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Breaking Down the Diamondbacks’ Busy Trade Deadline

TL;DR


Out: Robbie Ray. In: Travis Bergen

Well, it finally happened. After nearly two years of near-constant trade speculation, the Diamondbacks have traded away Robbie Ray. Ray will head to the Toronto Buffalo Blue Jays along with $300,000 in exchange for LHP Travis Bergan. While it’s an unexciting return relative to where Ray’s value has generally been perceived to be in the recent past, it’s more than fair given this season’s performance.

Ray has had a horrendous 2020 season thus far – 9 BB/9 (MLB worst among starters with at least 30 innings pitched), average exit velocity of 92.7 mph (same), and 2.61 HR/9 (second-worst among that group) – and he is in the final year of his contract. Bergan, on the other hand, is a pedestrian reliever who has managed to earn only a single appearance for the Blue Jays this season. However, considering he is only 26 and won’t become arbitration-eligible until 2023, he represents a low-cost option to fill the Diamondbacks’ need for a left-handed reliever. While GM Mike Hazen is likely kicking himself for not moving Ray when he was considered a high-end starter, he is fortunate to have gotten anything at all in return for one of 2020’s worst regular starters.

Out: Starling Marté. In: Caleb Smith, Humberto Mejia, Julio Frias

In stark contrast to the long-tenured Ray, Starling Marté’s time with the Diamondbacks has ended before he could even finish a single season. This past winter’s trade acquisition from Pittsburgh has been flipped to the Miami Marlins for a trio of pitchers, highlighted by LHP Caleb Smith. This trade will be difficult for Diamondback fans who are frustrated with the club’s lack of offensive production, as Marté has been one of the very few competent Diamondback batters this season. Additionally frustrating, this move indicates that the Diamondbacks may be reluctant to spend in the near future. Marté could have returned to the 2021 roster on a club option for a more-than-reasonable $12.5 million.

While the move may indicate the club’s hesitancy to spend now, it does not necessarily mean it will not help them win now. The key returning piece, Caleb Smith, figures to slide into Robbie Ray’s recently departed role immediately if he can stay healthy (this season he has made only one appearance since getting shut down by the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak). Like Ray, Smith is a lefty that relies predominantly on a high spin-rate fastball with a complementary slider. If Smith can get on the right track health-wise – no small if – he has proven to be a strong starting option. This would be the ideal outcome for the Diamondbacks as they will have team control over Smith through the 2023 season. 

In addition to Smith, the Diamondbacks also acquired younger and more future-oriented pitchers in RHP Humberto Mejia and LHP Julio Frias. With respect to Mejia, it’s possible that he mixes into the Diamondbacks’ short term plans as he has already made three appearances for the Marlins this season. However, the Diamondbacks may prefer to give him more time to develop. Prior to those appearances, the 23-year-old Mejia had never pitched above high-A. If the Diamondbacks’ season continues to trend in the wrong direction, it’s possible the club gives him and his potentially potent curveball/fastball offerings an opportunity. Finally, the Diamondbacks get a lottery ticket with respect to Frias. He is a 22-year-old who is known for his high-90s fastball and his lack of control. He is not among the Marlins 60-player pool and has never pitched above low-A. 

Note: The Diamondbacks’ twitter account reports that they have received Caleb Smith, Humberto Mejia, and a PTBNL. However, in subsequent tweets from multiple sources, Julio Frias was named as the third player.

Out: Archie Bradley. In: Stuart Fairchild, Josh VanMeter

This trade really pulls at the ol’ heartstrings. The Archie Bradley-Arizona story has been a long one with many ups and downs and it feels worth taking a stroll down memory lane before getting to the trade specifics. 

The story begins with the Diamondbacks selecting Bradley with the 7th overall pick of the 2011 draft. Bradley would rise through the ranks and eventually become the #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball pre-2014. Injuries delayed his MLB debut until 2015, but when his much-anticipated first start finally came, Bradley dazzled. Sadly the good times were not meant to last. Bradley’s life as an ace was held up by a screaming comebacker that drilled him square in the face. After heroically returning from that scare, new shoulder trouble would ultimately make it clear that Bradley was not starter material. 

