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Making sense of the Diamondbacks' quiet trade deadline

Jesse Friedman Avatar
August 7, 2022

From standing pat to potentially dealing one of the team’s young up-and-coming outfielders, there was always a wide range of possible outcomes for the Diamondbacks at this year’s MLB trade deadline.

President and CEO Derrick Hall told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta less than a week before the deadline that any moves the team made would be aimed at improving the big-league roster. That would have been an ambitious goal for a team that only planned to deal rental assets. It suggested something bigger could be in store.

In reality, no headliner deal progressed far enough to make any actual headlines. Ultimately, the Diamondbacks made two moves at the deadline. They dealt franchise darling David Peralta to the Tampa Bay Rays and reliever Luke Weaver to the Kansas City Royals.

The former netted 19-year-old Rookie League catcher Christian Cerda. Despite what Hall said about trying to get major-league talent, it was a classic rental-for-prospect swap — the type of deal that comprises the majority of trade deadline moves.

“The deadline, no matter how you slice it up, is designed for this to be the transaction that’s most likely to take place,” Hazen said in a press conference following the Peralta trade. “The ones where you’re trading prospect for prospect, it’s just a little more challenging because there’s always a backdoor in those trades.”

In return for Weaver, the Diamondbacks acquired 26-year-old third baseman Emmuanel Rivera. Although he has five years of control remaining, the Royals did not view Rivera as a long-term solution at third base, and it is unlikely the Diamondbacks do either — nor would it have been reasonable to expect that sort of return for a struggling reliever with one year of control. Nonetheless, Rivera is already on the major-league roster and figures to get playing time as a platoon bat against lefties.

After those two moves, nothing else came to fruition. According to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports, other teams weren’t offering what the Diamondbacks wanted for controllable assets such as Christian Walker and Joe Mantiply.

Manager Torey Lovullo acknowledged he did not have a good sense of what his team would do.

“The front office doesn’t necessarily share what’s happening along that journey,” Lovullo said in a pre-game press conference on Friday. “I was reading the same things you guys were. In fact, I was reading some of the things you guys were putting out.”

From a managerial perspective, having a mostly intact roster is certainly not a bad thing.

“I think it makes a statement about who we believe in and what direction we’re going in with the group that we have,” Lovullo said. “I want those players to understand that we’re here. It’s us, and we’re moving forward with a group of 26 that [is] here through the deadline.”

Ultimately, this trade deadline was defined more by the moves the Diamondbacks didn’t make than the ones they did. Here are five players the team could have — arguably should have — dealt, and the thought process that might have led them to hold off for now.

Zach Davies

Of all the players the Diamondbacks chose not to deal before the trade deadline, Zach Davies may be the most surprising. Davies is all but certain to reject his side of a $1.5 million mutual option for 2023, meaning he will likely become a free agent at the end of this season. Unlike with Peralta, the Diamondbacks elected to risk losing him for nothing rather than guaranteeing some sort of return.

To be fair, Davies was not likely to net a haul of prospects in a trade. He threw only 56 pitches in a rocky start on Monday in his first start back from right shoulder inflammation. By all accounts, it appeared the team may have accelerated his return to the big-leagues so that possible suitors could have a look at him before the deadline. It is unclear if his poor showing halted any possible trades, but it probably did not help.

Davies was a steady presence for the club prior to hitting the injured list on June 28. Prior to that point, he posted a 3.94 ERA (4.24 FIP), 1.19 WHIP and a .227 opponent batting average. Maybe the Yankees weren’t chasing him to start game one of the NLDS, but Davies has been good enough to help a contender down the stretch.

The Diamondbacks’ thin starting rotation depth was probably a factor in keeping him. With Corbin Martin struggling in his latest big-league stint and Tyler Gilbert out for the season, Davies has recently become that much more important. No team wants to promote its pitching prospects before they’re ready, and keeping Davies around through the end of the year may help the team avoid that.

