Since the non-waiver trade deadline is next Friday, we're going to continue to look at some of the Nats potential trade targets over the next week. As I noted in the comment section yesterday, I'm certainly not going to like all of the possible trade options equally. We'll keep rolling through relievers to start, since the prevailing notion seems to be that the Nats are after relief help more than anything else. The Nats need help offensively as well, but the buzz is that they feel like they're going to be adding four bats the rest of the way when Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman get healthy. Let's start linking to the other relievers that we've already looked at....
This afternoon we're going to look at a guy who may not necessarily be on most peoples' radar. Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler doesn't fit the classic late inning reliever profile. He typically carries a low strikeout rate, but burns a lot of worms and is effective because of his deception and ground ball tendencies. While most relievers tend to flash a power pitching profile, Ziegler doesn't even throw a four seam fastball. He's been incredibly effective despite the lack of a power profile throughout his career, compiling a 2.45 ERA in 503 big league innings.
While the 35-year-old Ziegler is closing for the Diamondbacks right now, he's spent most of his career as a setup man. In fact, this is the fourth season in which he's had at least seven saves, but his fifteen saves so far this season are a career high. In previous opportunities to assume the closer role, Ziegler has always pitched fairly well. Unfortunately, his clubs have all eventually decided to replace him with a pitcher who better fits the classic power pitching closer profile.
For example, in the 2013-14 offseason, after Ziegler converted 13 of 15 save opportunities with a 2.22 ERA, the Diamondbacks went out and got Addison Reed to replace him. Reed held down the job for most of 2014 despite performing poorly (4.25 ERA, 4.03 FIP) and retained the job to begin 2015. Reed went from being poor to terrible to start this season (5.92 ERA, 3.84 FIP), convincing the Diamondbacks to give the role back to Ziegler.
Ziegler is a great ground ball pitcher whose performance seems to mock some of the advanced metrics used in today's game. Ziegler's FIP is always going to be average, primarily due to his middling strikeout rate. His career FIP is 3.40, and has been lower than 3.17 in a season just once (2011, 2.55). That's nearly a full run higher than his career ERA, which has been at least 0.2 runs lower than his FIP in seven of his eight big league seasons.
The Diamondbacks don't appear to be actively shopping Ziegler, who has a $5.5 million option for next season, but the rumor mill has still been churning. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports that the Diamondbacks are getting "lots of calls" about him, but the buzz is that they would have to be overwhelmed to move him. Given how Arizona pretty much gave away a strong prospect in Touki Toussaint for a backup utility infielder like Phil Gosselin earlier this season just to get Bronson Arroyo off the books, it's anyone's guess what "overwhelmed" really means.
Why could the Nats use him?
He's been a consistently strong late inning leverage reliever for the past eight years. Using the five (plus) year model that we've used throughout this "trade target" series, Ziegler's 2.55 ERA since 2010 ranks 27th among qualified relievers. His FIP and fWAR don't rate nearly as well, but there's a large enough sample to say that he's consistently outperformed FIP anyway.
Ziegler relies on the deception of his sidearm delivery to be effective. His dominant offerings are his sinker, which comes in at an average velocity of 83.9 MPH so far this season, and changeup (77 MPH). He occasionally mixes in a slider. As you would expect of a soft-tosser whose primary pitches break downwards, he generates a lot of ground balls. Ziegler has a 66.2% career ground ball rate. It's even higher (70.6%) so far in 2015.
How would the Nats use him?
Ziegler's experience as a closer could come in handy in case anything happened to Drew Storen, but he wouldn't really be a threat to supplant Storen as the Nats closer. He would be a right-handed setup man, with the emphasis on "right-handed" as we'll see below.
Does he have any weaknesses?
Apart from Ziegler's obvious weakness (the lack of strikeouts), Ziegler has a pretty significant platoon split. He's absolutely dominated right-handed hitters (.216/.268/.279) throughout his career, but he's not all that effective against left-handers (.267/.370/.403). He's been quite a bit better against both righties and lefties this season, but the split is still pretty wide (.122/.158/.151 vs. RHH, .194/.288/.352 vs. LHH).
I'd say that adding a ROOGY who has actually been really effective against lefties this season would be fine. However, the handling of the recently demoted Blake Treinen (.200/.300/.244 vs. RHH, .346/.427/.513 vs. LHH.... faced 91 RHH and 89 LHH) throughout this season doesn't lead to a lot of optimism that Matt Williams would put Ziegler in situations that would maximize his effectiveness.
What's his contract status?
Ziegler is earning $5 million this season, so he's due around $2 million the rest of the way. He has a $5.5 million option with a $1 million buyout for next season. That reasonable option for next year is part of what makes him an attractive trade target.
Have the Nats been linked to other players on the Diamondbacks?
Despite the presence of Yunel Escobar, the reemergence of Danny Espinosa, and two of their better prospects (Wilmer Difo and Trea Turner) being middle infielders, Jon Morosi reported that the Nats were inquiring about middle infield depth from the Diamondbacks last month. That rumor resurfaced last week. Arizona is a little overloaded with middle infielders at the big league level, though I'm not sure any of them really jump off the page....
