Friday, July 2, 2010

Diamondbacks Fire GM Josh Byrnes And Manager A.J. Hinch

  • Organizational advocacy, loyalty and a train wreck:

The Arizona Diamondbacks fired both GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch in a decision that has been in the wind for weeks.

Diamondbacks Vice President for Player Development Jerry DiPoto takes over as GM; bench coach Kirk Gibson as manager----both are on an interim basis.

It was a matter of time before heads started rolling in Arizona. It's only advisable to fire the GM at mid-season if: his contract is set to expire; he's going to be fired at the end of the year anyway; or the team is a wreck and the season is lost.

The Diamondbacks are a wreck and the season is lost.

Byrnes's undoing came from a combination of circumstances and personnel mistakes in players and management.

When he took over in December 2005, the Diamondbacks were recovering from a 77-85 season and still seeking a path back to contention as the last remnants of the veteran-laden 2001 championship team was in the process of being cleared away. Byrnes had an impressive pedigree having worked in numerous capacities for the Indians, Rockies and Red Sox; he was the assistant GM under Dan O'Dowd in Colorado and Theo Epstein in Boston.

Byrnes wasn't a typical stat zombie in the way he ran his club. Using scouting techniques and taking risks, the Diamondbacks improved quickly with him in place as the GM----ironically, that rapid success may have sown the seeds for his downfall.

In 2007, Byrnes's second full year at the helm, the Diamondbacks won a surprising AL West title and advanced to the NLCS where they lost to the Rockies. Decried for their "luck" in winning despite a poor run differential, the pieces were in place for an extended run of success. They were young and inexpensive; core pieces Brandon Webb, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy and Micah Owings were all in their 20s; they had more prospects like Justin Upton on the horizon.

Even if they didn't win every year, they were well-situated to be respectable on an annual basis; and they were doing it with a reasonable payroll.

After the 2007 season and aggressive to improve quickly, Byrnes traded a large chunk of the farm system to the Athletics for Dan Haren. None of the prospects he surrendered have become stars and the trade worked great for the Diamondbacks; Haren's been a perennial Cy Young Award contender, an affordable workhorse and exemplary player and person.

The blueprint to build around Haren and Webb at the top of the rotation and fill in the pieces around them wasn't new, nor was it faulty. The championship team in 2001 had a lineup packed with reliable veterans like Matt Williams, Mark Grace, Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez and functioned with a manager in Bob Brenly who could easily have been replaced by a mannequin sitting at the end of the dugout in a uniform; the reason the Diamondbacks won the World Series that year was because they had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling fronting the rotation and pitching masterfully. The rest of the rotation was terrible; the bullpen shaky; but they won because of Johnson's and Schilling's excellence. With Webb and Haren at the top of the rotation and a young core, the Diamondbacks were rightfully expected to make the playoffs and do damage while there.

Things didn't work out that way.

Adding fuel to the fire that the 2007 team had drastically surpassed expectations, the 2008 club went 82-80----exactly what the simplistic (yeah, simplistic) Pythagorean Win Theorem created by the exalted Bill James said they should be. The 2008 club was undone by shakiness at closer (Brandon Lyon was awful and replaced late in the season by Chad Qualls); injuries to Tracy and Orlando Hudson; and a poorly designed offense that struck out with an alarming frequency (one of the hallmarks of all the Byrnes-built teams).

Trying to save the season on the fly as things were coming apart, Byrnes acquired Adam Dunn and Jon Rauch----trades that cost them very little in retrospect (Emilio Bonifacio for Rauch; Micah Owings for Dunn); they didn't work.

By 2009, the guillotine was hanging over the head of manager Bob Melvin. Byrnes didn't hire him and a year-and-a-half after winning Manager of the Year in the National League for his division title in 2007, he was the likeliest candidate to take the bullet; Melvin was fired with the club staggering at 12-17, in 4th place in division and fading.

Then came the hire that will haunt Byrnes forever.

In replacing Melvin, he tapped A.J. Hinch as the replacement.

Hinch's post-playing career was spent mostly in the front office. He was the Diamondbacks' Director of Player Development before becoming the manager and, armed with a degree in psychology from Stanford and his experience as a journeyman catcher in the big leagues, was expected to be a GM in the future, not a manager.

It wasn't Hinch's inexperience as a manager that was the biggest issue with his hiring; the mistake was two-pronged: one, Hinch had never managed anywhere at any time; and two, most egregiously, was the phrase that Byrnes, Hinch and everyone with the Diamondbacks would like to have back----organizational advocacy.

Circling like vulture over everything he said and did, the implication with those two words was simple: Hinch is a puppet.

If Hinch had some managerial stops on his resume; had he not been given a 4-year contract; had the team been built better; had Webb not gotten hurt (woulda, shoulda, coulda), then things might have been different; but those two words----organizational advocacy----already cast doubt on Hinch in the clubhouse before he managed one game.

