Heading into the 2016 season, not many National League teams were expected to compete for a playoff spot. The league was very top-heavy in 2015, and few non-contending clubs were in position to move into that upper tier this season. One of those teams many thought would be capable of making noise was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who made a flurry of surprising moves last winter, including signing Zack Greinke for $206.5 million and trading for starting pitcher Shelby Miller.
Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out. The D’Backs are just 38-53, and in last place in the NL West. They are 19 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants, and 11 games out of the second NL wild card spot. Between injuries and subpar play — Miller was optioned to the minors earlier this week — the 2016 season appears to be a lost one for Arizona. According to Nick Piecoro and Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic, the Diamondbacks will be sellers at the trade deadline, but won’t look to trade any of their young starting pitching like Patrick Corbin or former Robbie Ray.
The D’Backs will be dealing relievers, though. General manager Dave Stewart told reporters that righthanders Tyler Clippard and Daniel Hudson could be available for the right price. Stewart and the D’Backs have already dealt closer Brad Ziegler, a free agent after the 2016 season, and could recoup some value for their other short-term options as well. Hudson is a free agent after the 2016 season, while Clippard is due $6.15 million in 2017.
The Diamondbacks signed Clippard to a two-year deal worth $12.25 million last offseason. A longtime reliever for the Washington Nationals, Clippard pitched for the Oakland A’s and New York Mets in 2015. He has been very consistent over the years, allowing a 2.89 ERA with 653 strikeouts in 595 1/3 innings. However, his value may have dipped a bit when he allowed a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 postseason innings with the Mets last October. He has been his usual self this season, however, limiting opponents to a 2.97 ERA with over 11 strikeouts per nine innings in 36 appearances. His home run rate has ticked upward over the past couple seasons, but his four-seam fastball has a high spin rate that generates a lot of pop-ups and lazy flyouts.
Hudson doesn’t have the same shiny results or peripherals that Clippard does, but could be a decent buy-low option if the Tigers want another arm. He has a 4.91 ERA in 33 innings this season, but has a 3.81 FIP that is more in line with his career results. He has struggled a bit since transitioning to the bullpen in 2014 after having Tommy John surgery the year prior. He is striking out more batters in a relief role, though. His fastball velocity has ticked upward as well, reaching as high as 97 miles per hour this season. Hudson also features a changeup and slider that he throws regularly. Given his history as a starter, he could potentially slide into a multi-inning role as well.
The Tigers’ status as a buyer or seller is still up in the air, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, but it will likely take a very poor stretch over the couple weeks to push them into the seller’s pool. They are currently three games out of the second AL wild card spot, and don’t have many attractive trade pieces worth dealing at the deadline. Meanwhile, if they buy, they aren’t likely to add much salary, and don’t seem poised to gut the farm system for a top-tier starting pitcher
While this may set off alarm bells among the fanbase as Anibal Sanchez continues to get bombed in every start, boosting the bullpen would still help the Tigers’ playoff chances. Adding a bullpen arm allows the club to move Shane Greene back into the rotation, where he has shown flashes of promise despite inconsistent results in the minor leagues. The Tigers could also roll with Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris in the rotation, particularly if Boyd continues to look like he did in his final start prior to the All-Star break.
It’s not a perfect solution, but the Tigers are in a tough spot as they approach the deadline. Buying big seems like the best idea given their future payroll commitments, but may not be feasible if asking prices are too high. Plus, adding a cheap bullpen arm doesn’t preclude the Tigers from adding another pitcher later on.
(h/t MLB Trade Rumors)