After two pretty miserable years under Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks cleaned out their front office at the end of the 2016 regular season and brought in longtime Red Sox executive Mike Hazen to run the show. Arizona went 69-93 this year, down from 79-83 in 2015 despite spending big to acquire Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller last offseason. Ouch.
The D-Backs are an interesting team because they do have some impressive talent. You can do a heck of a lot worse than building your lineup around Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, for example. The club also has some interesting young arms, and according to Ken Rosenthal, Hazen & Co. are expecting to field a lot of calls about those young pitchers this offseason.
The Yankees, like every other team, are perpetually in the market for rotation help. The younger the better. The three best starting pitchers in the organization at this very moment (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda) can all become free agents after 2017. That’s sorta scary. Do any of Arizona’s young arms make sense for the Yankees? Let’s dive in.
RHP Archie Bradley
Background: Bradley, 24, was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, and prior to the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked him as the ninth best prospect in baseball. The right-hander has struggled in his fairly limited MLB time, pitching to a 5.18 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, 47.8% grounders, and 0.96 HR/9 in 177.1 total innings. That includes a 5.02 ERA (4.10 FIP) with similar peripherals in 141.2 innings in 2016.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Bradley is a pure power pitcher — his four-seamer averaged 93.4 mph and topped out at 97.0 mph in 2017 — and the Yankees love power pitchers. He can miss bats and get grounders, which is a darn good recipe for long-term success. Bradley have five years of team control remaining, though depending on the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could qualify as a Super Two if the cutoff drops a bit lower. Not a huge deal though.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? That 11.1% walk rate is no fluke. Bradley has a 12.3% walk rate in over 440 minor league innings, so throwing strikes is an issue. The kid averaged over 18 pitches per inning in 2016. That’s crazy high. Bradley’s changeup isn’t very effective either, which is why left-handed batters hit .315/.412/.523 (!) against him this year. Yikes. Also, he missed close to three months with shoulder tendinitis in 2015, but was fine in 2016. Strikeouts and grounders solve a lot of problems and Bradley can get them. The walks and inability to neutralize lefties are an ongoing concern though.
LHP Patrick Corbin
Background: The 27-year-old Corbin, a semi-local kid from up near Syracuse, was an All-Star with the D’Backs back in 2013 before blowing out his elbow in Spring Training 2014 and needing Tommy John surgery. His performance after returning last season was promising (3.60 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 85 innings), but the wheels came off this year, so much so that Arizona had to move him to the bullpen. Corbin had a 5.15 ERA (4.84 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts, 9.4% walks, and 53.8% grounders in 155.2 innings covering 24 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2016.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The Yankees love buy low opportunities and Corbin is exactly that. He was a deserving All-Star three years ago and it’s worth noting his stuff has bounced back well following surgery. Corbin’s velocity has held steady and he’s getting similar movement on his secondary pitches. A true four-pitch lefty with a history of missing bats and getting grounders is a mighty fine rotation piece. There’s a chance Corbin’s numbers will bounce back simply by getting away from Arizona’s league worst defense too.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The Tommy John surgery is not nothing. Corbin had a major arm procedure two and a half years ago, and while he’s been healthy since, it is a red flag. Also, we can’t ignore the dreadful statistical performance too. The shoddy team defense didn’t cause his 1.39 HR/9 this year, for example. Corbin was an All-Star three years ago. Now he’s not close to that level. Is he fixable? Considering he’s only two years away from free agency, the Yankees might not have enough time to find out and reap the reward.
RHP Shelby Miller
Background: Gosh, Miller has been through an awful lot in his career so far. The 26-year-old was a top 2009 draft prospect who slipped to the 19th overall pick due to bonus demands, then went on to be ranked as a top 13 global prospect by Baseball America in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Miller’s rookie season in 2013 was good enough (3.06 ERA and 3.67 FIP) to earn a third place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. His sophomore season was bad enough (3.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP) that the Cardinals soured on him and traded him for one year of Jason Heyward.
Miller was an All-Star with the Braves in 2015 (3.02 ERA and 3.45 FIP) before being traded to the D’Backs in that insane deal last offseason. He had a 6.15 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 101 total innings this season. His strikeout (15.2%), walk (9.1%), grounder (41.9%), and homer (1.25 HR/9) rates were all … not good. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher this young and this talented going from All-Star one year to arguably the worst pitcher in baseball the next without a major arm injury, but Miller managed to pull it off.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Is there a bigger buy low candidate in baseball right now? Unless he hid an injury all season, Miller’s issues were all mechanical in 2016. And probably mental too. It’s hard to think his confidence didn’t take a hit while getting blasted every fifth day. Miller got into this weird mechanical funk in which he dropped so low in his delivery he would hit his hand on the mound during his follow through …
… which briefly sent him to the disabled list with a sprained finger. Miller legitimately throws five pitches, and at his best, he’s a weak contact guy who gets a lot of soft ground balls and lazy pop-ups. Fix the mechanics and rebuild his confidence — not easy to do in the offense happy AL East and Yankee Stadium — and you could have yourself a pretty good pitcher. As an added bonus, the D’Backs sent Miller to the minors juuust long enough this season to delay his free agency, so he comes with three years of control.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Obvious, right? Miller might not be fixable. His mechanics could be beyond repair and his confidence could be completely destroyed. I am no pitching coach, but what Shelby went through this season doesn’t strike me as a quick or easy fix. He’s a reclamation project now. No doubt about it. I’d dub this an “extremely high risk, kinda high reward” play.
