Diamondbacks Swap Ian Kennedy Dollar for Bullpen Quarters

Understand that this is the trade deadline, so things are kind of busy. When things are kind of busy, you don’t have time to think about each individual thing in sufficient depth. The analyses you read today should be fine, but maybe they’ll miss some points. Maybe, right here, I’m missing some points. But the Diamondbacks traded Ian Kennedy to the Padres, and as far as Arizona is concerned, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed.

The whole deal is such: Kennedy is going to San Diego. In return, Arizona gets Joe Thatcher, Matt Stites, and a compensation round B draft pick. Kennedy’s 28, and he’s got two more years of team control. Thatcher’s 31, and he’s got one. Stites is 23 and relieving in Double-A. The draft pick is a high-but-not-too-high draft pick that’ll add to Arizona’s bonus pool. As intended, the Diamondbacks have improved their current bullpen. They’ve also cleared a little salary. And the Padres bought low on a potential quality starter.

At issue isn’t that Kennedy got dealt. He was feeling like the odd man out, with Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy rehabbing from injuries. It looked like Arizona wanted to move Kennedy, and sure enough, that’s the way things went down. At issue is whether the Diamondbacks got as much as they could’ve and should’ve, and ultimately they turned Kennedy into an older reliever, a younger proven reliever, and a pick. It feels like one of those trades where Kevin Towers didn’t work to get as many teams involved as possible. It feels like Towers sold low, and it feels like this offer should’ve been beat.

So, for the Diamondbacks, Thatcher steps in as a good new lefty. He’s a lefty specialist, in that he puts too many righties on base, but he’s better than Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds is coming back from injury. Thatcher’s a bullpen upgrade for a team that really wanted one, and in the event the Diamondbacks get to the playoffs, Thatcher could look particularly important, in the way that Marc Rzepczynski did for the Cardinals a few years ago. Of course, right now they’re on the outside looking in, but they’re close enough to justify buying. Thatcher’s good at what he does, and there’s a reason he was in demand.

Stites is just a relief prospect. He’s a good relief prospect, with a fastball in the mid-90s and a couple other pitches, and what he does best is throw strikes. What he isn’t is unhittable, and what he isn’t is a sure thing, since even established relievers are volatile. Relief prospects seem safer than they actually are, and every organization has a bunch of them. While Stites could have a long and lucrative future, he’s not exactly a team’s most valuable asset.

As for the draft pick, that’s mostly interesting in that it’s a reminder that teams can now trade some draft picks. Of course, there’s value there, for the slot and for the bonus pool, so the pick can’t be ignored. But it’s not a pick in the first round, and we shouldn’t over-state the added flexibility.

It feels like Kennedy should’ve brought more back. Maybe that’s just putting too much stock into what Kennedy was in 2011, but he’s still pretty young, his stuff isn’t diminished, and he can still get strikeouts. Kennedy’s problem is that he’s throwing a few more balls than he used to, and there don’t seem to be other signs of injury. His velocities are fine, his pitch mixes are familiar, and his release point is basically unchanged. Kennedy looks like a buy-low starter for a team in the Padres that badly needed to add some intriguing younger starters.

Maybe the most worrisome sign is actually Kennedy’s trade price. Maybe this is the best Towers could do, and it can be meaningful when the market sets a surprisingly high or surprisingly low price tag. Maybe teams have concerns about Kennedy that are justified, concerns maybe I don’t completely appreciate from here. Maybe there are excellent reasons to believe Kennedy’s never going to rebound, and this year his FIP- is 116. His xFIP- is 114. If this is all Kennedy is now, then he’s just a guy who used to be a more valuable guy. That’s the downside — that Kennedy’s simply declining.

But for the Padres, this gamble is worth the cost. Thatcher is a specialist reliever in his 30s, and as for Stites, the Padres have other good young late-inning prospects. The Padres recognized an opportunity to exchange limited value for potentially greater value, and if Kennedy rebounds even just a little bit, he could pitch at the front of the San Diego rotation for a couple of years. No bounceback is guaranteed, but no prospect is guaranteed either, and it’s encouraging that Kennedy’s stuff and release points are intact. He might just be a mechanical adjustment away, and two years ago he posted a 5.0 WAR.

