Chase Field takes up several city blocks on the outskirts of downtown Phoenix. It looms large over its neighbor Talking Stick Resort Arena (previously America West/US Airways Arena), but the two share common parking lots, pregame and postgame watering holes, and hotels that host visiting teams. The city of Phoenix came close to a title when the Phoenix Suns nearly won the 1993 NBA Finals, but the only championship banner belongs to the Diamondbacks, who beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
Which begs the question, who is more likely to bring a champion to the Valley of the Sun? The Suns, who have been on a downward slide most of this century or the Diamondbacks whose recent ineptitude includes bad trades, bad draft picks, and really ugly uniforms. If given the reins of the current NL West cellar dwellers, what five changes could bring the team back to the glory days of The Big Unit, Curt Schilling, Tony Womack, and Gonzo.
Chip Hale is the seventh manager in Arizona Diamondback history. He is not the team’s worst, but he is far from the sort of inspiring leader suited to guide a team that has an odd mix of veterans, fringe players, and one superstar. The rumors have been circulating that Hale does not push his players hard enough and is in the hot seat — a few weeks from being canned.
The fact is that the team has a great replacement in manager of the AAA Reno Aces Phil Nevin, who is so highly regarded that the Astros, Marlins, and Nationals asked the D-backs for permission to interview him for recent vacancies. A former number one pick of the Astros, Nevin has the Aces at a 57-47 record, which is remarkable considering the parent club calls up every player who shows potential to help the NL West team out of its misery.
On the other hand, in his 252 games managed, Hale has a record of 117-135. While Hale might seem like an upgrade over Kirk Gibson, his lack of strategic vision and ability to get the most of his players makes him a dead manager walking.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart is on the phone with his fellow GMs? “You want our top draft pick, Touki Toussaint? Who do you have that you are ready to cut or release from your team… We’ll take ’em! You want our top pick, Darby Swanson? That pitcher — you know, the one who washed out with the Cardinals — can we have him?” And so on.
Stewart may have been a crafty pitcher in his 17-year career with the Dodgers, A’s, Phillies, and Toronto, but he’s clueless as a general manager. Which makes one wonder whether his boss, Tony La Russa (once considered a brilliant baseball mind), has lost his edge.
Together La Russa and Stewart have traded off some strong pieces in exchange for a bunch of has-beens. Stewart has yet to make a trade on the level of the famous five-for-one deal, which sent Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, George Vukovich, and others to Cleveland for Von Hayes. Give him time.
Get rid of dead weight
Of late, the Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be made up of players who adhere to a certain model; around 6-foot-2 with little speed, marginal power, and average fielding skills. Here and there, a few have the ability to play multiple positions, but none are the sort of players who will take you to the .500 mark, let alone the playoffs.
It’s smart to have a few utility players on the roster, but when the entire team is made up of utility players, someone has done something wrong. On the current roster, Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and perhaps a few arms like Robbie Ray and reliever Enrique Burgos are worth keeping. We suggest a yard sale, and then get whatever you can for the rest. There has to be better players in Reno (AAA) and Mobile (AA)… or maybe not?
Better scouting and draft choices
The Diamondbacks’ fate changed in 2009 when the team chose Josh Byrnes over Mike Rizzo for its GM after Joe Garagiola, Jr. left the position. Rizzo, who has been the scouting director for Arizona, left to become a star executive with the Washington Nationals. Why are the Nats in first place and have had a strong record the past few-years? Yes, it’s all Rizzo — or at least mostly Rizzo.
Since 2009, the draft has been unkind to Arizona, with Archie Bradley being the best of the lot taken on the first round (2011). Other top picks include Swanson (traded), Touissant (traded), Trevor Bauer (traded), and Stryker Trahan, whose name appears to be his best attribute. Drafted in 2012, Trahan has shifted from catcher to right field where he current plays for Visalia in the California League.
Think of the Diamondbacks as the Imelda Marcos of major league uniforms. Called everything from bizarre to just plain ugly, the team has (at least) four basic unis, two for home and two for the road. At times, there has been some mix and match and a few throwbacks tossed in (all of which look better than the current garb).
Would better unis improve the team’s record? Probably not, but it would make it less painful to watch them stumble around the field. The road outfits are dark gray and depressing to look at. The word “Arizona” is written in some indiscernible script, with a cartoonish snake on the sleeve. Don’t take my word for how bad the D-backs look on the field — here’s a tweet from actor Rob Lowe:
The Diamondback’s uniforms make them look like futuristic maintenance men working on a trash truck in space. pic.twitter.com/hZ3eompYvy
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) April 12, 2016