You Know Who Would Have Helped the DBacks?

The Diamondbacks have capitalized on the Giants’ offensive ineptitude and slew of injuries, winning eight of their last 11 games and taking a two-and-a-half game lead in the National League West. A year after losing 97 games, the team is primed for a playoff push. Arizona hasn’t missed a beat, despite issues that might have taken down a lesser team. Losing Stephen Drew and lacking an everyday first baseman might push other teams out of the race, but the Diamondbacks are playing some of their best baseball right now.

Their success is a testament to an improved bullpen, potent offense and a young, effective starting rotation. But the rotation would be even more potent these days had the team not made a questionable trade last season — a trade that seems even stranger by the month and is still without reasonable justification. It’s a trade that — if avoided and all else were held constant — would likely have the D-backs with a firm handle on a playoff berth. It’s a trade that sent one of the best starters in baseball, Dan Haren, to the Angels for Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs, Rafael Rodriguez and Pat Corbin.

The trade looked bad at the time, but now looks even worse given how quickly Arizona has improved. Teams don’t tend to deal much for one and a half years of a starter — as evidenced by the returns on Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke — but Haren was signed to a team-friendly contract and had $25.5 million remaining through 2012 when the trade went down. His contract also had an affordable-given-how-great-he-is option for $15.5 million in 2013, with a buyout of $3.5 million. That was worth a great deal.

What makes the trade look even worse is that the team already had a good deal of money coming off the books. Brandon Webb‘s contract had expired. Chris Snyder, Chad Qualls and Conor Jackson were traded. Edwin Jackson brought Daniel Hudson. Adam LaRoche‘s option was declined. And Bobby Howry wasn’t brought back. With the Haren trade, the team was seeking salary relief but it wound up dealing off one of its most valuable assets for 60 cents on the dollar.

An ace with three and a half years left on a team-friendly contract is worth a lot more than a fourth starter, two high-risk prospects pitching in the low minors, and a reliever who can’t strike anyone out. Skaggs and Corbin have looked good in the minors so far, but by the time they’re ready to make an impact in the majors, the Diamondbacks might be in a different position.

Which brings us to the present, where the team seems caught in a troubling zone of being a contender without acting like one: hoping that Willie Bloomquist could hold down the fort at shortstop and that Jason Marquis could shore up the back end of the rotation, are but two examples. The bullpen already was solid this season, but the team decided to trade Brandon Allen in exchange for Brad Ziegler.

Some of these decisions could have been avoided had the team better assessed where it was headed and held onto Haren for at least another season. The Diamondbacks have a solid group of young players and modest payroll commitments into the future. But it sure seems like five years from now we’ll acknowledge the Haren trade as one of the biggest baseball-management mistakes of the decade. That the deal came with an interim general manager only makes it stranger.

Sure, Arizona might win its division this year — and it could certainly succeed in the postseason with a Kennedy-Hudson-fronted rotation — but boy would the Diamondbacks have been scary with Haren as the ace of that group.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


46 Responses to “You Know Who Would Have Helped the DBacks?”

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  1. NEPP says:

    But, but, but, Joe Saunders is a wiley veteran and a gamer. You can’t put a value on his clubhouse presence!!!

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    • Notrotographs says:

      He’s a winner.

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    • Preston says:

      I don’t hate the Saunders acquisition. He’s an adequate major league starter. This guaranteed that the D-backs got something in return for Haren. In trades just featuring prospects there is a chance you get zero big league production in return for a star player. Ultimately whether this trade is good or not is almost entirely dependent on how good Skaggs become. If he is a solid 3 WAR pitcher for six years and pairs with Kennedy and Hudson than this trade has made the D-backs relevant and fiscally responsible (somethng they weren’t in prior seasons).

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  2. Evan says:

    Great article. That deal is hard to figure out. Also hard to figure out why they’d trade Allen when they need some 1B help.

    I will admit having Willie bloomquist a’s an everyday shortstop has been much more successful than I would have guessed.
    Nice job

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  3. Jerome S. says:

    From what I hear, the trade isn’t *quite* as bad as it seems. It’s not like all they got back was Saunders. I have heard that Skaggs is a legitimate prospect. That has some value.