In 2010 and 2012, Kennedy was just fine. In 2011, he was great. This year, his walks are up and his ERA’s up, but the peripherals aren’t dramatically changed. The Padres’ present rotation is disastrous and the organization has been plagued by injuries, so Kennedy adds talent, and if he does get things turned around, it’s worth noting he’s spent a lot of his life in California so he might be open to staying in San Diego for the long-term. That’s not something to worry about now, but Kennedy could have a future with the Padres beyond 2015. And the Padres could conceivably be pretty good by then, so it’s not like this is a thoughtlessly wasted opportunity to add someone who could help into the 2020s.

Ian Kennedy is a risk who’s having a down year, and according to the market, he was worth a couple relievers and a draft pick. More important for the Diamondbacks than keeping Kennedy was improving the bullpen, and the Padres had bullpen arms to move. Maybe it says something that this was the most Kennedy could fetch. But most simply, it looks like Arizona sold low and San Diego bought low, and there are worse ideas than buying low on a 28-year-old starting pitcher not far removed from being good. Maybe Kennedy won’t rebound, but the Padres have to be thrilled to have the opportunity to find out for themselves.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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tz
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tz
3 years 28 days ago

Wow. This time they didn’t have to dangle a guy on the trade block for a couple of years to get 50 cents on the dollar for him.

Taijuan Walker
Guest
Taijuan Walker
3 years 28 days ago

Didn’t they get Seattle to give Franklin + Walker for him? That’s pretty far from a Curtis Jackson on the dollar, no?

boog powell bbq
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boog powell bbq
3 years 28 days ago

There is one thing KT has historically been good at–bullpen arm evaluation. And he happens to be particular when it comes to guys he likes in those roles. I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say that he targeted Thatcher. Which is to say, there may have been deals for “more” on the table, and he preferred, all other things being equal, Thatcher.

Now, having said that, if San Diego can massage Kennedy into relevance (and the 36% GB rate suggests Petco is a better fit than Arizona), they can swap him in a year for likely more than they paid. It’s an absolute no-brainer for them, assuming the salary doesn’t matter to them.

batpig
Member
batpig
3 years 28 days ago

Another thing KT has historically been good at is fixating on trading for/away a particular player, often at the expense of getting the best overall value (*cough* Chris Young *cough* Justin Upton *cough* etc). This trade fits right into that mold, and as a Padres fan I’m glad KT is on the other side of it now.

boog powell bbq
Guest
boog powell bbq
3 years 28 days ago

I mean, that’s exactly my point with Thatcher. The question is though, how much more value do you need to return to put aside your player preferences.

And, fwiw, you mention Upton. But the deal with Seattle he brokered…kinda not bad, right? Franklin, Walker, Furbush, and Pryor? Yes, please! Nick Franklin might end the year with more WAR (and 50 fewer games) than Upton.

Taijuan Walker
Guest
Taijuan Walker
3 years 28 days ago

Whoa whoa. I’m easily the best player going forward in that deal, including Upton.

Cato
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Cato
3 years 27 days ago

The problem with the trade KT brokered to Seattle was the Upton told KT in advance that he was going to veto it. Pursuing that trade was basically pointless. While it would seem that it would establish a price for the rest of the market to meet to acquire Upton, it really just backed KT into a corner and helped him justify dealing Upton because at that point he couldn’t bring Upton back after another offseason of trade rumors.

And obviously the package from ATL was nothing compared to what Seattle offered. So if KT made that deal with Seattle knowing it would be vetoed but hoping to set the bar – well, that didn’t work out.

boog powell bbq
Guest
boog powell bbq
3 years 27 days ago

I reject the notion that Upton nixing the deal was quite the fait accompli it seems in retrospect.

Cameron wrote a thing about it: http://www.ussmariner.com/2013/01/10/justin-upton-reportedly-rejects-trade-to-mariners/

Worth a read.

primi timpano
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primi timpano
3 years 27 days ago

That trade didn’t happen. That was a fish that got away story.

Cato
Guest
Cato
3 years 27 days ago

KT is known a brilliant bullpen builder but how’s AZ’s pen looking this year? Maybe he does have an eye for relief talent but relief pitchers are such a volatile bunch that it’s hard to say to what extent KT has really put together quality bullpens. But even if he has it’s been at the expense of the rest of the roster. Most GMs could probably manage to assemble a quality bullpen by overpaying for relievers.

Drew
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Drew
3 years 28 days ago

Really dig this deal, sorta reminds me of the Colby Rasmus swap a couple years ago. Diamondbacks may get blasted for getting pennies on the dollar, but if they win now, it’s gonna alleviate a lot of that doubt.

