Sitting just 4.5 games out of first place in the NL West (6.5 out of the wild card), it was just a matter of time before the Arizona Diamondbacks did something to fill that gaping hole they’ve had a third base all season. They came into the year with high hopes that Ryan Roberts would be able to duplicate his breakout 2011 numbers. When he failed, they turned to the underwhelming Cody Ransom. When that didn’t work, they tried bringing up Josh Bell. Another bust. They ultimately went back to Roberts, but for just a short time as he was soon demoted and traded and the D-Backs went with minor leaguer Ryan Wheeler while they regrouped and plotted their next move. That moved showed up on Sunday when Arizona announced they had traded minor leaguers Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss to the Astros for third baseman Chris Johnson. While the move gives the Diamondbacks and improved situation at the hot corner, it may not be so great for fantasy owners.
First of all, let’s establish the fact that we’re not dealing with some big-time, marquee player that’s going to light it up for his new team and turn heads throughout the baseball world. We’re talking about Johnson, a .279 hitter with middling power and strikes out 25-percent of the time. Is he an upgrade to what Arizona has had at third base all year? Most definitely. But is he leaving some unbearable stat-surpressing situation and moving onto greener, more lush pastures? Not really. His low contact rate isn’t going to suddenly increase with the move and there’s nothing indicating that it will help lower his 11.7 SwStr%. And in looking at his batted ball data, there’s nothing there that indicates he’s due for an upswing. In fact, his 26.8% line drive rate actually looks like it could come back down with a proportional increase in ground balls if we believe in a regression to the mean. Maybe the excitement of playing for a new team and a potential contender juices him up a bit, but how long will that excitement last? At best, he will likely stay exactly where he is. Maybe he gets a few more RBI chances with a stronger lineup hitting in front of him, but that’s probably about all you can hope for.
Another reason not to get too excited about this move is the home run power. Or is it the lack of home run power we should be talking about? Johnson has just eight round-trippers this season and all of them came at home in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. And of those eight home runs, at last three of them would have stayed in the yard had Chase Field been his home all year. Given the distance of Johnson’s home runs, all of them were considered better than “just enough” home runs due to the dimensions of Minute Maid Park, but a simple look at his spray chart with a Chase Field overlay, you’ll see that not only would three of them have stayed in the yard, but two more would have been considered “just enough” and could very well have been caught at the wall with a strong defender. While both parks are considered hitter-friendly, Chase Field’s dimension don’t play as favorably for the right-handed pull-hitter.
Now on the other side of the deal, the Astros get to build up their farm system a little more. Borchering has some decent power potential, but with just 21 games at the Double-A level and a 26-plus percent strikeout rate in the minors, he’s got a ways to go before making an appearance in the bigs. The same goes for Krauss who is also sitting down in Double-A ball. But what this trade does do for fantasy owners on the Astros side is open the door for the impending return of Brett Wallace. When the Astros traded Carlos Lee, the assumption was that Wallace would be brought up immediately. But despite word from Astros GM Jeff Luhnow that he would spend most of the remaining season in the majors, Wallace was held down. Since that time, he hit .417 with eight runs scored, two home runs, and eight RBI and save for one game in which he went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts, he only whiffed twice in nine games. He won’t hit that well up in the bigs, but with Johnson gone, you at least now have another NL corner infielder with some potential from which to choose as Wallace was en route to the big club as of late Sunday night.