Not too long ago, I wrote about the Diamondbacks and their surplus of outfielders. They had five viable outfielders, including three who could play a decent-to-good center. They had a sell-somewhat-low candidate to peddle in Justin Upton, and they had a sell-high candidate in Jason Kubel.
When a team has an embarrassment of riches like that, I always figure their plan is to be patient. The Diamondbacks could set up a little stand on the side of the road, offering their wares for a ridiculous price. And when Nick Swisher signed somewhere, they'd raise their prices. When Shane Victorino signed, the prices would go up a little more. When Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, and Angel Pagan signed … you get the idea.
When the dust settled, the Diamondbacks would have the best selection on the market. Power, speed, defense … other teams could mix and match, paying a steep price for the player they player they felt they could afford.
That was the idea.
Instead, the Diamondbacks turned Chris Young into an all-glove shortstop. They also got a no-hit shortstop prospect who Baseball America thinks might need to move to third base. And, uh, they got Heath Bell.
I keep staring at that return like it's a piece of modern art, as if I'm just too obtuse to get it. Maybe the Diamondbacks see a hitter in Cliff Pennington who was beat down by his home park, and who suffered through a fluky-bad season in 2012. If he can hit like a league-average shortstop, as he did in 2010 and 2011, Pennington is quite valuable. Maybe Arizona's scouting department sees oodles of untapped potential in Yordy Cabrera, who is still just 22. Edit: Cabrera went to the Marlins for Heath Bell. Sloppy mistake, my bad. I don't understand the idea behind paying $13 million for Heath Bell right now.
As a straight swap, I can almost see Pennington for Young. Anyone who remembers the expectations for Young when he was getting established in the majors is probably apt to overrate him. He was supposed to be a five-tool wunderkind, and when it became obvious he wasn't going to hit for average, the other four tools were so strong, he still had a chance to be a perennial All-Star. He's now 29, and six seasons, his low OPS is .711, and his high is .793. His average is .755. That's pretty danged predictable. It's probably time to accept Chris Young, useful cog, and forego any expectations of Chris Young, future star.
He's going to make $8.5 million, too, so it's not like he's an under-the-radar bargain.
So I don't have a problem with a Pennington-for-Young swap in theory. Pennington isn't a free agent until after the 2015 season, so if the Diamondbacks are right and they get an Aaron Hill-like renaissance in a hitters' park, they'll have a long-term solution at a tough-to-find position. I might even be tempted to call the Diamondbacks the winner of that swap based on risk/reward, even before Bell is added to the return.
The big question with this deal has to do with the timing. Why now, before the World Series is over? Why before teams can negotiate with the free-agent outfielders, get their hopes up, and miss out on the free agents they were counting on? There are a few outfielders on the market, but just one of them has anything close to the defensive value of Young -- B.J. Upton, who is probably going to be a rich man by next season. The loser of the Upton sweepstakes might have turned their eye to Young.
Instead, it was Pennington or bust. The timing of the deal suggests that was the Diamondbacks' guy from the start. They targeted him and got him as soon as possible. They didn't want the bazaar of the offseason.
Good for them. But, man, I'd love to know what offers would have been there in December. The Diamondbacks don't really have a lot of holes -- their outfield is full, the rotation is overstocked when healthy, and they're set at first, second, and catcher. A shortstop or an upgrade on Chris Johnson at third would have been the easiest targets. They got their shortstop. This might be the offseason for the Arizona Diamondbacks, more or less.
I can't tell if this deal lacks imagination, or if it's so imaginative that it's over my head. It sure is an early move, though. It's early and decisive. That's worth a few bonus points, I suppose.