Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is interested in acquiring a "prototypical, corner bat" in the coming offseason, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic recently reported. Towers says he is looking for a third baseman or corner outfielder to provide pop in the middle of the lineup alongside young star Paul Goldschmidt.
The Diamondbacks have indeed struggled in the power department this season. Arizona sits at 26th in the bigs in home runs, 21st in slugging percentage, and 25th in isolated power (ISO). Other than Goldschmidt, the team's only player with an ISO greater than .180 is part-timer Eric Chavez, who is set to become a free agent.
As he looks to bolster his squad's power output, Towers will be hindered by payroll. Arizona's 2014 ledger already shows just $7.18MM less than its 2013 opening day tally of $86.30MM. And that only accounts for the eleven players who have guaranteed deals for next year. The team also has seven players who are either entering arbitration for the first time or are advancing to another year in the process. Two of those players — outfielder Gerardo Parra and current closer Brad Ziegler — figure to command fairly substantial raises after strong years. Though the organization has gone over $100MM in payroll one time (2002), team president and CEO Derrick Hall seems to predict only measured growth in salary rather than a Blue Jays or Dodgers-esque jump: "So long as our revenues increase, we will continue to invest those dollars in the team and the facility. If I had to predict, I would say our total would increase again."
Acknowledging that the team probably lacks sufficient payroll capacity to add a big bat from the free agent market, Towers indicated that the club could look to deal one of its center fielders. "So maybe you move one of your center fielders for a corner outfielder, maybe to a ballclub that's heavy with corner outfielders but don't have a center fielder," Towers explained. "We've got three up here and all three can play center field, and clubs have interest in them." In addition to youngsters Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock — each of whom remain under team control through at least 2018 — the team has also used Parra in center this season. Parra is just 26, and still has two more years of arbitration before reaching the open market. Of course, each of these players has their limits in value. Pollock and Parra have had good campaigns but seem to lack upside, while Eaton's value is down after an injury-filled year.
Of course, the obvious thought that springs to mind is that the D-backs only recently traded away a prototypical, young, power-hitting corner outfielder when they shipped Justin Upton to the Braves earlier this year. Upton has hit 25 long balls and posted an ISO over .200 this year in Atlanta. (Another power source, Chris Young, was dealt to the Athletics; though he has struggled to get on base and make contact, he does have a .185 ISO.) It may prove difficult to find a replacement. While Arizona could make a play for premier slugger Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, it would surely have to offer up something like Eaton and ace-in-training Archie Bradley, and then some, just to start a conversation. Likewise, a young, high-upside slugger such as Wil Myers of the Rays would surely require a king's ransom.
The team has one other top-100 prospect it could dangle: third baseman Matt Davidson, who checks in at 67th on the latest ranking of MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. But Davidson himself figures to be ready to contribute next year after posting back-to-back seasons in the .830 OPS range in the high minors, and Mayo says that he possesses MLB home run pop. Though Davidson has struggled in limited MLB action thus far, Arizona may be best off looking internally. Indeed, Hall just said of Davidson: "we see his future as a power-hitting corner infielder."
Other than Stanton, who would Towers reasonably look to target? If the team is unable to add significant salary through free agency, then presumably it would be similarly precluded from taking on a big contract unless the trade partner kicked in a lot of cash. And the nature of Towers' comments — "we probably could use another big bat somewhere in our lineup" – make a play for a prospect sound unlikely. If the intention is to find an established, powerful, low-cost option, then, the pickings are likely slim. And it appears that most teams with an apparent need for a young, big-league-ready center fielder lack an established corner power bat to offer in return. I'll try to work through some of the possiibilities.
