While Jake Peavy was the biggest name to grace this season’s trade deadline, his move to Boston comes with little shock or reaction: the White Sox have the third-worst record in the majors heading into August, and retaining a 34 year-old pitcher set to make $29.5 million in the next two years does not carry well with their intent to rebuild. On the other side, the Red Sox have emerged as AL favorites — despite the recent questionable struggles of Jon Lester. Peavy is a shade of his dominant self from San Diego, but his venerability and endurance (averaging about 6 2/3 innings pitch per start since 2012) makes him a safe bet as a middle-rotation man in the heat of a highly contested pennant race.
In simplistic terms, Peavy-to-the-Sox was an obvious move — far more obvious than the Ian Kennedy trade.
Kennedy is fresh off a dismal 0-4 July campaign that was riddled with trade rumors, as pitching-starved teams such as the Angels were in talks to bid for the former 20-game winner. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have gone 7-11 since a five-game winning streak in early July and are losing pace with the now-healthy Dodgers. Rather than shop for name like Peavy, Arizona cut off their proverbial cancer at its root by swapping Kennedy to San Diego for one of the most understated relievers in the NL.
Joe Thatcher, 31, has been magnificent in a small sample size. In his seven seasons as a Padres reliever, he has never capped 45 innings pitched in a season, but has posted an ERA under three in four separate seasons. This season, the side-winding southpaw has held left-handed hitters to an inscrutable .231 slugging percentage while posting a .783 WHIP outside the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park. He’s now headed to a park and town distinctly similar to San Diego’s weather and spanning outfields, only now he’s backed by a competent lineup. Also, he now gets to split setup duties with the equally-successful righty Brad Ziegler — who, at 54 appearances, has been the league’s most burdened reliever this season. Again: Thatcher has succeeded in small sample, and the Diamondbacks now have the bullpen depth to ask him of just that.
However, nobody wants to talk about the setup guy. This deal is supposed to be about Kennedy, to which some extent it is. The Arizona front office had their hands tied with their former ace: his stock has plummeted this season, and he was eligible for arbitration this offseason, while Arizona fell behind Los Angeles in standings that make it clear that only one NL West squad is making this postseason. Kennedy is likely looking for about $5 million for next season, as he isn’t eligible for free agency until 2016. They could have either paid him after he continued to steepen their second-half collapse, or they could have dealt him for a cheaper, more reasonable option that mixes up the pace.
Youngsters Randall Delgado and Patrick Corbin have flashed brilliance and middle-rotation men Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill will both be healthy soon. While McCarthy and Cahill haven’t delivered much more than Kennedy had, their performances have been significantly less responsible for the squad’s slippage than their health, and fortune may come to them down the stretch.
Two months of regular season remain, and the Diamondbacks continue to look like a team on the fringe of failure and success. Like the Orioles of last year, it’s the little things that will make the biggest difference down the stretch for the fringe-teams. And while a setup reliever isn’t exactly as sexy as Jake Peavy, the Diamondbacks did exactly what every fringe-team should be doing at the deadline: something.