The Arizona Diamondbacks made their first trade of the 2013 off-season on Tuesday as they were part of a three team deal with the Cincinnati Reds and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Leaving the Diamondback organization is reliever Heath Bell who has been dealt to the Rays and top five pitching prospect David Holmberg has been sent to the Reds. In the process they have acquired a right-handed reliever Justin Choate and a player to be named later.
“Choate is not an overpowering guy,” said Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers on Tuesday. “But he is a strike thrower and has done well on the lower levels.”
Towers went on to mention that the player to be named later is “the key piece in this deal” and could not give any further details at this point.
The 22 year old Choate was 1-3 with 6 saves and a 2.88 ERA (13 ER in 40.2 IP) in 16 relief appearances with Short-Season A Hudson Valley of the Rays organization. He signed with Tampa Bay as a Minor League free agent on June 24, 2013 after pitching with the Roswell Invaders of the independent Pecos League. Choate pitched collegiately at Texarkana College from 2010-11 and Stephen F. Austin State University from 2012-13.
Towers mentioned that as a result of the trade, they save about $5.5 million in cap space which in large part comes from Heath Bell’s contract. The Bell project didn’t exactly work in 2013 as he gave up 30 earned runs in 65.2 innings pitched. He was however the teams leader in saves with 15 as he stepped in when J.J. Putz went to the disabled list.
“If they (Tampa Bay) can get him (Bell) to where he can throw that curve ball for a consistent strike, it will make his fastball better,” explained Towers. The problem he had in florida and here is that he couldn’t get that curve ball to move as well and batters came up to the plate looking for one thing.”
The Diamondbacks also part with one of their top pitching prospects in David Holmberg who spent most of the 2013 season in Double-A Mobile. He went 5-8 last season with a 2.75 ERA in 26 starts and did make one start in the big leagues in which he gave up three earned runs in 3.2 innings.
“We like Holmberg,” mentioned Towers. “Probably not one of those guys that is a power pitcher but puts up good numbers. A guy that will pitch in the big leagues and will be a back end of the rotation starter.”
This move involving the pitching staff comes just days after the Diamondbacks hired their new pitching coach, Mike Harkey and Mel Stottlemyre Jr. as Bullpen Coach. Harkey comes from the Yankees organization and during his tenure in New York, their bullpen led the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.49), wins (173), saves (279) and strikeouts (2,775), ranked second in opponent’s batting average (.237) and third in ERA (3.56).
“Knew him as a player, knew him as a young minor league coach. Was pleasantly surprised how much he has matured as a coach,” said Towers. “Did an incredible job in the interview process and Gibby and I were blown away…Has incredible, incredible presence.”
And staying on pitching news, the Diamondbacks were not able tender a contract with starting pitcher, and arbitration eligible, Daniel Hudson before the deadline on Monday night making him a free agent. But Towers insisted that they are very close and expect he will stay a Diamondback.
“I think we ran out of time, I’d like to say we were at the 5 yd line or inside of that,” explained Towers. “My hope is we will come to a resolution and he will be a Diamondback in the near future. Both sides want this to happen. I feel cautiously optimistic that we will get this done shortly.”
Towers added that based on what happened to Hudson last season in needing to once against Tommy John Surgery, the last thing he wants to do is put dates in Hudson’s head.
“I will let his arm, his body and his head dictate when he is ready to come back,” said Towers.