PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks made a bold move involving two top prospects Tuesday when they acquired the player they believe to be their shortstop of the future, Didi Gregorius, and severed ties with top 2011 draft pick Trevor Bauer in a three-team trade.
The D-backs acquired Gregorius in a two-part deal that first saw Cleveland trade outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and infielder Jason Donald to Cincinnati for outfielder Drew Stubbs and Gregorius. The D-backs then acquired Gregorius, left-hander Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson for Bauer and right-handers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.
The acquisition of Gregorius almost certainly means that Justin Upton, the target of many conversations in the winter meetings, will not be traded. Texas seemed the prime suitor, and there was talk of three- and four-team deals that included him.
“I would say it is highly unlikely that we move Justin,” general manager Kevin Towers said. “I have not heard of a deal yet, and believe me we’ve talked about a lot of them, that makes us a better ball club. At this point in time, I don’t think it is going to happen.”
Towers likened Gregorius to a “young Derek Jeter, he has that type of range,” and said he was one of several young shortstops the D-backs targeted last spring, when they knew it was unlikely Stephen Drew would return. Andrelton Simmons (Atlanta) and Jurickson Profar (Texas) were believed to be among the high-end prospects on that list.
At the same time, Towers said there is no rush to get Gregorius to the majors in 2013. Gregorius, who will turn 23 in the spring, has played only one-half of a season above Class AA.
“He could probably play defensively right now in the big leagues,” Towers said. “He certainly is going to come into camp and compete with Willie (Bloomquist) and Cliff (Pennington) for the shortstop position. If he had to go back to Triple-A, I don’t think it is such a bad thing. Some Triple-A at-bats would be good for him. Fortunately, we are in a situation where we have depth in that area.”
A native of Curacao, Gregorius hit .300 in 20 at-bats as a September call-up in Cincinnati last year, and he impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .284/.333/.392 in 20 games with the Peoria Javelinas. Gregorius, 6-foot-1, has 20 home runs in 443 minor-league games after signing at age 17, and one scout said, “He has a chance at the plate.”
The D-backs also appeared to be in pursuit of Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera at the winter meetings, where the Indians were said to be seeking a package of three or four prospects in return. Gregorius is more attractive in one regard, in that he will be under team control for the next six years, while Cabrera is eligible for free agency when his contract expires following the 2014 season.
Gregorius hit .289 with seven homers and 44 RBI in 82 games in 2011 before hitting .265 with seven homers and 54 RBI in the minors last season.
“He’s got speed. More of a line-drive hitter, but I think he has the type of approach at the plate where I think there is going to be power there as well,” Towers said.
While it appears to be a meteoric fall from grace for Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft and the D-backs’ minor league pitcher of the year last season, Towers insisted the D-backs were not anxious to part with a pitcher who was virtually untouchable a year ago. He was included in the package, Towers said, because it was the only way the D-backs could get a shortstop they valued as highly as Gregorius. There have been numerous published reports of friction between Bauer and both the front office and teammates.
“The only reason we did this, it was a guy they asked about, a guy they had to have,” Towers said. “We weren’t shopping Trevor. There were other pitchers they asked about, but they demanded it had to be Bauer in this deal to get Gregorius.”
Bauer was 14-2 with a 2.33 ERA at Class AA Mobile and Class AAA Reno in his first professional season, when he won two Pacific Coast League playoff games and started the Aces’ Class AAA championship game victory, although he did not get the decision.
His major league time was much rockier. He threw six shutout innings to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-1, on July 8, but he had command and control issues in his other three D-backs’ starts, striking out 17 but walking 13 in 16 1/3 innings. Bauer strictly adhered to the extended warmup regimen and throwing program that helped him set Pac-12 strikeouts records at UCLA in his first season with the D-backs, although by the end of the season his fastball velocity was down from the 96-97 mph range into the 90-91 mph range. Bauer called teammates and admitted he made mistakes in 2012, D-backs president/CEO Derrick Hall said at a team golf outing and fund-raiser in November.
“He did not have quite the success in the big leagues, but not often do young pitchers have immediate success,” Towers said. “My gut is this kid is going to have a very good career. My hope is that this is a win-win for both sides, Cleveland and us.
“He was a tough guy to part with. It is always going to come down to fastball command for him. If the fastball command is there with the repertoire of pitches that he has, there is no doubt in my mind he is going to be a successful major-league pitcher. We are just fortunate we have depth and we are able to acquire a premier shortstop.”
The addition of Sipp adds a situational left-hander to what appears to be the strength of the team, the bullpen. He joins recently acquired Matt Reynolds (Colorado) as a second left-handed reliever. Sipp is 11-7 with a 3.68 ERA in four seasons, all with Cleveland and he is durable, having logged 70, 69 and 63 games in the last three seasons. Lefties hit .209 against him last season and have hit .215 against him in his career.
Albers and Shaw fell down the pecking order in the bullpen with the trade that brought in veteran Heath Bell from Florida. Anderson adds depth at first base.