So last Wednesday, Bob Nightengale dropped this tasty little chum nugget into the not-yet hot stove season:
The Arizona #Dbacks could be the most popular team this winter among GMs with the Dbacks expect to strip down the team and rebuild, with virtually everyone on the trade block. They’d love to move Zack Greinke, and will even listen on franchise icon Paull Goldschmidt.
? Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 10, 2018
The Diamondbacks finished with the same number of wins as the Pirates (82). They were competitive, even leading the NL West, for large swathes of the season. But they faltered down the stretch with a terrible 8-19 September.
The Diamondbacks have two key players heading to free agency — LHP Patrick Corbin and CF A.J. Pollock. Their franchise player, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, only has his 2019 team option for $14.5M remaining. Does that sound familiar to you, Pirate fan?
The difference between Goldschmidt and Andrew McCutchen is that Goldschmidt is still playing at a high level and not on a sharp decline. He’ll command a much higher return than McCutchen in the trade market.
So with facing the loss of 3 of their top 4 players (Zack Greinke is in that mix), the Diamondbacks have decided to tear it down and rebuild. Every team will be calling them, so who should the Pirates be targeting?
Let’s establish a few ground rules:
- The Pirates don’t have a ton of payroll space to operate with, most likely. I’m going to say they have $20M, tops, to work with and they have multiple needs.
- The Pirates don’t have a very good farm system. Sorry, they don’t. So I don’t want to see trading the few assets they have, like Mitch Keller, to get Paul Goldschmidt for just one year. He’s the only impact level prospect they have left.
- I can’t see the Diamondbacks trading anyone that still hasn’t reached arbitration, so a player like Ketel Marte is probably not a consideration.
OK, I’m not exactly starting off with a lot of sizzle, but in my opinion shortstop is the position most in need of an upgrade. Last week, I was interested in Jose Iglesias and Marcus Semien, two shortstops that are great with the glove and so-so with the bat.
Nick Ahmed is like a cut-rate version of those two guys. His line of .234/.290/.411 was good for only an 85 wRC+, so he’s a little below Iglesias/Semien and last year’s starter, Jordy Mercer.
But like Iglesias, Ahmed has historically been great with the glove. Last year, Ahmed had a +11.0 UZR, good for 6th best among shortstops in MLB (Iglesias was 3rd, Semien 4th).
He also has two years of arbitration remaining and he only made $1.3M this year. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $3.1M, which is eminently affordable at probably half of what Iglesias/Semien will command next year.
Ahmed also has the cleanest home/away splits I’ve seen in a long time, so his career-high 16 home runs weren’t a product of his hitter-friendly home confines.
If you prescribe to the notion that the Pirates need a LH pitcher in the starting rotation, then do you have a few moments that I can talk to you about Robbie Ray?
Ray is a strikeout artist. If you like K%, his 31.4% was the 8th highest among starters with at least 120 innings pitched. If you like K/9, his 12.01 K/9 was 5th highest. Each of those numbers would have easily led Pirate starting pitchers. His K% was a full 5% higher than leader, Chris Archer’s.
Sounds great! But…Robbie Ray’s bugaboo is his propensity to giving up walks and homers. After posting 3-WAR seasons in 2016 and 2017, Ray’s WAR dropped to 1.3 WAR in 2018 while only pitching 123-1/3 innings. Most of the regression was due to Ray’s walk rate climbing to 5.09 BB/9, well over his career rate of 3.97. Coupled with a career-high 1.38 HR/9, you can see how things went sideways for Ray in 2018.
Ray won’t provide a lot of innings, as his career-high is only 174, but if he can be a reclamation project for the pitching tandem of Searage and Meccage and be rehabbed back into a #3/4, that’s a boon for the Pirates over Nova. MLB Trade Rumors projects Ray to command $6.1M in 2019.
Remember last offseason and we were all saying, ‘Ugh…Daniel Hudson at $5.5M for 2018, huh ? OK, let’s see what happens.’ Then Neal Huntington was able to dump Hudson, with run-of-the-mill 2B prospect Tristan Gray as a sweetener, on the Rays for Corey Dickerson.
This offseason, the Pirates really don’t have a bad contract, per se. Sure, Cervelli is an injury waiting to happen and makes $11.5M next year, but when healthy he was highly productive. There’s a lot of anti-Ivan Nova sentiment out there, but he’s a solid #4/5 and makes only $9.2M next year.
But if Chad Kuhl wasn’t out all year recovering from TJ surgery and Nick Kingham showed he could be relied upon, I’d suggest moving Nova’s contract to free up some payroll space.
So what if the Pirates could move Nova’s $9.2M contract to the Diamondbacks and fill two spots of need for the same price ? If you go by the MLBTR arbitration estimates, then Ahmed and Ray’s total salaries for 2019 would equal Nova’s. Two players for the price of one! Bob Nutting will love that! Plus, Ahmed and Ray have multiple years of control.
The rebuilding Diamondbacks would need something back for their troubles, so I’d offer Kevin Newman and one of J.T. Brubaker or Nick Kingham in return. If they were interested in Kevin Kramer, I’d be fine moving him. If the Pirates are committed to Josh Bell at 1B (they shouldn’t be), I’d be willing to part with Will Craig as the position player portion of the package.
Ahmed’s two years of control gives Cole Tucker time to develop at Triple A in 2019. If Tucker is ready in 2020, Ahmed becomes the utility infielder. Ray’s two years of control fills the #5 spot this year and gives Mitch Keller time to refine his arsenal at Triple A in 2019; he won’t need to be rushed up in June to fill a void, unless he’s absolutely ready. Robbie Ray could then be moved in the 2019 offseason to recoup something from his last year of team control.