Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen has splashed far more cash in free agency this winter than in his prior offseasons at the helm. Most notably, he pulled off a surprise strike for star hurler Madison Bumgarner, who’s now in town for a five-year term.
The addition of MadBum seemed to be spurred largely by the already legendary lefty’s own interest in playing in Arizona. While the team proved amenable to working out a mutually agreeable contract, it was in large part an opportunistic strike for an organization that had signaled satisfaction with its pitching depth when it non-tendered Taijuan Walker at the outset of the offseason.
So … what about the team’s preexisting star southpaw? Hazen has denied that the big new addition would push Robbie Ray out of the organization’s plans, but word was at the outset of the winter — i.e., before the Bumgarner pursuit even began — that the team was open to dealing Ray. With Ray set to earn a projected $10.8MM via arbitration before reaching the open market, the club could cash him in and re-distribute the salary to account for its recent additions or support further signings.
Perhaps it’s now a rather simple proposition: put Ray on the auction block and get what you can in trade value. The Snakes already added Mike Leake and Zac Gallen via trade in the summer. Merrill Kelly is a Leake-like sturdy presence while Luke Weaver will look to resume his impressive initial showing after resting and rehabbing. That makes five without Ray. And the D-Backs have a host of upper-level depth on the 40-man, including Jon Duplantier, Taylor Clarke, and Taylor Widener.
On the other hand … maybe now’s the time and this is the team to hang onto the upside-laden Ray. The southpaw has rare strikeout ability and is a rather affordable asset for a pitcher of his ability. Bumgarner’s deal features a notably light 2020 salary, perhaps leaving payroll space to fit both of these quality lefties. Keeping Ray would make the Arizona staff one of the better units in the National League. The D-Backs could deploy some of their extra arms in relief capacities, comforted by the extra depth. Or they might deal away a now-unnecessary starting piece, prioritizing near-term upside over pure cost-efficiency.
While the Dodgers still look like a strong favorite in the NL West, the L.A. org hasn’t yet converted on its bids to improve this winter and does have a few potential weak spots. If the Diamondbacks are to make a real bid at breaking the stranglehold on the division, keeping Ray in hopes he can perform to his ceiling would make an awful lot of sense. Even if the Dodgers respond to the pressure by acquiring a star-level player, that could redound to the long-term benefit of the Diamondbacks and other division pursuers.
As always, it depends in no small part upon the return that could actually be achieved. But in this case, perhaps, it’s more a question of organizational direction than the specifics of trade value. Picking up more prospect capital arguably isn’t as important to the D-Backs as maximizing their 2020 chances. And there’s always the fall-back option of a summer trade or qualifying offer at season’s end.
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