I did think we'd see a major deal involving an Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder this offseason, but I certainly didn't think it'd be Chris Young, and I was surprised to see him headed to Oakland and to see Heath Bell headed to any team without a similarly bad contract headed back to Miami's Boondoggle Park.
The A's look like the winners here in this three-team deal, at least on paper, as they sent infielders Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera to Arizona for Young, with the D-backs subsequently sending Cabrera to Miami for Bell.
In simple terms, Oakland traded a surplus infielder (thanks to the presence of Stephen Drew) and a marginal prospect for a center fielder who still has the raw tools to play at the level of an All-Star but needs to stay healthy to achieve it.
Young was good for 4.6 wins above replacement (FanGraphs' version) in 2010 and in 2011, even though he played through injuries in that second season, reaching that level of production primarily through secondary skills -- defense, power, baserunning, plus just enough patience to make his OBP respectable. He has always had early length in his swing that results in more strikeouts and in generally low BABIPs, but his approach at the plate is fine and he does have above-average raw power.
He's an outstanding defender in center and should remain so for several more years. Young got off to a terrific start in April (small-sample-size caveats apply) before bruising his shoulder and slightly tearing a ligament when he collided with the outfield wall; he probably came back from it too soon, contributing to a miserable .206/.284/.371 line the rest of the way that saw him lose his starting job to Adam Eaton in September. His main weakness in my view isn't his low contact rate but his trouble with right-handed pitching, which I think is tied to the extra movement in the first part of his swing. If he has recovered completely in time for Opening Day in 2013, I'd expect at least a four-win season, which probably would be enough to get Oakland to pick up his $11 million option for 2014.
The deal makes the least sense for Arizona, as it sells low on a potentially valuable outfielder coming off a poor season when he was limited by injuries and acquires a wildly overpaid reliever and a shortstop who is a slight upgrade over John McDonald. The Diamondbacks' outfield surplus presented a tremendous opportunity for the club to fill critical holes on the roster or to maximize its return by adding to its farm system. This deal accomplishes neither goal.
Pennington is a very good defensive shortstop who can't hit, doesn't have power and doesn't walk enough to make you forget the first two points. That makes him a big leaguer, but he needs a lot of BABIP luck to look like an every-day player. Bell was, as predicted, a disaster for the Marlins, and I don't see how a fly-ball pitcher with a flat fastball is going to fare well in Arizona, especially with the team's best defensive center fielder now off the roster. Miami is picking up $8 million of the $21 million left on Bell's deal, but Arizona is still paying a lot of money for a pitcher who is a poor fit for its park.
The best-case scenario for the Diamondbacks on this deal is a push, and it feels to me like an expression of the front office's disdain for, or exasperation with, Young -- feelings that also seem to apply to Justin Upton. The lone positive I can see in the transaction is that it probably gives Eaton a solid grip on the every-day center-field job; he has shown in the past year that he can handle it, and he provides enough OBP, through contact and through walks, to be an above-average regular at the position.
The Marlins get salary and headache relief, a lesson I'm sure everyone will forget this winter when some GM gives Jose Valverde three years and $36 million. They also acquire a fringy prospect in third baseman Cabrera, who started the trade in the Oakland system. Cabrera has plus raw power and a plus arm, working in the mid-90s as a pitcher in high school, but he really just hits fastballs and his swing has gone backward since high school. The 22-year-old's performance so far in pro ball marks him as a near nonprospect, although I would like to see him back on a mound before any team considers releasing him.