It seems like the Arizona Diamondbacks have been in a constant state of turnover for the past several years. Sometimes, it has been the players, sometimes the front-office, but it feels as if there has always been a stream of suitcases sitting in the hall at Chase Field, waiting for an Uber to the airport. To see if this is indeed the case, I took a look back at the Opening Day line-up for the D-backs, every season since 2012, and compared it to the expected line-up next month. [Still pending, obviously: there’s a question-mark over Yasmany Tomas’s presence, due to a strained oblique]
D-backs Opening Day line-ups, 2012-17
This confirms the situation is as suspected. On Opening Day this year, the Arizona Diamondbacks will be on their third General Manager, third Manager, and fourth starter at virtually every position on the diamond (with one obvious exception), compared to Opening Day in 2012. Never mind five years, if Yasmany’s side doesn’t fix itself in the next two weeks, than seven of those dozen names will be different from last season. And that’s not counting Chris Owings and his emergency start in center field on Opening Day 2016.
In some ways, it’s understandable. The D-backs haven’t had a winning season over this time, are among nine teams without a play-off appearance since 2011 and rank 24th among the 30 major-league teams for wins in the last five seasons, with an overall record of 374-436 (see list below). If one thing breeds stability, it’s success, and there hasn’t been very much of that in the four major sporting circles round Arizona of late. This results in what is very much a trickle-down impact on any team: a new GM has his own approach and vision, so brings in players and staff who align with that. And on a failing team, a change in direction is usually deemed
10 worst MLB teams, 2012-16
- =20: Mariners (W/L = 395-415, last playoff appearance 2001)
=20: Reds (395-415, 2013)
- 22: Brewers (380-430, 2011)
- 23: White Sox (375-435, 2008)
- 24: Diamondbacks (374-436, 2011)
- 25: Padres (371-439, 2006)
- 26: Phillies (361-449, 2011)
- 27: Marlins (358-451, 2003)
- 28: Rockies (347-463, 2011)
- 29: Astros (346-464, 2015)
- 30: Twins (344-466, 2010)
The replacement boss has no loyalty to anyone acquired by the old regime, and feels no reluctance when it comes to disposing of them. [See also studio movie heads and projects they inherit] The D-backs have been through this “new broom” cycle twice recently, thanks to the brief reign of Dave Stewart, which resembled that of a mid-Tudor English monarch both in longevity and tumult. Fortunately, it was ended before a fan plot to blow up Chase Field on November 5 was needed. The radically different approach taken by new GM Mike Hazen has taken the team in a different direction, and further personal changes have occurred as a result.
The one glaring exception is at first base, where Paul Goldschmidt will be making his sixth successive Opening Day start at 1B. Only Luis Gonzalez (1999-2006) has seen more for the D-backs. It’s a sad indictment of management - and, let’s not forget, ownership - that none of those teams blessed with the sublime talents of Goldschmidt at first on Opening Day have managed so much as a winning record. With Paul turning 30 before the end of this season, the clock is running out if that’s going to change.
Does it matter?
For the hardcore fan like myself, probably not. My loyalty is to the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back, and I understand the nature of the business, especially for a team with limited resources. For example, we saw Gonzo part company with the team on acrimonious terms at the end of his career, becoming first a Dodger, then finishing with the Marlins. I get the need for that: he was worth below replacement level over those last two seasons, while earning $9.2 million. Or even Randy Johnson, allowed to win his 300th game with a division rival - again, barely replacement level, while earning $8 million. Letting them go were both good baseball business decisions.
But the casual fan, channel-surfing across a game, is more likely to stick around if they see names that they have heard of and recognize. Over the past few years, I’ve had to spent the first month of the season explaining to Mrs. SnakePit who the new players are, where they came from, and why we don’t have Miguel Montero, Tuffy Gosewisch, or this year, Welington Castillo any longer. Familiarity is a part of fan identification, especially at the casual end of the spectrum. It’s particularly so in a “transplant state” like Arizona, where only 38% of people were born here (less than any state bar Nevada + Florida), while the rest tend to bring their previous loyalties here with them.
They need to be won over to supporting us, and a rapid turnover of players does little to encourage loyalty. Why make a financial and emotional investment in a player’s shirt, if the odds are good they won’t be around, just a couple of years down the road? Even I haven’t bought any non-generic item of team apparel in over a decade. Such reluctance is understandable, for any Arizona fan who lived through the “Uptown” fiasco. There, the team named a section of Chase Field after 22-year-old All Star Justin Upton before the 2010 season, only for the signs to come down a fortnight before he was traded away - complete with disparaging scuttlebutt - less than two years later.
But just as failure breeds turnover, so success breeds stability. Hopefully, new management will be given sufficient time to build on young prospects like Jake Lamb, and get this team back to the post-season before too long. That will then provide the opportunity for a positive cycle, where fan enthusiasm and interest feeds back into the team. Maybe it would allow them to escape the apparently endless hamster-wheel of reload/rebuild, which has been a more constant aspect of the D-backs’ world than any non-Goldschmidt player over the last five years. But I’m still going to wait and see before buying any more jerseys...