The Arizona Diamondbacks currently await a decision by Matt Williams to waive his no-trade clause and accept being a part of a 4-for-1 deal to the Rockies. Meanwhile, aside from a gentleman's agreement between Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo and veteran free agent Mark Grace, the D-Backs will have no players with major-league experience at first base should the deal clear. Grace should re-sign soon and rather than debate whether or not that is a good thing, I wanted to suggest that another option is available. Why not hand the first base job to 25-year-old rookie Lyle Overbay. Overbay surely will get significant playing time and will take over the job in 2004, but why not give him the job now and re-sign Grace in a supporting role.
At 38, Grace finally started to show his age. His vaunted defense is now below the park-adjusted league average. His .737 OPS in 124 games was below average. His batting average (.252) was below .280 for the first time in his career. His doubles and home runs were way down. I cannot foresee the Diamondbacks returning to the playoffs with Grace playing more than a supporting role.
Overbay was their 2001 minor-league player of the year in Double-A. In 2002, he batted .343 with 19 home runs, 40 doubles, 83 runs, 109 runs batted in, .525 slugging percentage, a .392 on-base percentage, and a .917 OPS in 525 at-bats at Triple-A Tucson in 2002. Overbay has been unimpressive in two short September stints with the D-Backs over the last two years. This year he drew only 10 pinch-hit assignments with one hit (a single), one RBI, and five strikeouts. In two years he has two hits in twelve at-bats with 6 strikeouts and no walks. That alone tells me that the D-Backs are not looking to him having a starting role for 2003, but I think it's a mistake.
Let's look at the trade as a whole and determine what its ramifications are for both teams. The D-Backs who are supposed to be strapped for cash will be trading four players who combined will make less about $1 million less in 2003 than Larry Walker ($12.5 M). Matt Williams will get $10 M in 2003, which is the last year of his contract. Erubiel Durazo and David Dellucci made $375 K and $775 K respectively in 2002 (I couldn't find Bret Prinz's figures but it's likely around $300 K). Not only that but Walker has at least three years and $38.5 M owed him.
Walker will fit in nicely with Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez giving the D-Backs a very good outfield in 2003. Walker is one of the few Rockie players whose road numbers are respectable: 1.124 OPS at home .917 away in 2002. He has also hit well at Bank One Ballpark. Over the last four years, he has a .364 batting average, 13 runs, 2 home runs, 12 runs batted in, and a .949 OPS in 85 at-bats at the BOB. It does suggest that his home run total, which projects out to 11 in a season (based on his 477 2002 ABs), may drop off, but of course this is based on a small sample of data.
With Williams gone, Craig Counsell will apparently take over permanently at third. I cannot say that having corner infielders with a .699 (Counsell) and .737 (Grace) OPS is a good thing. But they do seem to like the Craig Counsell in Arizona.
Durazo's and Delucci's departure thins the bench, especially as far as left-handed bats are concerned. Only switch-hitting Quinton McCracken and Overbay/Grace currently will be available for left-handed pinch-hitting duties. Prinz was not on the playoff roster and is expendable.
Arizona increases their payroll and weakens themselves at the corner infield positions and in depth off the bench. Walker seems like a good match but is getting older and will be 39 in 2005 and will make $12.5 M.
Colorado is revamping their team based on a philosophy that fully embraces their offensively minded ballpark:
General manager Dan O'Dowd has finally admitted his initial philosophy about how you win in Denver -- with speed and pitching -- was a good try, but incorrect..."That approach just doesn't work," said O'Dowd. "I understand that now. In Denver, pitching is neutralized and speed is no factor, except on defense. And defensively, it only helps you in the middle of the diamond. The rest of your lineup needs to be offense-based. You just can't build a team here the same way you build it anywhere else." (ESPN)
Williams will take over for the departing Todd Zeile at third. The outfield will be an amalgam of the Dellucci, just-acquired Preston Wilson, Gabe Kapler, Jay Payton, Ben Patrick, and Jack Cust. Durazo, if he accepts a move from first, may join that mix. More likely the Rockies will look to trade Durazo to one of the many clubs that need a first baseman right now (the Red Sox, Braves, and whoever loses the Thome sweepstakes-the Indians or Phils-come to mind). Prinz will become one of many arms sacrificed to the homer gods of Coors.
I would call it a win for the Rockies. Though no team would make the trade, Durazo for Walker straight up may be a decent one. Walker plays a harder defensive position and plays it better and has a ton more of experience and all those nice intangibles, but he will be 36 next season, seven years older than Durazo. He also makes $12 million more. Williams will be a placeholder for at least a year, Dellucci may get a chance to start, and Prinz is a role player. There are two problems from the Colorado point of view: 1) their outfield is now unstable with, apparently, two iffy mid-season pickups and Wilson as their starters. 2) The best player for them in the deal, Durazo, is a first baseman and they have Todd Helton already. This could all just be a step in the Rockies' off-season rebuilding process. Perhaps Durazo and Neagle will be packaged for a solid corner outfielder. At worst, this trade frees up a big chunk of change for the next three years for a franchise that is rebuilding.