The countdown to the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline is officially on, as teams around the league ramp up efforts to improve their team or acquire assets for the future.
To this point, I have already dissected what teams such as the Cleveland Indians and the San Francisco Giants may or may not do by the time the clock strikes 4 p.m. ET on July 31. Fittingly enough, there is another team in the National League West that faces tough decisions regarding a potential playoff run versus the possibility of rebuilding the farm.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were not exactly pegged to be playoff contenders after losing starting pitcher Patrick Corbin in free agency and trading superstar first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Lois Cardinals. But in spite of these two losses, they have found a number of players to substantiate good production..
While the Giants have overtaken them in the division, the Diamondbacks were just three games back of the second Wild Card spot entering play on Wednesday, and stand as good a chance as any towards the top of that pack in terms of reaching the postseason. In fact, they have the highest run differential of any of the teams above them in the Wild Card race.
Arizona has flirted with making an assortment of trades, including guys like David Peralta, Jarrod Dyson, Robbie Ray, Adam Jones and even Zack Greinke, amongst others. However, they have a potent lineup and decent enough pitching staff, and could absolutely make some noise in October should they give themselves that opportunity.
With decisions looming, the question must be asked: will the Arizona Diamondbacks be buyers or sellers at the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline?
The case for buying
The Diamondbacks ranked fourth in the National League in runs scored entering play on Wednesday, offering a blend of power and speed that has made for a fairly explosive offense.
While guys like Christian Walker and Jones have not been able to sustain their torrid pace from April, they have been more than serviceable as offensive players. Ketel Marte has emerged as a legitimate star after being named an All-Star starter, and the Diamondbacks are likely relishing the fact that Goldschmidt is struggling in St. Louis while Carson Kelly has excelled as Arizona’s catcher of the future.
Greinke and Ray anchor a rotation that stands to improve, especially if the Diamondbacks elect to become buyers. Taylor Clarke and Zack Godley have hardly been encouraging, but Luke Weaver was excellent before he hit the Injured List. His return would make Arizona a much more well-rounded team.
The bullpen has hardly been superb, but Arizona still ranks a respectable 14th in relief fWAR and 13th in ERA. That number could easily improve, particularly if Archie Bradley rebounds in the second half of the season.
Contrary to teams such as the Giants or the Brewers–who are noticeably weak in multiple areas–the Diamondbacks do not necessarily have a glaring weakness outside of a lack of rotation depth. This is something that they can definitely address at the deadline.
Arizona has a number of attractive prospects and one of the better farm systems in the league, and they could probably provide as good of an offer as any team for the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor, Matthew Boyd, Trevor Bauer or any other starters that could be made available in the next week.
The Diamondbacks also have legitimate pieces to build around now. Aside from Marte, Kelly, and Weaver, Tim Locastro has shown potential as a plus centerfielder with good speed, and Jake Lamb–despite durability issues–is still capable of run-production.
Similarly, Arizona invested in Eduardo Escobar by offering him an extension after acquiring him at last year’s deadline. Given that decision, they may seem like candidates that might be more aggressive at the deadline in an effort to win now rather than start from scratch.
Still, most of the rumblings surrounding this team are about their efforts to offload contracts.
The case for selling
Arizona could very well decide that addition via subtraction would better service their young core and budding farm system.
Greinke is still pitching at a very high level, but he will also turn 36 years old this October. Jones’ best days are certainly behind him, and the Diamondbacks could capitalize on a decent season by acquiring some assets before he becomes a free agent once again this winter. For his part, Peralta is 31, and the team has expressed concerns over his ability to stay healthy for a full season.
Although the Diamondbacks have a pretty deep farm system, they do lack pitchers that could make an impact in the near future. Of course, Taijuan Walker will be returning from Tommy John surgery, and top prospect Jon Duplantier showed some flashes with the big-league club, but the Diamondbacks could use more young arms that would compliment their core of budding position players.
Arizona has a number of controllable assets–including Ray and reliever Andrew Chafin–which gives them a lot of leverage in terms of the return that they desire from inquiring teams.
Greinke, however, presents a slightly more complicated situation. Although he continues to be one of the best starters in baseball, his age and massive contract (owed $64 million over the course of the next two seasons) might dissuade teams from giving up some of their best prospects.
That said, any potential deal involving the former Cy Young award winner would be massive, and the Diamondbacks could get a tremendous haul if they dealt both Greinke and Ray. Especially given the potential of their lineup, the future would be bright in the desert should Arizona manage to stockpile their arm talent.
There is also the fact that Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen seems more intent on selling and planning for the future:
Mike Hazen doesn't sound convinced into buying: "The belief that a .500 team is going to win the World Series, get through the wild-card format that we have and win the World Series is, I don’t think objectively that’s a position we should be staking ourselves to."
— Zach Buchanan (@ZHBuchanan) July 22, 2019
If Hazen is not certain that he can make the kind of impact moves that are necessary to try to put Arizona over the top, then they should probably be sellers.
The verdict: Buy…with a contingency
This is a tough one. If the Diamondbacks become buyers, they risk further depleting their farm system–especially from a pitching standpoint, should opposing teams ask for Duplantier–while still probably not having enough firepower to seriously contend for a World Series title.
Arizona could certainly try to reposition by trading guys like Jones and Peralta, but it seems rather silly that they would outright sell someone like Ray given that they already lack rotational depth.
Still, the Diamondbacks can find a suitable offer for both Greinke and Ray, especially given that they could lose some of their current talent after next season anyway. But if they fail to find a pair of deals that would net a slew of top prospects, then they should consider themselves buyers.
While Arizona could certainly get some value out of trading the likes Dyson, Jones, or Greg Holland, they are unlikely to garner much of a return since all are impending free agents. History also says that teams with their run differential tend to be more successful in the second half of the season (subscription required).
Sure, the chances of riding a Wild Card berth all the way to a World Series win is unlikely. Only the San Francisco Giants (2014) have managed to do so since the second Wild Card spot was added. That said, the Diamondbacks may not be as far behind the elite teams in the National League, and anything can happen in October.
Merely trading away expiring contracts or attempting to flip Ray and Peralta for future value does not seem to justify selling if the Diamondbacks do not get elite prospects in return. Plus, they have some assets that they can afford to trade away in pursuit of playoff success.
The Diamondbacks should take the risk of buying and attempting to win now, before this current window closes.