Diamondbacks strike first, aim badly

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Arizona GM Kevin Towers wanted to upgrade at shortstop and in the bullpen. And apparently he wanted to make sure he did so 5 1/2 months prior to Opening Day. So, he ended up with these two trades:

– acquires SS Cliff Pennington and INF Yordy Cabrera from the A’s for OF Chris Young and cash
– acquires RHP Heath Bell and cash from the Marlins for INF Yordy Cabrera

I understand the first deal. Pennington is a fine defensive shortstop, and at 28, he’s young enough to bounce back from a horrible offensive season that saw him bat .215/.278/.311. Eligible for arbitration for the first time, he shouldn’t make more than $2 million or so next year.

The problem with the trade is that it’s highly unlikely the Diamondbacks needed to give up Young to get him. I understand that Young doesn’t have a lot of trade value, particularly with center field being the one deep position in free agency this winter, but he’s a quality regular, even with his low batting averages. He’s a very good center fielder, and he has the secondary offensive skills to make up for the strikeouts.

It says a lot for Young that the A’s traded for him even with a Yoenis Cespedes-Coco Crisp-Josh Reddick outfield already under control for 2013. They didn’t need him, and they almost certainly would have given up Pennington for a modest prospect instead, but they simply couldn’t say no to this.

Oh yeah, and the Diamondbacks were nice enough to throw in $500,000 against Young’s $8.5 million salary for 2013 and $11 million option for 2014 (with $1.5 million buyout).

For an Arizona team with Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton to cover center, it still makes some sense. It may even make the team a little better. I just don’t think it was a proper use of assets.

It’s the Bell trade that’s flat-out foolish. For some reason, Arizona volunteered to pick up $13 million of the $21 million he’s owed the next two years.

Sure, it’s possible Bell will actually be worth that kind of money. But it’s hard to imagine anyone else would have taken on that much of his salary, which is why the Marlins were so quick to make the move. They felt they absolutely had to move him, and they’re jumping for joy that they had to eat a “mere” $8 million to make it happen.

Much of Towers’ strong rep as a general manager comes from the bullpens he built on the cheap in San Diego. Bell was a part of that, coming over from the Mets for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson before the 2007 season.

The Diamondbacks pen will likely be pretty good once again, too. But it will hardly be cheap. With both J.J. Putz and Bell earning $6.5 million, the Diamondbacks are set to commit at least $20 million to relievers next year, which is an awfully big chunk of a likely $80 million-$90 million payroll.

Maybe it will work out. Bell could bounce back and form a terrific setup tandem with David Hernandez in front of Putz. But it again seems like a poor use of assets. The Diamondbacks ranked sixth in the NL in bullpen ERA this year and were three runs allowed out of third place. The Bell gamble is a luxury acquisition for a team that might come up short on the necessities.

Mike Napoli and Rays have “mutual interest” in a deal

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.

Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.

Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.