The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves made a trade last night, the Snakes sending veteran Bronson Arroyo, his $9.5 million salary, and his Tommy Johned elbow to the Braves for utility infielder Phil Gosselin. And if it stopped there it wouldn't be controversial at all.
But it didn't stop there: Arizona also sent 2014 first round pick Touki Toussaint to Georgia.
This is certainly one of the, em. .. odder trades we've seen in recent years. A salary dump is one thing. But the inclusion of a prospect like Toussaint in such a trade is certainly unusual, especially given that the Arizona franchise does not seem to be in any sort of financial difficulty. They just signed a billion-dollar television deal and the front office denies they were under pressure from ownership to cut immediate payroll.
This trade seems like something only a financially desperate team would do, and while dumping Arroyo's salary is nice, it doesn't seem like an emergency. There is no evidence that the Diamondbacks are in the kind of pecuniary position that should force such a trade.
As you'd expect, reaction was swift and negative, everyone thinking that the Braves ripped the Dbacks off. Scott Coleman at Talking Chop rounded up some examples, ranging from "most inexplicable trade ever" from MLB.com's Jim Callis to "HAHAHAHAHAHA" from ESPN's Keith Law.
My own immediate reaction was disbelief, thinking that I must have missed a name or saw only a partial report and that there was something more heading Arizona's way. When it became clear that the trade was as reported, my second reaction was along the lines of everyone else's, namely "that's insane."
Let's try to reason this out from both points of view.
It is apparent that the new Diamondbacks front office valued Toussaint less than the old front office did, and less than the baseball world in general does. It is true that Toussaint didn't pitch well in his first look at pro hitters last year, running up an 8.48 ERA in his first 29 innings last summer with 38 hits allowed and some significant control problems. It is also true that 19-year-old pitchers, even first round picks, have a high failure rate. There's a not-insignificant chance that Toussaint never reaches the majors at all, or is just a spare-part journeyman if he does. Arizona's reasoning had to be along those lines.
However, it is also true that Toussaint has improved considerably this spring compared to last summer: 3.69 ERA in 39 innings, 31 hits, 29/15 K/BB. That's not great. . .the strikeout rate is notably low for a guy with his type of arm strength. . .but it is much better than last summer. It is also true that he retains the outstanding physical projectability that got him drafted in the first place. His curveball and change-up still need more development but both have a chance to be plus pitches, maybe double-plus with the curveball, which would give him a top-caliber arsenal. He has the physical attributes to be a rotation anchor and has made progress this spring towards reaching that goal.
Bottom line: this is a great trade for the Braves, adding an arm like that to the system for relatively little cost. It makes no real sense for Arizona unless they are under serious financial pressure, which they don't seem to be, or unless they have certain knowledge that Toussaint is about to quit baseball for a life of religious fulfillment.