Stick a fork in 'em – The 2009 Diamondbacks

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While they have a slightly better record than the Indians, the
Diamondbacks are the second team we’re declaring dead for 2009.
Wednesday’s loss dropped them 18 1/2 games back in the NL West. Even
the lowly Nationals, the recipient of the first fork of the year, are a mere 17 1/2 games in the NL East.

So, let’s examine what the D’backs can look forward to in 2010.

The 2010 depth chart

Catcher: Chris Snyder, Miguel Montero (Arb.), Orlando Mercado, James Skelton

If they hadn’t been so stubborn about holding out for Michael Bowden,
the Diamondbacks very likely could have had Daniel Bard from the Red
Sox for Montero over the winter. Unfortunately, they probably wouldn’t
do so well now. Montero hasn’t progressed in an expanded role first
brought upon by the managerial switch to A.J. Hinch and then enhanced
further by Snyder’s recent DL stint.

The team could instead opt to move Snyder, who will make $10.5 million
between 2010 and 2011, but they’d be fortunate to receive more than a
couple of B prospects back. Since there aren’t any assurances that
Montero will be a quality regular and none of the team’s prospects
project as starters, standing pat may well be the best strategy.

First base: Conor Jackson (Arb.), Mark Reynolds, Josh Whitesell

Whitesell is a quad-A player and Chad Tracy is a free agent, so the
Diamondbacks could either turn Reynolds into a first baseman or look
outside of the organization for a solution this winter. My guess is
that they’ll leave Reynolds at third, given that he has the range for
the position and he’s been even more error-prone than usual while
playing first base this year. Jackson has appeared to be more valuable
defensively in left field than he was at first base. More on him below.

Second base: Ryan Roberts, Augie Ojeda (Arb.), Rusty Ryal, Ruben Gotay, Mark Hallberg, James Skelton

Yes, it’s that bleak. Ryan, a 26-year-old hitting .286/.345/.500 in
the PCL, figures to get a look at second base if the Diamondbacks trade
free-agent-to-be Felipe Lopez. However, he should be nothing more than
a fallback option again in 2009. Since Hallberg hasn’t hit in Double-A,
the Diamondbacks should be in the market for a veteran second baseman
for the second year in a row. Fortunately, decent ones are usually
pretty easy to find.

Third base: Mark Reynolds, Augie Ojeda (Arb.), Ryan Roberts

If the Diamondbacks did move Reynolds across the diamond, they’d
just have to go after a replacement at third instead. The club did
draft third basemen with the 16th and 35th selections in the 2009 draft
(Bobby Borchering and Matt Davidson), but both were high school players
and neither will move quickly.

Shortstop: Stephen Drew (Arb.), Augie Ojeda, Pedro Ciriaco

One of the few positives for the Diamondbacks this year is that
Drew’s fielding numbers have been considerably better than they were
last year. I could see an argument for moving Drew to third and
Reynolds to first, but it’s not something with any chance of happening
in the near future. Besides, the Diamondbacks don’t have a Elvis Andrus
to break in at short.

Left field: Conor Jackson (Arb.), Gerardo Parra, Eric Byrnes, Trent Oeltjen, Cyle Hankerd, Collin Cowgill

Center field: Chris Young, Gerardo Parra, Eric Byrnes

Right field: Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, Eric Byrnes

We know Upton is a fixture in right. The Diamondbacks will have to
decide whether it’s worth trading Young or moving Jackson back to first
base to make room for Parra in the 2010 outfield. The 22-year-old Parra
got off to a very nice start after coming up as Jackson’s replacement
this year, but he’s now sporting a .259/.302/.400 line and given that
he’s never played in Triple-A, he still might need some additional
seasoning.

Complicating things is that both Young and Jackson have lost a great
deal of trade value. Young showed clear signs of bouncing back from a
horrendous start last month, but he’ll have to keep it up if the
Diamondbacks are going to get fair value for him this season.
Unfortunately, it looks like Jackson’s season has been completely
ruined by his case of valley fever, but at least that means he’s not
going to receive much of a raise from his current $3 million salary.

The Diamondbacks are almost certainly stuck with Byrnes, who figures to remain an $11 million fourth outfielder.

I think a Jackson-Young-Upton outfield will be the best option at
the beginning of 2010. However, Parra would likely guarantee himself a
spot with a strong second half.

Rotation: Brandon Webb (option), Dan Haren, Max Scherzer, Jon
Garland (option), Jarrod Parker, Yusmeiro Petit, Esmerling Vasquez,
Cesar Valdez, Billy Buckner, Bryan Augenstein, Barry Enright

If Webb can come back from his shoulder problems in September, then the
$6 million decision on his 2010 option will remain an easy call. Still,
it’s not like the Diamondbacks will be able to pencil him in for 220
innings next year.

The uncertainty around Webb is probably the one thing that could
cause the Diamondbacks to listen to offers for Haren. A team with a
Webb-Haren-Scherzer front three should be capable of competing next
year. However, if the Diamondbacks suddenly learned that Webb needed
surgery that would cost him at least part of next year, they’d have to
give serious thought to cashing in Haren for the huge return he’d bring
in. He’s under control through 2013 at fairly reasonable terms.

The Diamondbacks, though, won’t really know about Webb’s health
until the final month, making a Haren deadline deal awfully unlikely.

Doug Davis is a free agent and is likely to be traded. Garland is on
a mutual option, making it unlikely that he’ll be back. Ideally, the
Diamondbacks will replace him with a similar fourth-starter type and
then get by with a Petit or Valdez in the fifth spot until Parker
arrives. He could be next year’s Tommy Hanson.

