Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Conor Jackson: Only the First DBack to Go
By ROSS NEWHAN
The Arizona Diamondbacks, experiencing their "third straight season of losing ugly," as President and Chief Operating Officer Derrick Hall put it by phone from Boston Wednesday, traded a former first base and outfield fixture, Conor Jackson, to the Oakland A's for triple A closer Sam Demel on Tuesday, and the proper tagline to it, as we would say in blogland, is: More to Follow.
Hall, speaking candidly, said the entire organization is under evaluation, and he would definitely expect more player moves before the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline.
A source with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak on the record speculated that first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Kelly Johnson are both on comparatively inexpensive one year contracts and likely to have value to a contender--the Angels being a contender known to have talked to the Diamondbacks about LaRoche since losing Kendry Morales for the season with a broken leg.
"I think (the Jackson trade) could be the first of quite a few," Hall said. "We have a lineup with a lot of power but a lot of strike outs, and we're looking at the possibility of breaking up that chemistry.
"It should be made clear that the player personnel staff (headed by general manager Josh Byrnes) is still in charge of player evaluations but that (managing general partner) Ken Kendrick and I are evaluating every part of the organization (including the player personnel staff and Manager A.J. Hinch.) We can't keep going the way we are," Hall continued. "We've gone into the last three years with high expectations and a commitment to a higher payroll and that hasn't proven to be efficient or responsible. We have a payroll of about $80 million, and there are teams with payrolls of $55 million and $60 million who are doing a lot better than we are."
The Diamondbacks won the National League West under Manager Bob Melvin in 2007, but Melvin was fired only about a month into the 2008 season and replaced by the former catcher and basically inexperienced Hinch. Now, there are people close to the situation who call that one of the basic problems, with Hinch learning on the fly and and a lineup of young players left to become veterans on their own.
"I think the Diamondbacks still have a lot of talent," said the source with knowledge of the situation, "but there are philosophical bridges that aren't being crossed."
The Diamondbacks are buried in the NL West cellar while their four division rivals are all on the plus side of .500 in what looks to be a wide-open race.
Hard luck has been a factor in the Arizona situation.
With Randy Johnson retired, Brandon Webb, their ace, is missing a second straight season because of shoulder problems. One future plus is that the Diamondbacks will save a quick $20 million when the season ends and the contracts of Webb and Eric Byrnes, a $30 million outfield bust, expire. The Diamondbacks also saved $1.5 million in the Jackson-Demel deal, the latter giving Arizona a possible closer in time and the former never regaining his previous power after missing much of last season with valley fever.
The Dbacks' bullpen has been a revolving door disaster. They have 13 saves, tied for next to last in the league, and while their offense has produced the league's fourth highest run total, young players of the Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton and Chris Young stature continue to strike out at alarming rates, dragging down the on-base percentage.
As Hall and Kendrick conduct their evaluations they will have to decide if those three are simply not getting the mentoring they need, just as they will take a hard look, the source confided, at the fact that veteran relievers Jon Rauch and Bobby Howry were failures with the Diamondbacks last year and are now playing significant roles respectively with the Minnesota Twins (Rauch is the closer) and Chicago Cubs.
Just one of those things, or symptoms of a deeper Arizona problem?
Presumably, the evaluation will determine that.