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Yahoo! Sports’ Passan: Arizona Diamondbacks have to figure out what trade goal is

LISTEN: Jeff Passan, MLB columnist for Yahoo! Sports

The Arizona Diamondbacks figured to be sellers as the MLB trade deadline approached, and the process begun over the weekend when they dealt away veterans Joe Thatcher and Brandon McCarthy in separate transactions.

Thatcher went to the Angels along with outfielder Tony Campana for prospects Zach Borenstein and Joey Krehbiel, while McCarthy was sent to the New York Yankees for pitcher Vidal Nuno.

While it was not a shock to see either player traded, the return on them, at least in McCarthy’s case, may have been a bit light.

“They didn’t get as much back for McCarthy, to be honest, as I thought they would, especially considering they’re eating some of the money,” Yahoo! Sports MLB columnist Jeff Passan told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday.

Passan noted that while McCarthy’s record (3-10) and ERA (5.01) give the impression of a struggling pitcher, his peripherals are those of someone who should be faring better on the mound.

“He should be better than he has performed so far, and I think that’s something the Yankees are banking on.”

In return, the D-backs got the 26-year-old left-handed Nuno, who was 2-5 with a 5.42 ERA with the Yankees this season.

“Maybe he’s one of those guys who escapes the American League East and all of a sudden turns into something, but it’s not like the American League East is full of juggernauts this season,” Passan said. “It’s not. It’s not a good division, maybe the fourth or fifth best division in baseball at this point.”

There’s little doubt that part of the D-backs’ motive in moving McCarthy, just as it was with Thatcher, was to save a little money. Given that they went into the season with the highest payroll in franchise history only to see the team stumble to one of the worst records in baseball, it makes sense to shed salary while hoping to turn some veterans into players who can be part of the team’s future.

But it’s hard to say if any of the three players the D-backs added over the weekend fit into that mold, with Passan referring to the trio as “lottery tickets.”

Borenstein, 23, hit .337 with 28 home runs and 95 RBI in 2013 with High-A Inland Empire, and has posted a .265 average with seven home runs and 51 RBI this season over stops with Double-A Arkansas, Triple-A Salt Lake and now Double-A Mobile. The 21-year-old Krehbiel posted a 6-5 record with a 2.74 ERA out of the bullpen last year for Single-A Burlington, and has appeared in 18 games with Burlington, High-A Inland Empire and High-A Visalia this season. He has yet to record a decision, but has an ERA of 1.89 while striking out 24 batters in 19 innings of work.

Neither are considered to be top prospects, though each has some potential.

That may be what the D-backs are looking for this trade season, though, as it’s hard to turn a lot of their assets — while maybe somewhat desirable — into top-flight prospects or talent, especially when they are underachieving in the way Arizona’s players are.

That means the D-backs will have to toe a fine line with regards to who they want to give up and for what, which is a matter Passan believes is further complicated due to the still unknown structure of the team’s front office.

“They’ve been really secretive about it to this point, and I don’t think, frankly, it reflects all that well on the organization,” he said of the pecking order since Tony La Russa was hired as the team’s Chief Baseball Officer. “You have what is essentially a lame-duck general manager in Kevin Towers in place, but don’t know what his role is at what’s a fairly imperative time in the franchise’s history.”

The D-backs certainly aren’t done making deals, and Passan believes “muddying the waters” as the D-backs have done doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in what the team will be able to do.

But ultimately, he said they have to decide what their trade goal will be, especially if they are thinking of moving someone like second baseman Aaron Hill or third baseman Martin Prado, both of whom he believes there is a market for.

“It’s just a question of what is the imperative for the Diamondbacks at this point,” he said. “Is it to shed payroll or is it to reload organizationally and take that monetary hit right now?”

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