    The problem, of course, that you pointed out is that the D-Backs are in a win-now situation. Prospects be damned! They got a downgrade in the short-term. Over the long-term there’s a chance the trade might rectify itself, but if it doesn’t help the D-Backs win this year it’ll be awful hard.

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    • skippyballer486 says:

      Skaggs is in Baseball America’s mid-season top 25 prospects. #19 if memory serves. I’d say that’s quite a bit better than a “legitimate prospect,” which to me means somewhere between #250 and the top 100. Of course, Dan Haren is one of the best pitchers in baseball, so this was still a bad trade, in my opinion.

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  4. Telo says:

    The Haren trade was an absolute head scratcher at the time, and still is, but I will say that Skaggs and Corbin do at least look like they have decent potential to contribute. Will they provide as much value under team control as Haren’s surplus over that juicy contract? The magic 8 ball says no, but it could be not quite as embarrassing as we all thought it would be.

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  5. Nitram Odarp says:

    Skaggs isn’t in the low minors. He’s already made 7 starts in AA and posted a dominant 2.70 FIP there. Pretty impressive for a guy who just turned 20 about a month ago. And he cracked the top 20 prospects on BA’s midseason list. The issue isn’t the return the Dbacks got for Haren, its that they unexpectedly turned things around so quickly.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      I disagree. A fourth starter and a top 20 prospect is still not worth several years of an ace. Unless Skaggs turns into an ace himself, which is still not particularly likely, the return is just not good.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        Skaggs has to turn into an ace or else the return is not good? That’s one of the more insane things I’ve ever read. Let’s say Skaggs give you 20 WAR over his 6 seasons of team control (nowhere close to ace level), that would still work out to a surplus value of around 70 MM or so. That much surplus value, in addition to the other pieces you got, wouldn’t be a good return for Haren?

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      • SKob says:

        Considering that logical people thought Arizona would suck for the remainder of Haren’s contract, I think it’s personally reasonable to get excited about a top 20 pitching prospect.

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  6. James Lewis says:

    While the D-Backs may not have gotten all they could have for Haren, I have a hard time giving Arizona much grief for not “better assess[ing] where it was headed and h[olding] onto Haren for at least another season.” The team was coming off a 97 loss season. I’d be very interested in knowing how many 97 loss teams have ever made the playoffs the following year because I’d imagine its not many.

    Additionally, you even admitted that the D-Backs current situation is surprising when you consider their lack of a legitimate 1B and their dependence on the very surprising contributions from guys like Bloomquist. How then, do we get from this point to criticizing Arizona for not reading their current situation correctly, when by all accounts it has been unpredictable?

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    • Nitram Odarp says:

      Hindsight is fun isn’t it

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    • James says:

      Because at the time of the trade, the return seemed pretty poor (no prospects near MLB-ready) in comparison to what they gave up (5+ WAR/yr ace), and now, it just looks worse.

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      • Andrew says:

        How does it look worse? When Skaggs was traded, he was considered a #2 pitching prospect, and from how he’s been developing, looks like he will achieve it and may be called up next year. Corbin has definitely been a pleasant surprise, and even though Saunders is a 4th starter, he’s provided value to the team.

        If you look at the list of prospects that Sabatahia, Lee, Halladay, and Greinke fetched, Skaggs is probably better than any of them. For some reason, great pitchers don’t bring in great hauls.

        Also, as mentioned above, NOBODY thought the Dbacks were going to be any good this year. During spring training, I read several pieces quoting scouts that the Dbacks had the worst talent of any team in the AZ spring league.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        How does it look worse? One of the guys they traded for has shot all the way up into the top 20 prospects in baseball.

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      • Colin says:

        The trade looked awful when it was made. Skaggs was pretty far down the list in terms of prospects, he was barely in the Angels top 10 albeit from limited experience.

        Now it actually looks pretty decent as Skaggs looks like he might even turn into an Ace pitcher himself.

