No question about the big news over the last week; the trading of Carlos Quentin to the Chicago White Sox for a young prospect, who won't even be able to drink legally for another couple of weeks. It's a sad end to the career of someone who was expected to be a cornerstone of the Diamondbacks' future plans for several years to come - and now Quentin will never be able to challenge Luis Gonzalez's franchise total of 61 HBPs (Carlos finishes in equal sixth with 19), or even Andy Fox's single-season mark of 18, set back in our debut year.
I was going to eulogize what a tremendous prospect he was once thought to be, but looking back at the actual stats, I'm not quite sure why we all felt so. In 2006, he batted .289 with only nine homers in 85 games which really isn't great for a hitter's paradise like Tucson. Sure, a .911 OPS is nice, but that figure is significantly inflated by the 31 plunkings he received [both that year and in 2005, he had more HBPs than doubles!]. While he still got hit eleven times in 229 at-bats for the D-backs last season, pitchers soon realised he was incapable of holding off on sliders down and away - even when "down and away" was located somewhere on the 202 Highway between Gilbert and Higley. With no point pitching him inside, a weapon in Quentin's armory was decommissioned.
He struggled from the get-go, hitting .220 in April, and things got little better with Quentin batting .214 in May and .227 in June, with the strikeout percentage increasing steadily, from 16% through 18.6% to 21.1% and the walk percentage decreasing at the same time, ending in a dismal June where he walked only four times in 76 plate-appearances. His struggles seemed to get to Quentin mentally; perhaps his Stanford education worked against him here, but the more he slumped, the harder he seemed to try. I forget who said that young players go through three stages: I think I can play; I hope I can play; I know I can play. Quentin never quite made it to the final level in Arizona; perhaps a fresh start and a "guaranteed" starting spot will relieve the pressure.
Quentin's fate was likely sealed with the extension given to Eric Byrnes, which locked the Arizona outfield up as Byrnes-Young-Upton for the foreseeable future. The only hope was a suggestion by Shoe, that Upton start the year back in Tucson, with Quentin given the starting job in right-field once more. However, there seems some doubt as to whether Quentin will even be ready for Opening Day 2008, having had surgery on his shoulder in October. Way to increase your trade value even further, Carlos. :-( Word it that he was shopped to almost all the teams in the majors...and the best we could get for him was a Single-A prospect with hands of stone. Amazing to think that, twelve months ago, he was an untouchable. How much is that Quentin bobblehead worth now?
The reaction to the trade would seem to favor the White Sox, and it's easy to see why. They got themselves a starting outfielder for the coming season, someone who has almost nothing but upside, in exchange for a player who is likely three years removed from the majors, if he ever makes it at all. It has been suggested that the acquisition of Chris Carter v2.0 was perhaps part of a cog in a bigger plan, since it didn't address the D-backs biggest need, that of a starting pitcher for next season. However, Josh Byrnes downplayed that possibility, if not quite ruling it out entirely, saying, "You never know. Like a lot of our players, he's well thought of as a prospect, but that's not why we acquired him." It does free up a spot on the 40-man roster, so that would give the D-backs a chance to pick someone in the Rule 5 draft which is coming up; that seems unlikely, however, not least because we pick very late in the first round.
With that deal in the bag, focus for Arizona at the winter meetings appears to have moved to Danny Haren of the Oakland A's. Contrary to initial reports, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the players we have offered do not include Conor Jackson, with Upton and Young apparently also off the table. The lack of Jackson is backed up by Nick Piecoro and Steve Gilbert. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is a common thread in most reports, presumably as a package of several other prospects, which would certainly be a Billy Beane-esque deal. Haren would be a phenomenal acquisition, under AZ control through 2010, and costing only $16.25m for the next three seasons. For someone who has thrown 217 or more innings the past three years, with an ERA+ of 117, 108 and 137, that would be a real bargain, and worth breaking open the prospect piggy-bank.
Meanwhile, the bidding for Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda goes on. Initially, it seemed our chances had evaporated after reports that the Seattle Mariners were offering him a four-year, $44m contract, far in excess of the $27m for three years suggested as having been provided by Arizona. However, the Mariners offer appears to have been significantly exaggerated, and so we still might have a shot. In our favor is that Kuroda wants to play a) in a warmer climate and b) for a contender. I think it's safe to say that we have the edge over Seattle in both categories, seeing as they a) well, are in Seattle, and b) haven't come closer than three games out of the playoffs since 2001. We likely won't hear much on that front for a while though; if I was Kuroda, I'd wait until Johan Santana was off the market, as that would drive up interest in me. For now, we can dream of a rotation that goes Webb-Haren-Johnson-Kuroda-Davis, with Owings coming off the bench both bat and ball in hand...
Chad Tracy's recovery hit a speedbump, with the corner infielder going to an emergency room on Thanksgiving night where ultrasound revealed a blood-clot in his right calf. It's believed that the flights he took to and from his home in North Carolina brought that on, and he's now on a course of blood-thinners to prevent it from re-occuring. It sounds a distinct possibility that Tracy might not be ready for the start of the season, with Josh Byrnes saying, "If things go smoothly, Opening Day is possible. If they don't, then it could conceivably drag into the season, but we have been encouraged with the way things went before this little setback." Tracy himself was even more vague: "You really can't give a timetable. They said after the surgery that it could be four to eight months, it could be a year. You can't rush something like this."
If he is still on the mend, that would seem to set the infield as Jackson at first and Reynolds at third. But, wait! The Republic today reports that Micah Owings "could find his way onto the field, perhaps at first base." Bob Melvin acknowledged the possibility during a session with reporters on Tuesday, saying "It's potentially, depending on how our roster looks, an option." I've little doubt Owings has the athleticism to play the field, but I'm wondering how such a move would affect his spot in the rotation. The risk of injury seems significantly greater at first, and I wonder if such a move might disrupt the routine of being a starter.
It would certainly be an interesting alternative to Tony Clark, though Scott Bordow at the Tribune thinks the D-Backs need Clark to make the postseason. The only way I can personally see that, is if we never had to play on the road or face left-handed pitching, because Clark can't hit for toffee in either of those circumstances. Admittedly, Bordow is as much valuing Clark for his clubhouse presence as on-field activities, conveniently forgetting that Tony wants more than the 221 at-bats he got with Arizona last year, and is also after a multi-year deal. "The Diamondbacks won’t win 90 games next season without Clark," he states - and how many did they win in 2005 and 2006 with Clark? That would be 77 and 76 respectively, with the playoffs remaining a pipe-dream. He is not a magic bullet.
The season-ticket prices have been announced for 2008, with prices reduced in 29% of the ballpark, held steady in 47%, and increased in 24% of seats. It looks like the incentive for season-ticket holders, in terms of a discount over single-game pricing is likely to increase - they haven't announced the pricing for one-off purchases yet, but the expectation is that these will increase. Rant from D-Hacks expected in 5...4...3...2...1... :-) Finally, congratulations to Bryan Price, who may have missed out on our Unsung Hero Pittie award, but was still named Pitching Coach of the Year by Baseball America. Said Bob Melvin, "He has a great eye for mechanics and a great way about him that enables him to know how to get to certain individuals – a pat on the back or a kick in the butt. It’s also the mental preparation. His game plan preparation is second to none. He sees the weaknesses in hitters. He knows how to attack hitters, how to set up hitters. And he’s right."