As odd as trade looks, don’t condemn Diamondbacks just yet
Like most everyone else, I find it perplexing that the Diamondbacks were willing to give up the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft, right-hander Touki Toussaint, in what essentially was a salary dump late Saturday night.
By contrast, I loved that the Braves essentially bought a top prospect for about $10 million in acquiring Toussaint and right-hander Bronson Arroyo for infielder Phil Gosselin, who might never be more than a bench player.
But the mass condemnation of the D-backs, at least by some writers and analysts on Twitter, makes me suspicious — especially because the intelligentsia might have taken a much different view of such a deal a little more than a decade ago.
Toussaint, 19, was drafted out of Coral Springs Christian Academy (Fla.). He is in his first full season of professional baseball. And while he is less of a risk than he was at the time he was drafted, he most likely is years away from the majors, and hardly a sure thing.
My initial reaction, too, is that the Braves did something very smart, at a time when spending limits on both domestic and international amateur players limit the ability of teams to access young talent.
But consider what author Michael Lewis wrote in "Moneyball" about the 2002 draft, in which eight of the first 10 selections were high school players.
"The selections made are, from the A’s point of view, delightfully mad. … The worst teams in baseball, the teams that can least afford for their draft to go wrong, have walked into the casino, ignored the odds, and made straight for the craps table."
Lewis was guilty of overstatement — not every high school player fails, not every college player succeeds — but he was relating the Athletics’ perspective, which was Billy Beane’s perspective, which evolved into the intelligentsia’s perspective at the time.
Toussaint, now a year out of high school, looks like anything but a bust — he had a 3.69 ERA in seven starts at Class A Kane County essentially without throwing his curveball; the D-backs, according to a major-league source, wanted him to focus on his fastball and changeup.
But who’s to say the D-backs are fools?
The trade amounts to an ultimate savings of more than $7 million once you subtract Toussaint’s $2.7 million signing bonus from the amount owed Arroyo. The D-backs — who, like the Braves, are proving surprisingly competitive — can now redirect that money toward acquisitions at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Or, they can use it on free agents in the offseason.
Should a team that recently signed a 20-year deal for more than $1.5 billion with Fox Sports Arizona even be operating in such fashion? Fair question; the D-backs also saved about $3.25 million in their recent trade of Mark Trumbo and lefty Vidal Nuno to the Mariners, in which they received catcher Welington Castillo, reliever Dominic Leone and two prospects.
The old saying that you can never have enough pitching is true, and the Braves are adhering to that philosophy by acquiring as many young arms as possible. The D-backs, though, counter that they added to their own stockpile by selecting five straight college pitchers in the 2015 draft after making Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson the No. 1 overall pick.
Toussaint might prove better than any of those college pitchers — the 2015 Baseball America Prospect Handbook said he "has ace potential if he tames his control." If he were a free agent right now, he would command considerably more than what the D-backs are saving.
And still, snap judgments in this game so often are proven wrong.
D-backs general manager Dave Stewart and chief baseball officer Tony La Russa are easy targets — they’re old school, refusing to embrace analytics in the manner of most clubs. But already perceptions are changing on their $68.5 million signing of Yasmany Tomas, who has a .797 OPS as a rookie after some projected that he might be a bust. The D-backs’ foundation of position players overall is encouraging — which, I suppose, is yet another argument against trading a top pitching prospect.
I get it. I also love what the Braves are doing under president of baseball operations John Hart, and not just in grabbing prospects. Think of how far the Astros and Cubs fell before their respective rebuilding programs started to bear fruit. Now look at the Braves, whose record is only two games worse than it was at this point last season, when they still had Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Craig Kimbrel — and whose future is decidedly brighter than it was nine months ago.
The Braves have had their missteps as well; three of their acquisitions since Hart took over — righty Arodys Vizcaino, lefty Andrew McKirahan and catcher Chris O’Dowd — are serving 80-game suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs. The team also blew $5.5 million by releasing right-hander Trevor Cahill after acquiring him from the D-backs, though that trade was connected to a separate deal in which Hart landed yet another young arm, left-hander A.J. Minter, with the 75th pick in the draft.
Hart’s strategy is aggressive, and it already is proving effective. But this idea that he snookered the D-backs on Toussaint … well, let’s wait to see how it plays out.
Let’s see how Toussaint develops. Let’s see how the D-backs reinvest their savings. Let’s take a deep breath before acting so sure that yet another hyped prospect is guaranteed to succeed.