Can we all just accept that 2014 is a lost cause, already? I’m not trying to ruin your day, but it seems like with each series win there were calls to maintain hope. Unfortunately, Arizona has gone 2-5 over their last two series, dropping three of four to the Astros and two of three to the scuffling Dodgers. As of Wednesday morning, they were back in sole possession of the worst record in the National League and no matter how much hope one has for the team, there’s just absolutely no way this team is making the postseason.
In case you need proof that the team isn’t making the postseason, let’s turn to the numbers as we so often do. A few weeks back, we looked at what needed to happen within the team’s first 60 games to maintain a glimmer of hope for reaching the postseason. The minimum winning percentage to keep the faintest chance of reaching the postseason after 60 games is .400 and, what do you know, they had a .400 winning percentage at the 60-game mark, giving them a less than 1% chance of making the postseason but a chance nonetheless. Arizona has managed to go 6-8 since that time, but that’s still just good enough for second-worst record in baseball (thank you, Tampa Bay). To reach the 87-win mark that’s needed for a playoff spot, the D-backs would have to go 57-31 over their final 90 games, which would be a higher winning percentage (by a wide margin) than any team in baseball has this year. In essence, the worst team in the NL would have to play significantly better than the best team in the NL just to have hope of a Wild Card birth. Again, it’s not happening.
This reality clearly isn’t what the team had hoped for heading into the season, of course. While the projections had the team coming up short on a postseason run, the fan base and front office had hoped otherwise. Instead, reality is staring the organization in the face and it’s time for them to make a decision. As Tony Blengino, a former Mariners executive, described at Fangraphs last week, the decision to become sellers and give up on 2014 isn’t an easy task:
It is a very difficult thing psychologically for an organization to pull the plug early in the season. Tickets have been sold with great expectation for the summer months. There comes a point, however, when a team must look in the mirror and see who they are, rather than what they wanted to be. A poor-starting team always believes they are one good streak away from getting back into it. In truth, as long as the calendar still says “May”, they’re probably right. Start moving into June, however, and bottom-feeders need to realistically assess their predicament.
Throwing in the towel looks bad to casual fans and can send unwanted messages to players and team personnel, but considering the long-term forecast for this organization isn’t much better than what they’re currently working with, throwing in the proverbial “towel” might not be the worst idea ever. But it’s just one idea, and there are certainly other strategies. I think it’s best to lay out all of the options, not just cherry-pick the one the Inside the ‘Zona crew thinks is right. We’ll start with the least extreme option and work our way forward.
Option 1: Stand Pat
The Diamondbacks could choose to stand pat and hope this ship rights itself. After all, they’ll have Patrick Corbin back in the rotation for all or most of 2015, could have Archie Bradley up for most of the season and you never know what may happen with Daniel Hudson. David Hernandez should be available and reports were that he was poised to get back on track in 2014 in a big way before he, like seemingly every other pitcher in baseball, tore his UCL. A scout recently told me that Braden Shipley is in fact the real deal and if he starts his 2015 campaign in AA, as would be expected, he could conceivably debut before the season is over if everything breaks right.
As currently constructed, the team can score runs and have even been fairly consistent about it. Goldy’s gonna Goldy, Prado, Hill and Montero are all under contract for 2015, there’s still a surplus of useful middle infielders, Pollock appears to be a potential All-Star and the team could easily run Parra and Trumbo back out into the outfield corners. Scoring runs hasn’t really been the problem in 2014 and if the team so desires, they don’t really have to address it so long as they can settle a few arbitration cases.
But relying on three pitchers coming off of Tommy John doesn’t sound like the safest of plans and we’ve seen what can happen to prospects when they make it to The Show. The offense isn’t the problem at the moment, but they’re also not exactly crushing the competition, either. Meanwhile, guys are getting older and their health and/or production should be expected to continue to slowly decline. Worst of all, if this was a 78-win team before Corbin got hurt, Trumbo went down and Cody Ross turned into a black hole, what do you think this team’s projected win total will be heading into 2015 if they do indeed stand pat? 75 wins would be optimistic, and as we know, that’s not good enough.
Option 2: Quick-Fix
The examples above and below are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle is the “Quick-Fix” rebuild where the team is willing to make some short-term concessions without going down the full tear down rabbit hole. This option is surely more palatable to the general audience, but we have to wonder if it’s enough of a fresh start to truly get the team back on track and where we all expect it to be.
The model for this type of rebuild is the Chicago White Sox. They had clearly bottomed out an old, injury-riddled and expensive roster without the type of farm system to remedy the problem. They were in a tough place: tons of money committed meant little to no financial flexibility and few if any internal options to right the ship. Arizona is in a better place right now that Chicago was at the time they took the plunge, but there are many parallels and if the Diamondbacks don’t become proactive in rebuilding, they’ll be right where the White Sox were, an unenviable positions.
Chicago started their quick-fix rebuild in the summer of 2013 when they flipped aging and expensive, albeit still somewhat productive, veterans Alex Rios and Jake Peavey. These players were not part of the long-term plan and were tying up large chunks of money. Arizona has plenty of players who fit this mold, including Aaron Hill, Bronson Arroyo, Martin Prado, Miguel Montero, Brandon McCarthy and possibly others. They continued in the offseason by trading “closer” Addison Reed and “starter” Hector Santiago for other pieces, such as Adam Eaton. They made other trades to acquire Avisail Garcia and have been willing to take a flier or two on lottery tickets like Casper Wells and Felipe Paulino in an attempt to strike it big. Most of all, they’ve been committed to the process.