In terms of outfielders, Jay Bruce of the Reds would seem to be a perfect fit, but there is no reason for Cincinnati to part with him. The D-backs could go after a player in the mold of their recent major acquisition, super-utility-man Martin Prado, who was extended shortly after heading to Arizona. Among outfielders, Michael Cuddyer of the Rockies could make sense, as he is set to make $10.5MM next year on the heels of a strong .939 OPS campaign to date and is the kind of hard-nosed player that Towers loves. At 34 years of age, Towers might be able to coax a reasonable, reasonably short extension if he can pry Cuddyer away from a seemingly uninterested division foe. A much cheaper target is the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, who has posted a career-best .228 ISO and twenty home runs in 450 plate appearances. Now 29, Schierholtz will be arb-eligible next season before reaching free agency. But it is far from clear that he can be an everyday power source. The Dodgers' Andre Ethier is another possibility, though he would appear to have too much left on his contract to be a realistic possibility. And in the end, older players like these options are probably somewhat redundant with Cody Ross, who remains under contract and will work back from hip surgery next year.
If the team wants to target youth and upside, it could pursue a turnaround candidate like Lucas Duda of the Mets or Josh Reddick of the A's, each of whom have seen their power dip from their career peaks. Other younger, controlled players that could fit the cost/power profile that Towers desires are Darin Ruf of the Phillies, Chris Carter of the Astros, or even the Nationals' Tyler Moore, though their strikeout rates and poor defense are major question marks. Players of this ilk would figure to come at a reasonable price, at least, though it is far from clear that any would really improve the D-backs.
If the Snakes look to the hot corner, they could find some more attractive options. Chase Headley of the Padres fits the trade-and-extend mold, though at 29 he will be looking for a sizeable deal. San Diego could play the recently extended Will Venable in a corner spot and shift Jedd Gyorko to third to make way for one of Arizona's youngsters in center, though the club has some options in its own system. Then, there are two younger, cost-controlled options who have knocked over twenty long balls, but would certainly command a big return. The Mariners, who definitely need someone to man center, have an attractive third bagger in Kyle Seager. But Seattle does not have an obvious replacement for Seager; the D-backs would likely need to send Davidson up north in any deal. The Athletics' Josh Donaldson has had an even more incredible breakout season than Seager, and the A's have options to replace him in the short term (Alberto Callaspo) and long term (prospects Addison Russell, if he moves off of short, and Miles Head). Of course, the A's don't have a need in center, with Coco Crisp entrenched for the time being and the young Michael Choice pressing for a promotion. You can be sure that Billy Beane would extract a painful price if Towers calls on Donaldson.
Yet another big name that could be put in play, opines ESPN's Buster Olney, is Yoenis Cespedes of the A's. With two years and $21MM left on his deal, Beane could look to realize future value on his investment in the Cuban outfielder. After a strong .292/.356/.505 campaign last year, Cespedes has matched his output of 23 home runs but has taken a step back otherwise. His triple-slash stands at .243/.301/.443. On the one hand, it could be argued that the A's would be selling low after an injury-filled campaign. On the other, the 27-year-old slugger would still promise to bring back a haul of lower-cost talent that the team could control well into the future.
There is one other obvious possibility: Mark Trumbo of the Angels. He is young, capable of playing all of the corner spots defensively, unquestionably powerful, and entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. Sure, he comes with questionable defense and concerning strikeout totals, but he has averaged over thirty bombs over the last three years. While Trumbo could likely be had for the right price, the last thing the Angels really need is a young center fielder. As with Seager and Donaldson, if Towers wants to pick up a player like Trumbo, he is going to have to part with some of his club's good, young pitching.
In the final analysis, Arizona's best bet may be to hang onto its youthful outfielders and supplement them on the free agent market. Carlos Beltran is probably going to be too expensive, but Marlon Byrd should be affordable, though he will probably draw a lot of interest from teams looking to add power on a budget. Then, there is Nelson Cruz, who figures to come at a substantial discount after his PED suspension. If Towers could land the 33-year-old with something akin to the two-year, $16MM deal that the Blue Jays gave Melky Cabrera last year, he might provide the right mix of skill and cost for Arizona.