The trade: The Atlanta Braves trade right-hander Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Ender Inciarte, right-hander Aaron Blair and shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Miller is the big name here but the Braves got an absolutely terrific haul of talent for a dependable, mid-rotation starter. Heck, Inciarte may be worth more than Miller by himself and is certainly proof that executives Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa are out of touch in the analytics game. Miller posted a 3.02 ERA for the Braves -- ignore that 6-17 win-loss record as he received no run support -- while pitching a career-high 205⅓ innings. He's under team control for three more seasons. Inciarte, in his first full season in the majors, hit .303/.338/.408 with 21 steals and off-the-charts defensive metrics. Baseball Info Solutions credited him with 29 Defensive Runs Saved, second-best among all position players behind only Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays. That helped Inciarte put together an outstanding WAR:
Inciarte -- 5.3
Miller -- 3.6
Inciarte -- 3.3
Miller -- 3.4
Inciarte's metrics were also outstanding in 2014, so the defense appears legit. He'll get a chance to play center field for the Braves. The offense is the bigger question mark as he hit just .227 against left-handers compared to .332 against right-handers. He doesn't have much power and doesn't walk, so he needs to hit close to .300 to be a plus at the plate.
But he was just one player in the trade. The Braves also got Blair, a hard-throwing 23-year-old whom MLB.com recently rated as Arizona's No. 3 prospect after reaching Triple-A in 2015, and Swanson, the team's top prospect and first overall pick in the 2015 out of Vanderbilt. Both project as potential top-30 prospects in the game entering 2016. Not including those players who never made the majors or didn't sign, Swanson could become just the fourth No. 1 overall pick to debut with a team different than his draft team, joining Shawn Abner (drafted by the Mets, debuted with the Padres), Adrian Gonzalez (drafted by the Marlins, debuted with the Rangers) and Josh Hamilton (drafted by the Rays, debuted with the Reds).
The Braves have been on a path of dumping and tanking since last season and the Andrelton Simmons trade earlier this offseason was received with mixed reviews. I'm the first guy to say "Beware of prospects," but this looks like an absolute steal for Braves GM John Coppolella, even if Blair and Swanson turn out to be merely solid major-league regulars.
The reason: The Diamondbacks wanted another veteran starter to pair with Zack Greinke atop their rotation and apparently didn't have the patience to wait and see if they could sign Mike Leake or another free agent. Tony La Russa loves veteran starters: Think back to his Oakland days, when the A's acquired guys such as Bob Welch, Mike Moore and Scott Sanderson; or with the Cardinals, when he and Dave Duncan brought in pitchers like Andy Benes, Todd Stottlemyre, Woody Williams, Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse. Miller, a young veteran, fits that mold.
How good is he? His command remains shaky enough -- he ranked 64th among 79 qualified starters in walk rate -- to prevent him from being considered a No. 1 or No. 2 starter at the moment. He has consistently outperformed his FIP, perhaps due to a real ability to induce soft contact (he ranked 17th among qualified starters in a stat called "Well-Hit Average," which is the percentage of balls viewed as hard hit.
Yes, Miller is an upgrade over the starters Arizona ran out in its rotation last year, and clearly La Russa and Stewart didn't believe Blair was ready to make an impact in 2016 (the stalled development of Archie Bradley hasn't helped, either). The price was steep, however.
The impact: Arizona does have a solid rotation now:
1. Zack Greinke
2. Shelby Miller
4. Robbie Ray
As I mentioned when they signed Greinke, Corbin and Ray were solid in partial seasons last year and if they can maintain that over 30 starts, this will be one of the better rotations in the league.
But is the team better? They smartly held on to A.J. Pollock but this now means Yasmany Tomas takes over in right field on a full-time basis, a huge downgrade on defense from Inciarte and not necessarily an improvement at the plate. The big Cuban hit .273/.305/.401 as a rookie. That 110/17 strikeout/walk ratio suggests to me that pitchers will continue to exploit his aggressive approach and that his raw power potential may not materialize. We'll see; maybe he'll hit better with a year of acclimation under his belt.
Look at it this way: If Miller is a 3-WAR pitcher, maybe that's a three-win upgrade over Arizona's internal options; but Tomas may be -- generously -- a three-win downgrade from Inciarte (thanks to bad defense at third base in 2015, he was worth minus-1.3 WAR). Of course, it's possible that Miller is better than that and that the D-backs sold high on Inciarte and that Tomas hits 25 home runs and learns to draw walks. Maybe.
The Greinke signing only cost the Diamondbacks money; this trade, however, doesn't necessarily make them better and is likely to haunt them in the future.