When it rains, it pours, they say. No group of people know this better than residents of The Valley of the Sun now that we’re in the throws of monsoon season. The sky has literally opened up. But that whole phrase is usually an analogy, not a strict interpretation, and Diamondbacks fans understand this, too, no matter their geographic location. Bumbling front office? Check. Poor team on the field? Check. Top draft picks hurt or underperforming? Check. Failed acquisitions? Check. Prospects defecting from their team (again)? Check. I mean, the list can go on and it’s almost all bad news. While there have been some bright spots (really), the negative headlines coming out about the organization just swamp the nice things we can say about Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and Zack Greinke, his most recent start aside. And it doesn’t appear to be getting any better. The team is going to have a protected pick in 2017, but only because they’ve been so dismal in 2016. One step forward, two steps back.
It’s a familiar feeling for Diamondbacks fans who have seemingly lost all faith in the team’s front office (justifiably so) and manager (perhaps less justifiable) while the team struggles to put together watchable games on the field. The going was already tough but has gotten tougher over the last couple of weeks as details about negotiations between Maricopa County and the Diamondbacks regarding Chase Field have spiraled out of control in the public eye. As it stands now, the team claims the stadium needs $65 million in upgrades currently and that over the life of the stadium’s lease, through 2027, the amount could reach $187 million. The sticking point here is that the facility is supposed to remain “state of the art” according to the team and its interpretation of the lease. Maricopa County disagrees, apparently, and has refused to approve funds for repairs and upgrades. You can read the original story here.
While one gets the vibe that most residents of Maricopa County don’t support the expenditures the team has requested, it’s not really our job to interpret the lease and legal agreements binding both parties. A very tangible thing that is at hand, however, is the PR damage that’s been done as this debate has continued to drip into the public spotlight. Derek Hall, who’s been long-lauded for his sports business acumen (and rightfully so), was the target of Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek’s direct tirade against the Diamondbacks and managing partner Ken Kendrick. According to various reports, Kunasek made reference to the franchise “evolving into a parasitic enterprise” and blasted Hall personally for selling a “false narrative” to the public when commenting on the issue. Kunasek directed his final remarks at Kendrick, telling him to take his “take his baseball team and get out” and go back to “fucking West Virginia.” While Kunasek has apologized for the language, he hasn’t denied the quotes and won’t be running for re-election this fall.
While Kunasek also noted that this dispute has cause “irreparable harm to taxpayer confidence,” it should be noted that it has also sparked a lack of confidence in team leadership to handle these matters in a responsible, conscientious way. When Hall made reference to finding another home for the team, fans took notice, and while he was likely trying to leverage the county into providing the services he feels entitled to, it sent a very different message to fans. While likely unintentional, it doesn’t provide much confidence in the franchise’s willingness to find a solution that will keep the team in the desert, and while moving them seems extremely unlikely, it still didn’t come off well.
And if all of this weren’t enough, Tony La Russa made some comments over the weekend that might have been just as bad when interviewed by Nick Piecoro. The team’s Chief Baseball Officer said he “doesn’t even know (his) contract” and that there have been no discussions about the front office’s job security with Hall and Kendrick. “There has not been one conversation, not one, between Derrick and Ken, the three of us, having to do with front office contracts, not one, because what’s dominating us is the disappointing season and that’s where our concentration and energy are going,” La Russa said. While you can understand that the team’s emphasis has been the product on the field, being oblivious to the collective future of the front office makes for a bad sound bite. La Russa made it clear that he’ll walk away from the team if ownership feels it needs to go another direction, but that’s perhaps not the kind of sentiment you’d like to hear from the guy steering the ship. He’s made comments in the recent past about a determination to get things ironed out, but his latest remarks suggest that they’re doing all they can and if it’s not enough, he’ll ride off into the sunset. Like Hall’s comments, this isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.
Dave Stewart and De Jon Watson’s contract’s must be renewed by the end of the month. Regardless of the outcome for those two, this all boils down to one thing: this organization is a mess and the public knows it. It’s easy to pile on a team when they’re not winning, but with Stewart’s past comments regarding players, projections and so much more, coupled with Hall’s recent stint in the spotlight and La Russa’s limited awareness, it all starts to feel like things are spinning out of control even faster than we’d anticipated. Cumulatively, it paints a picture of a team that is struggling to build a winner with an old-school methodology and shaky leadership. Add these storylines to the team’s performance and it’s hard to really have a good feeling about the future of the organization unless there’s some serious change. You never really want to speculate, but this all gives an ominous feeling that things are going south in a hurry.
How the front office’s contracts play out is anyone’s guess, but public perception matters. That perception has gotten way out of hand and is likely costing the team fans, and ultimately, revenue. It won’t be an attractive option for premier free agents and it certainly won’t help with season ticket renewals. I really believe there’s still a path to build a winner here, but the window is shrinking every day. The group running operations doesn’t seem ready to push them forward and, while we’ve long-lamented the front office, a quick way to save some face would be a regime change at the top. It’ll be intriguing to see if Kendrick and Hall are willing to make that leap as burying La Russa and Stewart might be the only card left for ownership to play. Admitting failure looks bad, but ignoring it is surely worse.
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