Even the most ardent support of the Diamondbacks’ front-office would have to admit that it hasn’t been the best of seasons for the team. Even allowing for a slew of injuries, from A.J. Pollock down, the team has under-performed and, rather than competing, looks set to have one of the worst records in the majors this year. Changes are certainly necessary if the franchise is not to waste the window of opportunity provided by the presence of perennial MVP candidate, Paul Goldschmidt. However, it appears as if the front-office might not be entirely responsible, because they may not be getting full rein in terms of making their decisions.
Within the story by Bob Nightengale about ownership considering front-office changes were a couple of nuggets that, if true, are rather disturbing. Specifically:
You hire La Russa and Stewart to run your baseball club, and when they debate whether it’s time to fire manager Chip Hale and promote Phil Nevin from Triple-A Reno as their interim manager, they are stopped. Sorry, they are told, it wouldn’t look good. La Russa and Stewart make beleaguered starter Shelby Miller available at the trade deadline, seven months after acquiring him, and work out a trade with the Miami Marlins. The Marlins, according to a Marlins executive with direct knowledge of the trade, would have sent three starting pitchers back in return. Sorry, stopped again. Yep, it just wouldn’t look good, not after surrendering what they gave up to get Miller from the Atlanta Braves in the first place.
Obviously, we don’t know the veracity of this information, and a lot depends on specifics, such as the identity of the pitchers in the Marlins deal. The entire piece is also heavy on the usual “high-ranking executive with direct knowledge of their plans” sources, speaking “on condition of anonymity.” But if true, it’s concerning. This would be evidence to suggest the root of the team’s problems may well not be the front office, but an ownership more concerned with the team’s image than fixing the problems. This is bad management, plain and simple. If you hire someone to do a job, partly due to their wealth of experience, you have to trust the decisions they make. Few things create resentment faster, in any profession, than being told to do a job, then being stopped from doing it.
Other factors make this even more questionable. Firstly, a baseball team owner does not have to give a damn about public opinion. He’s not a politician, needing to pander to the whims of the electorate every four years. This is actually good, for long-term goals sometimes mean short-term pain. Ask the Houston Astros, who lost 106, 107 and 111 games in consecutive season from 2011-13, but made the playoffs two years later, partly on the back of prospects stockpiled during the long, dark winter. According to Forbes, Arizona’s revenue last year was $223 million - but less than one-fifth ($44m) of that was gate receipts. The bulk of income comes from things like the television contract, MLB revenue sharing, etc. which are not impacted in any significant way by what the average Arizonan thinks about Kendrick, Hall, etc.
This isn’t to say that PR considerations shouldn’t be part of the decision-making process. As with any business, it should be a consideration. However, let’s be honest. The team’s image is already in the toilet. Between the horrible 2016 campaign, the spat with Maricopa County over the stadium, etc. I think public perception of the D-backs is likely at its lowest ebb since the departure of Jerry Colangelo, at the end of the historically woeful 2004 season. Worrying whether firing Chip Hale will affect things, is like Ryan Lochte being concerned if these pants make his butt look fat. [There’s a reference, on which future generations will look back and go, “Eh?”] Indeed, there is a strong case to be made that the team’s apparent complete inaction in the face of the current issues, is having a more negative impact on fan confidence.
These anecdotes about ownership interference are worrying in a couple of ways. Firstly, if/when house is cleaned, who is going to want to come in and work in an organization that behaves this way? Would you want to work for a boss who over-rides your major decisions? Secondly, it suggests the problems with the franchise may go higher than Dave Stewart or even Tony La Russa. If ownership is actively involved in approving transactions, as it appears, then this implies they bear their share of responsibility for the current state of things. With that, a reasonable conclusion is that if they are part of the problem, they cannot be part of the solution. Whatever cleaning house is to be done may therefore not be fully effective, without a change in ownership. And who fires the owners?