- Baseball in the Garden of Eden, A Book ReviewPosted 772 days ago
The Arizona Diamondbacks: How They Were Built
- Updated: May 15, 2008
The Arizona Diamondbacks: How They Were Built
In retrospect, the Arizona Diamondbacks incredibly successful season thus far isn’t a surprise since they went to the NLCS a year ago, but at the same time, how they have arrived at this point is amazing.
Every baseball fan had a rooting interest in the Diamondbacks at one point, during the 2001 World Series, but it was more about whether they were pulling for or against the Yankees.
For a couple of years, it seemed that this series was to be the high point of this franchise in the desert for some time to come, until the Diamondbacks stopped signing huge checks and started listening to their scouts.
The reason for their early expansion success was that their owner was not shy about shelling out the money in order to put a winning product on the field as soon as possible. The only problem was that these older, expensive veterans weren’t going to last forever and eventually led the D-Backs to losing 111 games just three seasons later.
It was during this season that the Diamondbacks’ brass knew they had to make a change and started to put more money and time into making sure their farm system was one of the best in the league.
For the next couple of years, the team was under .500, but they seemed to be improving through their high draft picks. They also continued to unload or lose their veteran players in trades or free agency.
Before the 2007 season, the team seemed to undergo a complete overhaul, magnified by the departure of fan favorite Luis Gonzalez who left in free agency for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Another way the Diamondbacks raised their fans eyebrows during the off season was the signing of outfielder Eric Byrnes. Fans may not have known what exactly to expect with this signing, but they would soon learn the crash-test dummy would become one of their leaders.
Their average team age continued to decline as another veteran, Craig Counsel, also left the team in free agency, signing with the Milwaukee Brewers. Also, pitcher Miguel Batista, another veteran who many believe to be overpaid, left to sign with the Mariners.
From a fan standpoint, the 2007 season probably did not look too promising. They had lost two of the most popular players in team history in Gonzalez and Counsel and their roster looked more like the opening day roster on the movie Major League, leaving fans to say, “Who the heck are these guys?”
During this season, fans some how had to find a way to relate to players they may have never heard of such as Miguel Montero, Chad Tracy, Chris Young, Carlos Quintin, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew.
To ad insult to injury, just as the fans were getting used to these names, near the end of the season, team management called up minor leaguers Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton to provide the push for the playoffs.
It wouldn’t take long, however, for fans to settle in and recognize the talent of these young players as they clinched the NL West title.
The team’s lack of experience may have caught up to them in the post season last year as the Diamondbacks seemed to wilt once they were on a stage as big as the NLCS. There were careless errors from players on the field and on the bases as well as pitchers missing their spots throughout the series leading them to get swept by the Colorado Rockies.
While they may have been intimidated on the field, their management wasn’t intimidated off of it. They started the off season by making two trades that would once again raise eyebrows with those who cared about the franchise.
It all started in early December with a trade that received very little press, but may end up having a large effect on the team some day as they shipped Carlos Quintin to the White Sox for highly ranked first base prospect Chris Carter.
This trade is what perhaps led them to make what may be the most important move in team history.
Two weeks later came the trade that could perhaps define current GM Josh Brynes’ tenure as the Diamondbacks made a win-now move, trading with the Athletics for starting pitcher Dan Haren. The downside being that they gave up six players to get Haren, including their new prospect Carter. From the D-Backs’ standpoint, they were able to acquire who they believe to be one of the best pitchers in the game to be a strong number two in their rotation with former Cy Young Award Winner Brandon Webb, and they did it without giving up any of their current nucleus.
On one end, it looked like Billy Beane had pulled off another one of his wizard deals, but if the Diamondbacks pull it all together in the next few seasons; it will be them who comes out on top in this trade.
The Diamondbacks also traded last year’s closer Jose Valverde to the Astros for utility player Chris Burke, starting pitcher Juan Gutierrez and reliever Chad Qualls. Even though Valverde lead the majors in saves the season before, the D-Backs took the approach that the save is probably the most overrated stat in baseball history and figured they could find someone else to pull Valverde’s weight.
So far this season, the team’s gambles have paid off as they started the month of May with the best record in the Major Leagues. Analysts keep claiming that their hitters with amazingly high averages (Connor Jackson’s .339, Augie Ojeda’s .351, Jeff Salazar’s .353, Miguel Montero’s .346 and even starting pitcher Micah Ownings’ .417) would cool down, but they have not shown any signs of slowing yet.
Obviously, they are probably not going to go through the whole season absolutely tearing up the National League, and at some point, Brandon Webb is probably going to lose a game, but at this point in the season, they are the dark horse who is haunting other NL team’s dreams.
Some may attribute the Diamondbacks success of the past two seasons to their new uniforms and colors, but the real reason is their new focus on the scouting system and their farm clubs.
Even though Moneyball may always refer to Beane and the Athletics, the first team to win a championship with it may be the Arizona Diamondbacks.