Hinch almost immediately butted heads with influental veteran pitcher Doug Davis for a questionable strategic decision to pull Davis from the May 15th game vs the Braves with 2 outs and no one on base in the sixth inning of a tie game in which Davis had only thrown 80 pitches. The Diamondbacks lost the game and Hinch's inexperience and relationship with the GM----already causing the Diamondbacks veterans to peer at him with a jaundiced eye----became even more pronounced.

A new manager has to gain the trust of his players and if he starts out with the double onus of being perceived as a spy for the GM and not knowing what he's doing, he's doomed.

While the 2008-2009 teams were rightfully expected to win, the 2010 club was drastically overrated especially considering the uncertainty surrounding Webb's return from shoulder surgery. How anyone looked at this team and thought they were going to contend is beyond me. Their pitching from the start was awful with Haren and Webb. All that needs to be said is that Rodrigo Lopez and Ian Kennedy were expected to be integral parts of the rotation; that Aaron Heilman and Bobby Howry were supposed to be linchpins in the bullpen.

The lineup has pop, but the strikeouts they accumulate could function as a source of power to rival the largest windmills in the world. Their defense is rancid.

They're a badly constructed team playing in a division with four good teams; how could anyone have objectively expected anything more than maybe a .500 season if everything went right?

Byrnes's trades and signings weren't overtly "bad"; there was a logic to the trade of Carlos Quentin----he was always hurt; to the acquisitions of Edwin Jackson and Kennedy----I wasn't all that impressed with Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer may be better suited to the bullpen. The contract extension doled on Eric Byrnes was a failure, but he gets a pass for one huge player mistake.

Josh Byrnes is a smart executive who made one ghastly error in casting his lot with Hinch. No one would've said a word had Hinch been given a 1-year contract with an option, but it was the 4-year deal and "organizational advocacy" that led to Byrnes's downfall.

As admirable as it is that he refused to fire his hand-picked manager and chose to go down with him as both were dismissed, Byrnes's loyalty cost him his job. Of course, it's easier to be so loyal when armed with a contract that runs through 2015, but Byrnes chose Hinch and went over the cliff with him as the Diamondbacks world collapsed.

Now both are gone.

So what's next for the Diamondbacks?

Having been slightly chaotic in recent years from the way in which they hired and fired Wally Backman within the span of a few days; to the shoddy treatment of Melvin and his replacement by Hinch; followed by the spiral into the depths they now inhabit, they have to come to a conclusion whether they want to bring in an outsider after the season or keep DiPoto.

DiPoto has been up for numerous GM jobs in recent years and is respected for his ability to evaluate talent; but with that, they have to come to a rapid fire conclusion as to whether DiPoto is the "guy" because of the Haren trade talk.

Are managing partner Ken Kendrick and team president Derrick Hall prepared to allow DiPoto to trade Haren and saddle the incoming GM with the aftermath of such an important maneuver? It could be the impetus for a drastic turnaround or a 5-7 year purgatory; it's not something to put in the hands of an interim boss regardless of how respected he is.

Kirk Gibson was named the new manager and will audition for the full-time job. Known for his clutch hitting, intensity, toughness and football mentality as a player, it remains to be seen if Gibson's style as a player will translate as a manager. As a player, teammates respected and feared Gibson; as a coach that didn't appear to seep through----he was on the Tigers coaching staff under Alan Trammell and has been with the D-Backs since 2007.

That in-your-face style may backfire with today's players. Gibson is a polar opposite to the cerebral, vanilla and subdued Hinch and Melvin, but this team is plain bad, so a different personality can't alter that reality. If Gibson starts screaming like a maniac and flips the food table after a sloppy loss, will the players jump to attention? Or will they roll their eyes and go back to their I-Pods and cell phones? And even if they are inspired by Gibson to some degree, that's not going to make them better than what they are.

The sequence of events that led to the Diamondbacks unraveling was in part due to unforeseen occurrences and mistakes by Byrnes. Now, they're in official disaster mode and how they choose to begin the clean up will determine how long the lull lasts.

It's a mess in Arizona and whoever has to coordinate the clean-up effort has a massive undertaking ahead of them.


  • Viewer Mail 7.2.2010:

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Paul DePodesta:

I was living in L.A. during the DePodesta disaster.

Generally speaking, he wasn't liked by the public. I seem to remember talk radio hosts lambasting him for his "moneyball" mishaps.

For the reasons you state in your retort, he did wreck what was a pretty good thing at the time... and to top it off, in the public eye he was a smarmy, pedantic prude.

Still is I imagine.

