Three years ago this July, Jerry Dipoto had been Interim General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks for 25 days when he finally found a way to divest his team of Dan Haren. It was nothing personal.
Arizona was well on its way to 65 wins in 2010 and had an exceedingly thin farm system at the time following the graduations of then-Diamondbacks Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton, along with Miguel Montero; the best guys they had left were Jarrod Parker (now with the A's) and AJ Pollock, both in the low minors at the time. Meanwhile, Haren was both in his prime and in the second year of a $44.75 million contract -- an eminently tradable asset, considering that managing owner Ken Kendrick was once again crusading to bring down the team salary.
So, on July 25, Dipoto announced that the Diamondbacks had agreed to deal Dan Haren, who had been having a down year for Arizona but who had pitched to a 3.18 ERA in 668 IP over the previous three seasons, to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Angels No. 2 starter Joe Saunders (4.08 ERA in 491 ⅓ IP the previous three years and having a very similar 2010 to Haren), minor league pitchers Rafael Rodriguez (he would pitch only 2 ⅔ innings for the Diamondbacks before leaving the majors for the last time) and Patrick Corbin, and a player to be named later.
In places like this across the internet, Dipoto was trashed for the move -- dealing a guy for a starter almost a full run worse than he was over the past three seasons, a low-upside reliever, and Corbin, who may have qualified as a "prospect" (the Angels had taken him in the second round the year before, after all) but wasn't lighting anyone's world on fire. At no point before or after this trade would Corbin ever crack Baseball America's Top 100, for example. At best it was seen as a panicky salary dump by an interim GM in over his head with a cost-cutting ownership; at worst, it was a downright swindle.
Three years later no one, Dipoto included, is laughing anymore.
(An important aside: the most important reason that the Dan Haren trade Jerry Dipoto authored wasn't as bad as it looked wasn't Corbin -- until this year, he was viewed as having just as much of a fringe chance of success as he'd always had -- but that player to be named later. A few picks before they took Corbin in the second, the Angels had drafted Tyler Skaggs with the 40th overall pick of the 2009 draft. However, due to service time rules prohibiting the trade of players within a certain number of days from when they first report to the club that drafted them and the fact that Skaggs waited until the signing deadline to agree to terms with Arizona and Corbin signed almost immediately, Corbin could be named in the trade and Skaggs could not. Skaggs was named less than two weeks later as the PTBNL to complete the deal. You might recognize his name; he was the top prospect in the Diamondbacks system going into this season and on May 27 got his first win of 2013 in a six inning, nine strikeouts, no earned runs performance for Arizona. Dipoto did right by the Diamondbacks.)
Fast forward to the present day. Jerry Dipoto is now the General Manager of those very same Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are in third place and sitting on one of the worst pitching staffs in the American League. His attempts to clear out the detritus of the last regime -- including dealing the newly-resurgent Ervin Santana to Kansas City, for what little good it's doing them, and jettisoning Dan Haren once again, this time for health reasons -- haven't been followed up with success by any young arms from the minors, just struggles from everyone not named Jerome Williams or Jason Vargas.
And what's going on in Arizona? Patrick Corbin, one of the kids he got his predecessor Tony Reagins to kick in to the Haren deal, has thrown 74 ⅓ innings of 2.08 ERA ball throwing half his games in a hitter's park. Corbin's in the National League Cy Young Award race just as much as Matt Harvey, Clayton Kershaw, Shelby Miller, Jordan Zimmermann or anyone else in the league.
Are you a fan of wins? They're not my thing, but Corbin's perfect 9-0 in 11 starts is an early hit with the possible voters in the media.
It should be noted that Dipoto probably isn't too torn up about Corbin -- Skaggs is the guy to really hang any regrets on about how fate sorted things out. Corbin has a higher ceiling now than he did at the time of the trade because of a few unexpected bumps in his fastball velocity recently moving him from the upper 80s in 2011 to sitting 90-92 miles per hour in 2012 and now sitting around 93 mph this year in the majors. Scouts saw Corbin as a No. 4 starter with that 90-92 fastball and developing change and slider, and though he's proven far better than that so far, he's not so overpowering to hitters nor does he induce so many groundballs that one should expect his current streak of one home run allowed every 18 innings to continue, especially not in Arizona.
Of course, if Patrick Corbin's realistic upside now is a No. 3 starter, which I'd totally buy, then that trade's even more of a win for the Diamondbacks and Jerry Dipoto of days gone by.
This is generally the part where the writer points to Tyler Skaggs and says, "You think this Corbin guy's good? Wait until you see what Skaggs can do!" The problem with that, of course, is that there aren't many pitching prospects in baseball you can responsibly project to pitch like Corbin is pitching right now for more than a couple months at a time; most of them are guys like Stephen Strasburg, guys who are generational prospects so long as they can stay out of their own way.
Neither Corbin nor Skaggs is that guy, and there's a reason TINSTAAPP is an acronym (pronounced TIN-stapp): pitchers aren't anything but bottomless boxes of questions until they've shown they can consistently get guys out in the majors. Tyler Skaggs could win three Cy Young Awards, or none, or one but not really deserve it as much as five other guys, or he could be out of baseball in three years. Frankly, the same could be said about Patrick Corbin. The same could be said about Wade Miley, last year's out-of-nowhere Diamondback young pitching success story, currently sitting on a 5.01 ERA in 64 ⅔ IP looking nothing like he did last season.
All Diamondbacks fans can do for the moment is hold on and be happy another pitcher's come up from AAA to save them for the moment, and all Jerry Dipoto can do is try to put together a rotation without thinking too much about how his staff would look if three years ago in July he'd asked for Tyler Chatwood instead, and that's just how baseball goes sometimes.