The Diamondbacks acquired right-hander Carlos Vargas from the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday, adding the sort of flame-throwing reliever that General Manager Mike Hazen had targeted entering the offseason.
Vargas, 23, possesses a fastball that sits around 98 mph and touches triple digits. He pairs it with a wipeout slider in the low-90s. He has yet to make his major league debut; in a season split between Double-A and Triple-A, Vargas this year posted a 3.67 ERA with 17 walks and 37 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings.
“It was an attempt for us to get a power arm,” Hazen said on a conference call Tuesday evening. “He is up over 100 (mph) with his fastball. We have stressed a need to go out and continue to find potential upgrades to our bullpen. This was a shot we’re taking now to find one of those guys who could fit in with us.”
In exchange, the Diamondbacks gave up right-hander Ross Carver, a 23-year-old starting pitching prospect known for his ability to spin a curveball.
Vargas does come with risk. Though his pure stuff jumps out, how it plays in the majors remains to be seen, in part because evaluators say his four-seam fastball does not have the kind of rise and carry through the zone that generally allows pitchers to blow hitters away.
However, Vargas does have a sinking, two-seam fastball with movement that also sits in the upper-90s, giving him an alternative if his four-seamer does not play. And his slider is a weapon, a late-breaking offering that is said to tunnel well with his fastball.
Vargas, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2021 and missed all of last season, issued 4.5 walks per nine innings in 2022, something Hazen said he would like to see “cleaned up” next year.
Hazen admitted the deal was unusual for him in that the Diamondbacks have not tended to trade starting pitchers for relievers, but he said the amount of upper-level rotation depth the organization has built gave him some willingness to part with Carver.
“We just felt like that was a fair (price) for us to take a shot at a guy who throws 100 mph,” Hazen said. “Normally we don’t traditionally prioritize — I have erred on the side of protecting all the starters at the expense of relievers; this is a slight shift in that stance.
“… We lack power in our bullpen, hard stuff, swing and miss stuff. We put too many balls in play (in the) late innings relative to other bullpens in the league. These are some of the chances and the risks that we’re going to start taking.”
Vargas was available in part because of a 40-man roster crunch. The deal freed up a spot for the Guardians to add another player.
Carver was a 20th round pick out of Dallas Baptist last year; he reached Double-A this season but struggled badly in nine starts at hitter-friendly Amarillo, posting a 9.50 ERA with 15 homers allowed in 36 innings.
“His curveball is his best pitch for us, for sure,” Hazen said. “His velocity would kind of flash a little bit; I think that was where we saw he went from A-ball to Double-A, he would flash his velocity up into the mid-90s. If he can hold it more consistently he’ll be in a better spot.”
The Diamondbacks added shortstop Blaze Alexander, outfielders Jorge Barrosa and Dominic Fletcher and right-hander Justin Martinez to the 40-man roster, protecting them from next month’s Rule 5 draft.
In a year spent mostly at Double-A, Alexander showed an improved offensive approach and turned in the best season of his career, hitting a combined .301/.389/.540 with 20 homers. He also was said to have played well at shortstop.
Barrosa and Fletcher both are more regarded for their outfield defense than their offensive potential. Barrosa is a switch-hitter with a line-drive swing and good speed. He has a patient approach and is hard to strike out. Fletcher becomes the latest left-handed hitting outfielder to go on the roster. The younger brother of Angels infielder David Fletcher, he has a more aggressive approach and is capable of hitting balls hard with regularity.
Martinez, 21, has a fastball that can touch triple digits as well as a split-change and a slider. He returned from Tommy John surgery earlier this year and put together a strong season, finishing last week in the Arizona Fall League.
“We really pushed him,” Hazen said. “We pushed him for this reason. We pushed him to see what he was going to be able to do against better competition and exposing him, knowing that if he pitched well, we were definitely going to have to add him.”
To open up space on the roster, the Diamondbacks designated left-hander Caleb Smith, outfielders Jordan Luplow and Stone Garrett and infielder Sergio Alcantara.
The decisions on Smith and Luplow were not surprising. Smith suffered an elbow injury on the final day of the regular season, an injury that clouds his status for next season and “played a factor in our decision,” Hazen said.
Luplow, acquired this time last year from the Tampa Bay Rays, never got going at the plate this season, hitting .176/.274/.361 in 205 at-bats. Hazen said the team wanted to “go in a different direction.”
After a late-season call-up, Garrett hit .276/.309/.539, but struck out 27 times in 76 at-bats, walked only three times and played inconsistent outfield defense.
Alcantara hit .241/.283/.406 in 170 at-bats for the Diamondbacks, who acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in a spring training deal, lost him on waivers to the San Diego Padres in May, then reclaimed him off waivers from the Padres in July.
The Diamondbacks opted to leave a handful of interesting prospects off their 40-man, including outfielders Dominic Canzone and Wilderd Patino and right-hander Conor Grammes.
Canzone is an advanced left-handed hitter who is regarded as just an average defender; he split this year between Double-A and Triple-A. Patino is a talented but unrefined outfielder who finished the year in High-A. Grammes has power stuff but struggled badly this season coming off Tommy John surgery.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Diamondbacks trade for power reliever, add 4 others to 40-man roster