The expectations were unreasonably high for him after Moneyball; while he took part in the book, that wasn't his deal----he didn't write the thing. What was his responsibility though was the way he appeared incapable of doing the job in theory or practice; as a stat zombie or human being. That wood-headedness permeated his tenure as GM and caused its inevitable destruction.

What I find funny is that he's working as an assistant for the Padres...and has a blog that he updates relatively regularly of the inner-workings of the front office. Under Sandy Alderson, I could see the blog going unchecked by----Alderson ran his ship similarly to the Bush White House----if it works, okay; if not, you're on your own.

Under Jeff Moorad, I thought: A) that DePodesta was going to leave; and B) that Moorad would tell him he could either blog or work for the Padres----pick one.

But he's still blogging. I'd tell him to shove the blog, but that's me.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Vladimir Guerrero:

The resurgence of Vlad has been interesting. He was looking so done in Anaheim and now he's on a tear. Yes, the ballpark in Arlington is hitter friendly, but I think you're right about the change of scenery and the need to get out of a rut. The guy has always been dangerous but now he's downright scary.

It could have a lot to do with health. Guerrero is a warrior and he might have been more beaten up in his last few years with the Angels than anyone let on; maybe now he's healthy.

Gabriel (Acting Underboss) writes RE Vladimir Guerrero and Cliff Lee:

Vlad has always been a reliable player. I have always liked him, and it never ceases to amaze me how well he plays the game. I remember the first time I saw him get a base hit off a ball in dirt, and thinking "man, he's awesome!".

On another note, how do you like the Angels' chances with Stone-Cold Killer Cliff Lee? They have played well recently, but I feel they could use his services.

The most ridiculous thing about Guerrero's free-swinging is that he never strikes out!! Hitters who go up hacking generally strike out a lot, but Guerrero is like Don Mattingly in that they were free swinging power hitters who rarely walked, but they rarely struck out either.

I felt that the Mets main competition in pursuing Lee as a free agent was going to be the Angels, but there's been a rumor floating around that Lee doesn't want to go to Anaheim. Bear in mind that it came from Mike Francesa, so it might've been another "story" he pulled out of his nether-regions and said it as if it was factual. The Angels are in on everything an operate stealthily, so I'm sure they've told Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik to keep in touch regarding Lee.

Joe writes RE DePodesta and Brad Penny:

How can you hold Brad Penny getting hurt against Depodesta though? You said they got nothing, but they did get something, and that was Penny. Unfortunately he got hurt though.

You're right about the injury not being DePodesta's fault; Penny had been healthy throughout that whole 2004 season and there was no reason to expect him to get injured. But in practical terms----objectively analyzed----they did get nothing for the rest of 2004

As I said in my response to the comment yesterday, it wasn't the players themselves that were the main issue with DePodesta, but the decision to blow things up at exactly that moment. Things were going great; they had a dominating, shut-down bullpen similar to the one that won the Yankees the 1996 World Series; once the Dodgers had a lead after the sixth inning, the game was over. With Duaner Sanchez, Guillermo Mota and Eric Gagne, it was reduced to little league rules. The starting pitching was secondary to that bullpen and the bullpen with Darren Dreifort instead of Mota was a train wreck.

Therein lies the error. Not in the players acquired, but in the theory itself that a good starter was more important than a dominating reliever.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE DePodesta, Paul LoDuca and Vladimir Guerrero:

Smarmy! I love that word. LoDuca? L.A.? Trade? Bad Move!

As much as I would like to, I don't think the Mets should be (then or now) criticized for not trying to sigh VLADDY-G. Hind-sight is always 20/20 vision. The Angels took a chance and it paid off. At the time the Mets couldn't afford to get burned again. I only throw that out there cause Vlad is the topic.
...Just sayin'. But Vlad's career numbers should start to get a different conversation about him started. It's amazing how under-rated he's remained all these years.

The Mets pursuit of Guerrero after 2004 was undermined by their belief that no other team was in the bidding and their own haphazard way of doing business. The Mets tried to be clever and get a bargain and lost out; but they learned an important lesson for later free agent courtships----don't be over-aggressive and overpay, but it's still necessary to pay a fair amount for the player they want. They did that in getting Francisco Rodriguez when few other obvious suitors were out front.

As they always seem to do, the Angels played their cards close to the vest as to their intentions and struck without warning or remorse.

I don't know if Guerrero was ever cut out for New York anyway; he prefers to be a behind-the-scenes leader and do his job quietly; that would've been impossible if he played for the Yankees or Mets. He was better off in Anaheim then and Texas now. He would've performed, but probably wouldn't have been happy. It was best for all involved that things went the way they did.2010BaseballGuideCover.gif

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She-Fan said...

Did I miss it or did you not suggest Bobby Valentine for Diamondbacks manager? !

Jeff said...

The only way Gibby succeeds is if he grows that mustache back.

That was one bad-ass mustache.