Recently the divisional transaction spotlight has been focused mostly on San Diego, especially over the last seven months or so. But the most intriguing trade of the offseason might have been made by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Two days before Christmas, the D-Backs traded Daulton Varsho — one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, who also sometimes catches — to the Blue Jays for outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and catcher Gabriel Moreno, the latter a consensus top-25 prospect last season who exhausted rookie eligibility in 2022 based on service time.
Both Arizona and Toronto dealt from positions of depth, with both teams filling needs. Moreno, 23, will be the D-backs’ regular catcher soon enough, if not this year. While Varsho’s defense fueled a nearly five-win season last year, Arizona will have Gurriel for the next two years, and they freed up outfield spots for two of their best young players.
Jake McCarthy was the 39th overall pick in the 2018 draft by Arizona, and after earning everyday at-bats around the All-Star break hit .302/.361/.434 with a 124 wRC+ over the final three months of last season.
Cobin Carroll impressed in his first 32 games in the majors last season (.500 slugging percentage, 130 wRC+), and the 22-year-old enters this year as a top-two prospect in the sport according to The Athletic, Baseball America, ESPN, and MLB Pipeline. He’s a prime candidate to win National League Rookie of the Year.
There’s also speedy centerfielder Alek Thomas, who struggled in his first year in the majors but hit well throughout the minors and turns 23 in April.
Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly pace the rotation. Gallen is just 27, still has three years until free agency, and he’s been excellent since Arizona acquired him in 2019. The right-hander’s 44⅓-inning scoreless streak last season set a Diamondbacks record and was the seventh-longest streak in major league history.
They also re-signed Zach Davies this offseason to a one-year deal that includes a 2024 club option.
Fun fact: Madison Bumgarner, who has two years and $37 million remaining on his five-year contract with Arizona, has a 2.90 career ERA in 251⅓ innings against the Dodgers. He’s one of only 13 pitchers to make at least 40 starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and might move into sixth or seventh place on that last this season.
Arizona’s rotation also has depth with a group of young pitchers — Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson, and Drey Jameson — who debuted in the final two months of 2022. Waiting in the wings is Brandon Pfaadt, ranked the No. 33 prospect in MLB by Kiley McDaniel at ESPN, who wrote that the right-hander is the best of this young quartet.
The Diamondbacks bullpen last year was rated as below replacement level by FanGraphs, and had a 4.58 ERA that ranked 25th among the 30 MLB teams. This offseason, they signed relievers Miguel Castro, Scott McGough, and Andrew Chafin as free agents. McGough, who was teammates at Oregon with old friends Tyler Anderson and Kyle Garlick among others, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2011 then traded to the Marlins in 2012 in the Hanley Ramirez deal. He pitched for Yakult in Japan the last four years.
The young talent is fueling optimism in the desert after three straight losing seasons, and a .393 winning percentage since the start of 2020 that ranks fourth-worst in MLB.
Believe it or not, but in a division that includes the Rockies, the Diamondbacks have the longest postseason drought in the National League West. And while that drought will likely continue in 2023, it’s fairly clear that Arizona is on the rise.