At 47-47, the Arizona Diamondbacks are one of the biggest surprise teams in baseball this season. They traded Paul Goldschmidt and lost Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency over the winter, yet the D-Backs come into Monday only 1 1/2 games behind the second National League wild-card spot.
Arizona's surprise contention will make for an interesting trade deadline. On one hand, the team could justify adding pieces and making a run at a postseason spot. On the other hand, staying the course and adding young talent would be a viable strategy. Here's what GM Mike Hazen told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic over the weekend:
"We're going to have to make a complicated decision," Hazen said. "It just doesn't appear that it's going to be an easily defined decision."
"I still think we have challenges in front of us long-term that we need to address," Hazen said. "There's a lot of guys that have one-plus years of control. I think we need to figure out what the roster is going to look like after that point."
Among those players with one-plus year of control is left-hander Robbie Ray, who's struck out 145 batters in 111 innings this year, and will turn only 28 in October. Ray is making $6.05 million this season and will make $10 million or so through arbitration in 2020 before qualifying for free agency.
Even with the D-Backs in the race, Ray is a popular trade target. Dan Martin of the New York Post reports the Yankees have him on their radar, so much so that Arizona has a high-level executive scouting New York's farm system. Also, the Astros and Phillies have shown interest in Ray, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi. Contenders are swirling.
With Ray, the big velocity and big strikeout totals have always stood out. The downside is the walks and the home runs. Ninety-seven pitchers have thrown at least 400 innings since 2016. Here are Ray's ranks among the 97 pitches:
- Strikeout rate: 30.6 percent (third highest)
- Walk rate: 11.0 percent (third highest)
- Home run rate: 1.3 HR/9 (24th highest)
The strikeout rate is elite. Only Max Scherzer (33.7 percent) and Chris Sale (33.0 percent) have struck out a higher percentage of batters since Opening Day 2016. The walk rate and home run rate though? Those aren't so good, especially in combination.
That said, Ray is 27 years old and he is under team control next year, so he's not a rental. Ray could be a tweak or two (more curves and fewer sliders?) away from getting his walk issue under control, and really breaking out as an impact starter. The walks and dingers are scary, but the raw tools are impressive.
Given their place in the standings, the D-Backs have all the leverage right now. They can hang on to Ray and try to make a run at the postseason with him, then shop him over the winter. They don't have to trade him. Given the underwhelming trade market though, they may never get better offers for Ray than right now. Something could come along that could be too good to pass up.