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In the Diamondbacks’ brief history, their front office has certainly caught the ire of the peanut gallery here at Baseball Prospectus. This is a team still suffering from the fallout of contract deferments to Matt Williams and others, back in the days when Jerry Colangelo behaved like George Steinbrenner even though he didn’t have the same coffers. He got his Championship, that’s for sure, but he radically stunted the development of a franchise still in its formative years.
Since then a corporate overhaul has taken place, and it’s still likely not complete as the leadership of Ken Kendrick and Jeff Moorad look to hire a full-time GM. Obviously, this uncertainty makes it extra difficult to predict what will happen in the desert this winter, but we can still poke around and explore the big decisions that lie ahead.
Many big decisions loom for the future of this team, and based on the young hitters inching their way up the organizational depth charts, a changing of the guard should be in order very soon. Sentimentality is what broke this franchise–they can call it “loyalty” all they want–but in order to maximize the team’s future, this approach must be expunged.
Just weeks ago, Jonah Keri chimed in on the jam-packed outfield, tabbing Luis Gonzalez as the outcast. Any way you slice it, Arizona has at least one big bat to dangle this winter, and quite possibly two. Gonzalez and Shawn Green posted very similar numbers this season, but Green is five years younger and has a limited no-trade clause (the only trade partners that wouldn’t require his consent are the Angels, Padres and Dodgers).
Caleb Peiffer covered Tony Clark‘s two-year extension in August’s Notebook. Conor Jackson‘s only viable niche is first base, at least in the National League, making the Clark deal a wasted opportunity (not to mention the no-trade clause). Yes, Clark cleared a 1000 OPS, but he never even reached 900 in his Tiger Stadium glory days. Hopefully they will allow Jackson to cut his teeth in the majors, and limit Clark to mostly pinch-hitting.
The other on-base machine with nothing left to prove in the minors, Carlos Quentin, is the natural answer in center field. The D’backs decided not to set the service-time clock just yet with Quentin, but any more toiling in Tucson and a FREE CARLOS QUENTIN! movement may form.
The presence of Jackson at first and Troy Glaus at third pushes the versatile Chad Tracy to right field, if his future is with the Diamondbacks. Tracy quietly enjoyed one of the most pronounced breakout seasons of 2005, particularly during a torrid September (.313/.374/.608). Even better, Tracy hit better on the road, squelching the idea that Chase Field did it. While the sage move would be to trade Gonzalez, Tracy’s the cheaper, better player–hence more trade value–and doesn’t quite have the same fan support. If Arizona chickens out from dealing Gonzalez, Tracy might be the next in line, which, short of some first-class compensation, would be a giant mistake.
The forgotten man in the outfield is Scott Hairston, whose season ended abruptly after a dislocated left shoulder and resulting torn labrum required surgery in late July. He was also mashing in Tucson, after a spring conversion to the outfield. He was never known for his defense in his previous life as a second baseman, but his bat would mine far more value as a middle infielder. He might hit enough to pass as a starting corner outfielder, but considering the jammed outfield and the impending free agency of Royce Clayton, his greatest value to the D’backs is either at the keystone (shifting the slick-fielding Craig Counsell to shortstop) or as trade bait. All of this, of course, hinges on whether Hairston can stay healthy in the first place, which is a major question. He’ll turn 26 in May, no spring chicken at this point, but his bat is still a very real threat and shouldn’t be wasted at Triple-A any longer.
No matter whom Arizona decides to trade, the target should be pitching. Paul Swydan recently detailed the bullpen in its hideous entirety–a problem that is possible to fix on the cheap, if you’re smart and lucky. The rotation has some arms to build around, with Brandon Webb and Javier Vazquez, but lacks depth: Brad Halsey, Claudio Vargas, Shawn Estes is a free agent, and Russ Ortiz should probably never pitch in the majors again (although he certainly will).
What could potentially throw a wrench in the team’s plans is Vazquez’ option to demand a trade, a right he gained last winter when he was dealt in the middle of a multi-year contract. The Yankees cover $3 million in each of Vazquez’ two remaining seasons, so he’s not too bad a value for the Snakes. In an ice-thin market for starting pitching, he would fetch a very sizeable return if he decides he want out.