- 33-year-old second baseman Aaron Hill has had a few true standout seasons, including a 4.0 WAR season in 2009 with Toronto and a 5.3 WAR season in 2012, his first full season in Arizona. He's really dropped off the table the past two years, though, and is due $12 million next season... Nope
- 31-year-old Cliff Pennington is a solid defender at both second base and shortstop who has fairly consistently hit around his career averages (.248/.315/.347). He can run some, but doesn't swipe a lot of bases. He brings little to the table as a power hitter. He's a free agent at year's end. Maybe he'd be better than Uggla.
- Nick Ahmed is a glove first shortstop with a little speed and a weak bat. He's hit .220/.276/.325 in 378 big league PA, though he did have a decent year in the hitter-friendly PCL last year (.312/.373/.425). Ahmed has five years of club control remaining.
- Chris Owings is the most interesting of the bunch. His glove looks a bit less impressive than Ahmed's, but it's not terrible. His offensive game hasn't translated particularly well in 722 big league PA, but he flashed the potential to be a 15 HR/25 SB type as he ascended through the minors while hitting for average at every stop. He has four years of club control remaining.
With Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo coming up the pipeline, I don't really see the need for the Nats to add any of these guys at the deadline. Owings and Ahmed still look like cheap guys who should have the potential to be 1.5-2.0 WAR players over the next few years, so if Rizzo could find a way to swipe one of them on the cheap, maybe it would make sense. Hill is an albatross that Arizona is stuck with. Pennington doesn't bring any value beyond this season, and he'd be hard pressed to stick on the 25 man roster if/when everyone gets healthy.
What will the Diamondbacks be looking for?
That's anyone's guess. Reports say that they'd have to be overwhelmed to move Ziegler, but their new front office hasn't exactly drawn rave reviews so far. They actually have a pretty strong, young, cost-controlled lineup across the diamond. Even after trading Mark Trumbo, Arizona is still loaded with cheap talent (A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas, Ender Inciarte) in the outfield. They seem set at both corner infield spots for a while with Paul Goldschmidt and rookie Jake Lamb. We talked about their middle infield surplus above. They'll be looking for pitching depth, and plenty of it.
What could/should the Nats offer?
It's hard to say. I don't know what blown away means, but I don't think a year and two months of Ziegler is worth more than a C+ prospect. Many of the commenters in previous articles have talked about how they wouldn't give up a starting pitching prospect for a reliever, but that's what a good reliever is probably going to cost. Mind you, I'm not saying that it should cost a top starting pitching prospect, but the teams that are selling off good relievers with reasonable contracts beyond this season aren't going to be willing to move them for a decent AA reliever.
I won't say that the Nats should offer Austin Voth (currently 23) or Nick Pivetta (22), who I've mentioned in some of the previous articles, or anything. However, I will add the caveat that while it's nice to dream on prospects, we have to wonder just where Voth or Pivetta might really fit in with the Nats in the future. Max Scherzer is signed for six more years after 2015. Gio Gonzalez has reasonable option years that will probably keep him in D.C. through 2018. Tanner Roark is under club control through 2019. Joe Ross, Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez, and Erick Fedde are all ahead of those guys on the organizational depth chart and, in most cases, closer to the majors.
No... You don't just throw away pitching depth. That's a great way to ensure that you don't field a consistent winning team. There are times when it makes sense to give up on a player that you think may have a future with your big league club to try and improve yourself in the short-term though. The Nats biggest strength to deal from as the deadline approaches is a talented pool of young starting pitchers.
Voth and Pivetta, specifically, have performed better than most expected them to this season. This could mean that they're going to overachieve for their entire careers... It could also mean that their value is never going to be higher than it is right now. Their stock as trade chips certainly isn't likely to improve when they're moved to the bullpen in 2017 because there are too many better starting pitchers in the rotation. It's certainly not likely to improve much if the Nats keep them in the rotation in Syracuse in 2017 or 2018 because the big league rotation is overcrowded. 26 and 27 year old AAA starters don't fetch much on the open market.... This is, of course, assuming that they continue to progress as well as they have this season.
So yeah... Dream on them. I love dreaming on prospects and imagining just how much they'll dominate when they reach the majors with the Nats in a couple of years myself. The fact of the matter is that there's a high attrition rate among all minor league prospects. That attrition rate tends to be even higher with pitchers. Sometimes you just have to cash a guy in.
Will the Nats trade for Brad Ziegler?
I don't think that Arizona's going to move him. I added him to this group because I feel he'd be a better addition than some of the other relievers we're looking at and because his name has come up in some rumors. It would make sense for Arizona to cash in (as per my rant above) on him and try and get a decent prospect or two to build for the future. Dave Stewart's odd Touki Toussaint trade this season makes it hard to guess as to what direction he's trying to take with the Diamondbacks, though.