Kevin Towers has done it again. In the past calendar year, several of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM’s antic-like decisions have baffled many baseball observers. Whether it’s his perplexing fascination with gritty players, his obsessive insistence upon having his pitching staff hit more batters, or his unusual habit of talking down his own players before trading them, he simply has been confusing. But one thing is for certain: Towers isn’t afraid to buck the industry consensus on player value.
The return on some of the deals he’s made, particularly since he took the gig in Arizona, has been very solid, suggesting perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
Last offseason it started with what was essentially a three-team deal that shipped right-hander Trevor Bauer to Cleveland. This deal doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering Bauer was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft. In return the Snakes received Didi Gregorius, a solid but unspectacular glove-first shortstop. Granted, Bauer had received a lot of criticism for his quirky mechanics and questionable makeup, but you would think that Arizona would have known that when they made a $7 million investment in him. Towers wanted a shortstop. He got one.
There were mixed reviews on this deal from across the baseball world.
Then Towers shopped Justin Upton so aggressively to the point where he was almost forced to trade him after it became apparent that he was seemingly unwanted in Arizona. After nearly striking a deal with Seattle that would have sent prized-prospect Taijuan Walker to the desert, Towers ended up settling for what was perceived as a below-average package that included IF/OF Martin Prado, right-hander Randall Delgado and shortstop prospect Nick Ahmed. None were considered premium talents.
This move was pretty much shredded by most of the top analysts, and one can see why: Arizona traded three years of a 25-year-old potential star who has already had one star-level year for quantity over quality.
On Tuesday, Towers helped orchestrate a complicated three-team trade that sent 1B/DH/OF Mark Trumbo to the D’Backs, left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago to the Angels and centerfielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox. The general reaction, at least among the internet community, was that the Angels did really well in this trade. They added two more-than-adequate and cost-controlled arms to the mix for the back end of their rotation.
Last year the Angels’ staff ranked No. 27 among big league clubs by xFIP, with a total of 4.10, with only the Astros, Twins, and Cubs fairing worse by that metric. It is safe to bet that Santiago and Skaggs will be significantly better than the likes of Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. Santiago pitched just under 150 innings last year and recorded an ERA of 3.56, and should slot nicely behind C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver in the Halos’ rotation. Skaggs returns to the team that originally drafted him four years ago, and although he struggled at points last season, still he offers plenty of upside. Heading into 2012 he ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in the game and is likely to develop into a mid-rotation starter with a ceiling as high as a No. 2.
The deal also looks good for the White Sox. They had a surplus of pitching and turned Santiago into Eaton, another highly-regarded talent who really started to emerge on the prospect radar in 2012. Eaton hit .348 over the course of his minor league career and displayed good on-base skills and got the call to the show before being sidelined with a left ulnar collateral injury for the majority of last year. He now is fully recovered and his skill set helps him profile as a prototypical lead-off man. He also won’t hit free agency until 2019.
Overall, however, Skaggs and Eaton seem like a pretty hefty price to pay for a first baseman who once again posted a sub-.300 OBP. There is no denying Trumbo’s prestigious power, but he doesn’t really do anything else that well. He is a defensive liability and last year he struck out at a 27.1 percent clip. Furthermore, he is best suited to play first base where Arizona already has All-Star and MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt. In fact, the Oliver system projects Eaton to be worth 3.8 fWAR next season and Trumbo to be worth exactly half that.
The funny thing is that you could argue Towers has at actually won both of these trades after one year.
While Towers’ methods are questionable and this trade looks mediocre at best for Arizona on the surface, it shouldn’t be proclaimed a losing venture for them before letting it play out some. After all, Towers seams to disregard the general opinion of the industry, and as bizarre as it might seem it has worked for him.
Just don’t don’t rush to Las Vegas and bet that Trumbo will be a major coup, particularly on the defensive side and when it comes to making outs. He may smack 35 homers, but he’s not a very good athlete and has the on-base skills of a mediocre utility infielder. Let’s see if Towers and the D-Backs know something the rest of baseball doesn’t, or if he’s just lucky. One or the other — or both — has happened before.