21 November 2010

Bang For The Buck?

The Diamondbacks' holiday wish list has grown longer than an antelope di*k, but at this point, what's the most pressing need? Where do they get the biggest bang for the...[wait for it]...buck? Let's eschew petty front office cracks that make (or made) Diamondhacks famous, and leap out of character to assess numbingly dull positional upgrades.

Fans generally overstate the importance of hitting, and are predictably worried about the loss of Adam "100 RBI" Laroche in favor of Juan "Who dat?" Miranda. The Cuban native, who defected successfully to the Dominican Republic on his seventh try (if you call that successful), may not match Laroche's production, but their projected gap in performance is dwarfed by the reputation chasm. Since neither Miranda nor Brandon Allen is a sure thing, however, having them compete for the job is healthy protocol. Perhaps most importantly, the $6M or so in net savings (from The Roach) can be applied elsewhere on the roster.

If we trade Upton, both outfield corners will need addressing, but it's not the positional side, truly, that ails the Diamondbacks. Despite the alarming strikeouts, their 2010 positional WAR was higher than it's been since 2002.

The Diamondbacks are reportedly interested in pitching, like you and I are interested in oxygen, and the first place to administer CPR is the bullpen. My favorite statistical measure of their futility is that, according to WAR, our most valuable RP, over the entire season, was Mike Hampton.

He pitched four innings.

Think about that for a minute. So, there must be new personnel. But there have also already been significant bullpen additions by subtraction. The departure of Qualls, Howry and perhaps most of all, AJ Hinch and coach Stott, mean that a fair share of Towers' task here is already done. And he's supposed to be adept at filling in relief personnel.

The roster component that doesnt get enough fan attention is the rotation. It, too, was bad - about twelfth in a fifteen team league (I dont count Pirates) - and it appears at least that vulnerable as we speak. Haren and Ed Jackson are gone. The ace by default is young Daniel Hudson, followed by I.P. Kennedy, Joe Saunders and Barry Enright. There's been talk of obtaining a fourth or fifth starter, someone who could slot just in front of - or even behind - Enright.

I think that would be a critical mistake, assuming A) the club is sincere in it's stated objective to contend and, B) Jarrod Parker isnt likely to have a major 2011 impact. So blundery, in fact, as to doom the Dbacks to mediocrity, regardless of positional upgrades elsewhere. Their biggest off season decision involves the quality of starter they obtain, either via free agency or trade. A back end starter all but assures a weak to medium rotation, something the rest of the team doesnt project strongly enough to overcome.

The acquisition of a front end pitcher, however, downshifts existing starters back into more appropriate 'slots', creating a multiplier effect in terms of matchup values and easing bullpen pressure. Put another way, this team wont win with Barry Enright as it's fourth starter. One can almost guarantee that. If there's three quality arms in front of him and Saunders, however, the rest of the team might be good enough to at least make some noise.

Skeptics may claim we had a front end starter (Haren) last year and it didnt do any good. But Haren didnt pitch like a front ender or remotely like an ace. Neither did Jackson. We dont need Cliff Lee, necessarily, but we need more than an innings eater. We need someone who is both durable and effective. Someone who impacts wins. Someone who moves the needle.

There is quite a drop off in the FA market after Lee, which is a two fold dilemma for Arizona. Only money will acquire Lee, leaving Kendrick out. And remaining or available free agents may not be good enough to vault Arizona where it says it wants to go.

So the only way, it would seem, to open up the labor pool and acquire a low 1-high 2 type starter is to trade significant assets. Which is where Justin Upton forcefully enters the picture (stage right). Upton will need to fetch more than that, of course, but the quality starter is the essential piece of the deal.

As the Upton saga unfolds, that's what I would keep my eye on. Not the closer or outfielder or prospect so much, that we're likely to receive in exchange. Look to the quality of the starting pitcher. It's our most important clue, to date, as to where this franchise is headed.


Russell said...

I'd trade Upton if it meant we got a genuine quality starter and extras.

I think the FO know that they have to try to compete next year or risk losing some fans forever. The ASG maybe a financial panacea for a season, but another (really bad) losing season may be the death knell in terms of long term fan support.

Diamondhacks said...

The franchise is at an interesting crossroad, where the next few months should confirm whether we're witnessing an actionable sense of competitive urgency, or more desperate bombast leading up to the ASG.

I cant tell which it is yet, but am trying to keep an open mind.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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