Dan Szymborski laid it out well back in April when he listed the five things that the White Sox are doing correctly:
- Stockpiling Assets – acquiring promising (although not superstar) young players who can be part of the long-term future
- Playing the Kids – giving young players a chance to grow and establish themselves as part of the team’s future
- Showcasing Trade Assets – ensuring that remaining trade assets are fixtures in the lineup while making it clear that they are available
- Not Beholden to the Past – being willing to admit that it’s time to move on and that many of the team’s current players don’t fit the bill any longer
- Spending Money – investing in long-term options either on the domestic or international market, showing a commitment to the next wave of winning
The Diamondbacks, if they’re willing to swallow, their pride, can learn a lot from the team that fleeced them this winter. Using the above five guidelines, there’s no reason Arizona can’t be a contender again very soon, plus, they weren’t in as bad of shape as Chicago was when they bit the bullet, offering more hope and a quicker turnaround in the desert.
Option 3: Full Scale Rebuild
The Diamondbacks could explore the complete opposite of standing pat and look to rebuild the franchise inside and out. This would involve changes in management and a new organizational philosophy coming from the top down. Tony LaRussa would presumably play a large role in that process, firing KT and Gibby, then installing his hand-picked front office personnel and manager. This would be the equivalent of purchasing a home, keeping the exterior walls and ripping out everything else. You could eventually have your dream home inside, but it’s going to be a process and you’ve certainly got your work cut out.
A complete and total overhaul would entail the team shipping away whatever talent and money it could conceivably offload. Of course, the team would say no to offers for Paul Goldschmidt, Archie Bradley, AJ Pollock and probably Patrick Corbin. Aside from them, I can’t imagine there isn’t anyone they wouldn’t entertain offers for. That doesn’t mean that they’re looking to trade everyone, just that they’ll listen to what other teams are saying see if there’s something to be worked out with each and every phone call. Again, from Blengino, in regards to trading “untouchable” players:
Just because a player should be untouchable, however, doesn’t mean that other clubs won’t call to ask about him. Though this would appear to be obvious and self-evident, a club must clearly tell suitors that such players are off-limits. Though every player has a price in theory, even beginning to entertain mega-offers for such players is generally not a good idea. It leads to what I call “hare-brained schemes” in which a club spends significant time, resource and energy on trade concepts that are, A) very unlikely to be consummated, and B) are unlikely to result in a return commensurate with the value of the untouchable player you are considering dealing. While working for one of my previous employers, we annually received multiple inquiries on such a player, whom we had zero intention of ultimately moving. The distraction and time-consuming nature of this situation likely prevented us from cashing in on other opportunities that could have moved us forward.
We can safely assume he was talking about fielding calls for Felix Hernandez, but the same would apply to Goldy at the very least and possibly the others mentioned above.
The Diamondbacks have plenty of moveable assets, as Ryan pointed out two weeks ago. Last week, I discussed what the team should be looking for in return if they desire to start moving pieces. In short, they need to get cheaper and younger while moving veterans out of the way and paving the road for high ceiling talent to rise to the majors. That means fewer Aaron Hills, Brandon McCarthys, Bronson Arroyos and the like. There’s no sense in limiting the opportunities of young players to start learning the major league game if the organization wants to completely rebuild.
For a full rebuild to work, they may have to eat some salary of guys like Hill, Arroyo and others in order to get them out of the way. The roster is currently clogged and it makes sense to clear some space and start identifying which youngsters have a major league future and which do not. Of course, this would result in widespread losing and likely a plummeting television ratings as well as a strong dip in ticket sales. The goal, however, is build an organization like the Cardinals or Braves who contend year-in and year-out in the not-too-distant future. That would be huge for television ratings, tickets sales and overall revenues, plus by starting from scratch, the Diamondbacks could ensure that the situation is as sustainable as possible.
No rebuilding plan is bullet-proof, however. While the Astros and Nationals seem to be recent success stories, there have been countless other teams that have seemingly stalled midway through the rebuilding process as their “prized prospects” never took hold. The Mariners are a fine example of this as Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Michael Saunders, Nick Franklin and others have all, simultaneously, failed to live up to expectations with sickening results for the local fan base (I lived in Seattle for three years). If even half of those guys lived up to expectations, they’d be a much different team right now and probably wouldn’t have had to overpay to obtain free agents like they have given their struggles. Instead of the New Wave leading the team, they’re still led by King Felix, a very expensive Robinson Cano, and some players that weren’t on anyone’s radar but panned out pretty darn well (Kyle Seager, Brad Miller and Hisashi Iwakuma). Believe it or not, things could have been worse for Seattle and Arizona has to be weary of a similar scenario.
Which Path to Follow?
This isn’t a conversation we wanted to have in the first place, but the team is in a position to choose one of the paths above. Which to they select? I’d like to strongly advocate for the Quick-Fix Rebuild as this team has useful pieces that can be part of the long-term future in place, they just need to dump the heavy stuff weighing them down and continue to add assets for the future. This should be more palatable than a full-scale tear down and quicker to boot. We’ll still have to hope that they go deep enough in redirecting the organization, but if they do, there’s no reason some shrewd moves, coupled with past and future strong drafts, can’t turn things around.
Of course, this all comes down to something I glossed over previously: swallowing pride. Admitting that the situation is not working and that a change must be made is the first step. It would seem that this had already been determined when Tony LaRussa was brought in to oversee Kevin Towers, but we can’t be sure. It’s nearly impossible to rebuild and contend simultaneously and if Arizona wants to pursue the latter, they likely going to need to confront the former first. Let’s hope they’re in touch with the situation enough to recognize this, because to be honest, they’ve looked out of touch with the big picture for a while now and we have every right to be concerned.
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