While a couple teams were busy trying to win a World Series crown, something the Cubs actually accomplished in what may be the greatest baseball game we’ll ever witness, the Diamondbacks have been working in the background to continue their overhaul under new GM Mike Hazen. There’s plenty of room for optimism with Hazen at the helm because, a) he’s got the kinds of qualifications you’d look for in a manager in today’s game and, b) he’ replacing a brain trust that abused the sense of the phrase “brain trust” in just about every way imaginable. Sure, Tony La Russa’s still around, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be complicating matters too much. At least that’s the hope, anyways, as Ken Kendrick and Derek Hall have at least said all of the right things when it comes to handing Hazen the keys to the car.

With those keys in hand, however, Mike Hazen has some major decisions to make, ones that will come both sooner and later. Let’s take stock of a couple areas of uncertainty and weigh the options.

Naming a Manager

First and foremost, the D-backs need a skipper. There have been plenty of names linked to the job, including:

  • Torey Lovullo – Red Sox Bench Coach
  • Phil Nevin – AAA Reno Aces Manager
  • Don Wakamatsu – Royals Bench Coach
  • David Bell – Cardinals Bench Coach
  • Gary DiSarcina – Angels Bench Coach
  • Eddie Perez – Braves Bench Coach
  • Alex Cora – ESPN Broadcaster, former player

Lovullo is the odds-on favorite for the job. Hazen has said publicly that he’s looking for a leader, but what he hasn’t said publicly is that he’s looking for someone who’ll follow the new direction of the franchise. If he’s considering Lovullo in the first place, it seems likely that Hazen has confidence that he and Lovullo will be on the same page. The same can’t be said for Phil Nevin, necessarily, but we know that upper management is a fan. Don Wakamatsu has managerial experience and David Bell is perhaps an up-and-comer since he hung up the spikes. All four of these guys have been interviewed. DiSarcina, Perez and Cora have been speculative candidates, but have yet to have confirmed interviews. As Hazen told Nick Piecoro recently, he’s conducting a thorough search and there’s no timeframe for picking a manager, but it’s expected to happen sooner rather than later.

From the outside looking in, I can’t get past the idea that while the D-backs will be looking for someone who’s got leadership capabilities and can hold down a proper press conference, they’ll also be looking for someone who can carry a different looking flag. We know that Mike Hazen is likely to have different priorities when it comes to running the organization than Dave Stewart did, and I fully expect Hazen to be a bit more “hands on” with the managerial staff. This won’t be old school, gut-driven baseball anymore, it seems, and it’ll be vital that Hazen has a manager on the field that shares his views on running the club based upon his vision.

Revamping Key Departments

The turmoil that surrounded the end of the Dave Stewart era and bled over into the GM-search came with a cost. The Diamondbacks have lost four members of their scouting staff to date, including Director of Pro Scouting Mike Russell, Assistant Director of Scouting Brendan Domaracki, and two others. The D-backs will have their work cut out in replacing these individuals, though it should be noted that many (if not all) of the departures had taken place before Hazen was brought aboard. It’s not as if the new GM ran them out of town, but rather that the uncertainty surrounding Stewart and La Russa came with some collateral damage.

Part of the excitement surrounding the Hazen hiring was the perceived likelihood that he’d place a larger emphasis on analytics than his predecessors, those who didn’t seem to grasp the numbers themselves, let along their value. While that made for plenty of fun-poking opportunities, it was often infuriating as the team was outfoxed time and time again, sometimes falling victim to very avoidable scenarios that did not come out of the blue, but were repeated mistakes. While he downplayed analytics to some degree in his introductory press conference, we’ve seen moves that suggest that Hazen is for real when it comes to implementing a more modern approach to the game in Arizona. That’s surely music to our ears, as the D-backs have been labeled the “backwards,” “anti-intellectual” franchise of the game for far too long.

One of Hazen’s first steps was to remove former veterinarian and now-former head of analytics Ed Lewis. If you recall, Lewis was Tony La Russa’s way of saying he was addressing analytics, and while a few of the D-backs’ analytics staff members come with impressive resumes, it’s unclear just how effective they were allowed to be. The information generated is only useful so long as it’s used in the first place. It didn’t seem like that was the case in Arizona last season, and there were even rumblings that after Andy Green departed for San Diego last offseason, the D-backs were left without an expert to manage defensive shifts. Those kinds of issues should be minimized under Hazen’s direction. Here’s what he had to say about replacing Lewis, via Nick Piecoro:

“He had done a good job here, but I feel like there are just going to be some avenues that we want to explore on that side of the game that maybe bringing in people who are a little more specialized in certain things and maybe rebuild the department in a different way,” Hazen said. “We’re just going to have a different take on that department and how we’re going to use it.”

So yeah, maybe the career veteranarian wasn’t the guy for the job. Hazen will likely look to add someone with a little more acumen, and we’ll just have to be patient waiting for that news to come.

