On Baseball: In Pursuit of Victory, the Diamondbacks Show No Sensitivity to Costs

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Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks’ general manager, and Manager Chip Hale talking before their 2015 home opener.

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

NASHVILLE — Dave Stewart let the question hang there on Wednesday, like a poorly thrown split-finger fastball, the kind he rarely delivered during his heyday as a pitcher.

“What would you do to win?” said Stewart, the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, before a long pause. “That’s the way I look at it.”

The Diamondbacks are doing things no team has ever done. They have agreed to pay one starting pitcher, Zack Greinke, $34.4 million per season. They have acquired another, Shelby Miller, by trading a player picked first over all in the draft just six months ago.

That player, shortstop Dansby Swanson, now heads to the Atlanta Braves with pitcher Aaron Blair (a first-round pick in 2013) and Ender Inciarte, a 25-year-old outfielder who hit .303 last season.

The deal follows another between the teams in June, when Arizona sent its first-round pick from 2014, pitcher Touki Toussaint, to Atlanta. The Braves took back an injured veteran, Bronson Arroyo, which saved the Diamondbacks about $10 million.

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They pledged to pour the savings back into the major league roster, and now that they have done it, Stewart is unapologetic. He disputed the idea that he had compromised the team’s future by dealing three first-round picks.

“That’s three players,” he said. “Believe me, they’re very highly regarded players. But three players do not make our future. We’ve got second-round picks, third-round picks, fourth-round picks. The draft goes to 40.”

The success rate of first-round picks, of course, is far greater than it is for players picked lower. Then again, the Diamondbacks’ star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, was drafted in the eighth round in 2009.

Goldschmidt, 28, was the runner-up for the National League Most Valuable Player Award in two of the last three seasons. Making the most of his prime is the backdrop for all of these moves. He is signed through 2018 (with a club option for 2019) on a five-year contract worth $32.05 million.

Greinke will average more than that in each season of his six-year, $206.5 million contract. Arizona blew past the previous record for average annual value to sign Greinke, hoping he can help the team’s young staff.

 “That’s one thing he indicated to our pitching coach is that he feels like he can be that missing link,” Manager Chip Hale said. “Not necessarily being a coach, but a guy that’s a player and that’s done it and can prod some of the younger guys and move them along.”

 To be sure, Stewart knows pitching. He was hired in September 2014 by his former manager, Tony La Russa, the Diamondbacks’ president of baseball operations, and has pitched or coached in six World Series. He traded last winter for two young starters, Robbie Ray and Rubby De La Rosa, to go with the former All-Star Patrick Corbin.

 In Greinke, Stewart said, the Diamondbacks have a pitcher with an athletic frame, an easy delivery and a sophisticated game plan. He said that Greinke, 32, had a good chance to pitch as well at the end of his contract as he does now.

 “Right now, for me, 32 years old is young,” Stewart said.

 Maybe Greinke will age like Greg Maddux or Mike Mussina. Greinke’s last three seasons were terrific: 51-15 with a 2.30 E.R.A. for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But older pitchers are a dubious bet. Only one pitcher age 32 or older, John Lackey, worked at least 180 innings last season with an E.R.A. below 3.50.

Caution, though, is not part of the Diamondbacks’ plan. They improved by 15 victories last season, finishing 79-83, and believe they can challenge the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants in their division.

“They are where we want to be,” said John Coppolella, the Braves’ general manager. “They have some great depth and that’s why they could make this trade. It would have been really easy for them to say no, like four or five other teams did. But they stepped forward and now they have a team that’s probably the odds-on favorite to win the N.L. West.”

It is a reasonable thought. The Diamondbacks ranked second in the N.L. in runs last season and were named the majors’ best defensive team by the Fielding Bible and Wilson. Now they have a strong rotation.

Miller was 6-17 for Atlanta last season, but he made the All-Star team and had a 3.02 E.R.A. He is also 25 years old and has three seasons of club control. He cost a lot, with good reason.

“If you look at Shelby Miller, you’re talking about Jason Heyward, who he was traded for in St. Louis,” Stewart said. “And right now, Jason Heyward is looking for $200 million. So we got a guy that, quite frankly, if you value it that way, we’ve gotten great value.”

Rival executives and critics have called the trade a steal for the Braves, who found a long-term replacement for Andrelton Simmons, the shortstop they dealt to the Los Angeles Angels last month to acquire pitching prospects. This is the first off-season in which players taken in the previous year’s draft could be traded, and the rebuilding Braves took advantage.

 Swanson, Blair and Toussaint may become stars, but they are unlikely to do so immediately. With Goldschmidt at his peak, the Diamondbacks do not believe they can wait.

 “We’re in the business here to win,” Stewart said. “Whatever that cost is, without demolishing our organization, is the path that we’re going to take. When you say, ‘Was it an overpay?’ — not if it means we’re going to win.”

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