Saturday, March 13, 2010

Desert Downfall

  • The Diamondbacks are in trouble----BIG trouble:

With the spotlight shining on the problems the Mets are having on the East Coast, there's an even bigger nightmare playing itself out for a team that appeared to have an even brighter future three years ago----the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Built on the premise of two Cy Young-quality starting pitchers and a young core, the Diamondbacks have unraveled since their stunning run to a division title in 2007. In 2008, widely expected to build on the 2007 division title, GM Josh Byrnes acquired Dan Haren from the Athletics to combine with Brandon Webb for the best 1-2 punch in baseball; he improved the bullpen with Chad Qualls; and the middle of the starting rotation with Randy Johnson. During that season, he also made aggressive moves to bolster the offense getting Adam Dunn; and the pitching staff with Jon Rauch.

It didn't work.

Despite having a young lineup with great power potential, they were 10th in the National League in runs scored and finished at a disappointing 82-80.

By 2009, again expected to contend, injuries decimated the team. Webb went on the disabled list after one start and underwent shoulder surgery. Despite Haren's brilliance, the club stumbled early in the season resulting in the firing of manager Bob Melvin and the curious decision to install A.J. Hinch----heretofore a front office executive with no managerial experience----as the new manager.

It was made worse as the onus of the organizational stumble was placed over the head of Melvin; Byrnes asserted that Hinch would provide "organizational advocacy", implying that he'd do as he was told putting him in an even more untenable situation with a shorter leash to build a manager-player rapport. The players, who liked and respected Melvin were stunned by the change and who was brought in; Hinch was left in an impossible position of gaining respect in a clubhouse while learning on the job.

That being said, the Stanford educated Hinch appeared to gain his footing as the season moved along; and even with the injury-riddled year resulting in a 70-92 record and last place finish, there was hope for the club if Webb was able to return at full strength. Having watched him, I can say that strategically, Hinch did the right things the majority of the time.

Byrnes made a trade that was questioned by many as he dealt young pitchers Max Scherzer and Dan Schlererth in a three-team move that brought starting pitchers Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to Arizona. I didn't think it was a bad deal for the Diamondbacks at all. But the entire 2010 season is hinging on the health of Webb----and he's a giant question mark.

With Webb still experiencing shoulder issues----ESPN Story----the Diamondbacks are going to have to rely on the lineup, bullpen and other starters to pick up for a recovering Cy Young Award winner and two-time runner up for the award.

There's no replacing Webb.

In looking past Webb at the rest of the club, the holes are too massive to ignore. They're strangely constructed and shaky with pieces thrown together in the hopes that they'll mesh.

Relying on Conor Jackson returning to form after missing almost the entire 2009 season with illness; hoping Chris Young can reverse his plummet; that Mark Reynolds repeats his 44 homer 2009; that Edwin Jackson will build on the Dave Stewart-like excellence for the Tigers last season; and that Ian Kennedy does, well, does something.

If Conor Jackson is healthy, there's no reason not to expect a comeback from him. Young's what he is----an overpaid, pedestrian player with huge flaws; Reynolds strikes out over 200 times a year and is awful defensively; but the pitching is the key.

Edwin Jackson needs his defense to back him up. Despite a near 100-mph fastball, he's a contact pitcher---and the Diamondbacks defense is rotten.

Kennedy still has the word "potential" hovering over his head after his rapid rise through the Yankees system; the overhype that said he was "better" and more "polished" that Joba Chamberlain in Phil Hughes has proven to be a gigantic weight around his ankles; and he's been damaged even further by the constant running of his mouth. Those that focus on numbers above all sanity continue to say that Kennedy will be good because of his minor league success; but when I watched Ian Kennedy, I saw a pitcher whose stuff was simply not good enough to be a successful big leaguer----and that's before getting to his bluster and inexplicably high opinion of himself.

In the low minors, when the hitters are still learning their craft and can't handle a pitcher who throws strikes and has the ability to change speeds, Kennedy feasted on those circumstances; when he got to Triple A, that the players are older and have flaws that prevents them from being anything more than organizational filler allowed him to again look as if he was a top-of-the-rotation starter in waiting.

Then he got to the big leagues.

In the big leagues, the discipline of the hitters let them lay off of Kennedy's pitches that the minor leaguers swung at. He walked more hitters and because his stuff isn't that good to begin with, got tattooed. Then his flapping mouth angered teammates; his inability to listen made things worse; and he failed. Miserably.

This is not going to get better even as he moves to the National League. He doesn't have the stuff to be anything more than a 5th-6th starter. The problem for the Diamondbacks is that without Webb, they're going to need Kennedy as a third starter.

So what you have is a team with a lineup that strikes out too much; a short starting rotation; a bad bullpen; a neophyte manager; an atrocious defense; playing in a hellish division.

