D’backs 2013: Why the Upton trade won’t hurt — much

Charles Nagy

D’backs pitching coach Charles Nagy won 129 games — all for the Indians — in a 14-year career, but is best remembered for one he lost: Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. The 3-2 loss in 11 extended the Indians’ World Series drought — they haven’t won since 1948. Thank God for the Cubs. The winning pitcher — Jay Powell — is little-remembered; it was his only win in 11 postseason appearances. Nagy was on turn to start Game 7, but was skipped for Game 4 starter Jarrett Wright, who allowed just two hits and a run in 6.1 innings. Nagy allowed 14 home runs in 84 postseason innings — including three in his Game 3 start. From 1995-99 Nagy won at least 15 games every year, and pitched at least 200 innings in the last four. A first-round draft pick out of the University of Connecticut, he spent 13 of his 14 seasons with the Indians. Nagy finished his career with a 129-105 record, 4.51 ERA and 22.5 WAR,

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: One of Kevin Towers’ first moves as D’backs GM was to dump third baseman Mark Reynolds, presumably because Reynolds struck out too much and hit little else but home runs. If not for the Justin Upton trade (more on that later), the D’backs might have replaced Reynolds with someone who strikes out too much and and doesn’t homer enough. Matt Davidson will soon be 22 and has 63 career minor league homers and 482 strikeouts. Davidson is a moderate version of Reynolds: he has just a .266 career minor league average and one strikeout every 3.7 at-bats. Reynolds fans once every 2.6 at-bats, but he homers once every 16.4; Davidson just once every 28.4. Every 12th at-bat or so, moderation isn’t as much fun.

What is this man doing here? I’m not sure why failed first base prospect Kila Ka’aihue is in camp, but perhaps the D’backs needed a vowel. Ka’aihue has almost as many of those as he’s had extra-base hits in three failed attempts to establish a beachhead of a big-league career. Spread over four seasons, Ka’aihue has a .221 average and .687 OPS in 411 at-bats. That would be enough to make the D’backs miss Lyle Overbay. (And as for how to pronounce his name, you can stop at K. He’s had 95 of those.)

What he said: D’backs utility man Willie Blomquist, now 35, on aging and injuries: “The harsh reality is I have to do a little bit more physically every day to be where I need be.” What he meant: “Where I need to be is on the bench. That .302 I hit last year ought to be good to keep me employed for a couple more years.”

Outlook: Eventually Towers’ tenure in Arizona is likely to be judged by the Upton trade. He can only hope history will be kinder than immediacy, because the the first impression wasn’t universally favorable. But sabermetricians, like historians, are entitled to revision, too.

Towers was GM of the Padres for 14 years, and his reputation was better than his record — his Padres reached the playoffs four times and the World Series once, but they also had eight losing seasons. Of course, those were the Padres, who will begin play in 2013 with a career record 512 games under .500. Then again, they’ve only played 44 seasons, meaning their average season is nearly 12 games under.

Towers’ record looks better with every Padre campaign.

Unfortunately, Towers’ D’backs may look too much like his old Padres teams, and that’s by design. He traded not only Upton, but also pitcher Trevor Bauer (the third pick of the 2011 draft) and outfielder Chris Young.

Upton returned Prado, who is an upgrade at third, Young brought Cliff Pennington, a defensive upgrade at shortstop, and Bauer brought 23-year-old Didi Gregorius, the future shortstop. Both are better than Willie Bloomquist, if not by much.

Towers said he his team is going to be pests, and that he wanted players who played the way manager Kirk Gibson did. D’backs fans can only be grateful Towers wasn’t GM when A.J. Hinch was manager.

Fortunately for D’backs fans, there’s more to Towers’ thinking than flattering Gibson. Rookie centerfielder Adam Eaton may not have Gibson’s power, but he has a career .456 on-base percentage in the minors, and 14 walks in 103 big-league plate appearances last season.

Miguel Montero is the best catcher in the NL West not named Buster Posey, Heath Bell and Tony Sipp were added to an already-good bullpen and young starters Randall Delgado (the other party in the Upton trade) and Tyler Skaggs will have an opportunity.

Still, Upton or no Upton, the D’backs look only marginally better than last year’s 81-81 team (unably managed by Gibson; baseballrefeence.com’s Pythagorean formula said the D’backs were an 86-win team. Perhaps Towers should have found players who played like Gibson, but a manager who didn’t manage like him).

The D’backs are paying Cody Ross, Upton’s right field replacement, closer to full-time wages when he’s a part-time player — his career OPS vs. lefties is 201 points higher than it is vs. righties (.727). And new shortstop Pennington hit just .215 last year — it’s going to take an awful lot of defense to overcome that.

Pests, Towers would do well to remember, sometimes get squashed by three-run homers.

Team song: 10,000 Maniacs: The Painted Desert

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