We’re a month into Tony La Russa’s tenure as the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer and because that position has never actually existed with any other team before no one seems quite sure what the job entails.
La Russa included, apparently, as the Hall of Fame manager tells Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic:
I think the most critical thing is, this job has never been done anywhere, so I’ve never done this job. So we’re a month or whatever it is into it and I’ve done it every day and my responsibilities are getting more crystallized in my own mind. You simplify it: It’s who’s playing for the Diamondbacks and, secondly, it’s how they play. That’s kind of the responsibility that I’ve been given, and I’m going to share it with people in the organization. We’re going to look at who’s playing and we’re going to coach them.
Yeah, see that doesn’t really clarify much of anything.
Piecoro also asked La Russa what happens when another team wants to engage in some trade talk with the Diamondbacks. Do they call La Russa or do they call general manager Kevin Towers?
If they’re interested in talking to the Diamondbacks, they can call either one of us and we’re going to talk to each other. As a matter of fact, there was one gentleman who called and left a message for both of us, which I think is the smartest thing. But we’re going to communicate and we are communicating.
That also seems confusing, although most likely other teams have come to the same conclusion that just about everyone else seems to have, which is that La Russa is in charge and, at some point in the relatively near future, may be deciding to fire Towers (and manager Kirk Gibson) anyway.
Piecoro’s whole article is definitely worth reading, if only to be able to compare the current “plan” with what happens if/when the Diamondbacks’ front office begins to unravel.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.