It’s been a very eventful last few days, with news of the hirings of Dave Stewart and De Jon Watson leaking Thursday, their first press conference Friday, Kirk Gibson getting fired shortly before that press conference, the Diamondbacks locking up next year’s #1 overall pick… and despite the playoffs, plenty of people were paying attention to Arizona.
But first, a quick announcement: The Pool Shot, the Inside the ‘Zona podcast, is now officially off the ground! Check out Episode 1, featuring Jeff Wiser and yours truly, at this link. Here’s the feed, if you want to add it to an app of some kind. We plan on recording every couple of weeks or so, and if you have a question or something you’d like us to consider, drop a comment on any of our posts, or reach out to Jeff’s Twitter account or to mine. Hope you guys like it, but we welcome feedback either way.
The last topic we discussed: the new D-backs front office. Jeff broke down the announcement last week, but simply put, the new-look front office has Derrick Hall staying as CEO, Tony La Russa at CBO, Dave Stewart as General Manager (and Senior Vice President), De Jon Watson as Senior Vice President in Baseball Operations, Ray Montgomery staying on in scouting, Mike Bell staying on in player development, and presumably, Billy Ryan staying on as Assistant General Manager.
If any team needs Billy Ryan, it’s this one. Check out his bio — Ryan has been in his current role for nearly 4 years now (that’s a plus). Some of the D-backs contracts of late have been fantastic, and our estimation has been that the arbitration work has been very good, too. I’m not sure what overseeing “statistical initiatives” means in this context, but having spent three years in the Commissioner’s Office is a huge plus. Even counting La Russa, the new front office by committee needs someone that knows all of the rules cold, and Ryan looks like that guy. I hope he stays on.
As for sizing up the new front office, its members and how it’s going to work, there’s no way I could improve on this piece from Nick Piecoro. I thought De Jon Watson was extremely impressive in the press conference on Friday, and Dave Stewart is saying all the right things. He seems to acknowledge that past trades were made without enough care, and that analytics are part of that picture. I really couldn’t ask for anything more than that. Fingers crossed.
Amazing that all the front office news has buried this bit until the sixth paragraph: the D-backs just finished with their second-worst record in the history of the franchise (that’s not really a coincidence though, is it). With a loss on Friday, the D-backs locked up the #1 overall pick in the Rule 4 draft next June. That’s huge, as we discussed last week, because either there may end up being a clear #1 pick in this draft, in which case having the pick is great, or there won’t be a clear #1 pick, in which case the pick is still great, just for a different reason. The $2M or so difference between pick #1 and pick #3 could mean that they could reach a pre-draft deal with one of the top few guys, and still have a bunch of money left over to grab someone at the beginning of the second round that slipped at least a few spots because of bonus demands. The return on investment for spending in the draft is so ridiculously high that there’s no reason to keep the extra money. Think someone is slightly, slightly better? That could be worth $2M.
I never had too much to say about Kirk Gibson as a manager, because it’s not really my area of expertise. I see no reason to start now, exactly, but I’ll say two things: 1) from a sabermetrics standpoint, there was never a reason to think that Gibson was actually bad; and 2) there was just no way that he could be retained. Speculation would follow him all winter and all through next season, and I think Derrick Hall & Co. smartly and accurately surmised that it just wasn’t worth it. Is there a tremendous difference between managers? Other than the few best, who are all locked up, I’m not so sure. There are more than 30 guys who could manage a team well, most likely. So it’s largely about how the manager works with the front office.
Related note: tons of respect for Alan Trammell for filling in as manager over the weekend despite getting fired as bench coach on Friday. Who among us has been in a situation like that? I tip my cap.
- Jeff Long of Baseball Prospectus had a great, eye-opening piece on the possible trade value of front office personnel ($) — and I don’t say that only because he fit Jeff Wiser and I into the debate and article! Tons of great ideas in there, but part of the moral of the story is: there are more than 30 good candidates. We’ll come back to that in a second. But really, how many GMs out there would you have traded for? How many GMs out there would you have traded Archie Bradley for? Just a great question.
- Piecoro also had a great piece about the Gibson firing. Just wasn’t in the cards, I guess, and I’ll disagree with Mark Trumbo‘s statement that the D-backs had a great ballclub to enter the year “on paper.” It sounds to me like Tony La Russa handled this situation very well. As for the search for a new manager, Dave Stewart may be aiming a little too high in hoping to land a manager like La Russa, but that’s not a bad thing. The worst thing is when a team starts to drink its own Kool-Aid, because the D-backs do have a number of pretty good players; it’s not that hard to lose track of what “average” actually means in the MLB context, player to player. I believe that La Russa actually was impressed by all of the GM candidates he interviewed, as he indicated on Friday. There are dozens and dozens of impressive candidates out there. So “impressive” is no longer good enough, right? For manager, I’d rather have Stewart start impossibly high and work his way down, instead of start down and not realize it’s actually not that great. Just human being stuff here, I don’t mean any offense.
- Steve Gilbert has more on the D-backs’ managerial search.
- In this Denver Post piece from Patrick Saunders, an unnamed player is found lamenting the Rockies power structure after citing the firing of Kevin Towers. Just a reminder: things could be a lot worse. There’s reason for optimism here. What if Towers had been made club president? We’d be stuck in a much deeper well, maybe.
- Here’s an interview of ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick on the hiring of Dave Stewart. I think Crasnick is not alone in thinking that turning the D-backs around is a long-term project. Stewart himself is quoted in this Piecoro piece: “I don’t see this as a complete rebuild.” I see no harm in going for it in 2015 if it’s done responsibly, without trading away future assets, but I wonder if this will start to be a conflict in the coming months.
- Nice take on the Stewart hiring by R.J. Anderson at BP ($), from before De Jon Watson was officially announced, and before Kirk Gibson was fired. We talked about this on The Pool Shot, but I think one thing people are overrating is Stewart’s experience as an agent. As a GM, negotiations are very frequent, but there are far fewer GMs than there are agents. As far as I know, Stewart only represented Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, and Chris Carter. Stewart handled the protracted Kemp negotiations with aplomb, in my opinion, but was negotiating for Kemp for three years a full time job? Other than that, he’s had to handle some arbitration work, and the (actually pretty good) contract for Billingsley. It’s great to get perspective from the other side of the fence, and I do think being an agent means familiarizing oneself with many ways of valuing players, especially with regard to the arbitration process. But we’re not talking Scott Boras, here, or even Jeff Moorad.
- Jack Magruder addressed the Cardinals’ celebration at Chase Field on Sunday, recognizing their clinching of the NL Central (with a Pirates loss just before the D-backs/Cardinals game started). Maybe it was that they had more time to collect their thoughts, but they did not celebrate with a dip in the Chase Field pool as the Dodgers did last year. Remember the Great Pool Fiasco? I’m still shocked at how the national reaction was a backlash against the D-backs organization and fans for giving a damn. There’s some reason for vindication now — Adam Wainwright used the word “disrespect” in talking about not celebrating in the pool, and I don’t think that had only to do with Tony La Russa. Hat tip to those Cardinals, who probably won themselves a D-backs sympathizer or two along the way.
- I would love to link to someone’s piece on whether Ender Inciarte deserves the NL Rookie of the Year Award, but I can’t find any. That’s bizarre; the guy actually leads all NL rookies in bWAR by a wide margin, at 3.7, well ahead of Jacob deGrom (3.0) and Billy Hamilton (2.5). Yeah, there’s more than one way to look at this award, but there’s a pretty solid case for a win in there.
- Finally, is a hot dog a sandwich? Players weigh in with BP writer Rocco DeMaro ($). You decide!
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