Continuing a series Kate started recently exploring potential trade partners for the Mariners as the July 31st trade deadline approaches, we take a look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. Considering the M’s just dealt a starting pitcher ready to immediately contribute to a playoff push to Arizona in exchange for a high upside controllable outfielder back in November, it’s a little funny to be exploring this same duo to in efforts of finding a potential trade partner. That said, the landscape of each of these two teams has changed a bit since that deal was made. The D-backs likely didn’t expect to be out in front of the wild card despite fielding an outfield that has been good for a whopping -8 defensive runs saved this season, which is seventh-worst in all of baseball. The Mariners, who are tops in the bigs in outfield DRS at 25, probably didn’t expect to have pulled in to the All-Star break having given 26 starts to the likes of Sam Gaviglio, Christian Bergman & Co. But, as they say, sh...”stuff” happens. So, here we are approaching the back half of July, and Arizona is in need of some help in the outfield. With Yasmany Tomas shelved due to a groin injury, they’ve started 30 year old Daniel Descalso and his 95 wRC+ in the outfield 26 times—he played there seven times in seven seasons before 2017—which shouldn’t necessarily be what makes or breaks this team in and of itself, but definitely isn’t ideal for a team on the cusp of playoff berth for the first time since 2011. Even when Tomas returns, any value he brings to the table offensively—and that’s if you’re gambling on seeing 2016 Yasmany Tomas and not the 2015 version he was proving to be through 47 games this season—is likely negated by the negative impact he has on the defensive side of the ball (he’s been good for -30 defensive runs saved through roughly 1.5 seasons worth of innings in the outfield). The Mariners on the other hand have been, how do I put this lightly? ‘Short’ on pitching this season. And when I say “short”, I mean that the entire starting pitching staff has combined for 3.2 fWAR through 91 games this season. As a team, the M’s are 28th in the league in pitchers’ fWAR, and have utilized every starting pitcher on their 40 man roster and then some.
Interestingly enough, Arizona’s top prospects list seems to be stocked with a handful of starting pitchers at the upper levels of the minors who are seemingly blocked by a relatively young and undeniably effective starting rotation at the big league level. Meanwhile, the M’s system is flush with “major league center fielder” caliber outfielders that have been impressing on offense as well this season and could theoretically step in to a starting role with a playoff bound but defensively plagued team (hint hint). Needless to say, the two sides seem to have the pieces to allow for both clubs to deal from an area of strength for something of need.
My personal favorite possibility—albeit a long one—from Arizona’s system is RHP Taylor Clarke. Clarke is a tall righty who the the D-Backs selected out of the College of Charleston in the third round back in 2015. Clarke is enjoying something of a breakout season, seeing a significant uptick in his strikeouts from just 6.6 K/9 to 9.4 this season, and his xFIP has made a noteworthy jump from 3.79 in 17 Double-A starts last season to 3.18 in 18 starts repeating the level this year. The 24 year old hasn’t skipped a beat in transitioning to the rotation after being used exclusively as a reliever in his debut 2015 professional season. Clarke is armed with a three pitch arsenal that, according to MLB.com, consists of a heater that sits in the low 90’s but can touch 95-96, a slider that “misses bats and is at least Major League average”, and a changeup that he’s still working on. After reaching almost 150 innings pitched in his first full professional season last year, he should have roughly 80-100 more innings in the tank this season if the club wants to be careful with his workload. Clarke is the highest ranked prospect we’ll look at according to MLB.com’s Top 30 rankings of the Diamondbacks prospects —he checks in at #5—and would therefore likely require either a high ceiling prospect like Canadian Slugger Tyler O’Neill, or should Arizona prefer an immediate impact player defensively, some combination of Ben Gamel/Boog Powell and an additional high upside prospect. While Clarke is far from a sure thing, his proven ability to miss bats and limit the free passes at a level many consider the weeding out point for prospects could make him a solid candidate to immediately slide in to the back end of a pitching starved competing club and provide a nice shot in the arm down the stretch.
