When is a good time to deal a 200-inning workhorse and arguable ace of the staff for a late-inning situational reliever?
Well, when you’ve got more of the former coming, I suppose. Just ask the Arizona Diamondbacks, who made one of just a few splashes in an otherwise yawn-inducing MLB trade deadline day, dealing starter Ian Kennedy to the San Diego Padres for Joe Thatcher, Double-A farmhand Matt Stites and a comp pick.
And even though conventional logic says that they’ve made a mistake even in a down year for Kennedy, the fact is that the D’Backs won the deal … at least in the short term.
Of course, given the general value of relievers compared to starters, there is basically little to no way that Arizona are going to end up on top in the long term; not while their former starter is still under team control and throws more than six times the number of innings per year than Thatcher, who is probably best used as a LOOGY.
Yet … bullpen depth is exactly that they needed.
Considering the respective struggles of Heath Bell and David Hernandez, and with Matt Reynolds still out and hardly a sure thing as for his availability or effectiveness down the stretch, the Diamondbacks were risking being left with a too-wild Tony Sipp (4.24/1.42 ERA/WHIP, 4.94 BB/9) as the only lefty presence in the bullpen.
That won’t do, of course. And unlike the starting rotation where they have Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill coming back (not to mention Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley down the line) to offset the loss of an arm like Kennedy’s, no such relief was coming to the bullpen.
If they wanted to stay in the playoff race in an otherwise weak NL West where they are only 3.5 games back, they needed to something to bolster their weak spot.
Thatcher gives them that short-term solution for this season. The 31-year old six-year veteran can be a little wild from time to time, but that’s not this year (1.20 BB/9), and he’s lights-out against lefties (.212/.257/.231 opponent’s slash when facing LHB).
Not only that, but he’s also more than familiar with pitching in high-leverage situations, and he’s a lifetime NL-er, meaning he’s got plenty of experience pitching against teams like the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, whom he owns a career 2.38/1.24 ERA/WHIP against over 35 career appearances (22.2 IP).
It might not be what’d you’d call the most forward-looking move, but the fact is that the Diamondbacks were going to have to deal from depth eventually; and while the starting rotation is unlikely to miss a beat, the left-handed void in the bullpen has now been filled with the addition of Thatcher.