By Isaac Marks
The Arizona Diamondbacks continued their splashy offseason, acquiring All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Ender Inciarte and top prospects Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson.
Miller will be paired with newly-signed Zack Greinke and incumbent ace Patrick Corbin, leading a pitching staff that, on paper, rivals the vaunted New York Mets rotation. Miller made his first All-Star game this year, despite a shaky win-loss record but excellent statistics – 3.02 ERA, 1.247 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 47.7 percent ground-ball rate and 3.6 BB/9 over 205.1 innings. The ground-ball rate is especially important in Arizona, one of MLB’s premier hitters parks.
Inciarte will be entering his third year in the big leagues after finishing 5th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2014. He improved in every category in 2015 and show promise of being an above-average outfielder in the major leagues. Blair and Swanson are the D-Backs’ No. 3 and No. 1 prospects, respectively.
The Diamondbacks suddenly a contender
In a division that’s been dominated by the Dodgers and the Giants over the past 10 years, the Diamondbacks have assembled a team loaded with young talent that’s ready to compete for a World Series ring. The rotation will feature Grienke, Miller and Corbin, leaving two spots for 23-year-old Archie Bradley, 24-year-old Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa and Chase Anderson. Bradley and Ray are both former top prospects that Arizona has high hopes for, moving De La Rosa to the pen where he’ll eventually end up and Anderson as a long relief/spot starter. That’s a strong starting rotation, my friends.
Trading Inciarte helps answer some lineup questions for the Diamondbacks. There was a logjam in the outfield with All-Star A.J. Pollock manning center and two spots for David Peralta, Inciarte and Cuban signee Yasmany Tomas. Tomas was the odd man out last year, rotating all over the field; he played first, third, and both corner outfield positions throughout the year. There’s still a hole in the lineup at second base and the Diamondbacks, like every team, could use more bullpen help, but Arizona’s roster is loaded with young talent for the next few years.
The Braves acquired their shortstop of the future
Prospects are a fickle commodity. Young men don’t always develop like you hope they do, and sometimes it’s the ones no one expects anything out of that surprise. Dansby Swanson is as good as advertised; he’s a gap-to-gap power hitter that could provide 10-20 home runs in a season with excellent defense at a premier position. He won the Most Outstanding Player award during the 2014 College World Series and proved in 2015 that he was well-deserving of that honor, leading to the first overall draft pick in 2015.
After the surprising trade of All-Star shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels, there was a spot at short that needed to be filled, both short-term and long-term. Depending on how they handle Swanson in the minors – do they let him develop or rush him to the majors – he could be the answer to both. For now, Erick Aybar will man short until Swanson is ready.
The Diamondbacks are swapping the future for the present
Swanson, Blair, Touki Toussaint, 2016 draft pick. All first round draft picks (and future draft pick), all out of the organization. It’s rare to see any club trade top-level talent so early, but the Diamondbacks clearly view the next few years as their time to win it all. We’ve seen this strategy backfire when the team falls a few pieces short (sorry, Padres), so it’s an all-or-nothing game.
If it doesn’t work out, the Diamondbacks have a ton of value on their players and could blow the whole thing up to revamp the farm system with top talent, but that’s an endgame scenario that GM Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa would like to avoid. Still, there’s always a chance that Miller and Greinke struggle and it forces their hand.
Bonus Take: The Braves turned Jason Heyward into Tyrell Jenkins, Inciarte, Blair and Swanson. Would you take it?
The Braves swapped All-Star outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden for Miller and St. Louis’ 2010 first round pick in pitcher Tyrell Jenkins. They’ve now flipped Miller into two more first-rounders and a promising young outfielder. Who would you rather have if you’re the Atlanta Braves; Heyward or their four acquisitions?