For many, that would be the end, but Bradley reinvented himself. Following the 2016 season, he grew his trademark beard and in 2017 transitioned to the bullpen. Now free to hold nothing back, Bradley turned up the heat and dominated in his new role. Sadly, since that season he has come back down to earth bit by bit, and this year in particular Bradley has struggled. Perhaps due to a decrease in fastball velocity (down about 2 MPH on average from 2019), he is allowing substantially more well-hit balls than he ever has (nearly triple his career average barreled-ball %). So, while he never became the world-beating ace the Diamondbacks once hoped he’d be, it has been clear that Bradley always gives it his all. He will be missed by the fans and there is no doubt when crowds are allowed back at Chase Field, Bradley will be greeted warmly upon his return. Oh, and of course, no retrospective of Bradley would be complete without this: 

Now, however, Bradley is just another Diamondback player of the past. With only a year of team control remaining and Bradley’s decline, it made sense to move him while he still had value. He should fit in well with the Reds who so far have dealt with a mediocre bullpen in terms of xFIP (currently ranked 12th). While he is not what he once was, he will be a superior option than the fringe arms the Reds have occasionally deployed this season.

The return for Bradley, while not as unexciting as the return for Robbie Ray, is not likely to change the course of Diamondback history. Stuart Fairchild is the more exciting player of the pair received. He may have some unrealized potential to tap into, but as the Reds’ 11th highest prospect heading into 2020 (per Fangraphs) at 24-years-old, that window is closing. Fairchild, a well-rounded centerfielder with no single standout skill, will join a slew of promising Diamondback outfield prospects waiting for an opportunity to break into the major league roster. If nothing else, because Fairchild has a bit more minor league experience than his new peers, he is probably the closest to major league ready. Now without Marté, It is possible the Diamondbacks give Fairchild a shot this year if the season continues to go poorly.

While the second player of the pair received, Josh VanMeter, is less exciting overall, he offers services the Diamondbacks can put to use immediately. VanMeter, a utility player with the ability to play at just about every position in the field besides catcher, offers the Diamondbacks significant flexibility. What he offers in the field, however, he lacks at the plate. While he hit remarkably well to start 2019 in both AAA and then in his first few weeks for the Reds after his subsequent callup, he was not able to sustain his success. He finished the season with a wRC+ of 91. Unfortunately for VanMeter, he was unable to replicate even that in his limited appearances in 2020 as he has produced an on-base percentage of just .158 in 34 at-bats. If he finds his way into Diamondback games this season, the club will have to hope his true production is closer to his 2019 performance.

Out: Andrew Chafin. In: PTBNL

Andrew “The Sheriff” Chafin and Archie Bradley have a lot in common. They were drafted in the same class and followed the same trajectory from starter, to elite bullpen arm, to solid contributor, and now, traded. While Bradley was drafted first, Chafin made his debut a year earlier and then transitioned to the bullpen one season sooner. As a result of making that transition early in his career, Chafin leaves the Diamondbacks with the second-most career appearances as a pitcher in Diamondback history. While he could be frustrating at times (if he walks the first batter, look out), Chafin will be missed and an unforgettable member of the last decade of Diamondbacks’ baseball. Now with the Cubs, Chafin will have an opportunity to contribute to a serious playoff run as potentially the strongest lefty reliever in the Chicago bullpen.

Unlike the other trades the Diamondbacks made today, there was no specific player sent back in exchange for Chafin. Not only does that need to be determined, but it has been reported that the amount of money the Diamondbacks will be sending along with Chafin will depend on his health with the Cubs. When the dust settles, it seems likely that the return could be in the region that Robbie Ray produced. Both pitchers are on their final year under contract, and while Chafin has the lower ceiling, he has not been as catastrophically bad as Ray. This is another move that will be more important to the Diamondbacks for financial considerations than for anything that transpires on the field. 

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Featured Photo: Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) / Twitter

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