Stumbling across my Twitter timeline, I found this interesting tweet from beat writer Nick Piecoro with a link to a column from USA Today writer Bob Nightengale. The column starts on the topic of the Diamondbacks potentially making another front office change, which would be the 6th such change in 11 years. We already know that Ken Kendrick isn’t happy with the results of this season and is weighing a possible change. I think it’s a bit premature to consider it, even though the front office has been a punching bag for baseball pundits everywhere. Even though the current front office has missed on some deals, notably the Shelby Miller deal that included top pick Dansby Swanson, I think that two years isn’t enough to judge a program. If the team needs someone’s head to roll for this season, then the field manager should be the one to go.
The article points out other teams who are experiencing success right now that might not have happened if the ownership group for their teams fired them in 2 years. Examples include Dayton Moore in 2008, Dave Dombrowski in 2003, and Jon Daniels in 2006. Moore built the Royals championship core through all those bad seasons, Dave Dombrowski built an AL pennant winning team just 3 seasons after losing 119 games, and Jon Daniels built the Rangers team that won consecutive pennants in 2010-11. Moore and Daniels are still on their respective teams while Dombrowski is the GM of a Red Sox team fighting for an AL East pennant after getting an additional 12 seasons in Detroit. If those GMs were fired for one horrifically bad season and/or trade, then none of those franchises would have experienced the success I mentioned.
The Diamondbacks were planning on trading Shelby Miller at the trade deadline to cut their losses and fire Chip Hale in order to give AAA manager Phil Nevin a chance to manage at the big league level. Ownership nixed the idea for both idea because of bad optics. The real bad optics here is the Dbacks are 51-73 and just finished playing a completely uninspiring series against the equally as bad San Diego Padres after destroying the New York Mets’ postseason hopes in the last two weeks. We’ll never know what the Diamondbacks were truly getting for Miller, although the article does say 3 starting pitchers, which I assume would have been 1 MLB starter and possibly up to 2 prospects. The Marlins wound up trading for Andrew Cashner instead. If ownership is stopping the front office from executing their plans to make the team better over the long term, then how can the team improve?
The earlier regimes had more time to fail, as Josh Byrnes lasted 2 1⁄2 seasons after the team’s playoff appearance in 2007 and Kevin Towers lasted 3 seasons after the team’s playoff appearance in 2011. While the team has gone splat in 2016, there’s no reason to pull the plug and start the process over again. When there is a new GM, there is a lot of roster turnover and the team really doesn’t need too much turnover outside of the bullpen. The team isn’t in complete need of a rebuild, they just need to retool the roster and cut some of the fat off the roster.
Unfortunately, both Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart are both transitioning towards a front office role after being a field manager and player agent before taking their current job. In addition, they hired a field manager in Chip Hale who was no doubt qualified for the job, but was also learning the nuances of his position at the time. Like with young position players, there are growing pains and yes they do deserve blame for how poorly the season. That’s no different than a top prospect having a sophomore slump after a solid rookie debut. They’ve made mistakes before and like major league players get the benefit of, they should be given at least one more opportunity to fail. If the team sucks in 2017, then by all means fire them.
The focus has been on the bad deals the front office has made. The Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and Yasmany Tomas acquisitions aren’t going to work out in some way or shape. There’s no debating that from this point. However, they’ve also made some terrific deals with the acquisitions of Jean Segura and Robbie Ray. Segura has 2 more years of control after this season and Ray 4, so they are definitely still a part of the team’s plans. Segura looks like an All-Star, even with inevitable regression happening next season and Ray has developed into at least a #3 pitcher at the minimum, perhaps even higher if he can sustain his peripherals.
There are some things I wish they could have done differently and perhaps they may have the opportunity to change if given a last chance. First thing they need to do is to not be so quick in dealing top prospects. Even proven players were unproven at some point in their career and need the chance to prove themselves. The same process applies to the front office. Hopefully they learned their lesson that a top-heavy roster that looks good on paper doesn’t guarantee success because things can and will go wrong. Injuries, regression, and players just completely forgetting how to play baseball like they used to are part of the game.
As for the future of the roster, they are pretty solid in the position player group when healthy. The team has All-Star caliber players at 1B an CF in addition to budding stars in 3B Jake Lamb (once he remembers how to hit a baseball again), 2B Jean Segura, and LHP Robbie Ray. Zack Greinke is still the ace of the staff and while his stuff is a bit diminished compared to year’s past he can still command the ball very well. If the Diamondbacks can shore up their outfield depth, then the position player group should be fine. The problem still remains on the pitching staff.
The Diamondbacks felt that Shelby Miller would be an answer to that problem, as he was coming off his best year in the majors. The only thing I hate about this deal is that they gave up too much and Miller just completely forgot how to pitch because they tried to fix what wasn’t broken. Hopefully whatever work he put in at Reno helps put him back on track and going back to what worked for him in Atlanta. Since he’s not going anywhere anytime soon, the team needs him to finish the season strong and be a big contributor in 2017. In 2017, the team will have Greinke and Ray as locks to make the roster with Bradley and Shipley having the inside track for two more spots in the rotation. The Diamondbacks also need to make veteran additions to the bullpen, especially those with experience pitching in the back-end of the pen in critical situations so they don’t overwhelm young players Jake Barrett and Enrique Burgos.
For LaRussa/Stewart, 2015 went better than expected and 2016 went worse than expected. One bad season should not define the fate of a front office, even if they look in over their head. While the front office made the mistake of prematurely thinking this team was ready to contend for the playoffs, that shouldn’t be held as the reason to fire them for one disappointing season. As I said before, the front office needs to be given an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. If the ownership fires them all, then we’re back to Square 1 as we were concluding the 2014 season.