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D-backs’ Steven Souza trade changes infield and outfield depth dynamics

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017 file photo, Tampa Bay Rays' Steven Souza Jr. celebrates after his walk off home run off Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Jacob Barnes during the ninth inning of an interleague baseball game in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Arizona Diamondbacks have sent infielder Brandon Drury to the New York Yankees and received outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade that includes five players, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The likelihood of J.D. Martinez leaving Arizona in free agency meant for a proactive approach by the Diamondbacks. They knew the outfield needed addressing.

Talks to acquire Steve Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays began for the D-backs after the Winter Meetings. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees’ interest in former D-backs infielder Brandon Drury lingered.

Suddenly on Tuesday, Arizona had found a way to satisfy all parties involved, including the rebuilding Rays.

“This one was a longer-term endeavor that we ended up coming to an agreement on,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said after pulling off a three-team trade centered around Souza and Drury. “It’s like a lot of things: You do a lot of work, usually with no result.”

The Diamondbacks sent Drury to New York, their top pitching prospect Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay as well as two prospects to be named by May 1 to the Rays. New York also shipped second base prospect Nick Solak to Tampa Bay and gave the D-backs 23-year-old starting pitcher Taylor Widener.

“That was a big part of this deal because we had obviously given up four players in this deal,” Hazen said of Widener, who will begin in the upper-levels of the D-backs’ system following a 7-8 season in High-A ball with a 3.39 ERA. “While Steve is certainly going to hit us at the major league level immediately, in order to make this work on the backside with how we finished it off with Tampa, we wanted to make sure we were getting value to replace some of the guys we were giving up.

“We had liked (Widener) in the draft. We liked his pedigree. We think he has a chance to be a starter at the major-league level.”

Including Banda in the trade was a requirement in dealing for Souza from Day 1, Hazen said.

Losing an up-and-coming starter who contributed in only eight games during 2017 was, arguably, as big of a risk as giving up Drury. Arizona can withstand the loss of Drury thanks to a deep middle infield group led by shortstops Nick Ahmed, Ketel Marte, Chris Owings and Daniel Descalso.

“Obviously, with this trade, the dynamics have changed,” manager Torey Lovullo said Wednesday. “We’re still walking through what it’s going to mean in the middle of the diamond.

“We feel like we have a lot of players that are interchangeable, who are willing to make the necessary moves for us to win games. We know we have some versatility.”

In essence, the trade for Souza and the signing of Jarrod Dyson a day earlier evened out the depth between infield and outfield. Throw in Yasmany Tomas into the picture, and Lovullo has options to work with.

Souza, who hit .239 with 30 home runs last year, has yet to discuss his role with Lovullo, but the manager guessed the 28-year-old would be a right fielder. Wherever he fits, Lovullo seemed more certain that Souza could be one of three regular outfielders, likely joining A.J. Pollock and David Peralta.

“He’s going to play as much as he possibly can,” Lovullo said.

In the infield, Lovullo has discussed a utility role with Owings. Returning from two finger surgeries, Owings could play shortstop, second, third and corner outfield, the manager said.

“That’s how good we are,” Lovullo added. “That’s the type of team that we feel like we are now with a player of Chris Owings’ caliber being able to pick up the slack at different areas and give guys rest.”

Arizona believes it can divvy out reasonable playing time to its backups by continuing to place an emphasis on rest.

Now, Lovullo has more freedom to keep players fresh across the roster — with the obvious expectation that Paul Goldschmidt will play first base on a daily basis.

“We believe that the 13-game winning streak at the end of our season, when it was the most important time of the season, was no fluke,” Lovullo said.


— Even moreso than a day earlier, when Arizona signed Dyson, Tomas faces a crunch in terms of finding playing time. Two years after hitting 31 home runs and batting .271, he starts at a disadvantage as a minus-defender compared to the rest of the D-backs’ outfielders.

“We want him to go out there and compete,” Hazen said. “The roster is not going to be set for another five weeks. A lot of things happen in five weeks, injuries can happen, competition happens, other decisions can be made.”

—  The 24-year-old Banda went 2-3 in eight games (four starts) for Arizona last season. The D-backs will place a priority on looking at options to replace him over the next month, Hazen said.

“A price that we were willing to pay, certainly something we were mindful of,” Hazen said of including the lefty in the trade. “That was probably one of the harder parts of the deal, beyond giving up Anthony, who is a very good player and we think is going to have a chance to make an impact at a major-league level.

“We’re going to work hard to try to replace that in some form or fashion,” Hazen added.