A Tornado of Trades

Nearly everyone, myself included had lamented at the lack of progress the Diamondbacks had been making this off season. If I would have stopped to think about it, it does seem almost laughable that I would be stressed out that Arizona had not pulled the trigger on any number of deals. After all this is a team that was among the youngest in all of the major leagues and by all accounts was set for a long run of success as this core of young talent matured. Really all that was lacking was a little starting pitching depth and that too didn’t seem very far removed if you looked at the farm system. But in a society that revolves around instant gratification we fully expected the Arizona Diamondbacks to aggressively go after each and every free agent or entertain every trade to make themselves better.

I am sure there were some among the Diamondbacks faithful who at some point expressed a desire to have Josh Byrnes and his staff see what it would have taken to sign Alex Rodriguez or call the Minnesota Twins to inquire about a potential trade for Johan Santana. Either of these could have imploded and destroyed much of the work that the Diamondbacks front office had done these past couple of years. No the prudent thing to do was to let the young players mature and infuse veterans where necessary. So slow and methodical is the right course of action where you only make a deal if it betters your team not only for this year but for many years to come. That is why yesterday was such an anomaly.

It began rather innocently with the announcement that the Arizona Diamondbacks had traded troubled infielder Alberto Callaspo to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for promising starting pitcher Billy Buckner. It’s funny how the human mind works. As soon as I heard this deal I cringed. Not because I think it is a bad trade but subconsciously I could envision Buckner on the mound of a play-off game and the “great Troy Tolowitzki” hitting a slow roller back to the mound and it going between Buckner’s legs allowing the winning run to cross the plate. Two things are probably certain. Billy Buckner’s parents must have a warped sense of humor and they are probably not Boston Red Sox fans. Either that or they had decided that saddling a young boy who had aspirations of playing professional baseball with a name like Billy Buckner would lead him to be the toughest kid on the block. Buckner began last season in Double-A but by the end of the season had seen action at the major league level. He has been a starting pitcher by trade and could challenge for a spot in the rotation in 2008. The deal also allowed Arizona to enhance its image with the community by eliminating the distraction of a player who had been arrested and accused of domestic violence. That trade alone would have filled the need for pitching while reducing the logjam the Diamondbacks have in the middle of their infield. With Orlando Hudson and Stephen Drew firmly planted in the starting line-up and Augie Ojeda and Emilio Bonifacio coming off the bench there was not a lot of room or playing time available for Callaspo. Perhaps a change of scenery would be best for him. I fully expected that my entry for today would revolve around the Callaspo trade. Little did I know it was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Late yesterday afternoon as I lay on the couch in a drug-induced stupor caused by “better living through chemistry” and pain management from my accident I happened to be tuned to ESPN when across the bottom of the screen crawled an announcement of a deal between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. I lunged for the remote control to pause and rewind my Tivo. The lunge immediately reminded me that me and my ribs were still not on speaking terms and I yelled in agony which brought Trina running into the room to see what new kind of damage I had just done to myself. With a shortness of breath I tried to explain that I could have sworn there was a talking squirrel sitting on the couch next to me watching a college football pregame show and telling me the Diamondbacks had just made a trade for a starting pitcher. I wasn’t exactly clear on the details as the squirrel sort of mumbled and I wanted to rewind the Tivo to see if he was telling the truth but the stupid rodent would not give me the remote. Trina made some comment about potential side effects to medications and a note that I was no longer allowed to operate heavy machinery while I was on this medication. Well there goes my Christmas list. I guess I won’t be getting that bulldozer I wanted for Christmas. I was finally able to wrestle the remote away from the squirrel. Well Trina did, I was more interested in taking the squirrel out back and opening a can of whoopin’ on him. It was not until much later that I would find out that the squirrel was not a squirrel at all but was instead my wadded up sweatshirt. How my sweatshirt transformed into a squirrel and gained the ability to speak may go down as one of Nature’s many mysteries that I didn’t understand. ESPN was correct, the Arizona Diamondbacks did pull off a blockbuster trade with the Oakland Athletics where they sent six prospects to the A’s in exchange for starting pitcher Dan Haren and pitcher Conner Robertson. Arizona gave up minor league outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham along with pitchers Dana Eveland, Brett Anderson, and Greg Smith. Also included in the deal was minor league first baseman Chris Carter who was dealt to the Diamondbacks last week in exchange for outfielder Carlos Quentin. That is a lot of talent to give up but considering Haren is only 27 and is locked up for 3 more years contractually at what now seems to be a bargain price made this deal very intriguing. Carlos Gonzalez is the cornerstone of this trade and has the potential to be a very good outfielder for a very long time. Throwing in three left-handed pitching prospects also eases Oakland’s loss. This deal may end up at some point looking really bad for the Diamondbacks if all of these prospects live up to their potential but for now it looks very positive. Arizona now has perhaps the most formidable 1-2 punch in the National League and stacks up quite well with anyone. It is reminiscent of the Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling era and we all know how well that worked out for the Diamondbacks. Going into Spring Training the Diamondbacks now have a rotation that looks like Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis, Randy Johnson, Micah Owings. That is about as deep a staff as I have ever seen on a Diamondbacks roster. Hopefully they can all stay healthy and we can see if the old adage is true that pitching wins play-off games.

Taking a page from Ron Popeil, the inventor of the Veg-O-Matic, today felt like one of those infomercials you see on late-night television; but wait there’s more! The Arizona Diamondbacks were not quite done wheeling and dealing. In the final deal of the day Arizona sent All-Star closer Jose Valverde to the Houston Astros in exchange for pitchers Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez and utility man Chris Burke. By dealing Valverde when his value was at its zenith they were able to get someone in Qualls who is very capable of either closing games or acting as a set-up man for potential closers Brandon Lyon or Tony Pena. Given Valverde’s up-and-down tendencies in the past this is a classic example of moving a product when demand is at its highest. I have to be honest, I feel like a used car salesman who works at a lot at the top of a large hill that just sold a guy a car that I know has only 25 miles of wear on the brakes left. The customer may enjoy the car but he is in for a pretty wild ride when he drives it home. The addition of Chris Burke gives the Diamondbacks something they lost when they traded Alberto Callaspo earlier in the day; a utility player capable of playing most infield and outfield positions.

With the whirlwind of transactions that Josh Byrnes and his staff completed they can now settle down for a well deserved holiday break knowing the team they have assembled is capable of meeting the expectations that the organization and the fans have put on the 2008 season. There are still a few things to do such as finalize contracts for the now four remaining arbitration eligible players, and addressing the bench and whether Tony Clark may return to the team. But these are things that the Diamondbacks have some time to complete. Most of the heavy lifting has been done. It’s now just a matter of tweaking a few things before this show is ready for opening night. Yeah Josh Byrnes and his staff came through like a category 4 tornado and caused massive destruction especially in the minor league system but at the end of the day calm has been restored and the rebuilding process can begin. A storm like this can only be caused by one thing; I blame global warming.

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