The initial rumors are always obscene.
The Angels checked in on Jose Fernandez, but the Marlins countered with Mike Trout, Andrew Heaney, samples of Gene Autry's DNA, and "several prospects close to the majors."
It's the old Far Side cartoon about how nature says "Do not touch." When the Braves are asking about A.J. Pollock in a Shelby Miller trade, they're basically telling the Diamondbacks to forget about a trade. They didn't have to trade Miller. They had three years to see if he would be around for the next good team. They had all the leverage.
The Diamondbacks had the motivation, though. Their plan was to push all of their chips into the middle of the table and growl, "All. In." Then they sat back and hoped they weren't at the roulette table because that would be embarrassing. And from this perfect combination between the two teams, a delightful cocktail was created. It's the all-in/all-out gimlet with a twist of SWEET CRAP WHAT. And it's something we need to dig into.
Here's what both teams got out of the Shelby Miller trade.
What the Braves got out of the trade
The 2016 Braves were already going to be bad. Unfathomably bad. When I was growing up in the mid-'80s, I would turn on TBS to see how badly the Braves were losing, then flip to Danger Mouse. No good reason for turning them on in the first place. Just wanted to see how badly they were losing. The '16 Braves had a chance to be that bad with Shelby Miller.
Once a team is that bad, that committed to the rebuild, the only saving grace for fans is the draft the next June. If the draft is a crapshoot, the first-overall pick is a stock tip from someone who probably knows what he or she is talking about. Could fail. Probably a good bet, though. It takes months and months and months of losing to earn that pick. That pick is a covenant with the cosmos, a promise of better days. From these ashes, we have earned ... Ken Griffey, Jr.
The Braves might get one of those next year. But they just picked one up in December. Dansby Swanson might turn into Matt Bush. The smart people who pay attention to these things think that he's a pretty safe bet, though, possibly on the Kyle Schwarber fast track. He's a shortstop with patience, power, defense, and just enough speed. Sure, he's just a prospect. But when it comes to first-overall picks, remember that careers like those of Bob Horner or Pat Burrell almost err on the side of disappointing, and that's ignoring the advances in scouting and analysis over the last two decades.
If Swanson isn't at least as good as Jason Kipnis, I'll eat a piece of black licorice. Like, an entire vine of it. That is my promise to you, person who will remember this in 2019. He wasn't the only return for the Braves, though.
The Braves also got Aaron Blair, traditionally projectable right-handed power arm.
/throws on pile of other power arms
The Braves have a type, they do. And they're accumulating arms, hoping to come out the other side with a Harvey/Syndergaard/deGrom/Matz of their own. It's almost like they've heard stories of what a dominant, peerless rotation can do over a decade or so. But that's all just speculation, I'm sure.
And then the Braves got Ender Inciarte, whom WAR suggests is better than Shelby Miller at this very moment. Let Dan Szymborski and his ZiPS machine tell the story:
ZiPS for Inciarte in Atlanta. pic.twitter.com/RevMTNMf1R— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 9, 2015
Miller is more valuable for his three years. Inciarte is around for five, though, and cheaper, too. It's a wash? Even if you're skeptical of defensive stats that drive value like a good baseball fan. But the Braves also picked up that first-round pick that the Diamondbacks worked so, so hard to secure. It was their reward for making their fans sit through the 2014 season of misery. And now it's in the Braves' hands, a reward bought on store credit.
And they'll still probably get that first-overall pick next year. Or close to it. All they had to give up was any hope of 75 wins.
What the Diamondbacks got out of the trade
Let's dig up that list of first-overall picks again. There's Bob Horner, implicitly and explicitly mentioned in the paragraphs above. Braves fans have nice Bob Horner memories from that pick. They get to cheer him when he's introduced before a home game, and maybe they have a Bob Horner bobblehead in the office. Other than an NLCS appearance, though, they don't have a lot of memories of the Bob Horner Era, capitalized because it was just that special.
