It seems like only yesterday that the Arizona Diamondbacks were a team that really, really needed to sort out its starting pitching. Then, on the eve of the 2016 Winter Meetings, came the news that the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206 million.
Surely, after a signing of that magnitude the Diamondbacks were done with their big moves and anything else would be smaller, more incremental changes to their opening day roster. After all, at the time of the Greinke signing, executives for Arizona had announced that they were interested in Mike Leake and that deal was apparently pretty close to happening. Apparently, however, that was all smoke and mirrors and Arizona was not done and had some crazy left in the tank after all.
On Tuesday night, it was announced that the Atlanta Braves were sending Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier to Arizona in exchange for Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson. This move instantly makes Arizona a surprise contender in 2016 and signals that their front office means business, but let’s take a look at all the players involved before we get to the big picture mumbo jumbo and pretend like we can gaze into a crystal baseball and figure out what’s going to happen on the field in the future.
Shelby Miller is obviously the big deal here, so let’s start with him. Miller just capped off his best season in the big leagues to date in his first with Atlanta after coming over from St. Louis as the centerpiece of the Jason Heyward trade. Miller finished the year with a 3.02 ERA and a 3.45 FIP put up 3.6 WAR and played in his first All Star Game. In his first full three years, he has a 3.27 ERA and has put up a total of 8.6 WAR. He’s arbitration eligible starting this year, so he’ll be a free agent after the 2018 season, barring an extension.
Gabe Speier was originally drafted in the 19th round by the Red Sox in 2013. He hasn’t made it out of A Ball yet and has bounced around MLB since then, only arriving in Atlanta in the Cameron Maybin trade earlier this offseason.
For the Braves, the haul was pretty extraordinary, so we’ll start with the major leaguer and work our way down. Ender Inciarte was signed by Arizona in 2008 out of Venezuela and debuted in the majors in 2014. In both of his seasons as an outfielder in the majors, he’s been in the top ten in NL defensive WAR and has also been solid contributor at the plate, but he really broke out this year, putting up a .303/.338.408 slash line that, along with his stellar defense, helped him put up a total of 5.3 WAR. He won’t hit free agency until after the 2020 season.
Aaron Blair was signed by Arizona in 2013 as a supplemental first-rounder who finished up 2014 in AAA and looks ready to crack the majors soon, probably this coming season. His ERA last year was 3.16, despite pitching half the season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He was ranked in the top 50 prospects in the MLB by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2015 season.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson was the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft, so it’s pretty fair to say that Arizona fans watched a lot of unenjoyable baseball games as part of the cost of having Shelby Miller on their team. Swanson is still in A ball and only played 22 games in the Arizona farm system, so it’s not like we can predict what’s going to happen, but this is only the third time in the history of baseball we’ve seen the number one overall pick traded, and one of those players is Adrian Gonzalez, so, yeah, it could come back to haunt Arizona in the future.
Grade for Arizona: C
First thing’s first: Arizona’s rotation is better, a lot better, than it was before the trade. With Greinke, Miller and former rotation leader Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks now have one of the scariest one-two-threes in the National League West, and perhaps even in all of baseball. Lordy, though they spent for it. Giving up a 5.3 WAR outfielder, a major-league-ready pitcher and a number one overall pick is what you would expect to pay for an ace’s ace, like say José Fernández. Shelby Miller is a great player, but, wow, did Arizona give up a lot to get him.
All that being said, the “Paul Goldschmidt in his prime” window has an end in sight, and if the Diamondbacks want to contend while he and A.J. Pollock are still raking for Arizona, they needed to get go out and get some pitching. They certainly did, but between what they spent on Greinke and what they gave up to get Miller, they are certainly in full-on win-now mode. This trade just made the NL West very, very interesting but Arizona certainly overpaid to do so.
Grade for Atlanta: A+
Say what you will about the Braves’ rebuilding process and the fact that it appears that they are timing their new contending window to coincide with the opening of a new ballpark that people didn’t even really seem to want in the first place. With the other rebuilding moves already in place, there was no turning back (or at least it would require some extreme creativity). The Braves got an outfielder who will still be in Atlanta when they are looking to be contending, a pitcher who might just turn into Miller but with more service time before he hits free agency and last year’s first overall draft pick. The Diamondbacks overpaid and the Braves reaped the rewards: There is no way this anything other than an A+ move by the Braves.