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      • KG says:

        You all are talking as if it’s definite Skaggs will develop into a quality major league pitcher. This is, unfortunately for the Dbacks, not a given at all. He’s a good prospect, but, as they say there is no such thing as a pitching prospect – they flame out at terribly high rates, even highly rates ones. To trade a great pitcher for someone who, if EVERYTHING shakes out right, might one day be a good pitcher is a terrible deal. Similarly, one wonders how the Ubaldo trade will look in the coming years.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        No one is assuming Skaggs will be a good pitcher in the bigs. We’re simply asking how a trade looks worse after one the main pieces in the trade shoots up prospect rankings. If one of the assets you get goes up in value, that generally makes things look better on your end.

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      • James Lewis says:

        I agree that the haul could have been better, and in fact I mentioned that first thing (although i would disagree that it looks worse now), however this doesn’t speak to my main point. If we are saying that Arizona could really use Haren since they are having to rely on surprising seasons from unheralded players, how can we also criticize them for not seeing that coming and holding onto Haren?

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  7. Hurtlocker says:

    I think it’s context. The Dbacks basically sucked last year, the pitching staff was terrible and the team was trying to shake things up. Even the most optimistic Dbacks fan would not have dreamed the team would be this good in Aug of 2011. Haren also has had much more success with the Angels, which makes the trade look even worse.

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  8. Woodman says:

    Tyler Skaggs is one of the best pitching prospects in the game. Having a rotation of Bauer, Skaggs, Kennedy, Hudson and probably Jarrod Parker will make D-backs fans drool. That’s assuming Archie Bradley will take a while to develop.

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    • Ben says:

      Right but the point of the article is that you could have had that same rotation except with Haren instead of Skaggs . . .

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      • Preston says:

        But this rotation will be much cheaper and controlled longer. The D-backs are at the bottom in both ticket prices and attendance. They can’t afford to spend the money Colangelo did when they won the series.

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  9. LionoftheSenate says:

    It’s always about building for the future….oh, wait, what happened to that line stat geeks?

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    • Preston says:

      It’s about building for the future if you can’t compete now. The Haren trade makes sense when last year you look at the team and say we can’t compete. But their resurgence this year seems to show that they may have underestimated their team.

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  10. michaelfranko says:

    It was a questionable trade, but considering it was made by an interim man who was trying to do something bold in hopes of getting hired next year, it could have gone a lot worse. At least they got two legitimate prospects in return and it isn’t like you can’t start Joe Saunders; he’s not Luke Hochevar.

    And who is to say that this is a season representative of the current talent level of the team, anyway? We’ve got some big FIP outperformers, some guy named Ryan Roberts having an All-Star season, and Gerardo Parra going bonkers on UZR.

    Remember how the Padres interrupting a string of awfulness with little hope for improvement with an out of nowhere 89 win campaign last year that won the division?

    I mean, it’s never really a good idea to trade an ace before the last minute, but it’s not like a Jeff Bagwell for a reliever kind of deal.

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  11. Andrew says:

    How unoriginal is this article? Fangraphs posted an article almost exactly like this a couple months ago when the Dbacks started their hot streak.

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    • Mandrew says:

      Well, judging by the fact that none of the other 41 commenters have complained or noticed, this is a pretty applicable piece now, too. Probably more so than whatever was written at the beginning of the D’backs hot streak.

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  12. Randy says:

    Haren had to be traded because ownership is too cheap to field anything other than a luckbox contender, like this years team is.

    This team was inherited from previous administrations. Montero, Johnson, Drew, Parra, Young, Upton, Goldshmidt, Kennedy. Hudson is only here because Josh flipped Mad Max for two frontline starters and one of them fetched Hudson.

    Our new GM tried to trade upton, but fortunately failed. He flipped Reynolds for two relievers, one is garbage, the other has helped solidify the pen, but left a huge hole at third (Reynolds leading Orioles in HR, XBH and walks), so it’s questionable he got as much as he could there.

    The difference between this team and last years team is that the same guys are playing better (well enough to overcome the managers prediliction for wasting outs on the basepaths) and the bullpen is far luckier.

    Ryan Roberts has been the savior, but you always can’t count on one player having a career season. Bringing in Bloomquist, Burroughs, Nady, et al is an indictment of this GM’s lack of understanding of value, as well as the tight spending restrictions this ownership put on him.

    The debts from the 2001 championship are almost completely paid off. Kendrick doesn’t have any legit excuses anymore, the tide has gone out and we can see that he isn’t wearing pants and has no intention in paying for any.

