Arizona looks primed to add within its means as its World Series window perhaps nears a close.
As we approach July 31, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 51-41, 1st in the NL West
The Diamondbacks are in an interesting spot heading into this year’s trade deadline. They’ve led the NL West for a large chunk of the season, but they’ve been very hot and cold throughout the year, going 20-8 through May 1, 8-19 in May, 19-9 in June, and 4-5 so far in July. They’re undoubtedly in a spot where they should be buyers this month — even if they were playing catch-up, they would have been wise to add, because their window of competitiveness may be closing with A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin scheduled for free agency this winter, Paul Goldschmidt due to hit the market for the first time after next season, and Zack Greinke now in his mid-30s. But being in first place gives the D-Backs extra incentive to add, especially since they have yet to separate themselves from the pack in the NL West: going into play on Wednesday, the Dodgers sit 1.5 games out of the lead, the Giants 4.0, and the Rockies 4.5. The Diamondbacks obviously don’t have the biggest budget in baseball, but they’ve proven that they can find creative solutions to improve significantly during the season — remember, they’re just one year removed from adding J.D. Martinez for the stretch run — and they should definitely do whatever they can within their means to get better this summer.
What moves have they made so far?
Arizona has been wheeling and dealing quite a bit so far this year, though only one of its trades has had a real impact on the big-league club. The Diamondbacks traded outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker, whom they had designated for assignment on April 6, to the Rays on April 10 for cash considerations. They traded two minor-league pitchers within a three-day span in late April, dealing Tyler Pill to the Dodgers for cash on April 20 and sending Edwin Quezada to the Mariners for future considerations on the 22nd. They traded a pair of minor-league arms, righty Sam McWilliams and lefty Colin Poche, to the Rays on May 1 to complete the February deal that brought Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. They sent minor-league left-hander Josh Taylor to the Red Sox on May 15 to complete their March 24 trade for Deven Marrero. In one of the season’s biggest trades to date (not that that’s saying a whole lot), the D-Backs acquired outfielder Jon Jay from the Royals for a pair of minor-league pitchers, Elvis Luciano and Gabe Speier. Luciano was ranked as Arizona’s No. 26 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Jay has provided a boost to a Diamondbacks outfield that has dealt with an injury that cost A.J. Pollock roughly six weeks, multiple injuries to Souza, and a dreadful first half (which concluded with a groin injury) by offseason free-agent addition Jarrod Dyson.
Who could they acquire?
While it’s debatable how much he’d actually be able to satisfy their current needs, most of the deadline speculation regarding the Diamondbacks to this point has surrounded Orioles infielder Manny “I’m a shortstop” Machado. Machado, who leads major-league shortstops with a .959 OPS, would certainly present an offensive upgrade over Nick Ahmed, who has posted a solid but unspectacular .718 OPS this season. If Machado was willing to play his former position of third base — which he apparently isn’t — he would’ve allowed the D-Backs to effectively create a platoon between Ahmed, who has an .836 OPS against lefties and a .656 OPS versus righties, and third baseman Jake Lamb, who has a .726 against right-handers (and is historically better against them) but a disastrous .560 OPS while facing lefties. Machado could’ve played third when Lamb was sitting and shifted to short when Ahmed was out of the lineup. With Machado insisting that he’s exclusively a shortstop, though, it must be pondered whether the offensive upgrade that Machado would provide would be worth the massive defensive downgrade. While Ahmed has lost a bit of range following hip surgery in 2016, he’s still one of the better defensive shortstops in the majors; in contrast, Machado has been by far the worst shortstop in the majors this season if you’re judging by defensive runs saved (he had -19 DRS as of Tuesday morning). With a lineup that really doesn’t compare to those of the Brewers, Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox in terms of its depth, the D-Backs rely on great fundamentals and strong defense, and it’s worth wondering whether a player like Machado would jeopardize the good thing they have going. However, with the teams that have now been thrown into the mix as competitors for Machado — nearly every club within a stone’s throw of a playoff spot — it seems unlikely that the D-Backs will be able to pull that type of deal off anyway since they’re short on elite prospects.
Arizona’s strongest need pretty obviously is starting pitching, as they lost Taijuan Walker to season-ending Tommy John surgery, have been without Robbie Ray for much of the season and haven’t gotten good results from him when he’s been on the mound (5.23 ERA, 1.49 WHIP over nine starts), have seen Shelby Miller struggle to bounce back from Tommy John (9.00 ERA and 1.79 WHIP over three starts), and have gotten diminished results from Zack Godley (4.80 ERA and 1.56 WHIP this season after a 3.37 and 1.14 in 2017). They’re good at the front of the rotation with Greinke and Corbin, and Ray has the potential to be a dominant playoff force if he works out whatever mechanical issues are plaguing him right now. But they might need a supplemental, back-of-the-rotation piece if they determine that Godley and/or Miller can’t get the job done — or if they suffer another injury. Rental types such as Lance Lynn, Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers, Tyson Ross, Marco Estrada, or even James Shields could be potential fits in that scenario.