Bullpen: Chad Qualls, Tony Pena (Arb.), Jon Rauch, Juan Gutierrez,
Daniel Schlereth, Clay Zavada, Esmerling Vasquez, Billy Buckner,
Yusmeiro Petit, Blaine Boyer (Arb.), Daniel Strange, Bobby Korecky,
Doug Slaten, Leo Rosales, Jose Marte, Kyler Newby

Qualls is only under control through 2010 and could receive a raise to
$4.5 million-$5 million in arbitration after spending a full year as a
closer, so he might be the Diamondback most likely to go in a deadline
deal. Rauch, now that he’s past his early-season woes, is next in line.
That would potential leave Pena as the Diamondbacks’ closer, though he
hasn’t made a particularly strong case for the role while posting a
4.36 ERA this season. Gutierrez would be another option. Schlereth, a
left-hander picked in the first round last year, is the best bet for
the long-term. If the Diamondbacks do move Qualls, they’ll probably
look for a cheap veteran to serve as a stopgap closer next year.

Time for a best guess:

Arizona’s 2010 roster

Lineup

2B Free agent

SS Stephen Drew

RF Justin Upton

3B Mark Reynolds

1B Free agent

LF Conor Jackson

CF Chris Young

C Chris Snyder

Bench: OF Eric Byrnes, C Miguel Montero, INF Augie Ojeda, INF Ryan Roberts, OF Free agent

Rotation

Dan Haren

Brandon Webb

Max Scherzer

Free agent

Cesar Valdez

Bullpen

Free agent

Tony Pena

Juan Gutierrez

Clay Zavada

Free agent

Esmerling Vasquez

Billy Buckner

Ideally, the Diamondbacks will get their answer at first, second or
in the rotation in return for Davis later this month. Qualls could also
bring back someone capable of playing an important role on the 2010
club. There probably won’t be a whole lot of money available after
raises for Drew, Young, Haren and Snyder kick in. One huge factor in
how much flexibility the Diamondbacks will have is whether Reynolds
qualifies as a super-two player. He’ll have two years and 138 days of
service time at season’s end. Last year, Taylor Buchholz was the last
player to qualify as a super two and he had two years, 140 days. With
the season Reynolds is having, it could be a $5 million swing for the
Diamondbacks.

MLB execs go to bat in favor of shrinking minor leagues

Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images
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Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports published an article this morning in which he quotes several executives of MLB teams, including Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, defending the league’s proposal to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.

We first learned of the idea about a month ago. The proposal was widely panned, even drawing scorn from Congress as more than 100 members of Congress — including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — signed a letter condemning the league. In the time since, MLB has spent considerable time defending itself amid the public scrutiny. MLB also got into a bickering match with Minor League Baseball.

To generally sum up what was said in Brown’s column: the GMs echoed what MLB previously said in defensive of its proposal, which is that cutting 42 minor league teams (mostly in short-season and rookie ball) would free up more money to pay players more and improve their working conditions, including food and travel as well as facility conditions.

It is hypocritical for the league and team executives to express concern for the salaries and the quality of life for minor league players. After all, Major League Baseball spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress in order for language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to be amended. Doing so allowed the league to classify minor leaguers as seasonal workers and thus not owed things like a minimum wage and overtime pay, among other worker protections. This all happened because MLB is the defendant in a class-action lawsuit, originated by Aaron Senne and several other former minor league players, alleging that the league violated state and federal minimum wage laws with minor league players.

Shapiro is not a fan of Sanders’ constant harping on the league’s proposal. Shapiro said, “I’m never going to go toe-to-toe with him on domestic policy. But I will go toe-to-toe with Bernie Sanders on professional baseball.” As Brown explains, Shapiro is among those who believes that having a smaller minor league system would allow his organization to offer greater focus to each player remaining within that system. With the increased focus, the team would be better able to develop major league-caliber prospects. As we know, teams love prospects because their salaries are artificially depressed for the first six years of their careers.

One anonymous GM harped on the fact that “minor league baseball is not a moneymaker.” It didn’t sound like he was complaining; rather, simply recognizing how their parent teams view the situation. Another anonymous GM, however, said that the 42 teams are on the chopping block “for a reason.” He added, “I’m guessing that reason isn’t because they had overwhelmingly positive gate turnouts or that their facilities were in good shape. I think that’s been the criteria.”

As I pointed out last month, there are two teams that, at minimum, disprove the shabby-facility talking point. The Lowell Spinners (short-season) have had multiple renovations done in recent years. Team owner Dave Heller called his team’s stadium “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League.” The Quad Cities River Bandits, as another example, have earned awards from BallparkDigest.com for “Best Ballpark Improvement” and finished in third place as recently as two seasons ago for “Best View in the Minors.”

As for attendance, BallparkDigest has the 2019 numbers for all 160 teams here. The four Double-A teams on the chopping block — the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Chattanooga Lookouts, Erie SeaWolves, and Jackson Generals — ranked 91st, 74th, 80th, and 130th, respectively. Only one of those teams is significantly below the 50th percentile. Furthermore, one of the High-A teams on the list, the Frederick Keys, ranked 57th in attendance this past season, close to being in the top one-third of the entire minor league system.

The arguments are obviously facile. We should expect nothing less, however, as these execs do the bidding of their team’s ownership. Their jobs necessitate developing players efficiently and thoroughly. Chopping 42 minor league teams would have the double benefit to them of helping reduce overhead so the owners can report higher profits, as well as making their system run more efficiently (or so they think). So be it if thousands of jobs in towns across the U.S. get slashed in the process. So be it if small towns lose a central focus of their local economies and cultures. So be it if baseball becomes significantly less accessible across the nation.