The Arizona Diamondbacks bottoming out in 2016 is about much more than a disappointing season.
After finishing 30 games out of first place with an MLB worst record of 64-98 in 2014, the Arizona Diamondbacks took a step forward in 2015 under first year manager Chip Hale. The club won 15 more games than the previous season, and finished four games short of the .500 mark.
Despite having the youngest roster and statistically one of the worst pitching staffs, Hale managed to keep his team over .500 as late as August 23 (62-61). The Diamondbacks were just five games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. West with a wild card also on their radar screen.
The team bottomed out after that, but the point is Hale did a great managing job. The fans became excited about the maturation and development of this young core. That was expected to turn this team into a winner sooner rather than later.
Finishing a couple of games over .500 would have been accepted as another reasonable step forward. Instead, ownership interpreted the results of 2015 as a sign that the franchise was ready to win and win big right now.
This off-season, Tony La Russa, the club’s chief baseball officer and general manager Dave Stewart simply did their jobs by responding to ownership’s declaration. It started by signing Zack Greinke to the largest contract, based on average annual value, in baseball history.
Then, the team traded Dansby Swanson, the number one overall draft in 2015, top pitching prospect Aaron Blair, and outfielder Ender Inciarte for right-hander Shelby Miller. Getting Greinke officially opened up the win-now floodgates, and the Diamondbacks did not want to waste the prime years of A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt.
“Our ownership stepped up in allowing us to get Zack Greinke,” Stewart said Wednesday. “It puts us in a position to get better as a team, but we weren’t complete. We needed an additional piece to our rotation.”
With three-quarters of the season complete, Greinke and Miller have been huge disappointments, and the Diamondbacks are on pace to be right back where they were as an organization in 2014. That was occupying the cellar with 90 plus losses, and thinking more about another high draft pick instead of playing in October.
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This is not the first time the trend of winning one year and bottom out the next happened. The majority of this transpired under the leadership of President and CEO Derrick Hall, who first joined the organization as a senior vice president in 2008.
After the departure of Jeffery Moorad in 2009, Hall was named CEO and began to supervise baseball operations.
Since then, the Diamondbacks have gone through two complete regime changes. After two disappointing seasons in a row, and just a year and a half after Hall assumed his new role, the club fired Josh Byrnes, its’ general manager. Byrnes and Hall didn’t have the best working relationship.
Kevin Towers was hired as his replacement in 2010, and in his first full season on the job in 2011, the Diamondbacks won the N.L. West. In 2012 and 2013 the Arizona finished .500, but after the collapse of 2014, Towers was immediately fired.
Now, with a full season of the La Russa/Stewart regime not even complete, the Diamondbacks are considering starting over again, according to multiple reports.
Starting over will include Derrick Hall though. Hall finalized a eight year extension with the Diamondbacks according to the Arizona Republic, and that will keep him under contract till 2024.
Hall has done great work on the business side, but as he acknowledged to the Republic, he is in charge of baseball operations, and is as much to blame as Stewart or La Russa.
“I’m obviously just as guilty with approvals or disapproval’s and all the meetings I’m a part of,” he said. “I think we all have to look in the mirror right now when it comes to baseball, and really turn the page and start to produce.”
Hall also admitted that the pattern of winning one year when your not supposed to win and then going all in the next year and failing hasn’t worked.
“There’s been a pattern there, so we just need to make sure we’re much more consistent,” he said. “Look at the years we’ve won – in 2007 and 2011, we weren’t supposed to. Then, the next year we sort of go more in, it looks like you’re going all-in, and you don’t perform as well as you did the year before. That’s something that definitely has to change. And I think it will.”
At the same time, he says the philosophy of scouting, developing, and winning with players in the organization will never changed.
“I don’t think much has changed philosophically, but I think it’s a matter of consistently sticking to that plan, and of execution obviously,”, he said.
Here is the problem.
The Diamondbacks haven’t stuck to the plan. Instead, they are constantly making impulsive trades and free agent signings to win now. Starting from scratch as the answer does not seem to work.
In Hall’s 12 years, he has had five different general managers and five different managers. Its hard to win in any sport doing that.
The San Francisco Giants are the best example of why stability works. Brian Sabean has been the Giants general manager for 24 seasons, and Bruce Bochy has been the manager since 2007.
In that time, the Giants won three world series titles in the last five years. Despite finishing 76-86 in 2013 after winning it all in 2012, you did not see owner Larry Baer go out and fire everybody and start over. Instead, he stuck to the chemistry that the organization had built, and everybody knows how that decision paid off. In that same situation, the Diamondbacks would have cleaned house.
A stable environment normally leads to more success in all companies. If everything changes every couple of years, nobody knows the philosophy, and that leads to making random and impulsive moves.
If the Diamondbacks want to be more consistent than sometimes it takes two or three years of patience and development to reap the benefits of a young group. Just ask the Royals or Astros. Both those teams stuck to their general managers and the plan, and eventually it paid off in a big way.
The Diamondbacks need to be more like the Royals and the Astros, and if Hall doesn’t want to do that, maybe it’s time to find someone else who actually believes in the employees they hire instead of placing blame and frustrating paying fans.