Stop me if you have heard this before. The Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system is becoming one of the best in baseball especially from a pitching perspective. The starting rotation in Double-A in particular is getting a lot of well-deserved press. Each member feeds off the others bringing everyone’s game to a new level.
Comparisons are being made between this group and the Atlanta Braves rotation in the 1990’s. Everywhere you look experts are touting this as a very special set of players that are destined to keep Arizona near the top of the National League Western Division for a long period of time.
Other teams have contacted the Diamondbacks about trading for one of these prized arms but in every case are told that these pitchers are as close to untouchable as any in the game. The fans are sold on the fact that the organization recognizes that pitching wins championships and home-grown pitchers that a team can control for several years is the recipe for success in the Major Leagues especially for a small to mid-market team like Arizona.
We have all bought into the bright future these young hurlers will bring. They become as important to us as one of our own children. The terms such as “can’t miss”, “front line starter”, “future Hall of Famer”, and other adjectives seem common when discussing the next class of minor leaguers who have already been crowned as the faces of the franchise and who will deliver yearly visits to the post season.
Then suddenly the Diamondbacks get a taste of success. Whether it is a mid-season run to first place or an unexpected NL West championship and suddenly those untouchable arms don’t seem so untouchable. Deals are made and the dreams of pitching dominance for a prolonged period with players the Diamondbacks drafted are erased.
That came to fruition today when Arizona announced that it had sent former first round draft pick Jarrod Parker along with reliever Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill to the Oakland Athletics for Trevor Cahill, reliever Craig Breslow, and cash. My mind immediately raced back to that fateful day July 9, 1999 when a similar deal was announced.
At that point the Diamondbacks in their second year of existence sent can’t miss pitching prospect Brad Penny along with reliever Vladimir Nunez and a player to be named later, which became outfield prospect Abraham Nunez to the Florida Marlins for reliever Matt Mantei. With incumbent closer Gregg Olson literally falling apart the trade was necessary for the Diamondbacks to make a run to the play-offs. With Mantei’s help the Diamondbacks would go on to win the NL West and face the New York Mets in the play-offs. Ironically it would be Mantei who would give up a home run to Todd Pratt to eliminate Arizona from the post season.
Mantei would go on to pitch for the Diamondbacks for five more seasons but would struggle with injuries and would ultimately leave the game on July 1, 2005 with the Boston Red Sox. Penny would put together a very good career, which is still active. He would make two All-Star appearances and through last year would have a 119-99 record; very good bu far from the comparisons of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.
The other two players in that trade – Vladimir Nunez and Abraham Nunez would have little impact on the game. Vladimir would pitch for 9 seasons and appear in 254 games. The more important of the two – Abraham Nunez had been touted as a 5-tool player who would become a superstar in the game played just two seasons. In 2002 he appeared in 19 games for the Marlins and in 2004 he appeared in 117 games between Florida and the Kansas City Royals. He accumulated only 302 at bats in his career and vanished from the baseball scene.
Now here we are 12 years later and a similar trade is announced including one of the “untouchables” from the Diamondbacks farm system. Will Trevor Cahill fulfill the expectations of a veteran who will help the Diamondbacks compete for the NL West crown over the next four years or will he struggle like he did last season and become a pitcher just better than .500?
What about Parker? Has he recovered completely from Tommy John surgery and will he go on to become the dominating pitcher that Diamondbacks fans envisioned when he made his debut last season or will he struggle at the major league level?
These are the kinds of deals that keep fans awake at night. No one wants to give away the next Randy Johnson in a short-term trade but the win-loss standings don’t consider potential or future value.
I’m just hoping that in the next 2-3 years I will not be watching a Diamondbacks game where Jarrod Parker is throwing a no-hitter while Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Quintin, and Dan Uggla are all 5-5 with 12 runs batted in. That’s a nightmare I can live without.