Until the final moments of the trading deadline Thursday afternoon, the Diamondbacks appeared as casual observers.
That quickly came to a halt when general manager Kevin Towers pulled the trigger, seemingly at the last moment, and traded two starters.
At first, the core tenet of the D-backs’ approach remained steadfast. This was a team which would not make changes for cosmetic reasons and that any deal initialed by Towers had to have current and long-tern value.
The long-term value came in the second deal and that was right up against the trade deadline. In acquiring catcher Peter O’Brien from the Yankees, the Diamondbacks addressed one of the weakness in the organization. Thin in catching, Towers made it known, over the past several years, the organization needed depth behind the plate and a significant upgrade. With significant depth at the catching position, the Yankees were in a position to unload O’Brien and Towers jumped at the opportunity.
While back-up Tuffy Gosewisch has not disappointed with strong defensive skills and a commendable .231 batting average this season, O’Brien arrives in the desert with lightning in his bat.
“Whatever he needs to do and get better, I’m here to help,” said catcher Miguel Montero. “I won’t lose my job but I hear this guy can swing the bat. I’m here to help and help him be the best he can be.”
The price for the power-hitting right-handed batter was no surprise. Names like second baseman Aaron Hill and third baseman Martin Prado have surfaced and the issue with both was high salaries and marginal production.
Prado is signed for $11 million this season and for $11 million for each of the next two seasons. He is eligible to be a free agent in 2017. Hill is signed for $11 million this year and $12 million for each of the next two seasons. He is eligible to eb a free agent in 2017.
Coming into play Thursday night, Prado was hitting .270, five home runs and 42 RBIs in 106 games while Hill was hitting .253 with 22 doubles, eight home runs and 49 RBIs in 101 games.
In the end, Prado was let go to Bronx for O’Brien and the Diamondbacks appear willing, at this point, to ride with Hill. Still, the long-term forecast may have Didi Gregorius at second or third and provide a fast track to the majors for infield prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury. Both Lamb and Drury are high on the Diamondbacks’ radar screen and Lamb, Towers said, could arrive as a September call-up. The better case scenario for Lamb is an invitation to training camp at Salt River next spring, Towers indicated.
To this point, it appeared no team wanted to carry the economic burdens of Hill and Prado. Then again, the New York Yankees, with the preverbal deep pockets and the clarion call to “win now” appear more than willing to pick up Prado’s two-plus year outstanding tab. The trade with New York also involved cash consideration and/or a player-to-be-named later. It’s likely the Yankees would yield to the cash consideration because they are picking up the remainder of Prado’s two-plus year contract.
“We look at the Prado deal from a financial standpoint,” Towers said. “We’re able to free up a considerable amount (about $30 million) and that money will help us plan for future free-agency and the affordability of players in possible trade situations.”
In speaking with the media in the Diamondbacks clubhouse, his bags packed and name-plate taken down, Prado talked about the relationships he established and the difficulty in parting.
“This is tough because I feel so much a part of this family,” Prado said, his face drawn and a vapid look coming from his eyes. “It’s a business, I know, but when you build great relationships like these, it’s difficult to walk away. I’m very religious and believe everything happens for a reason. I guess it’s time to move on.”
In O’Brien, the Diamondbacks picked up a lethal bat. At 24-years-old, the University of Miami product hit .267 combined at Single-A Tampa and Double-AA Trenton. That includes 23 doubles, 33 home runs and 70 RBIs in 102 games. Over the past three years in the Yankees’ organization, O’Brien hit .266 with 72 doubles, 65 home runs, 200 RBIs and .573 slugging percentage in 273 games.
For now, Towers said O’Brien has been assigned to Double-A Mobile.
Earlier Thursday, Towers sent outfielder Gerardo Parra to Milwaukee and, in this transaction, Towers appears to set have his eyes set on the future. In acquiring two prospects for Parra, Towers indicated the team picked up no player who would be considered as immediately help.
In return for the 26-year-old Parra, the Diamondbacks acquired a pair in their early 20s and headed to the minors.
They picked up outfielder Mitch Haniger, a 23-year-old, who was rated by Baseball America as the Brewers’ number three prospect. In 67 games for Double-A Huntsville this season, Haniger hit .255 (62-for-243) with seven doubles, one triple, 10 home runs, 41 runs scored and 34 RBIs. Haniger was the Brewers’ supplemental first round pick (38th overall) in the 2012 draft out of Cal Poly.
The Diamondbacks also acquired left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda, who will be 21 on August 10. In Single-A Wisconsin, Banda was 6-6 with two saves and a 3.66 ERA in 20 games. He also started 14 games.
In three seasons in the Milwaukee farm system, Banda was 11-13, two saves and a 4.40 ERA in 48 games, including 32 starts. He was selected by the Brewers on the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of San Jacinto College.
“In trading Parra, we looked to the future,” said Towers. “We were able to pick up two players whom we think will be quality major leaguers. With Haniger, we look at him as a corner outfielder with an above-average arm and power bat. We see Banda as a middle of the rotation starter but he’s a few years away.”
In trading Parra, the Diamondbacks appear to open right field for David Peralta. Coming into the start of the current stand Thursday night against Pittsburgh, Peralta was hitting .313 (55-for-176, 47 games) with nine doubles and 19 RBIs. When he left for Wisconsin, Parra was hitting .259 (105-406, 104 games) with 18 doubles, six home runs and 30 RBIs.
“We would like to see Peralta get more at-bats,” Towers said. “We’re starting to get the outfield back from injuries with (centerfielder A. J.) Pollock and (Mark) Trumbo and we think Peralta is a nice fit in right field.”
Against the Pirates’ starting left-hander Jeff Locke, Peralta was in right field and batted seventh Thursday night.
With Pollock due to return in the next week or so and the D-backs committed to Trumbo in left field, the organization made it clear that Parra, with compromised offensive skills and diminishing defensive skills, did not fit into their plans.
As well, the Diamondbacks will show up for the final two months of the season but no great expectation. The highest they can realistically finish in National League West is third place and that appears practical. If they are to catch the Dodgers and Giants and dramatically raise their competitive level, they must go on a streak of sizable portion. That does not appear reasonable so only the third-place San Diego Padres lay directly ahead.