The Diamondbacks have more than enough outfield depth with David Peralta having a should-be All-Star season, Souza and Pollock finally healthy, and Jay still achieving success as a slap hitter and on-base guy. They’re also satisfied at the infield corners with Lamb and Goldschmidt, even as they’ve endured ups and downs this season, but they could seek an upgrade on the middle infield, even with Ahmed playing well at shortstop, Ketel Marte having a decent season at second base, and utility guy Daniel Descalso playing out of his mind. If they want to do so, they could explore a trio of pending (or potentially pending) free agents: the Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera, the Pirates’ Josh Harrison, or the Twins’ Brian Dozier. Cabrera, who is making $8.25 million this season, has an .811 OPS and 11 homers this season and would add some punch to Arizona’s lineup. Harrison, who has a pair of eight-figure club options after this season and is making $10.25 million this year, has struggled to a subpar .641 OPS but has a solid track record of success. And Dozier, who has had 30-plus homers and an OPS in the .800s for each of the past two seasons, has had a down season, hitting .223/.308/.409 with 14 homers, but he obviously has a ton of power and could make a Martinez-like impact on the Diamondbacks’ lineup down the stretch if he works out his kinks at the plate.
In particular, Cabrera and Harrison would be interesting, because in addition to being solid additions to the middle-infield mix, both have a decent amount of experience at third base and could play there against lefties — or even on an everyday basis if the colossal slump that Lamb is currently mired in happens to continue. Though he’s somewhat redundant with Descalso, Marlins utility player Derek Dietrich would also be an interesting guy to consider. Of course, there’s always the Machado option as well, however unrealistic it may be at this stage. With all that said, Ahmed is a difference-making defender at short, and Marte and Descalso have been two of the team’s most impactful hitters over the past couple months, so they really don’t NEED to make an upgrade up the middle.
For the second straight year, the Diamondbacks have turned a catcher with a relatively poor offensive track record into an offensive force — last year it was Chris Iannetta, this year it’s John Ryan Murphy, who has a .765 OPS in 164 plate appearances. That’s a good thing for Arizona, because Jeff Mathis has continued to be the same player he’s been for his entire 14-year major-league career — a light-hitting defensive specialist — and Alex Avila has been an abysmal failure, slashing .148/.270/.269 after joining the D-Backs on a two-year deal over the offseason. However, since Murphy has a .661 career OPS and has cooled off significantly since the beginning of June, it might be wise for Arizona to add another catcher. It’s not clear how they’d do that; Mathis plays a valuable role as a defender who works well with the pitching staff, Murphy is out of options, and Avila is owed $4.25 million next year. Thinking rationally, it’s probably just best for them to hope that Murphy heats up a bit with the bat again and Avila returns to form, but if they’re really desperate for an offensive upgrade at catcher, they could perhaps look at guys like Wilson Ramos (who is making $10.5 million this season), Francisco Cervelli (who is making $10.5 million this year and is owed $11.5 million next season), or Robinson Chirinos (who is making a reasonable $2.25 million with a $2.375 million club option for 2019). Since they’re somewhat limited financially and will be trying to re-sign or replace Pollock and Corbin this offseason, Ramos or Chirinos would presumably fit their situation much better than Cervelli.
GM Mike Hazen has once again proven that he and his front office cohorts are elite evaluators of bullpen talent. Building around fireman Archie Bradley, who turned into arguably the league’s most dominant reliever after being moved to the bullpen by Hazen and Co. last year, the D-Backs have once again assembled a group of relatively unheralded relief arms and turned them into a unit that has posted the best bullpen ERA in the majors. Offseason trade acquisition Brad Boxberger, who was coming off two injury-tainted seasons in Tampa Bay, has been very good as the closer, and Japanese import Yoshihisa Hirano has been lights-out through the first half of his first season in North America. They’ve teamed up with returnees Andrew Chafin, T.J. McFarland, Jorge de la Rosa, and a rotating cast of others to make life difficult for opposing hitters in the late innings. All of this is a long way of saying that the Diamondbacks don’t really need to add a reliever at the deadline, particularly with limited prospect resources and more pressing needs elsewhere, but considering that most contenders usually add rental relievers at the deadline — and Hazen did so last year, acquiring David Hernandez for the stretch run — it wouldn’t be that surprising to see them trade for one.
It’s arguable that Double-A starting pitcher Jon Duplantier is the only “big fish” in the Diamondbacks’ farm system. Last year’s first-round pick, Pavin Smith, is intriguing but has posted a disappointing .700 OPS in High-A this season, and 2017 competitive-balance pick Daulton Varsho got off to a great start this season but has had his progress halted by a broken hamate bone. Therefore, they’re going to have to hope that the market for rentals is as underwhelming as it was last year, when they packaged three relatively pedestrian infield prospects to acquire Martinez.
It seems most likely that Arizona will acquire a starting pitcher in an effort to boost a rotation that has fought through Walker’s season-ending injury, Ray’s injury and subsequent poor performance, Miller’s struggle to bounce back from Tommy John, and Godley’s inability to replicate his 2017 success. They’re probably not going to compete for the most high-profile starters on the market, Happ and Hamels, a guy like Lance Lynn who has had plenty of success in the NL in the recent past would seem to make sense for the Diamondbacks. They could go after a middle infielder such as Cabrera, Dozier, Dietrich, or Harrison as well — the three non-Doziers would seem to be the best fits for a Diamondbacks organization that really values versatility — but it’s also easy to picture a scenario where they stick with their existing position-player group and give Ahmed and Marte the bulk of the middle-infield opportunities going forward.