Monday, September 26, 2005

The Arizona Diamondbacks Part One: 2005 in Review

posted by Jon Williams
The D’Backs are attempting something that the A’s have mastered and that the Yankees perfected. What’s that? Re-building a team without using young players or saving any money. Yankees fans have come to call it re-loading. The A’s have labeled it cost certainty. The D’Backs don’t have a name for it but I have a suggestion: lunacy. The point of re-building is to remove the elements on your team that don’t work as they should and to substitute better players. Most teams re-build around young players so they can simultaneously increase their talent level and reduce their expenses at the same time. The Yankees use their vast amounts of money to get other teams to take contracts they no longer want and to buy the better players they need. The A’s have used astute scouting and careful trades to accomplish the same thing. The Arizona Diamondbacks have tried elements of all three methods but have royally screwed it up (no pun intended). Taken separately none of the moves appears to be that damning. But when combined you can see that the Diamondbacks have not only slowed their development of talent they’ve guaranteed it to be more expensive than it needed to be when they are actually good and not just relatively good as they were this season.
When Arizona traded Randy Johnson to the Yankees most people thought it a decent idea. Johnson was forty-one years old and unhappy being on a team that had just lost over a hundred games. Quite a few of those people were of the opinion they could do better for themselves by trading Johnson to a team like Miami or the Mets or the Phillies. The Yankees had very few advanced prospects to offer and the other teams mentioned could give the D’backs a huge shot of young talent for a seemingly immortal ace pitcher. But the Arizona Diamondbacks weren’t looking for young talent at least not of the prospect variety. Instead they traded their ace for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and about 9 million dollars. It was almost brilliant.
Javier Vazquez was a young pitcher who many were expecting to jump up to #1 starter status while with the Yankees. Brad Halsey was a young lefty starter who was ready for the majors and a nice filler for the end of almost any rotation. Dioner Navarro was one of the Yankees top prospects (even if slightly overrated) and a catcher close to major league ready. The $9 million would pay for the first year of the expensive extension Vazquez signed while with the Yankees. The first major problem occurred before the trade when the D’Backs signed Russ Ortiz for four years and $33 million.
Russ Ortiz is an average pitcher at best. I guess either he or his agent is really good at selling himself as a frontline pitcher because the Braves fell for it first. Now, Russ Ortiz isn’t that awful a starter to have on your team. He has shown an ability to stay healthy and pitch lots of innings. The D’Backs screwed up by giving him a four year contract at such an expensive rate. If the D’Backs were so desperate to portray themselves as contenders and even if I allow for the possibility that Ortiz was the only starter willing to come to Arizona (I don’t believe it for a second) than they still should have given him at best a two year deal or even better a one year deal. Even one year at $10 million would have been a better idea. Why? Because with Brandon Webb and Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey and a handful of cheaper alternatives already on hand and a few young starters with nice potential almost ready why clog up the rotation and the payroll with an average pitcher and an untradeable contract? Ortiz has been horrible in 2005, which makes the possibility that he could be moved or be worth the money all the more unlikely.
Big blunder #2 was signing Troy Glaus while owning Chad Tracy for several more years. I like Glaus. He’s still young and when healthy can be a huge bat in a lineup. The main problem was he had yet to stay consistently healthy and was coming off major shoulder surgery. Chad Tracy was the only significant young player to establish himself in 2004 a year in which the D’Backs lost over one hundred games. Chad Tracy is a third baseman and a decent one. He isn’t the hitter that Glaus can be when healthy but he can hit and he is young and cheap. Anyone watching the Arizona games the last two seasons has seen Tracy go from third base to first base back to third to first and then left and right field. Glaus stayed relatively healthy this year but struggled at times with minor and nagging injuries that took him out of the lineup several times for a few to several days at a time. At nearly $11 million a year, hopefully Glaus can stay healthy and capable of playing third base in 2006 but I doubt Chad Tracy will be available to take over at third should he suffer another season ending type injury.
Dioner Navarro was almost immediately traded along with a fistful of pitching prospects for Shawn Green. On the surface this wasn’t a horrible idea. Green had one year left on his contract and the Dodgers were throwing in some cash. Arizona already had clone prospect catchers in Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder and the injured Rob Hammock to provide catching possibilities. They were also looking at Danny Bautista and Luis Terrero filling two of their outfield spots. The problem came when they gave Green a two-year extension for big bucks. Green has been on the decline for years now. He still shows flashes of the guy the D’Backs were hoping they signed but that guy is never coming back. But the worst part of this deal is how it impacts Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson and yet again Chad Tracy. I’m willing to bet all the money I have that Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson could duplicate if not exceed the production of both Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez in 2006. We’ll never find out unless the D’Backs manage to clear two outfield spots.

