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October 25, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL West
What are the Padres Getting in Josh Byrnes?
With Padres GM Jed Hoyer headed to the Cubs in the same capacity under former boss Theo Epstein, another Epstein protégé, Josh Byrnes, takes over in San Diego. Although Hoyer's tenure didn't last as long as anyone expected, he made a few key moves that will help shape the course of the franchise.
The most significant of these were the Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Adams trades that helped rebuild a farm system that had been depleted in recent years. Those deals, coupled with a strong 2011 draft overseen by Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod (also headed to Chicago), brought an influx of young talent that will be under club control for some time—always a good thing when operating on as tight a budget as the Padres must.
Byrnes now has the opportunity to build on what Hoyer and his predecessor, Kevin Towers, started. Unlike Hoyer when he arrived in San Diego, Byrnes comes to his new position with GM experience under his belt. After leaving Boston, he served as GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks from October 2005 to July 2010. During that time, the Snakes reached the postseason once, winning the division in 2007. Byrnes also helped lay the foundation for this year's surprise team that reached the playoffs despite widespread belief among experts (including us) that they would finish last in the NL West.
Byrnes wasn't solely responsible for the 2011 success, but he played an important role in it. Players he drafted, signed as free agents, and acquired in trade all made a difference for this year's Diamondbacks. The Padres, coming off a 91-loss season, hope that he can have a similar impact for them.
While we wait to see what Byrnes does in San Diego, let's look back at his time in Arizona.
Also, Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin (ranked second and eighth, respectively, part of the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels), as well as David Holmberg (ranked ninth, acquired with Daniel Hudson in the trade that sent Edwin Jackson to the White Sox), came to the Diamondbacks via players that Byrnes acquired.
Beyond the draft, Byrnes made several trades during his tenure. Some worked to his advantage:
To be clear, Towers (as we've noted before) deserves a good deal of credit for building this year's NL West championship club. But he built on the groundwork laid by Byrnes, as well as predecessor Joe Garagiola (hello, Justin Upton) and DiPoto.
Speaking of Upton, Byrnes is the man who inked the young star to a long-term deal that keeps him in a Diamondbacks uniform through 2015. When a 23-year-old posts a 5.0 WARP season for $4.25 million, it is nice. When he is locked up to a club-friendly contract ($45.25 million over the next four years in what should be Upton's prime), it is even nicer.
Exposing Dan Uggla to the Rule 5 draft in 2005 turned out badly, although this would have been difficult to anticipate at the time. Uggla was coming off a .297/.378/.502 campaign at Double-A Tennessee, but at age 25 and with serious questions about his defense at second base, he didn't figure to become the new Jeff Kent. As Kevin Goldstein observed prior to the 2006 season, “Uggla is not without skills, but he shouldn't be a major-league starter for any team.” We have to ding Byrnes because the player succeeded, but we can't call it a disaster, because nobody saw Uggla coming, and the process by which he came to be available was sound.
Taking Daniel Schlereth over Lonnie Chisenhall with the 26th pick overall in 2008 doesn't look good. Schlereth wasn't seen as an overdraft at the time, but he is a reliever, while Chisenhall has become one of baseball's brightest prospects (ranked 40th coming into 2011). Still, as we've seen with the trade that brought Jackson and Kennedy to Arizona, Schlereth had his uses.
Byrnes also made a couple of questionable trades. Both made a certain amount of sense at the time, and neither had a huge impact on the fortunes of either team, but one wonders if he could have gotten more for what he gave.
Aside from the one clunker coming up next, Byrnes didn't make bad trades in Arizona.
On August 7, Byrnes signed veteran outfielder Eric Byrnes to an ill-advised three-year, $30 million contract extension. At age 31, the outfielder was putting the finishing touches on a career year that helped push the Diamondbacks into the postseason and resulted in the player receiving marginal (if misplaced) NL MVP support. He was a key part of a good team and a fan favorite (he also had been a client of Arizona owner Jeff Moorad, a former player agent, which may or may not have played a role). This doesn't absolve GM Byrnes of the extension, but it does place it in context.
History will show that the contract was every bit the disaster that analysts thought it would be. As Joe Sheehan noted 21 months after the deal, outfielder Byrnes “signed his contract at the absolute peak of his market value, less than two years after his career possibly looked over, and right as he was about to collapse as a player.” Or, as Christina Kahrl put it at the time:
...I have a hard time buying the suggestion that he's a difference-making power source in left field for anybody. Byrnes might age decently, considering that he's more athletic than your average 31-year-old, but you're still talking about a guy who can't slug .500 in one of the best hitting environments in baseball, and one that you're pasting into a premium offensive position.
Beyond the fact that outfielder Byrnes provided no value for his club while tying up resources that could have been used to address areas of need, his presence made the younger Quentin expendable. And on December 3, GM Byrnes shipped the 25-year-old slugger to the White Sox for Chris Carter. (Granted, Carter became part of the package for Haren, but as Sheehan commented, “it's not hard to see a universe where the D'backs might have had both players.”)
Here is what Byrnes and Quentin did for their respective teams, and at what cost:
Consider also that Quentin hit 36 homers in his first year with the White Sox, while the Diamondbacks finished two games out of first place in the NL West. He might have made the difference in 2008. Either way, there simply is no way to cast this series of moves in a favorable light. It looked bad when it happened, and it has gotten even worse over time.
As Christina Kahrl said at the time of Byrnes' ouster as Arizona's GM, “He was handed a well-regarded core, and he added to it.” Now, thanks to the efforts of Towers and Hoyer before him, Byrnes finds himself with another well-regarded core. If he can duplicate what he did for the Diamondbacks and add to San Diego's core, the Padres and their fans should reap the rewards sooner rather than later.