Some trades are immediately met with skepticism. Jeff Samardzija for Addison Russell. David Price for Willy Adames and Drew Smyly (though Adames is poised to become a star). Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning for Adam Eaton.
None of those trades involved the top pick in the MLB Draft, a customarily elite talent that is never traded. In fact, it’s only happened four times in baseball history and never as quickly as the six months it took for the Diamondbacks to ship off Dansby Swanson.
Along with Swanson, a star shortstop out of baseball haven Vanderbilt, the team sent Ender Inciarte, an established 25-year old outfielder on a cheap salary and one of their top pitching prospects Aaron Blair.
All to acquire Shelby Miller, coming off a career year with the Atlanta Braves at the ripe age of 24. One of baseball’s best young pitchers for several years in St. Louis and then with the Braves, Arizona paid a premium for the 2015 All-Star.
In defense of the epic failing tenure that belonged to General Manger Dave Stewart, his heart was in the right place acquiring Miller. A developing ace with three years of arbitration remaining. He just gave away the farm. And the guy in Swanson.
Most perplexing of all: the deal could have been completed without their top prospect. Inciarte and Blair itself was quite the package but Arizona played depressingly fast and loose with the player they had just taken at the top of the draft.
Only a year and a half later, the trade has proved to be as one-sided as many thought. Even if Shelby Miller didn’t have an absolutely disastrous 2016 (3-12, 6.15 ERA), Atlanta’s side of the deal has already met some of the expectations with a much higher ceiling to come.
Entering 2017, Miller wasn’t even in top five consideration for the D-Backs’ starting rotation, a far cry from the second piece of a powerful rotation Arizona envisioned behind historically expensive free agent signing Zack Greinke.
He would make the rotation despite a 7.36 Spring Training ERA. A gargantuan investment in your name goes a long way. After four starts that weren’t horrible, Miller was lost to Tommy John surgery.
For Atlanta, Aaron Blair has admittedly had a rough go. A repeat member of “Top 100 Prospects” list in 2015 and 2016, the 2013 first round pick struggled in Triple-A Gwinnett but nevertheless received his debut in the summer of ‘16. Prospect status in your name goes a long way.
His rough go indeed translated to the bigs and he returned to the minors to finish the season. 2017 hasn’t been much better for Blair. It’s actually been worse. He’s losing luster at 25 years old, but he was the third player in the deal with the other two succeeding (Swanson in relative fashion), so there’s a consolation of pressure there.
Ender Inciarte —it was a risk trading someone with such an amazing name— could have fronted this package in a not-so-alternate reality. Having just turned 25, Inciarte already had two Major League seasons under his belt and was fifth in Rookie of the Year voting during year one. Year two? He hit .303 with six home runs and 21 stolen bases, whilst emerging as one of baseball’s premiere fielders.
Alas, he was piece number two in the blockbuster and has become an All-Star in Atlanta. He won a Gold Glove in his first year with the Braves and was named to the National League’s best a few weeks ago.
Entrenched as the Braves’ leadoff hitter, he leads baseball in at-bats with 388 and is hitting .307 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. He gets caught a bit too much on the basepaths (37 percent career caught stealing rate) but is otherwise a complete player.
The prize of the deal, Dansby Swanson, was coming home. Born in nearby Kennesaw, the Atlanta native saw the trade as a dream come true. He undoubtedly didn’t see the trade coming, but the final destination was quite the revelation.
Ranked third overall in all of the land by John Sickels prior to this season, Swanson barely qualified for rookie status in 2017 (literally by one AB) and after breezing through the minor leagues and skipping Triple-A outright, he slotted in beautifully as Atlanta’s shortstop.
A dream come true of a deal provided Swanson a dream opportunity and he made a beautiful first impression. Hitting .302 with a trio of home runs and steals, he assured the organization that he was ready to begin the 2017 season with the big league club.
Aged 23, his actual rookie season has been a learning experience, hitting just .220 but walking 35 times to accrue a .297 OBP. His glove work has improved and the rebuilding Braves have no reason not to keep sending him out there and so they will.
Dave Stewart has been fired in Arizona and Braves GM John Coppolella has used this gift of a trade (as well as the Touki Toussaint for Phil Gosslein (!) swap with the same team) to propel the Atlanta farm system from one of baseball’s rising crops to one of baseball’s very best.