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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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
Taijuan Walker

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