What now for the Arizona Diamondbacks?

"I appreciate the commitment and dedication that Josh and A.J. demonstrated during their tenures. Their dismissal is a significant decision, but one that we find necessary in order to achieve a direction of winning consistently on the field again. We have a number of talented players, but obviously see great room for improvement. We look forward to bringing permanence to these two baseball leadership roles."
    -- Ken Kendrick

Well, that was a bit of a surprise. I took the night off: after all, what could possibly happen? And, of course, end up missing probably the single biggest evening of carnage in Arizona sporting history, as the Diamondbacks fire manager AJ Hinch and then, reportedly after he refused to fire Hinch, General Manager Josh Byrnes.Credit, for once, Bob Nightengale, who appears to have been the first to break the news, a little after 7:30pm last night, and got this particular nugget of information right.

So, looks like I've got a bit of catching up to do. Join me after the jump, as I chew over the impact of these decisions, while stacking up on caffeinated beverages and energetic techno music. Sleep. It's vastly over-rated...

"These decisions come as a first and major step in our thorough evaluation of our team. We have all been disappointed in the results over the last few years, and we have come to the conclusion that a change in the leadership of our baseball operations staff is necessary at this time. This franchise has enjoyed tremendous success over the years and we want to get back to our winning ways. The loyal staff of this organization, as well as all of our fans, hopes for and deserves better results on the field."
   -- Derrick Hall

While there a million ways to slice and dissect these twin decisions, in the end, it comes down to Byrnes and Hinch having failed to put together a winning team on the field. The overall record under Josh Byrnes 4 1/2 year tenure as General Manager was a mediocre 349-378: while the team did win the National League West in 2007, it has been steadily downhill for the Diamondbacks since that 90-win season. If there was a watershed, I would have to say it was the signing of Eric Byrnes to a contract extension. It seems as if almost every major decision since then has turned round to bite the team in the ass, no matter how much they may have made sense at the time.

For example, we gutted the farm system to bring on board Dan Haren, expecting him to be the piece that would keep us in contention, giving the team a devastating 1-2 rotation punch. But after starting 2008 in fine form, the team fell apart and ended the season with 82 victories. The following year continued the downhill trend, with only 70 tallies in the win column, and even the firing of then-manager Bob Melvin couldn't turn things around. The hiring of Hinch was widely ridiculed, due mostly to his complete lack of managerial experience, and the extended rehab of Brandon Webb has made the decision to pick up his option now look very questionable.

2010 was shaping up to be worse still, with the team currently on pace for a 64-98 record, and some of Hinch's statement seemed to admit frankly that he was on a death-watch. Less than a month ago, he said, "I'm not going to run from our reality, and the group hasn't responded that well to me. Now I'm scratching and clawing trying to find the right solution." That kind of admission is hardly going to inspire any kind of confidence in your bosses, and I can't say his firing came as a surprise. Hinch leaves with a record of 89-123 in his time as manager, and about 2 1/2 years left on his contract, albeit likely at a price around that of a major-league minimum player.

"I think it was something we felt was coming It was definitely time for a change After everything went down last year and the way we continued to lose, it kind of snowballed. Then it went on this year and it became obvious that it was time for a change. The atmosphere was not good. Between the lines we played hard, but there was something missing. I'm not going to tell you the change will cause us to go out and win 10 straight. But I think you're going to see much more enjoyment from the players in between the lines, in the dugout and in the clubhouse. There is an unbelievable amount of talent here."
   -- Chris Snyder

For Josh Byrnes, the situation is somewhat different. His contract ran all the way through through 2015, and he also had a stake in the ownership of the team - Fox Sports reports that the moves will cost the team more than $7 million all told. According to Fanhouse's Ed Price, Byrnes was fired after he refused to get rid of Hinch - if true, my personal feelings are that this shows an admirable degree of loyalty, but common sense... Not so much. But in some ways it was inevitable: Byrnes nailed his personal credibility to the mast with the hiring of Hinch, and the failure of that radical move may have left the GM with few options. Those who live by "organizational advocacy"...

There'll be dancing on the virtual streets of AZCentral.com, as their two favorite whupping-boys get taken out in a baseball version of Operation Hummingbird. However, not everyone is impressed. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! described the move as "organizational stupidity," and wrote, "The Diamondbacks owners seem intent on running their franchise to appease a fan base that couldn’t sell out a playoff game three years ago." The news also seems to have been greeted with pleasure by rival teams. Buster Olney tweeted that one high-ranking executive told him, "They just tore apart one of the best front offices in baseball," and another GM called the changes "Absolutely crazy."

As has already been documented, bench coach Kirk Gibson will take over as interim manager, with Jerry Dipoto, the Diamondbacks' director of player personnel, becoming the interim GM. From what I have been seeing, the emphasis is definitely on the word "interim" in both cases - I think we'll not be seeing a repeat of the lengthy contracts handed out to Hinch and Byrnes in the immediate future. It's also something of a rarity to see a GM fired in the middle of a season: Bill Bavasi of the Mariners, who was canned in June 2008 is the only one I could immediately find.

I also suspect that this will probably not be the end of the actions. Note, in the quote above, that Hall describes the moves as "a first and major step in our thorough evaluation of our team" [emphasis added]. For instance, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre must surely be packing his bags, as I just can not imagine him being seen as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. As an aside, former pitching coach Bryan Price must be sleeping with a broad grin on his face tonight, his doubts about the appointment Hinch having largely been proven right, in little more than a season.

"I think he's going to do a great job. I think it's a great opportunity for him. It's going to be a good change. Hopefully this sparks us.... I think it was time for a change with the way we've been playing for so long... I think we all respect Gibby. It's not like we didn't respect A.J. it's just that he came in in a different circumstance. He was coming from the front office, never managing and being so young and we had so much respect for [Melvin] that it was hard."
   -- Brandon Webb

Is it worth pointing out Kirk Gibson has exactly the same amount of managerial experience as Hinch had when he was hired, i.e. none at all? I imagine Gibby will be given the rest of the season, and his role will be re-evaluated at the end of the year. I don't think much is really being expected from him, but if he can get the team playing, say, .500 baseball the rest of the way, that may be enough to get him the job permanently. Of course, it may also depend on which other candidates are available at that point: personally, it would be nice if someone like Fredi Gonzalez, who did wonders with the Marlins on a tiny budget, were still among the ranks of the unemployed.

The role of GM is probably even more "interim," but even if his tenure last only until the end of the year, DiPoto has a crucial role to play, as the team decides whether to reload for 2011 or rebuild for 2012 and beyond. DiPoto will be in charge of that process either way, and it's certainly possible that his trades will, for good or bad, lay the foundations for the direction of the entire Diamondbacks franchise over the first half of the coming decade. Candidates for the full-time job include Kevin Towers, formerly the Padres GM - I guess we can call that one a swap for Jeff Moorad - and two assistant GMs from the Dodgers, Kim Ng and Logan White.

Ok, I think I'm calling it a night before my eyes implode into absolute neutron-star status. There'll be a press-conference tomorrow morning at 10am, which will be streamed on FoxSportsArizona.com. I won't be able to watch it, but I'm hoping we'll get a report on anything interesting which comes up.

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