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  13. Pat says:

    This team wasn’t as bad as they looked last year, just goes to show (gasps) how important a good bullpen can be sometimes. They still had a good lineup last year and their rotation was decent, but Kennedy is pitching on a different level this year and they have a full season out of Hudson which is helping a lot. Other than that, not a lot of huge differences between the teams.

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  14. MrKnowNothing says:

    As a Giants fan, I point out that they’ve been successful despite not having a true 1B, 2B, SS, LF, CF, RF, or C all year.

    THAT is overcoming adversity!

    (In response to the DBacks overcoming the loss of Drew)

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    • hunterfan says:

      I’d say that probably speaks less about overcoming adversity and more about how the NL West is the worst division in baseball.

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  15. From the title, I thought this was going to be about whether or not Lord Voldemort could have helped the D-Backs.

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  16. will says:

    doesn’t matter cause giants are making postseason

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  17. Eddy says:

    At the time of the trade the D-Backs were awful. Having an Ace (who didn’t play as such for the team) making a large salary made no fiscal sense for a bad team. Considering Haren’s performance at the time, getting an innings eater and legitimate prospects while not having to contribute to Haren’s salary was a great deal for a team EVERYONE thought had no chance of competing for years. Writing an article based on the hindsight of the team’s surprising start and saying the deal done by an interim GM (who also traded for Hudson, btw) was shortsighted is completely unfair based on the situation of the team at that time. When Houston or KC overspends on players instead of playing their prospects they get crucified. The reasoning for the Haren trade was sound.

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  18. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    It sometimes seems odd to me that losing teams always try to trade their best players for talent. Sometimes teams have a losing season because of some real bad luck ( for example injuries to several key players, or real good luck by several competitors), and sometimes they lose due to a lack of talent. If it is a lack of talent at the major league and minor league level then trading away top players to restock is wise (age), but if you just had bad luck destroy your season then it make little sense to me to trade and restock. Your going to get a good draft pick (partial restock). Every win has some marginal value to revenues, so a wholesale change is going to drop revenues and brand quality. Plus, if your top players leave as free agents you get some free draft picks. So keep the wins and revenues and hope for better luck next season.

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  19. Ken Schwarz says:

    Your article fails to mention that Saunders has been good, and Tyler Skaggs with be a starter next year. Dan Haren wears down every September, and will not help the Angels down the stretch. The Angels will not make the play offs this year, and the Dbacks will with Skaggs coming in next year. If you knew anything about building a team, you would realize that AZ. Got the better deal. I’ll even put Saunders up against Haren in sept., and we’ll see who fares better.

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  20. anonymous says:

    Is this article a joke? The Dan Haren trade was absolutely necessary. The dbacks were on their way to another last place finish, they had to clean house. Pretty much every trade made that season benefitted the dbacks. Snyder to PIT freed up payroll, Edwin to CHW got a major league ready pitcher (Hudson) and a good prospect and freed up payroll, Dan Haren to LAA freed up payroll and got a few top prospects and Saunders. My only gripe with the Haren trade is we got back a lot less than we gave up to get him originally. Other than that the trade actually looks pretty good in hindsight. Saunders has pitched well this year and even though he probably won’t be back next year he was a good stopgap and will turn into a pick. The other players in the deal will really decide how this looks a few years from now, mainly Skaggs. He’s been great at A+ and AA and looks like he’ll be in the MLB rotation sometime next year. The biggest part of the deal for the short-term was freeing up a lot of money. That extra money turned into free agents like Putz, Bloomquist, “role-players” like Blanco, and adding depth to the AAA team that helped the big league club out throughout the year. Looking back, the dbacks actually got a pretty good deal. Haren had an ERA around 4 and from what I’ve heard he wasn’t exactly excited to be in AZ anymore. So when you look at the entire package they got from trading one guy it looks pretty good right now.

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  21. Sean says:

    Did everyone forget that Haren was sucking ass last year in AZ? In 21 starts he was 7-8, 4.60 ERA. They weren’t trading away ACE Dan Haren, they were trading a ’95 F-150 and hoping to get anything half decent for it. In that context the trade was alright.

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