Is Shelby Miller To D-Backs
An Epically Bad Trade?
While It Is Still Early, It Is Already Well On Its Way To Going Down In History As Epically Bad — Akin To Donald Trump At A Quinceanera
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
July 20, 2016 — This season, the Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotation has looked less like a collection of professional athletes and more like a group of actors pretending to play baseball poorly in an ill-advised remake of Major League. While poor pitching is nothing new for recent iterations of the Dbacks, this group’s awfulness is surprising because it was supposed to be the team’s strength after the front office spent gobs of money and talent last offseason to acquire Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller.
While Greinke rounded into form more or less (before suffering an oblique injury that put him on the shelf since early July), Miller has been “50 Cent throwing out a first pitch” bad . And that is really bad news for Diamondbacks fans, because the team not only expected him to be a solid number two starter; it also mortgaged the future to bring him to town.
In order to pry Miller away from the Braves, Arizona gave up lots of talent, notably former first round pick and Baseball America top-20 prospect Dansby Swanson. In return, the Diamondbacks expected to receive the pitcher who never posted an ERA above 3.75 since entering the league in 2012. Instead, the Diamondbacks got a less offensive version of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura, a pitcher who seems to have talent but can’t put it all together.
Miller is a literal knuckle dragger that has already given up 13 home runs in 2016, the same amount he allowed all of last season, en route to a ERA over 7.00. Now he’s sitting in the minors trying to figure out how his career turned into the baseball version of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, the Braves received a high-ceiling prospect that many experts expect to reach the majors in due time and become a perennial all-star. They also got a starting caliber (though admittedly struggling) centerfielder in Ender Inciarte and a young (also struggling) pitcher with middle to front end rotation potential in Aaron Blair. I wonder if Tony LaRussa has ordered Diamondbacks GM and former MLB pitcher Dave Stewart to throw at his own head because he made this trade.
Despite the recent awfulness of this trade, it is still much too early to judge it completely. That being said, if Swanson develops into even a shell of the player many scouts think he will become and Miller doesn’t return to form, it could very well end up as one of the worst trades in MLB history.
Don’t believe me? Swanson is currently Baseball America’s 17th best prospect and his pre-draft profile from Major League Baseball lists Derek Jeter as his professional comparison. Thus far, he looks to have above average skills at the plate and in the field to go with good speed, a decent arm and middling power.
Then there’s Inciarte and Blair. Despite playing poorly after a lengthy stint on the DL to start the season, Inciarte has still put up better WAR than Miller (1.6 to -1.1) largely bolstered by his excellent outfield defense, which is something the Diamondbacks are sorely missing right now. Blair, on the other hand, has basically been Miller this year, putting up a 7.99 ERA to go with an 0-5 record for the Braves. But, even if he flames out, Inciarte’s above replacement level play and Swanson’s potential mean that the Braves likely came out way on top in this trade in the long run, and it could even become one of the worst trades of all time if Swanson really is the next Jeter.
Still don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some similar trades that ended up paying off in droves for one team while making the other look more foolish than Donald Trump at a quinceanera.
On a side note, I am going to look at trades in which both teams are motivated by winning. By that, I mean I am not going to look at trades like Babe Ruth to Yankees or Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox. While one team definitely got the better end in those deals, they don’t really compare to the Swanson-Miller swap, because those previous trades were motivated more by fiscal concerns than anything else.
Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks
Before Curt Schilling became your conservative uncle’s favorite racist Facebook meme, he played baseball. In fact, he was actually pretty good at it. So good, in fact, that teams just kept trading for him. And no trade serves as a better template for the Miller debacle than the one that sent Schilling to the Dbacks.
When Dansby Swanson was still in diapers (or briefs; I’m no good at math), the Dbacks went all in to acquire Schilling, a good-maybe-great pitcher, from the Phillies by trading some promising young talent and quality veterans for Red Light Curt.
Prior to winning World Series championships with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox later in his career, Schilling established himself as a legitimate ace with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1992-2000. During that time, he won 101 games and posted an ERA of 3.35 and a WAR of 36.8.