If one of Kennedy or Ross could stick, 2014’s rotation may have some upside.

Richie
Member
Richie
3 years 28 days ago

Reminds me a little of the Ubaldo deal of a few years back. Kennedy’s gotta be worth more than this, yet apparently he’s not. But instead of the Rockies knowing the real poop on Ubaldo, apparently all of MLB knows why Kennedy’s not worth what he ought to be. With Pitch/FX not showing anything odd, either.

Alex
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Alex
3 years 27 days ago

The Rockies got 2 top 50 guys for Ubaldo, as well as two mid level guys…

Penelope
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Penelope
3 years 27 days ago

Yeah, but those 2 “Top 50 Guys” are busted. Pomeranz and White are doing a damn good job making the Indians look like the clear winner on that trade.

Jim
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Jim
3 years 28 days ago

I’m not a KT fan. In fact I think he’s made more bone-headed moves the past year than any GM, however, I really like this move. Living in AZ I see a ton of Dbacks games and Kennedy is lost. I am shocked the Dbacks got anything for him. His ERA is approaching 6:00. His velocity may not have dropped much but he gets way too much of the plate with his fastball and is getting hammered. I’ve seen hitters square up his fastball than anyone else I’ve seen this year. Also when runners get on base he loses all composte. Good riddance! He wasn’t worth the risks for the Dbacks. He’s hitting another year of Arb and will make around 6M next year. If he does turn it around you only have onerous year of control and Boras as an agent. Good luck. I like the return. Filled a huge bullpen hole and added other assets. I was afraid KT was going to trade Skaggs or Bradley for Bud Norris.

Colin
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Colin
3 years 27 days ago

Are the base runners stealing his compost? Because that’s not very eco-friendly.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 27 days ago

Gibby torched Kennedy’s value by putting him on the “you own me 100 pitches even if you have to give me 50 in an inning” plan. That’s the same plan that ended Daniel Hudson’s career (check out his last 10 or so starts, so brutal). The biggest winner in this trade is Ian Kennedy’s arm, or what’s left of it.

dave
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dave
3 years 27 days ago

“At issue is whether the Diamondbacks got as much as they could’ve and should’ve”

Let me stop you right there and remind you that Kevin Towers made this trade, so the answer is obviously no. This article should have been three paragraphs.

FeslenR
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FeslenR
3 years 27 days ago

agreed, but at least the Didi-Bauer swap seems to favor the Dbacks for now…

Sean
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Sean
3 years 27 days ago

And the Upton trade is starting to look more and more in favor of AZ…

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 27 days ago

Justin Upton is 1.5 WAR this year. Chris Johnson has been worth 1.9 WAR.

Martin Prado has been worth 0.4 WAR, Delgado has been worth 0.8 WAR, Ahmed has hit 68 wRC+ in AA, Zeke Spruill doesn’t seem promising and Drury is looking good but it is early to say.

Given 3.4 WAR vs. 1.2 WAR in the Braves favor and JUpton still being nicely signed until 2015, I don’t see how the D-Backs win.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 27 days ago

LOL, you mean the Upton trade is looking more and more like AZ just got hosed instead of hosed really hard.

Jason B
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Jason B
3 years 27 days ago

“And the Upton trade is starting to look more and more in favor of AZ…”

Kindly explain plz and thx.

dave
Guest
dave
3 years 27 days ago

Yes but it still showed a lack of foresight from the front office, they’ve done this a lot with letting everybody know how they really feel about their trade chips and then not getting as much in return as a result.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 27 days ago

Don’t we usually dismiss the stuff in the media as “GM speak” and half-truths anyway though. I don’t think D-Backs players are necessarily devalued when they are on the block, anymore so than other players might be. We do seem to hear about them more. Justin Upton was on the block twice before this last off season and was not moved, presumably the offers were not good enough to pull the trigger. Towers got a pretty impressive haul in the vetoed trade with Seattle and the AZ-ATL trade for Upton looks okay, at least so far.

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 27 days ago

KT did well in a fantasy trade that never occurred?

And he’s still losing the Upton trade. The trade made after KT, Gibby and Kendrick helped knock down Justin’s trade value by publicly trashing him.

So what’s your point?