But it hasn’t been all losses for the Diamondbacks as Hazen brought over Amiel Sawdaye from Boston once Sawdaye learned he would not become the next GM of the Red Sox under final boss Dave Dombrowski. Boston’s loss was Arizona’s gain as Sawdaye will serve as Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager under Hazen. The two worked side by side in Boston for over a decade and there’s obviously a comfort factor involved here. Sawdaye oversaw scouting and several drafts for Boston where he’s had a strong track record of identifying and obtaining talent. What this means for Brian Minnitti, the team’s Assistant GM under Stewart, is unclear. The future’s of Deric Ladnier (Scouting Director) and Mike Bell (Director of Player Development) remain unclear, but both are well-regarded and it’s expected, and hoped, that they stay with the organization, though there are probably plenty of teams that would love to have them and it’s always easier to make a move during a transition.

Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

As Hazen rounds out his staff and realigns the roles within the front office, he’s surely thinking long and hard about the direction the team should take this offseason. The Diamondbacks find themselves in an interesting situation, one that’s a sort of no-man’s land (again), surely not the best place to be on the win/development spectrum. The team underperformed last year and should get healthy before Spring Training, but is also still a fringy contender at best assuming several guys stay healthy and bounce back. The minor league system ins’t bare, but it’s close and lacks impact players to turn the franchise around. To top it all off, the major league roster is flush with tradable assets should the club decide to blow it all up.

So the question for Hazen to answer is this: do you bring everyone back, make a few shrewd offseason moves and hope for the best, or start dealing players like A.J. Pollock, Paul GoldschmidtZack Greinke and others to shed payroll and add talent for the future? That’s not an easy question to answer, because it’s intertwined with risk and reward in each direction. Attendance dropped to an historic low last season, hurting revenue in the process, and going full rebuild won’t compel fans to show up in 2017. It could vastly improve the future outlook and long term health of the franchise, however. Bringing back a slightly improved squad next season, under new oversight, could compel fans to believe there’s reason for optimism on the field, but could into the trade value of some of their assets should they perform poorly. This one’s not easy to square, as Dave Cameron wrote at Fangraphs a couple weeks ago:

On the one hand, the argument for rebuilding is a pretty easy one to make. This wasn’t just a bad-luck 93-loss team; their BaseRuns expected record was 71-91, putting them at the same level as the Braves, Twins, Angels, and Athletics. Trying to get from that spot past the Dodgers — a behemoth stocked with young talent — is no small task, and the franchise can’t afford too many more years of wasting valuable assets in failed attempts at making unrealistic postseason runs.

But while the argument for blowing it up is easy to make, I’m not actually sure it’s the right path, at least until Hazen hears what other teams would be willing to offer, because the team has several key assets that they should probably hang onto this winter. Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and Patrick Corbin were supposed to front an upgraded rotation, but instead, all three turned in highly disappointing years, and their values are all significantly diminished from where they were a year ago. Trading any of the three this winter would be selling low relative to their talent level…

I see a third path, however, one that’s most likely to be taken. The team can spend in a limited fashion this winter and see what they’ve got while at full strength, letting their level of play over the first few months of the season determine the course of action. Should they run out to an unforeseen, massive lead in the NL West by the end of June (yeah right, but stay with me), they could add at the deadline and try to make a run. Should they be out of contention come that same time, they could begin shopping their assets on the trade market, looking to take advantage of teams willing to overpay for team-controlled talent. In this way, they can kick the can a little and Hazen can avoid being the guy who blew it all up before we got to see what it was all supposed to look like. The trade market for pitching has been particularly lucrative for teams willing to deal and Arizona could reverse their fortunes and be the team taking advantage of those extorted prices this time around. As Cameron noted, several guys could stand to improve their stock before the team considers trading them, adding value to their future trade deals if they pitch well.

My intuition suggests that the team will choose this path as Hazen gets the lay of the land before going full nuclear on the roster. Gone are the days of moves made by gut instinct. Hazen will look to build up his assets if he wants to trade them, unless someone’s drastically willing to overpay right now. That’s unlikely in this world of smart GMs, so kicking the can for a few months of baseball seems most prudent. And who knows, maybe the team finds some stroke of luck mixed with incredible rebounds and the D-backs end up being the team that trades for a reliever at the deadline rather than the team fielding phone calls for every asset on the roster. It’s unlikely, but at least within the realm of possibility.

Putting It All Together

Mike Hazen took a great opportunity, but it comes with some incredibly difficult tasks. That’s why they make the big bucks, I guess. He’s tasked with finding a manager that’ll mesh with the new direction of the team. He’ll have to revamp some key departments, filling voids in scouting and analytics, while realigning the duties of front office staff he inherited within his overall vision of the front office. Perhaps most difficult of all, he has to decide the direction of the entire franchise as it relates to play on the field. He might be able to buy some time here, but this is why he was hired in the first place, and no matter what direction he takes, it’ll fall under intense scrutiny. Ken Kendrick, Derek Hall and Tony La Russa are all still around and figure to factor into the equation in some capacity, whether that’s giving Mike Hazen total autonomy, micromanaging the new GM, or something in between. This is a tough job, but at least Mike Hazen’s doing it, not Dave Stewart.

