When the Arizona Diamondbacks announced they had signed Adam LaRoche the question became, how would the roster shake out? Arizona had already maxed out their 40-man roster which meant there would need to be some shuffling to make room for their new first baseman.
Looking over the roster, the moves began falling like a set of stacked dominos. The first to fall was Adam LaRoche who was added. This meant Conor Jackson who was expected to get the majority of playing time at first would move back to Left Field where he was much more comfortable.
Jackson had a pretty good day. Not only was he given the news that he would be moving back to the outfield but the Arizona Diamondbacks also came to terms on a new one-year contract with a modest raise. This raise came despite Jackson missing most of the 2009 season with an extended case of “valley fever”.
With Jackson now moving from the infield to the outfield, there was another domino to fall. Last season’s surprise contributor Gerardo Parra went from potentially being the Opening Day left fielder to now being the fourth outfielder. Parra had a decent season in 2009 after being called up from the minor leagues.
He would earn Rookie of the Month and put together enough clutch hits to bring his name up in conversations for rookie of the year. Parra is capable of playing all three outfield positions and gives the Diamondbacks a good alternative to keep all of their outfielders fresh.
These moves pushed veteran Eric Byrnes from being the fourth outfielder to suddenly becoming the fifth fielder. In his favor Byrnes had Major League experience and he is still owed $11 million on the contract extension he signed in 2007.
Despite his rather large 2010 salary, the Diamondbacks determined the team would be more competitive without Byrnes on the roster. They designated him for assignment meaning they have 10 days to either trade him or he can become a free agent.
Arizona has been attempting to trade Byrnes for over a year so the idea that a team would be interested in trading for him now seems highly unlikely.
To say it has been interesting to watch the rise and fall of Eric Byrnes would be an understatement. In 2006 Byrnes was signed by the Diamondbacks to play center field. His charismatic personality and aggressive hustle made him an instant fan favorite among Arizona’s fans.
At the end of the 2006 season the Diamondbacks parted ways with left fielder Luis Gonzalez. The Arizona fan base was up in arms. Management took a beating in the public opinion polls with most fans wanting to string them up at the hanging tree.
In 2007 Byrnes moved from center to left field and began putting up career numbers helping the Diamondbacks make a push for the post season. Fans began clamoring for the team to sign Byrnes to an extension.
They felt as though the team owed them that after sacrificing the fan favorite Gonzalez a year earlier. I remember numerous occasions where people would stop me and literally demand that I contact team management to sign Byrnes to a long-term extension.
It was comical on so many levels. First, these fans had some delusion that I had any sort of pull with the Diamondbacks to suggest such a thing. Second, even if I did have that kind of pull would I really use it to make this kind of request? Honestly I was more interested in trying to find a way to upgrade my seats to get away from the opposing fans than in getting Eric Byrnes a new contract.
I did offer to write an article for the Diamondbacks magazine expressing the fans desire. I turned that article in knowing full well it would be rejected. The last thing the Diamondbacks needed in their magazine was a fan calling out management to sign a player to an extension. As expected the article was not published.
Shortly thereafter the Diamondbacks signed Byrnes to a three-year contract to keep him in Arizona through 2010. I cringed a little with the signing. The fans got exactly what they asked for; Byrnes would be patrolling the outfield for the foreseeable future.
With the Byrnes signing it became evident that the money spent on Byrnes would not allow the team to sign second baseman Orlando Hudson to an extension letting him walk before the 2009 season. It also meant the team would have to deal with the outfield logjam they just created.
The result was promising outfield prospect and former first-round draft pick Carlos Quentin was traded to the Chicago White Sox before the 2008 season. The team also traded outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez to the Oakland Athletics as part of the Dan Haren deal.
Quentin would go on to put up MVP type numbers during his first year with the White Sox. He has blossomed into the power hitter Diamondbacks scouts had anticipated. Along with the power though Quentin has shown a certain lack of durability tempering the loss a bit.
The Gonzalez trade will come back to haunt the Diamondbacks for a long time. Carlos was traded to the Colorado Rockies as part of the Matt Holliday deal and began to show what an impressive player he will be at the Major League level. Having him in the same division will give Arizona fans plenty of opportunities to see firsthand what was given up to make room for Byrnes.
The fans began to be disenchanted with the Byrnes signing in 2008 when he was injured for the majority of the season and the Diamondbacks failed to make the playoffs. Byrnes bad luck continued when he broke a hand in 2009 putting him on the shelf for most of the season. Even when he was in the line-up he was a shadow of the player the fans saw in 2006 and 2007.
Those same fans who demanded the team sign Byrnes to an extension were now approaching me asking why the team had not traded or better released “the bum”. The team finds themselves in a difficult situation where they are now cutting ties with Byrnes and in the process throwing away $11 million that could have been used to make the team more competitive.
The fans seem to have selective amnesia where they only remember what they want to remember. It is management’s fault that Byrnes got $30 million for three years. It was Byrnes fault that he tore two hamstrings and had his hand broken by a pitch.
Byrnes has been portrayed as a clown or an ego-maniac who fleeced the Diamondbacks and sat out to work on his television show or clothing line. Few of them remember the positives from Byrnes three years in Arizona.
They seem to forget that before 2008 Byrnes had never been on the disabled list despite crashing into outfield walls or sliding head first into bases.
As for me I’ll look at Byrnes career with Arizona and fondly remember the player willing to sign autographs and talk to the fans; the man who played the game like a little boy. Despite some bad luck Eric Byrnes was good for the Diamondbacks even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the team signing him.