I’ve Been Byrnes-ed

You would think that after a while I would learn but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Just one day after posting a blog entry suggesting that fans come to the ballpark to cheer on Eric Byrnes in what looks like his final season in a Diamondbacks uniform the team calls a news conference where they announce that they have re-signed “pigpen” to a three-year contract extension worth a reported $30 million. I should be on the psychic network in Bizarro World. For those of you unfamiliar with Bizarro World, it is an alternative universe that is the exact opposite of Earth. In fact the real name of the planet is Htrae which is Earth spelled backwards. The inhabitants of Bizarro World are mirror opposites of the characters to Superman. Now I ask you, what other baseball web site offers you the diversity that this one does? You come to find details on the re-signing of Eric Byrnes and in the process you get a history lesson of character development within the DC Comics universe. That is what I call diverse.

The announcement of this contract extension is somewhat curious. A little more than three weeks ago we were told that contract talks had broken down with the two parties wide apart in the type of deal they were seeking. All indications pointed to the Diamondbacks being committed to their young outfield with Byrnes roster spot being a place holder until Justin Upton or Carlos Gonzalez were ready to take over. The projected outfield in 2008 was to be Carlos Quentin in right field, Chris Young in center field, and Justin Upton/Carlos Gonzalez/Jeff Salazar in left field depending on who the organization felt was most ready. It should be noted that Salazar would be the designated place holder until Gonzalez or Upton was seasoned enough to take over.

So what happened from the all-star break until now that would change the minds in the front office? Let’s look at some events that have occurred. The Diamondbacks went on an extended winning streak climbing back into contention. A lot of this could be attributed to the play of Chris Young and Eric Byrnes. The winning brought the Diamondbacks to the top of the NL West standings making it more and more likely that the team would contend not next year which is what everyone planned but could also compete this season too giving the young players yet another learning experience to draw upon. The team would need some seasoned veterans to assist the young kids as they deal with the pressures of post-season play. Carlos Quentin with his .210 batting average returned to the major league roster after hitting a blistering .360 in Tucson. After coming back to the Diamondbacks Quentin continued to struggle against major league pitching. This had to at least introduce doubts into the minds of the brain-trust with the Diamondbacks. What if Quentin doesn’t figure out major league pitching and can’t make the necessary adjustments to be a .280 hitter with 30 plus home runs and remains a .208 hitter with 5 home runs? If no-miss Quentin struggles, could the same thing happen to Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton? Quentin, Drew, and Young all proved that it takes longer to adapt to the major league level of plan than the front office anticipated. Drew continues to struggle and Young is just starting to show signs of breaking out. And let’s not discount the public relations backlash that would occur of Byrnes walks after the season. Just last year the Diamondbacks chose not to extend the contract of fan-favorite Luis Gonzalez. People were in an uproar and I still hear about that decision whenever the subject of Diamondbacks roster comes up. Whether in a phone call, email, or in person conversation as soon as the other person finds out I am a Diamondbacks fan I am immediately bombarded with the question of why the Diamondbacks have not signed Byrnes to a long-term contract. This is obviously very important to a lot of fans. With attendance sorely lacking at the home games as compared to away games something needs to be done to bring fans to the ballpark. Starting next season games will only be televised on cable/satellite television (another unpopular decision) so it becomes even more important to get people down to the ball games.

As I listened to excerpts from the press conference and subsequent radio interviews a few things piqued my curiosity. The preliminary discussions between Byrnes and the team were done between Eric’s agent and General Manager Josh Byrnes staff. Those talks broke off after it became evident that Eric was looking for a 5 year deal worth $50 million. Talks resumed when General Partner Jeff Moorad called Eric Byrnes into his office after the Atlanta Braves game on July 29. These two hammered out the framework and details of a deal. I’m not suggesting that ownership stepped over the General Manager, I just found that interesting is all. It becomes especially interesting after you put into context that the team ended up with 3 players they might not necessarily have wanted through waiver claims that resulted in a $2 million bump in salaries. I’m sure that everything is ok between Josh Byrnes and the ownership group, I just think the timing was interesting. I’m also curious about the timing of the announcement. From what we have heard the deal has been done for a week. Why wait until the first game of the home stand to announce it? Eric Byrnes himself said it had been done for a while and that he told Justin Upton and Chris Young of the extension during a barbeque at his house on Monday so we know it was done by then, why not announce it? During last Thursday’s chat with Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall he gave hints this was coming down when he stated on a couple of occasions that he could not see this team without Eric Byrnes playing the outfield. That seemed like an odd statement coming from the business side of things. Most times those types of questions are brushed off as the realm of the player personnel side. It left me scratching my head but again I just let it go. I am not a conspiracy theorist but there are enough uncommon things around this transaction to make me wonder what else is going on. For now I’ll just trust that the front office has a plan and that play now appears to include Eric Byrnes. If anyone should be nervous about this turn of events it should be Carlos Quentin. When asked about the glut of outfielders and especially Quentin General Manager Josh Byrnes stated that Carlos is in a different place right now and that the team would need to assess what that would mean. The answer sounded kind of cryptic so I guess we’ll wait to see what that means. Maybe Quentin has decided to have surgery on his partially torn labrum at which case he might be gone for not only the remainder of 2007 but also likely out for an extended period in 2008 as Jeff DaVanon showed this season. It should be an interesting next few weeks at Chase Field.

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