Analysis: Trading an outfielder would be bold move for Arizona Diamondbacks

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The Diamondbacks figure to be popular amongst their peers in trade talks this winter thanks to a commodity they have in excess, one that also happens to be in short supply across baseball.

The Diamondbacks have center fielders — young, athletic, controllable center fielders capable of contributing on both sides of the ball.

With a free-agent market light on good center fielders and at least a half-dozen teams, if not upwards of 10, that either need help or could stand to upgrade at the position, the Diamondbacks would appear to be in an enviable spot.

But, of course, it is never quite that simple.

If the Diamondbacks decide to deal from that depth, it likely will require a gutsy move — no matter what direction they go.

Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas and Daulton Varsho have already reached the majors and all four have shown reasons to believe they are capable of being above-average offensive contributors. All four also are capable of handling center field, some better than others.

Two of them seem highly unlikely to be dealt: Carroll, because he has the highest ceiling, and Varsho, because he is the most established on a team looking to contend next year.

That leaves McCarthy and Thomas. McCarthy is coming off the better year. He opened eyes as a hitter, showing a patient approach and a dynamic, versatile swing. He was fearless and aggressive on the bases. Though he was the least heralded as a prospect, he looked the most advanced as a major leaguer.

Thomas, meanwhile, played so well in center field that he was a finalist for a Gold Glove Award. He started off hot at the plate, hitting balls the other way with power, but struggled to adjust when teams began taking advantage of his aggressive approach.

If the Diamondbacks were to trade McCarthy, they would be dealing not just a player who performed well, but one whose style exemplifies how they want their team to play.

If they were to trade Thomas, they might be doing so when his value might be down — and they would be trading a player who ranked among Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects for three years running. Which is to say, they would be moving the player the industry has long held in higher regard.

If they trade McCarthy, they would need to be right about Thomas, certain that he would adjust and thrive after this year’s struggles.

If they trade Thomas, they would need to be sure that McCarthy — who not long ago was viewed by scouts as more of an extra outfielder — is, in fact, more than that.

And, either way, they would need to be right about the player (or players) they get back.

The Diamondbacks seem to view this decision as the cost of doing business. They want to get better. They have a finite number of ways to accomplish that. Trading from depth could allow them to improve in one area without getting markedly worse in another.

And there are indications it might be the best way get what they need. With so few clubs in rebuilding mode across baseball, a team source said most rival organizations are not as interested in trading a major leaguer off their roster in exchange for a prospect package.

It is clear the Diamondbacks will not give one of their outfielders away. There is nothing forcing them to make such a trade; four players for three spots is manageable — and is even more so with the designated hitter.

But the possibility of a deal makes for a fascinating crossroads for the Diamondbacks. It presents an opportunity to make their team more well-rounded. It is one they probably cannot afford to get wrong.

Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or nick.piecoro@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.