Ian Kennedy

With a 2.73 ERA over his last 30 appearances, Diamondbacks reliever Ian Kennedy might have offered even more value to a contender than Davies. He showed it first-hand in Friday’s win over the Rockies, converting a save on just eight pitches. Lovullo said Kennedy will serve as part of a closer committee that he plans to use from this point forward.

Unlike Davies, Kennedy has a team option for 2023, meaning the Diamondbacks could bring him back for $4 million. Given Kennedy’s 3.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and .230 opponent batting average in 40 total appearances, that seems like a likely outcome. Retaining Kennedy essentially gives the front office a head start on its offseason to-do list.

Christian Walker

On July 21, Gambadoro reported that Christian Walker was one of two Diamondbacks players garnering the most interest leading up to the deadline (more on the other in a moment). 

Walker is having a puzzling season. On one hand, defensive metrics peg him as the best first baseman in baseball, and he’s striking out less and walking more than ever. He also is tied for fifth in the National League with 25 home runs, and he’s on pace to exceed his previous career high by a wide margin.

On the other hand, Walker is batting .202. We’ve been saying for months that Walker is having a breakout season in disguise, but the numbers have never quite caught up. He he has also made less hard contact of late.

Nonetheless, home runs are an important factor in playoff success, and Walker does that with the best. His first base defense could help a contender, too.

With two years remaining of control, however, the Diamondbacks were not under any pressure to make the move. They do not have any clear first base options waiting in the wings — other than possibly trying to use one of their many young outfielders at first base. Walker figures to play an important role on the team next season and possibly the year following. He is currently set to become a free agent following the 2024 season.

Still, it appears there was substantial interest, and it is entirely possible — even likely — that his value will never be higher than it is now.

Joe Mantiply

Diamondbacks left-handed reliever Joe Mantiply was the other name that reportedly drew significant interest leading to the deadline. Mantiply was an All-Star for a reason. He walked essentially no one in the first half, posting an excellent 2.16 ERA overall to date with success against both lefties and righties.

Mantiply is under team control through 2026 and has one more season of pre-arbitration. That makes him affordable for the Diamondbacks for several more years. Given the team’s long-standing bullpen struggles, their hesitance to part with an asset such as Mantiply is understandable.

Mantiply’s value figures to have been comparable to that of Scott Effross, a right-handed reliever controllable through 2027 who the Chicago Cubs dealt to the New York Yankees. In return, the Cubs netted right-handed pitcher Hayden Wesneski, who was ranked as the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline. 

Wesneski doesn’t project as a future ace, but 24-year-old starting pitchers with strong Triple-A numbers don’t grow on trees. Had the Diamondbacks been able to salvage something similar for Mantiply, it certainly would have been worth a look.

Relievers are baseball’s most volatile asset, and Mantiply’s value will almost certainly never be higher than it is now. Nonetheless, the Diamondbacks chose to bet on Mantiply’s continued success. For an organization starved of effective, controllable relievers for decades, that might be a gamble worth taking.

Merrill Kelly

It never seemed likely that the Diamondbacks would deal Merrill Kelly — and MLB insider Jon Heyman all but confirmed they wouldn’t on the morning of the trade deadline. Nonetheless, the team undoubtedly received plenty of calls on a guy who was just named the National League Pitcher of the Month for July.

Kelly is having his best season ever, boasting a 2.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and .226 opponent average in 132.1 innings. Much like Walker and Mantiply, Kelly’s value may never be higher than it is now, but it was probably that very reason that kept him in Arizona.

Kelly signed a very team-friendly extension over the offseason that could keep him in Arizona through 2025. He is arguably the best thing the Diamondbacks have going for them at the major-league level right now. It likely would have taken an overwhelming offer to pry him away.

Once again, the team chose to pass on a sell-high opportunity. Given how much Kelly has brought to the team this year, fans probably won’t mind watching him in Sedona red through 2022 and beyond.

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Top photo: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

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