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:

  1. Stockpiling Assets – acquiring promising (although not superstar) young players who can be part of the long-term future
  2. Playing the Kids – giving young players a chance to grow and establish themselves as part of the team’s future
  3. Showcasing Trade Assets – ensuring that remaining trade assets are fixtures in the lineup while making it clear that they are available
  4. 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
  5. 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.

 

11 Responses to Where Do The Diamondbacks Go From Here?

  1. Truxton says:

    Partially blow it up or partially unwind it whatever term suits you, except destroy the pitching, start over! Goldschmidt, Pollock, Owings, Bradley, Shipley, Parra, Gosewich, and maybe Corbin should be retained with Peralta, Campana, Pennington, and Gregorious given shots too, based on payroll considerations. The Prado for Upton thing is a bust. Chavez is too damaged to justify his pay. Same for Trumbo. McCarthy, Putz, and Cahill what can anyone say. Hill is good but payroll heavy and Gregorious can fill in, acknowledging his need to step it up at the plate. More than anything a new pitching-catching battery needs to be built/started. That means trade Montero. Replacing him with Tuffy will save money and may improve the pitch calling and locating. This also acknowledges that Duncan and Harkey have taken their paychecks and produced nothing, let them go. Regarding Towers all the excuses have been made, he is still the architect of this failure. Gibson has too respected his seasoned players creating from outward appearances a collegial club house atmosphere to go with several unconventional ideas, like: sitting hot batters to rest them thus ending hot steaks, not walking guys who have repeatedly beat Dbacks pitching into the ground, changing line up cards daily so as to not produce stability or to offend anyone because they aren’t the starter, relying on his inept pitching staff no matter what rather than calling up anybody from the minors with potential to replace them, and finally running a “team” of semi professional pirates,i.e. nothing about this team in demeanor or appearance resembles a championship level of pride and unity. Defenders of Gibby will refute this but results count. Leading is not Gibson’s thing which leads us to Derrick Hall. His cancer aside and his pleasing personality aside, Hall is like a goldfish in a tank of sharks. Defend him if you will but “what has he done right?” He has promo nights, he does support the community, he acknowledges every minority in the world, he supports Little Leaguers and the military but changing the uniforms that were worn winning a World Series, hiring Byrnes and his untrained lackey, hiring Towers and his playing experienced on the field but lacking in leadership 101 skills Gibson, staffing a pitching staff with almost no young arms while adding large payroll demanding worn out arms, producing a home record to date of 13 – 27, on top of 81 – 81 back to back seasons. Enough, as in the case of the Titanic even nice guy Hall needs to go down with the ship. LaRussa, if he is the one, needs to privately talk with Kendrick and get the right replacement hires for: team president, g.m., head coach, bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, first base coach, and third base coach. Scouting is doing the job but training the drafted to major league level needs help. LaRussa, if he does attend to detail, will have to do some tough work, i.e. put in processes to teach: pitching, hitting, defense, competitive physical preparation, mental awareness, and focus. What a waste of a World Series Championship, from 1st place to a joke for ESPN talking heads. Hard to care about a home town failure no matter what the give away might be or how nice the architects of the Titanic voyage might be. No one, even by affiliation likes to be laughed at. Move forward LaRussa, and lead Kendrick and his team out of the wilderness to return to the World Series. Dbacks fans deserve it.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      There’s clearly a lot to digest here, way more than I can really respond to in detail. First, just let me say that I think you’re feeling on this situation is similar to what a lot of fans are going through. What we’re trying to advocate for at this site is a structured, sound approach, which means that we have to take some of the emotion out of the situation, especially if the data doesn’t support a particular notion.

      But yes, I think Gibby and KT are gone and deservedly so. A lot of the other moves described are subject to the vision of the team, and although I can see the merits of starting over new, I don’t think they’ll do it. For one, they’re gunshy about it and fear the backlash. For two, they don’t necessarily have to go that route to retool. As long as they have an actual vision, I think they can avoid that option.

      One point of caution: we don’t know how much trust to put in TLR. He’s pretty darn old-school, so I’m not getting my hopes up. I know his track record as a manger speaks for itself and he’s surely absorbed a lot of knowledge about team building, but where that leads us is yet to be seen.