Whoever is eventually named the new GM of the Diamondbacks has his work cut out for him. It should be a another turbulent winter in Phoenix, and with the right moves, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to leverage the hitting depth into a well-rounded, competitive team both next year and into the future.
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Heading into the 2005 season, Milwaukee had new ownership, a lineup with a new slugger, a top-notch farm system ready to graduate its best hitting prospects, and a legitimate rotation with a newly minted ace. How did this all play out? Basically, all of these components worked well, but not incredibly well. Let’s take a look at each one individually.
New slugger Carlos Lee hit more home runs than any Brewer did in 2004, but unlike in past seasons, he slowed in the second half:
Year Half AB HR OPS 02-04 1st 1003 47 814 02-04 2nd 829 47 879 05 1st 339 22 864 05 2nd 279 10 746
Looking further at his splits, we can see that his strikeout-to-walk ratio regressed in the second half to his previous levels, which probably has something to do with NL pitchers catching up his second time through the league. Overall, while Lee was a good power source, he was not the Brewers’ most valuable bat, slotting in fourth in VORP behind Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall, and Brady Clark. In addition, his overall production was down from 2004. This is not meant to discredit the work by the Brewers front office here, because even with Lee’s decline we can see that Milwaukee still won the deal:
Player PA/IP VORP Lee 688 37.3 Podsednik 568 11.0 Vizcaino 70 14.9 Total 25.9
The other player Milwaukee sent over, 1B/OF Travis Hinton, spent his age-24 season in the hitter-friendly High-A California league, where he slugged .467, which is not impressive for that age/league combination. While it is tempting for Brewers fans to point at Podsednik and lament that he made the playoffs in his first season in Chicago, it is never that cut and dry.
Bernie and friends entered the season with Baseball America‘s third ranked farm system. Graduating to the Majors this season, at least in part, were prospects J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Prince Fielder. All graduated with modest results (all three had EqA’s between .250 and .260), and should be ready for larger roles next season:
Player PA PA% VORPr Hardy 427 6.9 .149 Weeks 414 6.7 .171 Fielder 62 1.0 .215 Total 903 14.6 .164
Factor in that Hardy had to adjust at the beginning of the season following off-season surgery, and that Weeks was slowed towards the end by his thumb injury and these numbers could have been better. Assuming all three are healthy and in Milwaukee’s lineup at the start of next season, it is not unreasonable to forecast an additional 600 PAs between them, perhaps more depending on what the front office does with Lyle Overbay.
Lastly, there is the issue of the rotation and its newly minted ace. This too has to be filed under “mixed bag.” When Sheets was on the mound he was effective, compiling a SNLVAR of 4.1, to go with a Fair RA of 3.79. The problem was that Sheets could not stay on the mound, clocking in only at 156 2/3 IP for the season, a distant third behind Doug Davis and Chris Capuano. Despite Sheets’ missed time, this trio still was about league average for a front three:
2005 Starting Rotation Rankings by Top 3 Pitchers Rnk Team Pitchers SNLVAR 1 HOU Clemens, Pettitte, Oswalt 25.50 2 FLO Willis, Beckett, Burnett 18.50 3 SLN Carpenter, Mulder, Suppan 18.30 ... 14 MIL Davis, Sheets, Capuano 13.00 AVG 13.25
Ranking 14th is nothing to shout about, but there are three things to note here. First, a full season from Sheets probably puts Milwaukee in the top 10. Second, their score of 13.00 was better than that of three 2005 playoff teams. Third, the Brewers control the rights to all three pitchers entering 2006. Just on the list above Clemens and Burnett are free agents. There is sure to be a good deal of turnover this winter, and the Brewers can feel comfortable knowing they have already the core of their 2006 rotation in place.
This is not to say the Brewers can coast through this off-season. They have important contract decisions to make regarding Tomokazu Ohka, Lee, Overbay, and Clark, and must also figure out if Jose Capellan and Fielder are ready for a full season in Milwaukee. In addition, ownership has key decisions like where the payroll should stand, how to improve the already #1 ranked Miller Park, and whether or not to bring back the old logo. Indeed it should be a busy off-season at One Brewers Way, but for the first time in a long time, Milwaukee has both a GM and an owner who are willing to get creative, and as a result Brewers fans can look to better days ahead.