The sports world is a fragile ecosystem. Fans can be a finicky bunch. Organizations must be rational and clear with their expectations. When an organization sets expectations too high, team executives unwittingly put their jobs in jeopardy, throwing themselves to the starving wolf pack that is their own fan base. Last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks outperformed expectations in finishing 79-83. That gave them a false sense of self heading into this year. Simply put: The Arizona Diamondbacks management rushed the rebuild.
Arizona Diamondbacks Management Rushed The Rebuild
Perhaps, more fittingly, last year the Diamondbacks were ahead of schedule. Now, sitting at 43-63, the team is left with more questions than answers. And after an off-season spent making futile moves meant to get them over the top, solutions may be hard to find.
A Misevaluation of Who They Were and Who They Are
The Diamondbacks have one bona fide superstar in Paul Goldschmidt. A big, unexpected blow came when superstar-in-the-making A.J. Pollock went down with an elbow injury early that took away his 2016 thus far (although, according to him, he plans to play before season’s end). However, recent history has shown that one, two, or even three offensive superstars does not make a contender. It takes a lot more than some pop in the lineup. In fact, up-the-middle defense that can consistently take base hits away is probably more valuable down the stretch than a Paul Goldschmidt can be with his bat.
Similarly, a starting pitcher who is a threat to pitch two (or even three) shutouts over the course of a seven-game series might be the most valuable player on any team. Like other sports, when the postseason approaches, the game changes, although the difference is less tangible in baseball. As surprisingly successful as Arizona was last year, it’s hard to find a winner given the roster they are working with.
The Arizona Diamondbacks management has constructed its roster in such a way that they are now stuck in a spot teams around the league dread. They’re too good to throw in the towel and trade their best players; they’ve signed veterans to lengthy deals that (for now) aren’t attractive to potential trade partners. They made moves that told they’re fan base we’re ready to win now when the roster as a whole was screaming, “We overachieved last year and were really lucky health-wise, give us time!”
The Irresponsible Signing
The deal that landed Zack Greinke is really the crux of the problem for the Dbacks. It gave a false hope to a team looking to contend this year, when its championship window really has yet to open. Greinke is 32 years old, and signed a massive six-year, $206-plus million contract. It would stand to reason that Arizona had the money available, and couldn’t help themselves when the chance arose to land a shiny new toy in Greinke, and create some league-wide headlines along the way. But headlines don’t win games, and the Greinke signing has been a disaster in its inaugural season.
In Greinke, the team obtained a misfit toy to put in its collection of fresh-out-of-the-box players. Consider the list of players on Arizona’s roster currently that are over 30: reliever Matt Buschmann, reserve outfielders Michael Bourn and Rickie Weeks (both 33), and back-up catcher Tuffy Gosewisch (32), along with Greinke. Of those players, only Greinke is essential to the team’s nucleus. And that makes the Greinke deal even more head-scratching. Even if it sounds like a good idea, it’s probably best to resist giving a 32-year-old starting pitcher a six-year deal for over $200 million. Especially when you’ve done so much to fill the rest of the roster with 20-something-year-olds who are just hitting their prime, as Arizona has.
The signing of Zack Greinke will haunt the Diamondbacks for years. It single-handedly moved the needle too far towards the red line of contention. Greinke’s contract has the team hamstrung. Arizona might not be able to surround their core with the supplemental talent it needs because they threw thirty-one million dollars worth of eggs per season in the Zack Greinke basket. Further, the Diamondbacks have nowhere near the financial means as the in-division Los Angeles Dodgers, nor the organizational depth as another NL West foe in the San Francisco Giants. That’s three huge obstructions lying in the way of Arizona’s path to contenderdom.
It’s one thing to provide your team’s young core with veteran leadership. It’s quite another to do what the Diamondbacks did in regard to Zack Greinke.
So… now what? The Arizona Diamondbacks management has put their team in a position where they should start to figure out which players are part of their long term future, and which ones aren’t. But where do they start? They largely stood pat during this trade deadline. But what about going forward? Where do they start to sort out the roster? Do they give up on any of their everyday players who are still in their twenties? Do they start looking into (gasp!) trading Paul Goldschmidt? Probably not. If they’re in any deal(s), it’s probably selling off spare parts – like the Rickie Weeks-types – to a contending team looking to add a bit of depth before the stretch run. That’s really all the Diamondbacks can do, because they’re still too young to hit the reset button.
Going Nowhere Fast
There’s a real nice core of young players in Arizona. In all areas. But upper-management and smarter teams have put obstacles in the way. The franchise wrongfully shoved the team from wait-and-see mode into produce-or-else, and it’s blowing up in their faces. All it takes is one bad move to send a team in a direction they weren’t supposed to go. The Arizona Diamondbacks management convinced themselves Greinke was their missing piece when all they needed was time.
Maybe the Diamondbacks cursed themselves by introducing a new uniform set this season that doesn’t even make them look like a Major League Baseball team anymore. (Almost made it through this without referencing those hideous things. But since we’re there, who thought those were a good idea? Has any uniform set tried so hard to look cool and missed the mark so badly? It’s like if your grandpa decided to wear turquoise skinny jeans and a pair of “Chef” Curry’s.)
In a nutshell, Zack Greinke makes any team better. But given his contract and (lack of) health, it’s safe to assume Arizona feels a good amount of buyer’s remorse. Signing Greinke was a good move. But sometimes the good move is not the right move, because baseball isn’t played in a nutshell. The Arizona Diamondbacks management don’t know who they are right now. Or who they should be. Or what they should look like. When a team is surrounded by so much uncertainty, it is doomed.