Derrick Hall will remain the Diamondbacks’ CEO for the foreseeable future, but that won’t necessarily preclude a major overhaul to the franchise’s baseball operations department. Hall stated this week that the club will make decisions on the two heads of that department, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart, after the season.
“There’s a lot to think about here,” said Hall, who doesn’t seem eager to make radical changes to Arizona’s front office.
La Russa and Stewart only took the helm in Arizona during the 2014 campaign, but the team has regressed enough under their leadership to make a regime change a legitimate possibility. After going 79-83 and posting a plus-7 run differential in 2015, the Diamondbacks’ first full season with La Russa and Stewart at the controls, the club has plummeted to 53-75 this year. Only two teams have lesser records than the D-backs, and just one has a worse run differential than Arizona’s minus-132. Injuries, primarily the fractured elbow that has kept star center fielder A.J. Pollock out all season, haven’t helped Arizona’s cause. However, even with a healthy roster, it’s fair to say the Diamondbacks would not have pushed for a playoff spot this year. Their front office had other plans, however, as evidenced by its aggressive offseason maneuverings.
The Diamondbacks’ most notable winter transactions included signing 32-year-old right-hander Zack Greinke to a $206.5MM contract and swinging a trade with the Braves for righty Shelby Miller. While still a quality option, Greinke has gone backward in his first year as a Diamondback (and spent time on the DL himself), which wasn’t the scenario they envisioned when awarding a franchise-record payday to him.
Like Greinke, Miller has also disappointed this season, though his decline has been far worse. Miller had been at least a solid mid-rotation starter as a Cardinal and Brave, but the Diamondbacks’ move to acquire him was still met with widespread derision because they paid such an expensive price for his services. Not only did the D-backs surrender shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, but they also included outfielder Ender Inciarte and well-regarded pitching prospect Aaron Blair in the package. The only bit of good news for the Diamondbacks is that Blair has fared poorly with the Braves. Unfortunately, though, Miller has careened off a cliff. The 25-year-old logged a 7.14 ERA, 6.49 K/9 and 4.41 BB/9 across 69 1/3 innings with the Diamondbacks through mid-July, at which point they demoted him to Triple-A Reno. Miller still hasn’t returned to the Majors, and the Diamondbacks nearly bailed on the experiment and traded him to the Marlins earlier this summer. However, D-backs ownership reportedly prevented it from happening.
While the Miller trade is the one that defines the La Russa and Stewart era, it clearly isn’t their only questionable choice. In another swap with the Braves, the Diamondbacks shipped off righty Touki Toussaint – their first-round pick in 2014 – with veteran righty Bronson Arroyo in exchange for infielder Phil Gosselin last June. By involving Toussaint, the Diamondbacks were able to rid themselves of the $10.1MM left on Arroyo’s contract. Toussaint isn’t a lock to pan out, but the 20-year-old has been one of Baseball America’s 100 best prospects since 2014. Teams generally don’t give that type of upside away to erase $10.1MM from their books.
Along with the Miller and Toussaint trades, the Diamondbacks have also drawn plenty of ire for inking Cuban righty Yoan Lopez to a then-record $8.27MM bonus during the 2014 international signing period. According to Keith Law of ESPN, the Diamondbacks were unaware of how international signing rules work when they added Lopez. That’s damning if true, of course, especially considering the Lopez pickup has prevented the D-backs from landing any international free agent for more than $300K over the past two signing periods. Plus, the 23-year-old Lopez hasn’t lived up to the bonus, having scuffled in the minors and contemplated giving up baseball as a result.
In fairness to La Russa and Stewart, not all have their prominent transactions have produced wholly unappealing outcomes. Second baseman Jean Segura, acquired from the Brewers for righty Chase Anderson, infielder Aaron Hill and infield prospect Isan Diaz in the offseason, is in the midst of a career year. Additionally, left-hander Robbie Ray and righty Rubby De La Rosa have shown promise, while outfielder Yasmany Tomas has shown considerable improvement at the plate. The Diamondbacks had to give up shortstop Didi Gregorius for Ray, though, and a forearm injury has kept De La Rosa out since May. Tomas, whom the Diamondbacks signed to a six-year, $68.5MM deal in 2014, has been much better this season than last. However, despite his respectable offensive output (.265/.309/.515 with 26 home runs in 434 plate appearances), the Cuba native hasn’t provided much overall value because of his below-average work in the outfield and on the base paths.
In the aggregate, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives when it comes to the Diamondbacks’ current regime. Unsurprisingly, they’d like another chance to right the ship in Arizona.
“We had one good year, and if you look at what’s happened on the field this year, then one bad year. I think we deserve a tiebreaker,” Stewart told Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
For his part, La Russa believes that he and his cohorts “have earned the benefit of the doubt.”
You know where they stand. Let’s see where you stand (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)…