Nolan
Guest
Nolan
3 years 27 days ago

Towers has a good history of acquiring relievers. But that sentence deserves a qualifier: He’s good at acquiring relievers when he gives up nothing to get them. Heath Bell (the first time)? Ben Johnson. Luke Gregerson? Khalil Greene. Mike Adams? Someone named Brian Sikorski. Joe Thatcher (the first time?) Scott Linebrink (after he was good.)

jwise224
Member
3 years 27 days ago

Jeff, I’m a huge fan, but this just isn’t a compelling piece to state that the Diamondbacks did poorly here.

I think we’re all apparently overvaluing Ian Kennedy. He’s 100% risk at this point, and a risk that costs almost $5 million a season. Thatcher’s a proven commodity, although a minor one. Stites has upside in a area of need. The comp pick has value with good scouting and development. Kennedy’s best chance is that Petco bails him out and that his Chase home runs turn into San Diego loud outs.

I think this trade is more even than people initially realize.

Cato
Guest
Cato
3 years 27 days ago

ATL paid almost nothing for Scott Downs. Thatcher can’t be that much better, if at all, than Downs. As rough as 2013 has been for Kennedy, it still seems like KT paid too much for Thatcher (and Stites and a pick).

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 27 days ago

The DBacks trashed Kennedy’s arm, so he might be worth almost nothing, but has a ton of upside if a more intelligent organization can help him bounce back by limiting his 40 pitch+ innings. But a fungible reliever with his potential minor league replacement are worth almost nothing with no upside.

dave
Guest
dave
3 years 27 days ago

I don’t really see any evidence to support that the Dbacks did something wrong with him. Think you’re reading too much into something that’s not there.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 27 days ago

BA said Stites has as much upside as any reliever in the high minors. He has big-time stuff and has walked just 8 batters in over 50 innings this season in AAA. Jeff is underselling him a bit here.

And regarding the pick, let me just ask Jeff and others: If your operating budget increased by 10% over last year, would you consider that significant? The continued poo-pooing of the value of the picks under the new rules is just knuckledragging nonsense. Really bad form for this site.

Dr B
Guest
Dr B
3 years 27 days ago

Stites is a quality arm, but hes been in AA not AAA. Also, according to Corey Brock, hes done for the year due to an appendectomy.

The pick is valuable, especially with new slot rules, but what player results from it is a complete unknown and it hardly cripples the Padres draft options. Kennedy is a mostly known quantity that shores up the Padres weak/inexperienced rotation for the next couple seasons.

Thatcher and Stities are both quality middle relief, but I would make this trade every day of the week.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 27 days ago

You either ignored or don’t understand the question regarding the draft. It has nothing to do with the Padres. They don’t lose anything, they don’t gain anything over what they would have had. The D’backs gain about a 10% increase in their budget, which they can use however they want. Those slot recommendations are just that. That’s the point. I’d love to hear someone come on here and state that a 10% year over year operating budget would not be extremely significant in their enterprise.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 27 days ago

And also had no comment whatsoever about whether or not it was a good trade for the Padres (FWIW: I do). I was just pointing out that the author completely downplayed that the AA reliever may have the most upside of any relief prospect in the game (and his appendicitis means nothing as they did not acquire him for this season), and that baseball writers either don’t understand the new draft rules, or are downplaying their impact in order to maintain a narrative.

Dr B
Guest
Dr B
3 years 27 days ago

Ah. Ok. I agree with you when you say the writer devalues the pick and stites.(although I dont follow why they would have an interest in being misleading about the new draft rules) I should have emphasized more, like I said, that the pick is valuable, more valuable with the slot rules. But at the same time, its a bit of a bird in the hand vs. two in the bush thing. Of course there is risk involved on both sides, but the Padres acquired a finished product vs. a potentially greater or worse unknown. Boils down to which team decides what level of risk is desirable. Even then the draft is still flexible, with a team being able to to manage their bonus slots through acquiring another pick or signing college seniors.

The D-backs certainly didnt get a bucket of balls in the trade, but I think its not a difficult price to pay. Anyway i think you are more interested in all the interesting nuances that trading slot bonuses create (and there are a lot) then me.

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente
3 years 27 days ago

So where has Kennedy’s slider gone? It’s MIA.

Lorenzo
Guest
Lorenzo
3 years 22 days ago

This trade does nothing to squelch the belief of a number of D’backs fans that Kevin Towers is still working for the Padres, but the bigger concern is the injuries to D’backs’ young starters, as well as injuries/ineffectiveness of relievers. There’s a real possibility that Kirk Gibson doesn’t know how to handle a pitching staff, and that’s a danger to the team’s strength, young starting pitching.

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