The Diamondbacks have an interesting stockpile of upper level outfielders from which they’re largely expected to deal. General manager Mike Hazen and his staff have long signaled a willingness to field offers to upgrade other areas of the roster and they’re unsurprisingly drawing attention from a host of teams.
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports roughly 10 clubs have been in touch with Hazen and company regarding at least one of the team’s outfielders. Piecoro lists the Yankees, Brewers, Blue Jays, A’s, Marlins, White Sox and Reds as clubs with interest, while both Piecoro and Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle report the Astros are in the mix.
Arizona has a number of players that could draw interest, and it stands to reason different teams have varied preferences on the group. Corbin Carroll is arguably the top prospect in baseball, and both Piecoro and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic have suggested recently he’s off the table in trade discussions. Carroll’s presence gives the Snakes a potential franchise center fielder, though, freeing them up to listen to offers on their other outfielders.
Daulton Varsho is the most established of the group, and he’d be the toughest to pry from the desert. The 26-year-old got off to a slow start offensively in the majors, but he broke through in his third season. Varsho connected on 27 home runs with a .235/.302/.443 line across 592 plate appearances in 2022. That’s slightly better than average production at the plate, and he offers immense value in other areas. Varsho stole 16 bases (albeit with six failed attempts as well), and he has emerged as one of the game’s best defensive outfielders.
Also an intermittent catcher at times in his career, he’s acclimated to outfield work incredibly well. Varsho’s an above-average runner, and Statcast credits him with elite reads off the bat. By its Outs Above Average metric, Varsho made an estimated 18 more plays than expected in his 920 1/3 innings between center and right field this year. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him a combined 19 runs above par, with both metrics grading him highly in both center and the corner outfield. Varsho doesn’t have a great throwing arm — part of the reason he’s increasingly moved off catcher in the first place — but he’s an athletic, rangy defender who can cover anywhere in the outfield and occasionally factor in at catcher if needed.
Varsho qualified for early arbitration as a Super Two player this winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him for an affordable $2.8MM salary, and he comes with four remaining seasons of club control. Between the all-around production and affordable window of control, the trade appeal with Varsho is immense.
That’s not true to the same extent for the Snakes’ other outfielders, but there’s still a fair amount of appeal. Jake McCarthy is a former supplemental first-round draftee, but most prospect evaluators believed he’d be better suited for fourth outfield duty. While that may wind up being the case, the 25-year-old outperformed that projection in 354 plate appearances this past season. McCarthy hit .283/.342/.427 with eight home runs and stole 23 bases on just 26 tries. His average exit velocity and hard contact percentage are a bit below-average, and the offensive profile was propped up by a .349 batting average on balls in play. The Virginia product is an excellent baserunner who’s athletic enough to cover all three outfield spots, though, and he generally has a solid offensive track record in the minors. McCarthy still hasn’t reached a full year of service time and is controllable through 2028.
Alek Thomas offers a similar profile but is a different story, in that he’s been a top prospect who has yet to find much MLB success. The sport’s #32 prospect heading into 2022 according to Baseball America, Thomas debuted in May. He spent most of the year as their primary center fielder but struggled, hitting .231/.275/.344 through 411 plate appearances. He didn’t draw many walks or drive the ball with much authority, and the tough line led to a demotion back to Triple-A at the end of the season. Thomas won’t turn 23 until next April and is a career .313/.389/.499 hitter in the minor leagues, though. He’s regarded as a potential plus defensive center fielder with strong contact skills. Like McCarthy, he has yet to reach even one year of MLB service.
The trio of Varsho, McCarthy and Thomas is certain to draw the most trade interest, but Arizona also has Pavin Smith and Dominic Fletcher as depth options on the 40-man roster. Smith hasn’t done much at the MLB level but is a former top ten pick. Fletcher is a .296/.358/.467 hitter in the minors and was added to the 40-man at the end of the season to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. A trade involving either player wouldn’t be as significant as a move involving their top trio, but it’s possible the Snakes find some interest in both.
The extended windows of club control for each of McCarthy, Varsho and Thomas could make them of interest to teams at varying levels of the competitive cycle. That’s highlighted in the wide array of clubs that have checked in with Arizona. Milwaukee, Houston, Toronto, the White Sox and the Yankees are all win-now teams known to be looking for ways to plug a gap in center and/or a corner outfield spot. Houston is known to be in search of a left-handed bat, in particular.
Miami is behind that quintet from a competitive perspective. Still, the Fish are hoping to improve their offense to take a step forward in 2023, likely by subtracting from their enviable rotation depth. The Marlins are without an obvious center fielder on their MLB roster at present, with players like Jesús Sánchez, Bryan De La Cruz and JJ Bleday stretched there defensively. Miami and the D-Backs have linked up on a swap of young players before with the Jazz Chisholm/Zac Gallen deal, although that was orchestrated by the previous Marlins front office.
Oakland and Cincinnati are firmly amidst rebuilds, making them somewhat surprising fits at first glance. Yet the opportunity to acquire a pre-arbitration key piece at least opens the door for teams that are more traditionally “sellers” to gauge the market. A’s GM David Forst told reporters this week that acquiring players at or near the majors is “at the top of our to-do list” (via Melissa Lockard of the Athletic). Reds GM Nick Krall similarly indicated at the GM Meetings the team was considering trade possibilities involving prospects or “lower cost, more controllable players in the big leagues” (link via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer).
There are a number of ways the discussions could go, but it seems clear Arizona would want MLB-ready talent in return. Hazen flatly rejected the notion of trading any of their outfielders solely for prospects last month, and Piecoro writes they could look for infield or catching help in discussions — with particular emphasis on adding some right-handed punch to the lineup.