The last-place Diamondbacks have until Aug. 31 to decide whether to exercise 2017 options for general manager Dave Stewart and senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson, reports Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Chief baseball officer Tony La Russa told Piecoro that he expects owner Ken Kendrick and CEO Derrick Hall to retain Stewart and Watson. However, La Russa doesn’t seem aware of his own job security going forward.
“There has not been one conversation, not one, between Derrick and Ken, the three of us, having to do with front office contracts, not one, because what’s dominating us is the disappointing season and that’s where our concentration and energy are going,” said La Russa, who’s unsure of whether his three-year contract began in 2014 – when the team hired him, Stewart and Watson – or in 2015.
Regardless, if the Diamondbacks let go of the 71-year-old La Russa, the longtime manager won’t collect any of the money still owed to him, he informed Piecoro.
“If they like what I’m doing, then I’m here,” the three-time World Series winner stated. “If they don’t, then I’ll leave knowing that right now I’m not very happy with the job that I’m doing. So I’m determined to do better.”
After posting 79 wins and a plus-7 run differential last year, the Diamondbacks’ first full season under La Russa, Stewart and Watson, the club has gone backward in 2016. Those three are currently at the helm of a 48-68 team despite aggressively trying to turn it into a contender in the offseason. Not only did Arizona commit $206.5MM to right-hander Zack Greinke, but it famously dealt 2015 No. 1 pick and top shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, outfielder Ender Inciarte and young righty Aaron Blair to Atlanta for Shelby Miller.
Greinke has pitched well in his first season with the Diamondbacks, though it’s too early to assess whether their long-term investment in him was wise. On the other hand, Miller’s 2016 has been an unmitigated disaster. The decision to trade such a significant haul for the righty was widely pilloried from the get-go, but no one expected the 25-year-old to regress from a quality starter to someone incapable of holding a spot in a major league rotation. Miller, who has registered a 7.14 ERA, 6.49 K/9 and 4.41 BB/9 across 69 1/3 innings with the Diamondbacks, has been with Triple-A Reno since mid-July.
After acquiring Miller, Greinke, shortstop Jean Segura and reliever Tyler Clippard (who is now a Yankee after a July trade) during the winter, D-backs brass expected to field a postseason-caliber squad. Prior to the season, Stewart called the idea of the club winning fewer games than last year “a joke” and referred to it as “impossible” (via Jack Magruder of Today’s Knuckleball). Unfortunately for Stewart, that impossibility is going to become a reality.
In fairness to Stewart and the rest of the Diamondbacks’ front office, injuries haven’t helped the team’s cause. Most notably, Arizona has been without star center fielder A.J. Pollock all season because of a fractured elbow. Plus, the 26-year-old Segura – whom the Diamondbacks acquired from the Brewers for righty Chase Anderson, infielder Aaron Hill and shortstop prospect Isan Diaz – has been quite effective. Moreover, lefty Robbie Ray, righty Rubby De La Rosa and outfielder Yasmany Tomas, all of whom were picked up after La Russa, Stewart and Watson took the helm, have shown promise. But, despite Tomas’ offensive strides, the big-bodied 25-year-old has minimal upside because of his limitations as a defender and base runner. Thus, the Diamondbacks’ $68.5MM investment in him looks questionable at best.
Arizona’s other noteworthy Cuban signing, 2014 addition Yoan Lopez, has scuffled in the minors during his tenure in America and the righty hasn’t pitched since June 29 because he’s contemplating leaving the sport. Signing Lopez, then an international free agent, for a record $8.27MM bonus took Arizona out of the running to land any other international amateurs for more than $300K during both the 2015 signing period and this year’s.
The era of La Russa, Stewart and Watson has clearly produced more negatives than positives for the Diamondbacks, who enter play Sunday with the fourth-worst record and third-worst run differential (minus-114) in the majors. While La Russa expects his cohorts to return next season, the fact that there’s uncertainty regarding their statuses obviously wasn’t what they or the franchise had in mind at the beginning of the year.