Then there's Adrian Gonzalez, traded for Ugueth Urbina, a closer who would be out of the league two years later and in a Venezuelan prison after that. It was the most lopsided trade in history, except ... hold on ... what if Urbina doesn't throw seven solid innings against the Cubs in 2003? What's the butterfly effect of that series? Do the Marlins lose the series? Do the Cubs win? Is Dusty Baker a lock for the Hall of Fame? Does a normal owner learn from the defeat and turn the Marlins into the big-market powerhouse they always should have been?
Dunno. But we know what happened, and the Marlins won the World Series. Maybe not because they dealt their first-overall pick, but it certainly didn't hurt. Urbina was a part of the pachinko machine that led the Marlins to a surprising World Series win, even if Gonzalez was about five times as valuable over the rest of his career.
Revamping the Rotation
Revamping the Rotation
Urgency and timing, then. The Diamondbacks feel the urgency, and they're trying to make their own timing. There are a lot of great players around the league who will miss the postseason in 2016, just as they did in 2015. The Diamondbacks saw a roster with Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, two of the best players in the National League, and they looked toward the future, when a billion-dollar television deal would guard against the leanest of years.
We can't waste Paul Goldschmidt, said the voice in the back of their heads. We simply can't waste him.
That's not a voice you can ignore completely. The Diamondbacks spent $200 million and the first-round pick who was supposed to lead the next generation. And their top pitching prospect. And an already productive, young, defensive wunderkind.
Goodness, the Diamondbacks gave up a lot.
The sense of urgency is real, though. It's a legitimate concern. The only thing the Diamondbacks know is that they have (x) talent right now, and that sure is a lot of talent. Then they somehow found themselves with a new $200 million ace. This is not my beautiful Zack Greinke. This is not my ... oh, good lord, we need to keep going.
And that's how the Diamondbacks trade that much for Shelby Miller, who is still a mercurial young pitcher instead of a bonafide ace. He was untouchable in the first half, merely good in the second half. The team is counting on the first half, at least more of it, along with the cheap labor that he provides for the next three years. The strikeout rate isn't elite, even if the arm is widely admired and the youth is promising.
Me? I would have rather signed Jordan Zimmermann and Wei-Yin Chen with that Greinke money, then traded Aaron Blair and Ender Inciarte for one of those fancy Indians pitchers, if possible. And I would have held onto Dansby Swanson like he was the only one with my house keys. Unless the Marlins came back around with Jose Fernandez, but only then. There were a lot of permutations of this offseason that weren't this dramatic, and perhaps a little less risky.
But I can at least appreciate the urgency, that voice in their heads. Don't waste Paul Goldschmidt and ... dammit, is that A.J. Pollock? Don't waste that guy, are you kidding me, what are you doing?
It might work. The odds are against it, but it might work. A division title against the big-money Dodgers and the smug even-year Giants? In the first year of a billion-dollar TV deal, where the goal is to grab the entire state by the ears and scream, "LOOK AT US. LOOOOOK AT US," the Diamondbacks are doing well. They're winning the offseason, at least in terms of improving for 2016 and making people care. Bring up the 2015 Padres if you want, but the Diamondbacks were starting from a stronger spot, and they spent their money on a stronger pitcher.
Just ignore the part where Welington Castillo might hit fifth, or how Yasmany Tomas might be Delmon Young, or how there's still a lot of work to be done, and the margin for error might not be as forgiving as it used to be.
- Greinke, Miller, Corbin
- Goldschmidt, Pollock
Championship teams have been built from lesser head starts. They just had to give up hundreds of millions and their future to get there. And considering the WAR difference between Miller and Inciarte, they might not be much better than they were on Monday. But they have the sense of urgency. That's something. If they add to that sense of urgency, both before March and at the trade deadline, this wacky reshaping of the franchise might not have been for naught.
Goodness, the Diamondbacks gave up a lot. Goodness, the Braves got a lot. They had different goals for 2016, though, and they both seem a little closer to achieving them. We'll see in about eight months if Dave Stewart is a prophet or a punchline.