PHOENIX — Do not let the Brandon McCarthy signing fool you. The Diamondbacks are not done with their offseason shopping.
In fact, with McCarthy in the starting rotation, the D-backs are even better positioned to make a trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter and/or a shortstop, their primary winter targets all along.
It takes two, of course. But they will remain active, and with an even deeper stack of chips.
At this point, there seems even less of a chance than there was at the winter meetings that Justin Upton and every one of the D-backs’ promising young starting pitchers will be here when spring training opens in two months.
The Nashville meetings were a starting point, a learning process. After face-to-face talks, the D-backs have a better feel of what it will take to get one of Texas’ shortstops or Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Tampa Bay may be out of play after trading James Shields to Kansas City for a package that included top prospect Wil Myers.
That knowledge certainly informed their decision to sign McCarthy, whose two-seam fastball should play well at Chase Field, even if the park is less pitcher-friendly than Oakland’s O.co Coliseum, where McCarthy played the last two seasons.
With McCarthy, the D-backs have a more experienced rotation, assuming he passes the physical exam necessary to finalize the two-year, $15 million free-agent contract agreed upon Friday, the day after the winter meetings ended (and the day after general manager Kevin Towers was in meetings until 6:30 a.m. attempting to make a deal).
Drop McCarthy into a rotation that includes Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley, and the D-backs have a front four that will give them a better-than-even chance just about every time out, a necessity in the NL West, as San Francisco’s two World Series titles have shown. That will leave youngsters Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer in competition for the final spot, but that’s OK. That’s the way it works on a contender.
The trickle-down effect from the McCarthy addition is that the pitching-rich D-backs have another young arm to deal, the key to the signing. Cleveland is said to want at least three young prospects in any deal for Cabrera, an All-Star who has two years remaining on his contract and is a solid two-way player who runs well and is a plus defender. Cabrera is the Indians’ best player, and they want to sell high to facilitate their rebuilding.
Cleveland was said to be seeking Bauer and, depending on reports, either Corbin or Skaggs in any Cabrera package. Losing two quality arms would be a high price for the D-backs to pay. At the same time, it’d be more palatable now that the rotation is one man deeper. Scouts still believe the old adage that it takes 10 arms to get one to the major leagues, but the D-backs would be dealing from strength.
Cabrera would be a major upgrade at shortstop, and the D-backs have even more pitching prospects at the lower levels of the minor leagues. Chase Anderson, David Holmberg and Archie Bradley are in that group. Bradley is the jewel, like Bauer a first-round draft pick in 2011. Any deal that includes a Bauer/Corbin/Skaggs piece would be made with the assumption that while Bradley is still several years away after spending 2012 at low-A South Bend, his mid-90s fastball will play at the top end of a major league rotation in the not-too-distant future. The D-backs, who also have an excess of outfielders, could put together a package of several young arms and an outfielder that would help now and not strap themselves in the future.
Texas still seems the best fit for Upton, but the Rangers may have to regroup now that top target Zack Greinke has signed a six-year, $147 million free-agent deal with the Dodgers. The Rangers were looking for a top starter in a rumored three-team swap, but Shields is off the market after going to the Royals.
The Rangers have spoken to free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton about returning, but it is unclear if the loss of Greinke will change their thinking. It also is not clear if the sides can reach agreement on contract length. Hamilton also has talked to Seattle, although that seems more of a fallback position.
Upton, who is to make $38.5 million over the next three seasons before he becomes a free agent, would be a cost-effective alternative to Hamilton, but he would cost the Rangers at least a shortstop, either Jurickson Profar or Elvis Andrus, and probably more. Every team in baseball would take Profar, but only the Rangers know if there is a package out there to get him.
The D-backs did a lot of good things in the week of the winter meetings: They deepened their bench with Valley residents Eric Hinske and Eric Chavez, solved the backup catcher position by re-signing Wil Nieves and added McCarthy to the rotation.
They continue to look for more. If they are done, it is not of their own volition.