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.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.