Five days ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks decided to blow up the management of the team. Manager A.J. Hinch was relieved of his duties, as was GM Josh Byrnes, despite Byrnes having a whopping five years left on his contract with the team.
In their stead, D-backs President Derrick Hall turned to a pair of former players in Kirk Gibson, the 1988 NL MVP, who will take over as field manager on an interim basis, and Jerry DiPoto, a former pitcher of eight major league seasons, who will hold the title of interim general manager.
At the time of the firings, the team was 31-48 and 15.5 games out of first place. Clearly, this was a team going nowhere. In that regard, the firings, especially that of Hinch, should comes as little surprise. But Byrnes was already in the process of marketing a few of his players for trade as the trade deadline approaches, and the remaking of a team is a job usually suited for a full-time GM.
Byrnes, it was assumed, was about to engineer a fire-sale. Reports were rampant that anyone not named Justin Upton was likely available for the right price. The prize of the D-backs was going to be RHP Dan Haren, but certainly Byrnes was prepared to also make shortstop Stephen Drew, third baseman Mark Reynolds, and even centerfielder Chris Young available as well.
Now the job has been handed over to DiPoto, at least temporarily, and he will use the remainder of the season as an audition. Call it a dress rehearsal, and you can bet that not only will the Diamondbacks be paying close attention to how DiPoto handles this situation, but the remaining 29 teams will be watching as well. (more after the jump)
We knew, or at least we think we knew, what Byrnes was planning. We have very little idea if DiPoto shares the same vision. We have already seen DiPoto designate Dontrelle Willis for assignment, bringing Willis in to Arizona was one of the final moves Byrnes made as GM. How many more moves will DiPoto be willing to make, how hard will he push to trade a player, or keep a player, when he has no guarantee that he will be around next season to see the fruits of his labor? That’s the question on the minds of opposing GMs as they formulate a plan to engage the new guy in trade talks.
It’s not as if DiPoto was brought in off the streets for this job, however. Di Poto has been the vice president of player personnel with Arizona for better than three years. This past off-season, DiPoto was a candidate for more than one GM job around the league, so he is highly regarded, and he does know his players.
That knowledge will help him determine who should stay and who should go, the tougher task will be getting quality pieces in return.
There is a market for his players, that much is certain. Drew has been named by Jon Paul Morosi as a target of the Detroit Tigers, who are looking to upgrade the shortstop position. Reynolds and Young, despite their shockingly high strikeout totals, will also draw plenty of interest, as both are in the early stages of their careers, and both have plenty of talent. All three of them have flaws, flaws that are glaring at times, and DiPoto will have to be a sharp salesman to get his club the best possible deal.
I fully expect Drew to be traded. The Tigers obviously have the need and they are said to have interest. Drew fits the long-term needs of the Tigers and Detroit has the minor league talent to give up in return. So long as DiPoto doesn’t set his demands too high, and force Detroit to turn their attention elsewhere, this is a likely match. Reynolds and Young are a bit more difficult in that both players could easily factor into the plans with Arizona going forward. Unless DiPoto is made a strong offer, either or both could wind up staying put.
Apart from a few more minor players, that really just leaves Haren.
Haren is under contract through 2012 and has a team option for 2013, so any team that would trade for him could keep him for several years. While his deal does escalate, even at it’s most expensive point, Haren would still be paid a relatively small amount compared to other top-tier starting pitchers.
Being that the contract is club-friendly, it may behoove DiPoto to hold on to his talented and accomplished right hander. On the other hand, Haren has significantly more value, both due to his past performance and his contract status, than any other player on the D-backs roster, so other clubs will be willing to pay a much higher price to get him.
It comes back to the question of how DiPoto views the opportunity he’s been given.
If he feels he has a good chance to stay on as the GM in Arizona, would he be more willing or less willing to trade away his most valuable commodity? In addition to that, DiPoto, a man with no guarantees on his own future, will be judged by what return he gets if a Haren trade is made.
There is no question that it benefits DiPoto to maximize the return on Haren, regardless of whether or not DiPoto himself remains in the desert next season. If he stays, he gets to oversee the development of the pieces he gets in return, if he leaves, he’ll be more likely to land a full-time GM job when other clubs see what he was able to get for Haren.
Of course, the opposite holds true as well. If DiPoto trades away his best player and the return is not well-received around baseball, he could very well hurt his chances of ever becoming a GM again.
If DiPoto wants to make a splash, to put his stamp on the franchise, he’ll make a trade and jettison Haren. The safer route is to keep him, and attempt to build around the ace. What he decides to do will ultimately shape the Diamondbacks future for the next several years, and will also determine DiPoto’s own professional fate.