Despite that success, the Phillies opted to trade Schilling to Arizona in 2000 for a haul of Omar Daal, Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla. There’s no Swanson in this trade, but Lee was a young, still-promising first baseman with 30+ home run potential and Padilla was a young pitcher with middle of the rotation upside. The Phillies didn’t get completely hosed in the deal (Padilla and Lee put together a few decent seasons for the Phils and compiled a total 6.6 WAR combined with the team) but this is still an awful trade from the Phillies end because of what Schilling went on to accomplish, which was a lot.
Major League Baseball’s Donald Trump went 58-28 over four seasons with Arizona, posting a 3.14 ERA and a WAR of 26.0. Oh yeah, and he also helped deliver Arizona’s only World Series championship in 2001, earning MVP honors in the fall classic. And then he did all of that bloody sock, curse breaking nonsense with the Red Sox.
As a baseball fan coming of age in Arizona during those year, I almost have positive feelings for the guy. Almost. If he wasn’t such a completely awful human being, I would probably remember Schilling’s time in Arizona fondly.
Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros
This trade could be titled “When going all in goes wrong.”
In 1990, the Red Sox were fighting for a pennant, so the team traded promising minor leaguer Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for bullpen help in the form of 37-year-old Larry Andersen. This trade made some sense at the time as no one was moving Mo Vaughn off of first base in Boston (without the help of a backhoe) and Andersen posted a 1.23 ERA for Boston as it clinched first place in the AL East.
I am just kidding. This trade made no sense. It doesn’t make sense to trade a AAA journeyman catcher with a good personality for a middle reliever, let alone a prospect hitting well over .300 in the minors. To add insult to injury, Andersen pitched in 15 total regular season games for the Red Sox before leaving for San Diego, and Bagwell blossomed into one of the best first basemen in recent memory in the field and at the plate, collecting 449 home runs, 1529 RBI a .297 average and a .993 fielding percentage over 15 years with the Astros. He also won the 1991 Rookie of the Year award, the 1994 NL MVP and made four All-Star games.
Bartolo Colon to the Montreal Expos
This may be the trade that most accurately mirrors the Diamondbacks deal for Shelby Miller, though the circumstances are a bit more perplexing. The Expos were competing for first place in the NL East in 2002, so they traded for ace pitcher Bartolo Colon from the Cleveland Indians to bolster their chances and gave up a king’s ransom to get the not yet 300 lbs starter. It didn’t work as the Expos finished in second place and the San Francisco Giants took the wildcard. Worse yet, the Expos were on the verge of relocating to Washington, so the strategy of mortgaging the future for one last hurrah made little sense at the time and even less now.
The Expos gave up Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore to get Colon, who did pitch well for the Expos (10-4, 3.31 ERA) before leaving in free agency. At the time, Lee was probably the Swanson of the deal as Baseball America ranked him as the 30th best prospect in baseball in 2003. Be that as it may, every player the Indians received ended up putting together some great performances at the Major League level (though Phillips did it for the Reds).
The Expos (or Nationals) would have eventually had their ace if they had just held on to Lee. After a few seasons spent figuring it out in Cleveland, he developed into a solid number one in 2008 when he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and won the Cy Young Award.
Upon making the big leagues, Sizemore fashioned himself into something of a Mike Trout-light, a speedy centerfielder with plus power and great defense. He stayed that way for several seasons before chronic back injuries derailed his career. Still Sizemore managed to bat .269 with 150 home runs and 516 RBI over eight seasons in Cleveland and was a three time all-star. His best season came in 2008 when he had 33 home runs, 98 RBI and 38 stolen bases.
Phillips, meanwhile, has developed into probably the most talented and reliable second baseman of his generation outside of Robinson Cano, year in and year out. Since becoming a regular starter for Cincinnati in 2006, Phillips has compiled a WAR of 29.6 and hit .278 with 186 home runs and 813 RBI.
In effect, the Expos traded 10 All-Star appearances, a Cy Young Award and three front line starters for 10 wins from the biggest body in baseball.
Will Swanson turn into a Bagwell, Sizemore, Lee or Phillips or will he simply be forgotten like the slew of players the Diamondbacks gave up for Schilling? Only time will tell. But if Miller doesn’t turn it around soon (and stop the knuckle dragging), that won’t matter.
At this point, the Miller trade is a total bust simply based on the fact that the Diamondbacks have paid him several million dollars just to toss batting practice to opposing hitters.
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