There’s a pretty significant drop off after Clarke, but I would say that the only other guys in the D-Backs system you could even squint and see filling a hole in the Mariners rotation would be RHP Brad Keller (#7 prospect per MLB.com) and LHP Alex Young (#11). Given my choice from the two, I’d prefer Keller, as he’s almost two years younger—he’ll turn 22 this season, Young 24—and has proven a little more dependable, racking up 24 or more starts in each of the last two seasons, and he’s well on his way there this year (he’s at 14 this season). Young, despite being two years older, didn’t make his debut until two years after Keller, and has yet to pass 20 starts in a season, although he should get there this year. Keller, who was an 8th rounder out of Flowery Branch High School in 2013, has also got the advantage in the “physical tools” department, standing at 6’5” 230lb compared to Young, who is 6’2” 205lb. Keller is armed with an arsenal consisting of a sinking fastball he likes to use to generate ground balls that consistently sits in the low 90’s, as well as a slider and changeup which are both described as “average”, if not better. After initially being a bit disappointed to see his apparent lack of strikeout stuff despite his imposing frame, I’m pretty intrigued by this quote from an interview he did with Joseph Jacquez over at Venom Strikes earlier this season:
For me, I want to go as deep into the game as possible every start. Get as many outs with the least amount of pitches. Pitching to contact allows me to attack guys and get swing early in the count. Keeps my pitch count low and allows me to go longer.
That type of mentality on the mound shows maturation beyond the Georgian right-hander’s ripe age of 21, and should he be able to execute that game plan on a big league stage, is exactly the kind of performance needed by a team with an often-shaky bullpen. Keller has been kicking around Arizona’s system for a while now—he was a part of the same draft as D.J. Peterson—and if dealing him becomes necessary to acquire what they view as one of the final pieces of the playoff puzzle, it’s not hard to imagine them moving him for a defensive upgrade so they can stop playing infielders and catcher in the outfield down the stretch. Any team taking on the high ceiling that comes with Keller will presumably be doing so with confidence that they can work with him to correct the walk issues he’s had creep up this season (4.2 BB/9) that haven’t plagued him since rookie ball early in 2014.
LHP Alex Young represents the final piece I could imagine the M’s valuing as a potential big league ready arm in 2017, and as previously mentioned, he does little to move the needle for me. He is a left-handed starter, which in and of itself is at least a little interesting, but the excitement pretty much stops there. Young was the 43rd overall pick in 2015 out of TCU, and after having marginal success at the lower levels of Single-A ball, experienced some growing pains as he was bumped to the Advanced-A and Double-A levels. In 17 games (14 starts) with the D-Backs Double-A affiliate Jackson Generals (moment of silence), the lefty slinger has posted an unimpressive xFIP of 4.58 that lines up pretty dang closely with his 4.64 ERA and 4.64 FIP. Those numbers are actually a slight improvement on his Advanced-A numbers from 12 games in 2016, and are largely the result of a lack of strikeouts (6.9 K/9) and too many walks (4.3 BB/9). He works primarily off of his slider, which is his lone true strikeout pitch, but can also throw his fastball and changeup for strikes. It’s pretty safe to say he could be acquired for pretty much any of the Mariners upper level defensively gifted outfielders, but other than being left-handed, the former Horned Frog doesn’t really provide much reason to standout as a better option than the carousel of depth arms that was paraded through the four and five spots in the rotation in the first half of the season. Having never exceed 120 innings at any professional level, it’s hard to imagine he’s got a whole lot more bullets in the chamber this season anyways.
While swapping a young outfielder for a young starting pitcher with a team nine months after doing just the opposite of that may seem unorthodox, it makes sense for both sides now, and could benefit both big league clubs without taking anything away from the major league roster. And if you’re wondering if Jerry is looking for arms right now, he recently told Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times in regards to starting pitching “You don’t get ’em in April. You don’t get ’em in May. You don’t get’em in October. You wait ’til a free agency, or you acquire them now. That’s when you find your starting pitching, and if it’s out there, and we can access it, we’re going to stay in tune with it. I can’t promise you that we will or that we can, but we’re going t stay in tune with it.”