With the last drop of Gatorade still fresh on pinch hitter Phil Gosselin’s jersey from the celebration of a walk-off victory, the attention went from watching the players leave the field for the last time in the 2016 season to anticipating what the Diamondbacks first move of the off-season would be.
The team did not waste any time. In a post-game interview Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall began fielding questions of when the future of General Manager Dave Stewart, Manager Chip Hale, and Chief Baseball Officer Tony LaRussa would be decided. For Stewart his contract ended during the season but the team had chosen to wait until after play concluded before announcing their decision.
Hall explained that Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick would be arriving in town later that night and meetings were scheduled for early in the week to determine the fate of the front office and also the coaching staff.
On one hand you have to give the Diamondbacks credit, they did not want this thing to be drawn out extending the drama. The goal was to evaluate the jobs everyone had done this season and assess what the next steps would be.
The team finds themselves in an odd situation where there really are no good choices. Going into this season having made a huge statement both in the free agent market and through trades this team announced to everyone that they expected to battle for a playoff spot for the first time in five years.
Spring Training did nothing to dissuade those expectations. When the Cactus League ended the Diamondbacks looked impressive and a top of the standings. When the calendar turned to the regular season fans were quickly reminded that Spring Training records and impressions were meaningless.
A slow start by Paul Goldschmidt, a couple of shaky starts by new ace Zack Greinke, and the injury to centerfielder AJ Pollock in the last exhibition game put the Diamondbacks in a hole that they never recovered from.
Goldschmidt got better and second baseman Jean Segura had perhaps the best season of his career but the pitching staff struggled all season. The bullpen was taxed early and often and the Diamondbacks were out of contention from almost the beginning.
As early as May the bandwagon fans began to turn on the team calling for changes that went everywhere from the ball boy to ownership. With the trade deadline looming more players were shipped off, a result of a bad year gotten worse. Each trade met with skepticism and disdain.
When rosters expanded there were already rumors of discord in the front office where LaRussa and Stewart appeared to be overridden by ownership when they wanted to make a change at manager. There were further rumors of chaos and personality clashes between Director of Player Personnel Mike Bell and De Jon Watson.
Although the Diamondbacks said they would wait until the off-season to make changes Watson forced their hand on a decision and was let go clearly spelling out what seemed inevitable. When you are expected to be fighting to make the post season and you are instead fighting not to be the worst team in baseball someone would be sacrificed. The question was only who and how many.
That answer came on Monday morning when news came out that the Diamondbacks had parted ways with Stewart and Manager Chip Hale. There was also talk about reassigning LaRussa if he chose to stay.
This news was met with celebration on social media based on the sample size of my timelines. Clearly the fans expected a change and they had targeted GM and Manager as those most responsible for how this season turned out.
As for me, I didn’t celebrate. I wasn’t looking for anyone to be fired. It didn’t surprise me but it was disappointing. Now before people begin to question my sanity or declare me incompetent (which may very well be accurate), let me explain.
It wasn’t so much that I agreed with the direction of the team or that I thought Stewart and Hale had done a great job. The fact of the matter is, the revolving door in baseball operations is alarming.
Before Kendrick took over as Managing Partner for the Diamondbacks the team had one General Manager. Since that time they have had five soon to be six. Before Kendrick there were two managers – Buck Showalter and Bob Brenly. Since then they have had seven if you count Wally Backman who was hired and fired within a week after the team learned he had been arrested twice (a revelation that came from the press not from due diligence by the team) and eight counting the next one they hire.
To say there have been inconsistencies and a lack of direction would be putting it mildly. I’m not pointing fingers at the ownership, baseball is a hard business and there are very few teams that have strong long-term continuity but for the Diamondbacks they seem to be struggling with who they are or how they want to build their franchise.
You hear things like they want to have strong player development and how they are focused on scouting then they trade away those controllable assets in somewhat lopsided deals. They talk about how they cannot afford missteps then give Greinke $204M in what feels like an impulse purchase.
So here they are again looking for yet another general manager and front office. They will let the GM decide on the coaching staff and move quickly to prepare for 2017. But if you were a prospective candidate would you really want to work here?
Stewart as he was exiting commented that he didn’t realize the timeline of evaluation would be so short. If he had, he would never have taken the job. Looking at the past 10 years and how often they start over or change direction no one can or should expect that this will be a situation that will provide security long term.
I get that baseball is a results business, that fact gets brought up at every press conference. But that is usually followed up by statements like they didn’t make this decision based on wins and losses. If that is the case, what is the success criteria for this job? Clearly there is a disconnect between what ownership is expecting and what the front office or the coaches are delivering.
If I were interviewing for the job I would want that spelled out explicitly. We all agree that a team should be competitive and we should be focused on playing for championships but a lot goes into that whether it is having the right players, getting the performance you expect, and having the right contingency plans in place when the aforementioned things don’t work. But beyond the wins and losses what else is expected and at what level.
Looking at the minor league system the Diamondbacks have had a lot of success. Likewise looking at the drafts they have had they have a pretty good percentage of players who have success at the major league level meaning that too seems to be working. But the results are just not there for the Diamondbacks at the major league level. So what does ownership classify as success? If its not just wins and losses what else is it? If you can’t get an answer that, you may want to rethink whether this really is a place you want to work.
I’ll admit, I don’t have the answers but then it doesn’t seem like I am the only one. As I watch this situation unfold I have knots in my stomach. For the first time in a long time I really wonder whether this team knows what they need to do to be successful and can they find the pieces that can actually execute that. I guess only time will tell but they better start getting it right because from what I can see from the number of empty seats each game and the messages on social media and on the streets they don’t have too many more chances before this fan base gives up and that would be too bad.