After signing Zack Greinke and trading for Shelby Miller, the Arizona Diamondbacks looked like the early favorite to win the National League West in 2016. However, both faltered and Arizona allowed the most runs in the Majors.
Now the Diamondbacks have gone and traded for another young starting pitcher in Taijuan Walker, sending breakout second baseman Jean Segura to the Seattle Mariners. But is Walker enough to help the organization contend with the Dodgers for NL West supremacy?
Even though the front office has been revamped, the approach in Arizona still seems to be acquiring young, talented, controllable arms. Walker checks all those boxes, being 24 years old, having power stuff and being under club control through the 2020 season.
Walker has made 54 starts over the last two years. He’s shown solid walk (2.3/9) and strikeout (8.2/9) rates, but has also posted a 4.41 ERA and allowed 52 home runs (including 27 in 25 starts this season).
While he’s only 24, Walker does have some serious issues to address. Allowing more than a homer per start is a concern, and now he’s headed to Arizona where he’ll pitch half his games in what was the second most homer-friendly park in the Majors last season.
Walker’s other peripherals went in the wrong direction in 2016 too, with his strikeout rate dropping and his walk rate increasing. There is a silver lining, in a manner of speaking.
The right-hander was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right foot in June and, after a stint on the disabled list, returned to the rotation. It’s a safe bet that Arizona is attributing a good amount of his struggles to the injury, for which Walker had surgery last month.
Still, he wasn’t performing like an ace even when healthy, due to subpar command. And that doesn’t even account for who the Diamondbacks gave up in the trade.
When Arizona acquired Jean Segura, he hadn’t hit in two years and wasn’t seen as a viable defender at shortstop. So, of course, he moves to second base and turns in an All-Star quality season, finishing 13th in NL MVP voting and posting a 5-plus WAR in both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference’s metrics.
Granted, the Diamondbacks don’t have a problem scoring runs, what with their Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock and Jake Lamb and the like. But Segura was their best player this season and they just dealt him for a pitcher whose 2016 FIP was a hair under 5.00.
The rest of the deal could tilt in Seattle’s favor as well. While miniature lefty reliever Zac Curtis doesn’t seem likely to add significant value to the Mariners, outfielder Mitch Haniger changed his swing mechanics and suddenly looks like a someone who can play all three outfield spots and hit for power, if everything comes together.
On the other side, the Diamondbacks also receives Ketel Marte, a 23-year-old shortstop who hit well in 2015 but was one of the Mariners; worst offensive players this year, batting just .259/.287/.323.
Arizona traded from an area of strength and addressed a major weakness. However, the value they’re trying to add is highly contingent on the development of a young pitcher. That’s something the organization has struggled with recently.
This will be a huge test for the Diamondbacks new front office and coaching staff. If Walker finds his mojo, they’ll look like geniuses.
But it could easily blow up in their faces if Walker’s command doesn’t improve and Segura continues to hit. Either way, it’s not a move that puts the Diamondbacks back in the hunt for an NL West title.
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