When the 2010 season began, the Arizona Diamondbacks thought they had all of the pieces in place to compete in the National League Western Division. Team officials were confident that 2009 was an anomaly and they had taken steps both with the pitching staff and the offense to overcome the difficulties they faced last season and should be competitive if not for the divisional crown then at least for the wild card.
Through the first week of the season confidence was growing for this team. They began taking two of three from the San Diego Padres and won the series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The mounting losses of 2009 seemed like a distant memory.
With the first road trip of the season, the Diamondbacks fortunes changed when the team went 1-5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Padres. Little did we know that trip would be a more accurate barometer of how this team would play through the first three months of the season.
While the Diamondbacks stumbled at home going 21-25, that was nothing compared to their struggles on the road where they are a woeful 13-30 thus far.
Several theories have been proposed for why the team has done so poorly. The players did not seem to respond to manager AJ Hinch and he was subsequently let go by the team. The roster construction relied heavily on power hitters who strike out at alarming rates. And of course no one can forget the bullpen which has the worst ERA in the major leagues and is on pace to shatter the single season record for failure.
The roster shortcomings resulted in General Manager Josh Byrnes being relieved of duty. During the press conference when Hinch and Byrnes were let go, General Partner Ken Kendrick and CEO/President Derrick Hall alluded to more changes that could be on the horizon.
At the All-Star break the question becomes, what changes are in store for the Arizona Diamondbacks and what are the expectations of the team over the second half of the season.
Hall and Kendrick have already publicly stated they will be evaluating all aspects of the organization to identify areas of improvement. There are no areas that will be off-limits to these assessments.
Already there have been changes in the baseball operations staff and further changes may be coming. From a scouting and player development perspective too many of these young players are reaching the majors with swing flaws and questionable plate discipline.
Interim manager Kirk Gibson has already expressed concern for the propensity of strike outs and has challenged his coaches and the players to begin changing their approach otherwise they may not remain on this team long.
Likewise the pitching staff under the direction of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. have been challenged to become more involved in the advanced scouting and preparation. Rather than having scouting reports provided to the pitchers, Gibson and Stottlemyre expect the pitchers to collect the information and share it amongst themselves to become more hands-on in preparing for a series or game.
That might sound obvious but to many of these young players that is a foreign concept. They are now being asked to be more accountable, something that should have been taught at each level of their minor league development.
The players are not immune to the assessments being made by Kendrick and Hall. They understand full well that the Diamondbacks will be sellers at the trade deadline and no one is exempt from being dealt if the right deal comes along.
It may be naïve to believe the Diamondbacks will make wholesale changes by the July 31 trade deadline. Most of the players on this team have underachieved and therefore have little trade value. The Diamondbacks will not make trades just for the sake of change. A deal will only be considered if it meets the criteria of making this team better not just this year but many years down the road.
It is more plausible to think Arizona will make the bulk of their roster adjustments in the off-season when they can assess the free agent market as well as the trade market. Given the comments by members of the Diamondbacks management team, I anticipate the roster to be constructed differently next year than what we have seen in 2009 and 2010.
The roster needs an infusion of players capable of getting on base and providing more situational hitting expertise than what the current group has done. They also need to re-evaluate the relief pitching to organize a staff that can build from one member to another without failure at the end.
All of these changes could mean potential free agents such as Chad Qualls, Adam LaRoche, and perhaps Kelly Johnson may not remain with the team.
The second half of the season should be entertaining if for no other reason than to see how club management views the pieces they have in place and which will be deemed expendable. Buckle your seat belts; this could be a heck of a ride.