Carlos Quentin
Year Age Level G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg
2004 21 A 65 242 64 75 14 1 15 51 5 1 25 33 0.310 0.428 0.562
2004 21 AA 60 210 39 75 19 0 6 38 0 6 18 23 0.357 0.443 0.533
2005 22 AAA 136 452 98 136 28 4 21 89 9 1 72 71 0.301 0.422 0.520
Connor Jackson
Year Age Level G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg
2003 21 A 68 257 44 82 35 1 6 60 3 0 36 41 0.319 0.410 0.533
2004 22 A 67 258 64 89 19 2 11 54 4 3 45 36 0.345 0.438 0.562
2004 22 AA 60 226 33 68 13 2 6 37 3 3 24 36 0.301 0.367 0.456
2005 23 AAA 93 333 66 118 38 2 8 73 3 2 69 32 0.354 0.457 0.553
2005 23 mlb 35 74 7 15 3 0 2 8 0 0 10 9 0.203 0.302 0.324

I haven’t seen either of these guys play but from what I’ve read Quentin projects to be a good right fielder and a below average center fielder. Jackson would be an average left fielder and a good first baseman. In an ideal world Green would be off the books at the end of this season. I’ve already read rumors of a possible trade of Luis Gonzalez (though after the way he’s finished this season I can’t imagine there are too many teams jumping at the opportunity). Unfortunately, the back up plan seems to be trading Quentin instead to make room to fit Tracy in the outfield. If our fantasy world dream came true Tracy would slide to left field. Conor Jackson would slip into first base. Carlos Quentin would man right field. Luis Terrero and Scott Hairston would battle for center field with Luis the better fielder and Hairston the better hitter. Some might argue that Hairston’s bat would make up for his slightly below average glove at second but I’m planning for the future here and there are better candidates for the infield which I’ll get to soon. We have our catching tandem of Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill already basically in place. That leaves our pitching and infield to address but we already look better. We’re younger and in my opinion just as good as the team that the Diamondbacks are fielding right now as the season is winding down. We are also almost $20 million cheaper with Luis Gonzalez ($11.5 million in 2006) and Shawn Green ($8 million in 2006) off the books. Our only real flaw is our biggest star attractions are gone.
Back to reality, the good news seems to be that the Diamondbacks want to make room for Jackson and Quentin. I can’t imagine any other reason they would try to trade away Luis Gonzalez. Unfortunately, not only do I think that will be exceedingly difficult I also think its one player too few. Once again the D’Back checkbook has flown open for a player they didn’t need to sign. Tony Clark was signed to a two-year extension before the season even ended blocking first base for Conor Jackson and assuming a trade of Luis Gonzalez is impossible keeping Jackson, Tracy and Quentin fighting for playing time. Tony Clark had a fantastic 2005 season. He’s a great guy and a local hero. He played at the University of Arizona and lives in a Phoenix suburb. By all accounts he’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse. It’s also “only” a million and change per year. It’s still too much. Bob Melvin will not play a young guy over a veteran to save his life. He is nearly as bad as Dusty Baker is in this regard. Even now as the season ends he refuses to play Conor Jackson everyday. Does Luis Gonzalez’s second half slump need to play out for the rest of the year? Is Tony Clark gunning for MVP? If you own any Diamondback prospects be very careful. Don’t go out of your way to acquire them and if you have the opportunity to get value for them I suggest you do it. While I expect Jackson, Quentin, Tracy, Hairston and Terrero to work their way into the lineup eventually if you count on them to get playing time you will suffer for it.

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