NASHVILLE — The Braves and Diamondbacks just announced that the deal everyone was talking about last night is now official. The Diamondbacks got Shelby Miller and lefty reliever Gabe Speier in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte, righty Aaron Blair and shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, who happened to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
The baseball merits of this began to be argued about immediately and, if you’re even remotely plugged-in as a fan you already know the contours of the arguments. The Braves and their sympathizers think they just poured rocket fuel into their rebuild, getting a steal from Arizona for Miller. The Diamondbacks and theirs think they made a strong win-now move that, given the fact Miller is under team control for three years and projecting prospects can be a difficult business, is not exactly an exercise in mortgaging the future. Put in extreme terms, Braves fans think they’re on the Dallas Cowboys’ end of the Herschel Walker deal. Dbacks fans think they just unloaded Todd Van Poppel.
While my sympathies run with the Braves — I’ve been a fan of theirs since the Reagan administration — I’m not exactly a homer. I’ve been highly critical of Braves ownership and management in recent years and I’ve been decidedly negative about the current rebuild. Not so much in execution — I think the Braves front office has done well in most of the deals they’ve made — but in overall conception. I hate the fact they feel they have to rebuild like this and that they’ve never provided a great explanation why they are. At least without reference to financial constraints that are, given the wealth of team ownership, entirely arbitrary and self-imposed. But that ship has sailed and the rebuild has long been underway, so any more complaining about that says more about me than it does about the Braves.
I offer that only to let longtime readers who are aware of my rooting interests know that I am not viewing this through a fan’s rose-colored glasses. I’m actually inclined to be a grumpy, complaining Braves fan. So, with that disclaimer out of the way and within the context of a functional reality in which the Braves do have to rebuild, there is no escaping the fact that the Braves got a dang steal.
All of this goes back to last year’s Jason Heyward trade, of course. That’s when Atlanta decided that they wouldn’t or couldn’t re-sign him and traded him to St. Louis for his walk year for Miller. The calculus of that in and of itself was pretty simple: four years of control of a solid young starter is better than one year of Heyward + a compensation pick when he hit free agency. If nothing else had been done, that pick would’ve been someplace late in the first round or after the first round, depending on who signs Heyward. Instead of that, the Braves now have the number one overall pick from the 2015 draft in Swanson without having to pay him a signing bonus. And that’s just for starters.
Starters because they did get Shelby Miller. And Tyrell Jenkins, who was also in that Heyward deal. And they’re getting Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair. The overall trade in terms of years and control can now, if you want to look at it this way, be described as one year of Jason Heyward for one year of Shelby Miller, six years of Jenkins, six years of Aaron Blair, six years of the overall number one pick in Swanson, and five years of Ender Inciarte who, everyone seems to be forgetting, is a spectacular defensive outfielder and may, in fact, be worth more than Miller is on a one-to-one basis right now. That is a massive, massive haul, especially in a day and age when team-controlled players and defense are coveted like no other time in baseball history.
The Diamondbacks’ side of this is understandable in a certain context. They just backed up the Brinks truck for Zack Greinke and have an offensive core with Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta and A.J. Pollock which seems poised to put the Dbacks into serious contention in the N.L. West. As the Cubs, Dodgers and a lot of other teams have shown lately, however, you need more than one big-dog starting pitcher to make some noise and the idea of pairing Miller up with Greinke and Patrick Corbin make a potential playoff series look a lot more winnable than Corbin, Robbie Ray and, um, other guys.
It’s madness, however, to talk about playoff rotations in December. Or even in April. There is so much baseball to actually be played and the fact of the matter is that, while a decent-looking team, Arizona has not made themselves leaps and bounds better. They finished 13 games back of the Dodgers and the NL Wild Card teams last year, and Zack Greinke doesn’t give you a 13 game swing in the standings, even when you’re taking him away from a division rival. In light of that, the fact that the Dbacks’ outfield just took a MAJOR defensive hit and the other holes still remaining on the club, there are no guarantees that Miller will pitch any more playoff games in Arizona than he would’ve had he stayed in Atlanta. Indeed, at the end of his time in Sedona Red, Teal, Black, Gray and whatever the hell other colors the Dbacks will put him in, the Braves will just be beginning to see what all of the shiny toys they got from Dave Stewart and Arizona can do in the bigs.
All of which makes one wonder if the Dbacks have several more moves up their sleeve. Moves that, given how thoroughly the Braves have ransacked their minor league system (Remember Touki Toussaint? Seriously Dave Stewart, delete John Coppolella from your contacts list) would have to come in free agent deals. But when you start talking about such things you start talking about older players who are very expensive and who stand as relatively short-terms solutions given where they are on the aging curve. Tony La Russa is likely directing this show. Dave Stewart is carrying it out. Because of La Russa’s age and win-now temperament and because of Stewart’s Renaissance Man-like career arc (he could be an agent or in the media in a couple of years if he wants to be and may well be) one wonders whether this trade and some of their other moves have been executed with an eye toward the long-term success of the club as opposed to an eye toward raising a little hell at the 2015 Winter Meetings and worrying about how it plays after season ticket sales have been completed.
There is now baseball to be played, of course. A lot of baseball which could reveal that, yes, the Braves did get a few Todd Van Poppels here and that the Dbacks not only friggin’ went for it but got it. Sitting here at the Winter Meetings, however, talking to some of the smartest baseball minds there are, running numbers, playing probabilities thinking of futures more plausible than fanciful, I am struggling to see how the Dbacks didn’t just get fleeced.