at a reasonable $3.25 million. Young’s contract is for $11 million for 2014 with a $1.5 million buyout that Oakland is sure to exercise. Edge: Even – D-Backs get more performance, Oakland saves more money.
The D-Backs gave Bauer a $3.4 million bonus as the third pick in the 2011 draft. For that type of money, you would think the organization was comfortable with the pitcher, quirks and all. Apparently, something changed over the next year as Bauer began to rub many in the organization, the most high-profile being Miguel Montero, the wrong way. Remember that the kid was only 22 at the time and had, and still has a world of talent. For that type of investment, it was much too quick to pull the trigger on a deal for Gregorius, who was the #2 shortstop in Cincinnati’s organization (behind Billy Hamilton) to whom the Indians sent Shin-Soo Choo.
Who won in 2013 - Gregorius ended up as the starting shortstop for the D-Backs for most of the season. He got off to a sizzling start with the bat (.319/.374/.521) through May and then settled back to a soft bat, good glove player that scouts had been predicting. Gregorius has excellent range and a strong arm although at times, it appeared his throws were low. Bauer pitched in four games for Cleveland with control still a major problem. In 17 innings, he walked 16 and struck out 11. At Triple A Columbus, he was 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 22 starts. Edge: D-Backs (Reds if you include Choo as part of this).
Beyond 2013 - I can make the argument that trading Bauer was a good move. Better to find out now he doesn’t fit in with the organization than five years from now with seasons wasted and no trade value. However, Gregorius may not even be the best shortstop on the roster right now with Chris Owings having played well in September. Plus, with Nick Ahmed (more on him later) showcasing himself in the Arizona Fall League, it is conceivable that Didi could be on the move this Winter. What he would bring back is anyone’s guess. I am pretty sure it will not be for a third overall draft selection. Bauer’s ceiling is much higher than Gregoruis’s and he doesn’t turn 23 until January (Didi is about a year older). All he needs is a little more maturity and control. Edge: Indians.
I wish it was as simple as this: With Upton in 2012, the D-Backs were 81-81. Without Upton in 2013, the D-Backs were 81-81. For reasons that still mystify me, Towers and others in the organization soured on the talented Upton and were determined to get him out of Phoenix. They were so desperate that they worked out a deal with the Seattle Mariners, knowing that Seattle was one of the places that Upton had crossed off his list. Had it gone through, the M’s would have given up Nick Franklin and Taijuan Walker, two highly-regarded prospects who were in Seattle this season along with Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor. When Upton rejected the deal, Towers went back to work, ultimately securing a deal with the Atlanta Braves on January 24th in a seven player blockbuster.
Who won in 2013 - Prado was the main guy coming back from Atlanta and after struggling mightily early, he caught fire in the second half, winning Player of the Month for August and setting a career-high in RBI’s with 81. After a scorching April (12 HR’s, 19 RBI’s) Upton was downright pedestrian the rest of the season, hitting 15 homers and driving in 51. Johnson turned out to be the best player in the deal. He finished second in the National League batting race with a .321 average and he also stroked 34 doubles. Delgado had his moments for the D-backs (only 23 walks in 116 1/3 innings) but he had a nasty habit of serving up gopher balls, 24 in all. Spruill pitched in six games (two of them starts) for the D-Backs and finished with a 5.56 ERA. Ahmed is said to be more like Gregorius with both bat and glove but his offensive numbers are a little better than Didi’s. Drury spent 2013 at Single A South Bend with 15 HR’s and 85 RBI’s with a .302/.362/.500 line. Edge: Braves
Beyond 2013 - Upton, the centerpiece of the deal is only 26 while both Johnson and Prado are 29. With a full season in Arizona under his belt and no World Baseball Classic, I expect Prado to be even better in 2014. Towers stated recently that one of his offseason priorities is to find a power-hitting third baseman. While Johnson may never hit more than 15-18 homers, he has an excellent bat and good range at third. Those comments make this trade seem even more lopsided. Delgado’s track record indicates his numbers may be no better than a third starter. Spruill has decent Minor League numbers. Ahmed is part of a logjam at short and Drury is probably two to three seasons away from the Majors and has Matt Davidson ahead of him. Spruill, Ahmed and Drury could easily be dealt later on. There are a lot of moving parts to this trade so if we are dealing with the players who spent the most time in the Majors in 2013, the long-term bet says Atlanta will be off better in the future. While I never wanted Upton to leave, I could rationalize why Towers made the deal. Edge: Braves
Since his breakout 2011 season, it has been a steady decline for IPK. At the time of the deal with the San Diego Padres, Kennedy was 3-8 with a 5.23. What also could have been a factor was that his salary jumped from $519,500 in 2012 to almost $4.3 million in 2013 and would now climb steadily. Those numbers did not meet his production. Thatcher was acquired in the hopes he could provide some balance to heavily right-handed bullpen. Stites is the wild card in this deal. He has electric Minor League numbers; in 114 games Stites is 8-2 with a 1.53 ERA and 32 saves. He will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
Who won in 2013 - Neither Kennedy nor Thatcher pitched well for their new teams. Kennedy was slightly better for the Padres than he was with the D-Backs going 4-2 with a 4.24 ERA in ten games. Still, he allowed nine home runs and issued 25 walks in only 57 1/3 innings pitched. Thatcher was shelled in 22 games as a D-Back with a 6.75 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. Stites did not pitch above Double A in 2013. Edge: Even
Beyond 2013 – Thatcher has averaged more than a strikeout an inning over the course of his Major League career. There is every reason to believe he will be better in 2014, his last season before free agency. Kennedy is back home in Southern California and barring injury, should return to his 200 inning form. Stites could easily become a vital setup man in 2014 for the D-Backs. If his work in a Major League bullpen is 75% of his Minor League output, Arizona will have a formidable bullpen duo in Stites and Jake Barrett. Edge: D-Backs
I hope you enjoyed reading. I tried to be as fair as possible to Mr. Towers. Please feel free to comment and be on the lookout for Part Two later this week.