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15 Responses to Major Challenges Ahead for Mike Hazen

  1. ryeandi says:

    I don’t see any real down-side to waiting until July before starting a big sell-off. An argument could be made that given the state of the free-agent starting pitching market this winter, now might be the time to maximize a return on Greinke. But if they’re going to do that, it’s probably time for a total rebuild. With the way this pitching staff performed they can’t sell of their best pitcher and expect to compete. Personally, I really want to see what this pitching staff can do under new management and direction. The big question is, how do they handle the situation where the they find themselves 2 games back in the NL West and very much in the wildcard picture come mid-July? If they’ve got a 5-game lead, it’s an easy call. If they’re 10-games back, it’s an easy call. If they’re smack in the middle, not so much.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I totally agree. Way up or way down, that makes life easy. Somewhere in between and they just have to make the decision they think is best for the long haul. Maybe that’s selling, maybe that’s trying to revive a struggling franchise through further competition. My overriding belief is that Hazen will easily be the person we want making this decision if/when it comes, not Dave Stewart. Can you imagine him trying to navigate that situation?

      • ryeandi says:

        With TLR at the helm I would imagine that his competitive, managerial view of the game would lead his decision making. I couldn’t imagine a TLR/DS led D-backs doing something like what the Yankees did this past deadline. It was the right call and I think Hazen would have done similarly. At this point, I trust Hazen to make smart decisions and evaluate the team on more than just where they are in the standings.

  2. Laurie says:

    I predict the pitching staff will find their way under a pitching coach who knows how to get the best out of them as opposed to a clueless coach.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I hope that’s the case, and we’ve highlighted in the past, they’ve tried some things with some of the pitchers that looked like bad ideas on paper and looked even worse on the mound. I think that with some fresh thinking, this can improve in a big way.

  3. BobJ says:

    Even with a middle ground approach, there are changes that must be made. We are not a good team with Tomas anywhere on defense, we have too many middle infield types, too many number three starters, and no bullpen whatsoever. We can’t hope to improve if we do not address these issues.

  4. […] in the coming weeks as the Rule 5 draft approaches and explores trades. It’s still unclear which route Hazen will take with regards to the upcoming season, but there’s plenty of work to be […]

  5. Steve says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I wanted to get your input further on a sell off:

    To stir up a pot and likely cause an uproar from all fans, myself included, wouldn’t trading out best assets alleviate our upcoming money problems, poor personnel on the 40-man roster (i.e. infields in the outfield, collection of number 4 & 5 starters)? I hate to say it but maybe a rebuild is needed.

    Shouldn’t we look into the market value of our stars? A kings ransom would be available for goldschmidt and potentially pollock, and maybe we luck out with a Mark Texiera type swoon from a club. What would it take to get a goldschmidt or pollcok from us?

    This type of approach may accelerate our building for the future and stock piling a rather baren farm system. At present time, there is not much of impact proposect in the minors.


    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Hey Steve, great comment! I fully expect that Hazen and Company are indeed assessing the value of their assets and will determine what they’d need in order to make those moves. Goldschmidt probably gets you two A-list guys, a B-list guy and maybe some throw-ins. Pollock is a little lighter, so make that just one A-list guy, a B-list guy and some throw-ins. Greinke doesn’t return much, but he alleviates the financial bloating. Same for Tomas, though they might actually have to eat some money or accept a bad contract in return. Corbin and Miller aren’t worth much right now. They probably have to keep Robbie Ray in this scenario because they need at least one horse.

      I’ll profile this problem here very soon, but the team is light in both fiscal currency and player currency. They need to address one, if not both, sooner than later. I don’t think, however, that time is now. I’d fully expect them to give 2017 a try and go from there. I can see deadline deals for pitching in the making and trades for Goldy/Pollock/Peralta and others next offseason if they do decide to blow it all up.

      They either get lucky in 2017 or start nuking the roster mid-season. We’ll lay out what WE would do in our Off-Season Plan next month!

      • Steve says:

        Agreed. However, poking along at mediocrity with an occasional rocket into the playoffs coupled with a drastic mortgage-the-farm offseason hasn’t got us anywhere. Such as the haren and miller offseasons.

        It would be sad to see those guys go and the alienation of the fan base likely would send Hall and Kendrick into a tizzy. I think the only way those guys would justify it, would be if the Red Sox or similar team with high-level talent, said we will give 2 of our top four, 1 of the 5-10, and a few fringe. Hazen would have to be silly not to take that.

        I think you are right to let it ride into the season and sell at a time where buyers spend more. Doing that, if need be, coupled with a better international and drafting approach may set us on the right path.

        Looking forward to your offseason plan.

  6. […] of this helps us understand the team’s direction, however. In examining three different paths Mr. Hazen can take, I chose the middle one a little over a week ago. Trying to go big on the free agent and trade […]

  7. […] are done selling short or the regular. While Mike Hazen is still figuring out the whole what-direction-should-we-go-in? thing, he’s at least completed his search for a manager, something we talked about a week […]

  8. […] and others. After pushing hard for contention in 2016 under Stewart, the team is looking for a new direction under new leadership, and while we don’t exactly know what that approach will be just yet, we’ve already […]

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