  2. Eddie says:

    Hi Jeff. Great work, once again. I’m all in for option B, but I think an important distinction b/w the Dbacks and 2013 White Sox is that Peavy was a much more attractive trade option for potential contenders/pretenders than any other player on Arizona’s roster that MIGHT be on the trade block, I’m talking about Prado, Hill, McCarthy, Parra (I really hope he doesn’t go, but you have to consider everything etc). In fact, Brad Zielger is probably their most attractive trade piece, but I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which the return for Z exceeds his value.

    So where does that leave Arizona? Maybe they look to dump salary at the deadline, trading Prado for a lesser return but also wiping the books clean of his $11 or so million owed next year and after, maybe the same goes for Hill, too? I’d put Montero out there, too, but there is zero catching depth and no attractive replacement. Put savings into making a push on the international market this offseason?

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Arizona isn’t going to get anything of immediate value back for any of their trade assets. Period. This is why last week I opined that they shouldn’t be set on getting top-100 guys, but rather mine the low minors for upside players; guys who have a long way to go but could be very productive big leaguers if everything breaks right. No one is trading their top prospect for Bronson Arroyo or Aaron Hill. The D-backs should instead focus on clearing salary and paving the way for young players to get their feet wet.

      The international market is tough because spending is capped. Of course, teams can exceed the cap, but they have to pay a penalty to do so. I’ll actually be exploring this further next week, so stay tuned!

  3. Paulnh says:

    I am in favor of plan-B. I think we still have a good core of players that we can be competitive in the near future. We have some good pitchers coming back next year from Tommy John and some prospects that could be able to help us (Archie). I really feel that the key for us this year is to make sure that we have one of the ten worst records in baseball. There is a good free agent class of pitchers next offseason and he DBacks have money coming off the books. We have roughly 23 million gone with McCarthy, Thatcher, Putz (I’m still counting him even though he’s technically not on our team any more), and Chavez heading into free agency. I think that we could swoop in and take a guy like James Shields especially if we didn’t have to give up a first round pick. I hate to say this, but I am just terrified of this team getting on a hot streak and finishing the season with the 11th worst record in baseball leaving us much less flexible in the free agent market.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Paul, I think you raise a great point. The D-backs are likely to have a protected first round pick, and depending on what they get in the competitive balance lottery, they should strongly consider making this the year that they spend some money on the free agent market. They’ve drafted relatively well and will get another chance next June when they should draft inside the top 5. I am enamored with James Shields, but we’ll have to wait and see how they play this trade deadline out first as they need to clear some salary before they can get serious this winter.

  4. Paulnh says:

    Speaking of next year’s free agent class, what do you think the possibility of us actually landing a top pitcher like James Shields is? Obviously, if we don’t have to give up a first round pick that is a bonus, but how much money do we really have? Our payroll this year is about 112 million, and I can’t imagine that next years will be higher. We have lots money coming of the books, but I don’t know if Ken Kendrick’s pockets are going to be able to go deep enough to get a top free agent. I’ve been disappointed before (Tanaka) by the lack of our ability to lure free agents, but if we are ever going to land a big name pitcher, it will be this offseason (hopefully).

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      How much Arizona has to spend depends on what they can shed before the end of August. If they can ditch Arroyo and save some money what’s still owed to McCarthy, then they can make a realistic run at Shields. Money really starts coming off the books at the end of 2015, and more in 2016. If they can clear a little bit now, they might be able to get a deal done. Here’s to hoping!

  5. […] the Astros, who managed to take three of four games against the D-backs not too long ago. As Jeff explained on Thursday: “Can we all just accept that 2014 is a lost cause, already?” By the way, take some […]

  6. […] they’re a seller now. More on that later this week, as our Jeff Wiser has already laid out the options the team has in terms of handling the trade deadline. But if the rest of the season is largely about the team putting itself in a position to get […]

  7. […] weeks ago, Jeff Wiser laid out the three real possibilities for the team’s approach to the deadline: stand pat, do a quick-fix rebuild, or do a full scale […]

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