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September 21, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Arizona Diamondbacks

by Marc Normandin, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Arizona Diamondbacks goodbye.

The overview

Arizona gambled on rotation strength coming into the season, trading for veteran Edwin Jackson and prospect Ian Kennedy and picking up the 2010 option on former Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb. But Webb never regained the arm strength he had in the past and didn't throw an inning, and the Diamondbacks' bullpen follies were historically bad in the first half of the year. General manager Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch were fired, in a dramatic shift; Byrnes still had years remaining on his contract.

There is good news, though. In an effort to downsize their payroll and to start a rebuilding process that will continue into next year, the Diamondbacks traded Dan Haren and Jackson, and the early returns on the players acquired in those deals have been good—most notably, from Daniel Hudson. Arizona appears to have a decent rotation going forward, with Hudson, Barry Enright, Kennedy and Joe Saunders forming a backbone for the pitching staff. Center fielder Chris Young and second baseman Kelly Johnson had excellent comeback seasons.

The Diamondbacks are expected to hire either Kevin Towers or interim GM Jerry Dipoto to take over the baseball operations in the hours ahead, and a first order of business is to rebuild a disastrous bullpen; the expectation within the industry is that Arizona will aggressively pursue an established closer, such as Rafael Soriano, during the upcoming offseason. In another philosophical shift, Arizona will probably look to trade one or two regulars from their lineup, such as Mark Reynolds, in an effort to change the team's offense; the Diamondbacks are on the verge of setting an all-time single-season record for strikeouts.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Young finally put together a season where he was both patient and powerful, hitting .261/.341/.457 with 27 stolen bases. Johnson, an off-season acquisition after being non-tendered by the Braves, was the club's best hitter, and though he missed time with injury, Miguel Montero's time behind the plate has showed the Diamondbacks won't miss Chris Snyder, who was traded to the Pirates. Hudson, acquired for Jackson at the trade deadline, has been excellent in the desert with a 1.65 ERA (and 3.10 SIERA) in 71 innings while whiffing over eight batters per nine innings pitched.

What went wrong: Justin Upton failed to follow up on his breakout 2009 campaign put up a very average season for a right fielder. Reynolds showed everyone that his 2009 was the fluke as he has reverted to his low-batting average, high-strikeout seasons of the past this year by hitting .204/.323/.448. The bullpen failed on such a grand scale that it merits its own section.

The key number: 28. That's the number of pitchers used by the Diamondbacks this season, a franchise high. Between trades, replacing ineffective pitchers and then often replacing those with more ineffective pitchers, it's no wonder they burned through the ranks.

What won't happen again: It is almost out of the question for the Diamondbacks bullpen to be as terrible as it was in 2010. The Diamondbacks had the worst bullpen, in terms of the Baseball Prospectus metric Expected Wins Above Replacement Level (WXRL) of any team since the 1999 Royals, which itself is the worst bullpen since 1954—so essentially, in the last five decades, the 2010 D-backs have the third worst bullpen in baseball history. Just a replacement-level effort in 2011 would increase the Diamondbacks' win total in the same way adding Mariano Rivera would. It may not be good next year, but it's nigh impossible that it's going to be as horrendous.—Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

On rotation: Depending on what happens with Webb, who becomes a free agent at season's end after missing all but one start since the end of the 2008 campaign, the club's starting rotation has four young arms it can hand jobs to during spring training in Kennedy, Enright, Hudson and left-hander Saunders. If Webb returns, it may be as an audition to better position himself for the free agent market after a healthy season, so the general manager, whomever that may be, may have to check out the market for a veteran starter or two. A middle-market arm such as Jeremy Bonderman or Ted Lilly might make sense, as might Vicente Padilla, Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook. The D-backs have holes in their bullpen, too, but it appears as if the club may go the inexpensive route for the time being.

Trade bait: With Arizona at least a few years from contention, it can afford to send out an established player or two to acquire more help for the future. In order to acquire more proven talent, the Diamondbacks may have to part with a proven player or two of their own, and possibly some of their youth as well. Shortstop Stephen Drew could be the shiny asset that nets the club the kind of package it needs to fill multiple holes. If Drew is placed on the trade market the first club in line might be the Red Sox, despite Marco Scutaro being under contract through 2012. Drew is arbitration eligible for the second time this winter and could cost the club upwards of $6 million after making $3.4 million in 2010.—Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

After failing in the big leagues at the end of last year, has first-baseman Brandon Allen figured some things out? While he's unlikely to ever hit for a high average, the wide-bodied first baseman stepped up both his power and patience in 2010, slugging 25 home runs and drawing 83 walks in just 107 games for Triple-A Reno as part of a .261/.405/.528 showing. If the Diamondbacks decline Adam LaRoche's mutual option ($7.5 million with a $1.5 million buyout), the first base job is Allen's.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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