Who Are the Arizona Diamondbacks?Posted by Jeff Summers on Apr 30, 2014 in 2014 Regular Season | 1 comment
Going into the final day of April the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves with an abysmal 8-22 record to begin the season. This is the second worst start in franchise history just one game better than the 1998 inaugural season (a loss today would tie them for the worst record in franchise history to begin the year). The 2014 Diamondbacks are four games worse than the 2004 team at this juncture and that team went on to lose 111 games.
While the season still has 132 games remaining, the fan base in Arizona is already becoming restless with signs spotted at Chase Field recommending the firing of manager Kirk Gibson, general manager Kevin Towers, CEO Derrick Hall, and owner Ken Kendrick. The advent of social media is providing fans a way to make their desire for change known with immediate feedback. In today’s day and age patience is becoming shorter and shorter.
From a fan’s perspective something is clearly not working and when something isn’t working the view is that things can only get better if you change what you are doing since past experience has shown that history repeats itself and if you only win two games at home through the first 30 perhaps you don’t want to repeat that for the next five months.
So while I understand the fan’s frustrations I have to question whether firing anyone is going to make any difference to this season. The past 15 games at Chase Field have given me ample time to ponder this season in the perspective of franchise history. I’ve talked to several fans at the games and elsewhere and there is one question that continues to plague me, “Who are the Arizona Diamondbacks?”
When Derrick Hall succeeded Rich Dozer as president of the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 6, 2006 he inherited an organization that lacked focus or direction. Over the course of the next 7 plus years Hall has built the Diamondbacks into what many people describe as a model franchise. If you ask most fans they will describe the team in terms such as “fan-friendly”, “cost-effective entertainment”, “family-oriented”. From a business perspective, Hall has given the organization a direction and a mission. That is encouraging but what about the team on the field, what is their identity?
This question goes beyond the personalities of the general manager or manager and speaks to the overall direction of the baseball operations staff. Is there a clear identity of who the Diamondbacks are on the field not just at the major league level but also throughout the organization from summer leagues in the Dominican Republic through Triple-A Reno and ultimately in Phoenix?
Let me explain by example. Within the Atlanta Braves organization when you talk to players or coaches at any level you hear phrases such as “the Bobby Cox way”. Players are selected and groomed to play within a system that is consistent from the scouting to the minor league teams to the major league roster. A player is not made to conform as much as they are measured against a criterion that matches what the team is and should be. While the Braves may select the best available athlete they do so understanding what is valuable and understanding whether a player will fit within the system. Atlanta develops its players based upon a defined and prescribed mission. From a pitching perspective they prefer high school over college so that their minor league and player development staffs have an opportunity to mold them into what the Braves want rather than trying to adapt someone who has preconceived ideas of how to pitch or be successful.
Tampa Bay is another example of a team, which has a consistent mission and message for player development. Teams marvel at how the Rays can continuously produce high levels of talent especially pitching despite having one of the lowest revenue streams in Major League Baseball. They do so by understanding what will make them successful and developing those players from within. Tampa Bay has shown this is not a simple task and they had to endure 10-years of losing baseball before they finally found the right combination. But now it is working and despite their draft picks being towards the end they still somehow continually stock their major league and minor league teams with great talent that find success at the highest levels.
So how is this different than the Arizona Diamondbacks? As fans we constantly hear that if a team is going to be successful they have to develop talent. The Diamondbacks are great at finding talent. Their scouts are routinely acknowledged as being among the best in the country so why then are there such inconsistent results?
Unlike football or basketball, the baseball draft is not a quick win solution. It takes years to nurture these players to find those rare individuals who not only have the talent to be major league baseball players but who have the drive and the work ethic capable of making that leap.
A draft choice or free agent must be a piece of the overall puzzle that makes a complete picture. In the case of the Diamondbacks it is sometimes unclear what the picture is. Over the course of 17 years the Diamondbacks have gone from expansion team to a team of high-dollar veterans to a rebuilding project to a “gritty” team of blue-collar players. They have been built for the big inning then dismantled and built as pitching centric. There are years when they are mashers capable of multiple home runs then the next year they are built for small-ball. While each of these could be a recipe for success, it lacks consistency from year to year to understand how the next wave of players will fit and even what they are going to fit into?
This of course is from an outsider’s point of view. I am not invited to the organizational meetings where the Diamondbacks describe what they are trying to accomplish or how their player development system should function. Maybe they have a clear plan that goes from the Arizona Summer League at Salt River Fields through Missoula, Hillsboro, South Bend, Mobile, Reno, and ultimately to Chase Field. Maybe they have a “Diamondbacks Way” that is engrained into the players’ psyche. Maybe there is a book that describes how each member of each roster at each level fits within the whole organization.
I don’t have the answers; I wish I did. I would gladly share them with the Diamondbacks to make the team better. But I wonder whether changing managers or general managers or any other level will do any good until everyone is on the same page and understands what it is to be a Diamondback.
I would love to hear what other people think. What should this team be? Not who should be fired, promoted, demoted but what should be the identity of this franchise from a player development perspective? It is only when we understand that that we can then begin to assess which parts or pieces are part of the solution and how do we build upon that? I would love to get to a point where any Diamondbacks fan could succinctly explain who the Diamondbacks are and point to the team to show how the whole is greater than the individual pieces.