The optimism in Arizona is a fantasy. They were in trouble with Webb. Right now, they're going to be lucky to get 25 starts from Webb and who knows of the quality of those innings? Without him? They're going to collapse.

Barring something miraculous in the desert, it's going to get bad for the Diamondbacks in 2010.

Very bad.

  • C'mon columnist, keep makin' my life easy:

Now, you see?

Look at the above examination of the Diamondbacks.

There's a premise; a body explaining the premise; and a conclusion.

Of course it's peppered with my general lunacy (I'm almost out-of-control when I write this stuff, but I steer the ship as best I can), but agree or not, it makes sense.

Then we get to my newest target, William C. Rhoden of the New York Times, and I have to wonder whether he grasps the concept of writing a column.

There's a thing called organization. Ever hear of it?

In today's column, a day after extolling the Phillies stupidity for trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and a Double A closer, Rhoden turns to the floating piƱata known in some circles as the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York; AKA the New York Mets----column.

Here's a clip from Rhoden's rip job about Jose Reyes:

...right out of the blocks the Mets are faced with a great spring mystery: Exactly what is wrong with Reyes?

Reyes was placed on the disabled list last May with a torn right hamstring. Now he is sidelined by a mysterious thyroid ailment that seems to have come from nowhere.

Reyes has seen several specialists. Tests have shown he has slightly elevated thyroid levels. According to doctors, elevated thyroid levels can cause dehydration, which puts stress on the heart.

Most rehabilitation requires exercise and conditioning, but for Reyes, doctors have prescribed rest and inactivity.

The Mets seem confident that Reyes will be back in uniform and will be close to the Reyes of old. All things considered, the Mets appear to be dreaming.

You wonder if the franchise has another plan.

A plan for what?

How does one make that leap from a torn hamstring (which was mishandled by the club) to blaming them for a player having a medical issue with his thyroid? What were they supposed to do? Put Reyes in a cage and monitor the diet and comings and goings of a grown man in his mid-20s? How are they to blame for the thyroid condition?

What did he want them to do, exactly?

Reyes has a medical problem that all doctors spoken to regarding the matter seem to agree has been handled appropriately by the club. If anything, the Mets have gone above and beyond in caution with Reyes because of what happened last year.

Then there's a shadowy and imprecise Rx from Rhoden for what ails the Mets, but he refuses or is unable to state it clearly as if to leave himself room to extricate himself from the cage of his own words.

Since 2006 the Mets have been operating under Plan A: a team with a core group of players that included Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Reyes. Plan A took them to the N.L.C.S. But the core is crumbling. Wright is solid but coming off a dismal season. Delgado’s career seems to have come to an end. Beltran, at 32, is coming off knee surgery. And Reyes faces a future that is uncertain at best.

The time has come for Minaya and the Mets to seriously consider Plan B.

That was the last line in the column.

Generally, when someone presents a failed plan A as a reason for moving on to Plan B, they give, y'know, details of what Plan B is. They don't simply end a column with, "seriously consider Plan B".

What is this mysterious Plan B? Is it some James Bond villain plot for world domination that Omar Minaya has cooked up and only shared with William C. Rhoden under the promise of secrecy?

I must know the details of Plan B!!!!!

How is this turned into an indictment of the organization because of what happened last year? As yesterday's column on the Phillies showed (which I discussed----in detail) in Rhoden's world, apples are oranges and vice versa, anything to get a column completed and published no matter how discombobulated and senseless.

He'll have a long season writing baseball if he keeps it up.

And I hope he does.

  • Viewer Mail 3.13.2010:

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Phillies:

With Lee the Phillies could have plowed through the NL East like Sanitation in two inches of snow. I would have opted for a BigThree. I think the Phils and your featured writer out-thunk themselves on this one.

Rhoden was looking for something to write about without any conviction or an utter lack of knowledge, neither of which I can abide.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Roy Halladay:

I feel bad for Doc. He wanted to win, and he's going to get a chance, but it's not gonna happen.

Don't feel bad for Roy Halladay. He had every right to do what he did in forcing his way out of Toronto and to his preferred locale, but trading Lee was the way the Phillies chose to do it. They're going to regret it.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jose Reyes:

I think the Mets are right to be cautious with Reyes, but it sounds like he'll be fine. That has to be good news for Mets fans.

The non-stop attacks are so ludicrous now, I don't know why I pay attention and retort. I'd like to think I'd do it if it was any other team as well, because I probably would. It's a farce.


theBrooklynTrolleyBlogger said...

First time shame on us. Second time shame on the NY Times. There is no doubt now, Rhoden is out of his baseball mind and good job staying on top of it Prince. How the Times has fallen, from the great columnist Mr. Dave Anderson, to the daydream of sportswriting blather. Gimmie Joel Sherman!

Jeff said...

If anything aptly represents the Diamondbacks' failure, it's gotta be Eric Byrnes (who's must be laughing all the way to the proverbial bank... still, right?!?).