LHP Robbie Ray
Background: Ray, 25, was a 12th round pick who developed into a solid pitching prospect. The Nationals traded him to the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal three years ago, then the Tigers traded him to Arizona as part of the three-team deal that brought Didi Gregorius to New York two years ago. In 2016, Ray had a 4.90 ERA (3.76 FIP) despite striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. His 28.1% strikeout rate is the 20th highest by a qualified left-handed starter in a single-season in MLB history. (Ten of the 19 ahead of him belong to Randy Johnson.) Sam Miller wrote about Ray’s statistically odd season (ton of strikeouts, ton of runs) not too long ago, and I recommend checking that out.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The appeal of an extremely hard-throwing lefty — Ray averaged 95.3 mph with his four-seamer and 94.5 mph with his sinker in 2016 — who can miss this many bats is pretty obvious, I’d say. Add in the fact he has quality secondary pitches in his slider and changeup and you’ve got a nice little rotation piece. Ray is four years away from free agency as well, so he’s a long-term buy. A southpaw who can miss bats is a welcome addition to a team that calls Yankee Stadium home.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There is more to life than throwing hard and striking out batters, as several members of the Yankees’ pitching staff have taught us (coughMichaelPinedacough). Ray’s walk (9.2%), grounder (45.2%), and homer (1.24 HR/9) rates left something to be desired this year, plus righties hit him pretty hard (.269/.350/.447). Ray fits the mold of a “great stuff, dubious command” pitcher, and the Yankees haven’t had a whole lot of success helping those guys figure out the command part.
RHP Taijuan Walker
Background: Walker, 24, still has some prospect shine remaining after be named a top 20 global prospect by Baseball America in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His MLB performance to date has been just okay overall (4.18 ERA and 4.30 FIP), and this past season he had a 4.22 ERA (4.99 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 6.5% walks, 44.1% grounders, and 1.81 HR/9 in 134.1 innings. It seems the Mariners got sick of waiting for Walker to take the next step, so they sent him to Arizona in the Jean Segura deal last week.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Walker just turned 24 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was one of the top pitching prospects in the game, so there’s definitely still a chance things will click and he’ll reach his admittedly high ceiling. His value is down right now — example: he was just traded for Jean freaking Segura, who is only two years from free agency and has been terrible two of the last three years — so this is a chance to get a talented pitcher on the cheap. Walker misses bats and he uses three pitches regularly — the cutter is basically a show-me pitch — so the tools to remain in the rotation are there. He comes with four years of team control, all arbitration-eligible as a Super Two.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Two or three years ago Walker made a mechanical change and he hasn’t been the same guy since. I don’t know if he did it on his own or if the Mariners talked him into it, but he shortened his stride and finishes more upright now, which has taken some of the bite off his curveball and hinders his command. Walker has had some on-and-off shoulder injuries since the mechanical change as well — he’s actually coming off foot surgery at the moment, though that’s an unrelated injury — so that’s no good. This stride shortening thing isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw — Aaron Sanchez had the same issue, for example, and he got back on track last year — but it is something that needs fixing. Right now, Walker is a different pitcher than the guy who was atop all those prospect lists back in the day.
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I really have no idea what to think about these young D’Backs pitchers. They all have talent, that much is obvious, and all but Corbin come with at least three years of control. These are, in theory, exactly the type of pitchers the Yankees are looking to acquire. At the same time, every single one is coming off a below-average season, even Ray with all his strikeouts. They all need to be fixed or helped in some way. They’re projects.
As always, it’s going to come down to the price. There’s always a point where it makes sense to roll the dice on a young project pitcher. Hazen has been at the helm for only a few weeks now, so he has no real attachment to these guys. Well, except maybe Walker because he traded for him, but otherwise these are not kids he drafted and developed. That connection is not there and it could make him more willing to trade them. We see that sort of thing all the time when a new GM takes over.
This free agent pitching class is so incredibly crummy that competition on the trade market figures to be fierce, so much so that even “broken” pitchers like Corbin and Miller will generate a ton of attention. The Yankees have plenty of prospects to trade. Finding a match won’t be hard. The real question is how much are they willing to give up, and how confident are they in their ability to fix one of these guys?