The moves started very early, with mixed reviews. Right hander Jason Bulger had a nice stint with the big league club in 2005, but Byrnes recognized
that one of the few failings of the D'Backs minor league system was its lack of
solid alternatives in the lead off spot. To that end Byrnes moved Bulger
to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in California on the West Coast of the USA
for Alberto Callaspo. Callaspo went on to have one of the best seasons of
any D'Backs minor leaguer and was good enough at second base and shortstop in
his short stint at the big league level to make Craig Counsell expendable and at
least allow the D'Backs to entertain offers for Orlando Hudson this offseason.
If the D'Backs are able to parlay Hudson into a solid top of the rotation
starter for next season, this move looks even bigger.
Unfortunately the D'Backs minors is also severely lacking in big league ready
pitching, as the consistently faltering of their bullpen showed. In moving
Bulger Byrnes knew he needed to stock back up, but by moving super versatile
Alex Cintron to the White Sox a week later for Jeff Bajenaru it appears Byrnes
may have given up something for not much of anything. Bajenaru has been,
at best, disappointing, and while at the time (March 8th) he was a contender to
make the big league bullpen out of spring training, he not only missed that
opportunity, but struggled all year at Triple-A. Cintron may indeed have
work ethic problems, and in Arizona he may not have had a position to play, but
he could have contributed, and Bajenaru has yet to do so.
One thing that Byrnes has been unafraid to do though is pull the trigger on
deals that improve the club immediately. In late March he did just that.
Remember that 'vaunted' starting rotation at the beginning of the season?
Brandon Webb, Orlando Hernandez, Miguel Batista and Russ Ortiz started the first
four games and after moving Webb up a day in the rotation Claudio Vargas was the
#5. Byrnes knew the club needed more middle relief help, and he knew that
lefty Brad Halsey was best suited in the starting rotation, so the move that
send Halsey to Oakland for Juan Cruz was a big one, and a smart one. Cruz
has the potential to start, he has the movement and velocity to become a great
pitcher, but he has the experience in the bullpen the D'Backs were looking for.
By May though the pitching staff was in a shambles. Ortiz was hopeless,
Vargas was inconsistent, and it seemed to not matter who was 'closing' (Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde, Brian Bruney) there were questions about the last third of
the game. The Mets needed a starter, Hernandez had been disappointing, and
Byrnes moved him to New York for Jorge Julio. 20/20 hindsight shows that
the rumors about Julio not having the mental makeup to consistently close might
be true, but at the time something was needed. Still, with a rotation as
beat up as the D'Backs were featuring, there is still a lingering bitterness to
moving a guy who went out every fifth day and threw six innings.
In August the D'Backs were still in the race, and the one thing that everyone
could agree on was that they needed another starting pitcher. The pickings
were slim, with most clubs asking far too high a price for rentals like Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt, guys who the D'Backs couldn't guarantee would be back.
Livan Hernandez was right at the top of the 'second tier' of potential
acquit ions the D'Backs could make, but in a move that came shortly after former
Diamondbacks Director of Scouting Mike Rizzo had jumped to the Nationals, the
D'Backs overpaid with two young arms for one aging hurler. Matt Chico and
Garrett Mock would likely have both ended up among the Top 20 D'Backs prospects,
and both easily would have made the top 10 among pitching prospects.
Instead both will likely fall in similar positions on the Nationals prospect
lists, and the D'Backs have a productive, inning eating pitcher with a long
tradition of post season success, and no post season to pitch in.
But it was the last deal of the regular season that earns Byrnes the highest
marks. With the D'Backs four games back, losers of six of their last 10,
and Shawn Green in the midst of a slump that had seen him hit just .208 in
August Byrnes moved Green and the $9 million he was owed in 2007 to the New York Mets for lefty Evan MacLane. MacLane in many ways resembles Halsey, and
may never turn out to be the middle of the rotation starter some have projected
him as, but he isn't making $9 million in 2007, and that is money that can be
spent on pitching, whether through free agency or trade. It also opened
the door for Carlos Quentin, the talented right fielder who has done nothing
except dominate the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for three seasons now.
It was a tough call, one that caused more than one commentator to announce
that Byrnes was 'giving up' on 2006. None the less, it is a deal that
offers the Diamondbacks financial freedom, allows one of their top prospects to
play full time, and most importantly, started the 2007 campaign off on a
positive note. Green is a nice player, but past his prime, and Quentin is
as good an outfield prospect as Arizona has ever seen.
The trades though were only one part of the equation. Managing partner
Ken Kendrick bungled the Luis Gonzalez steroid talk, while Byrnes handed the
Carlos Quentin call up/Gonzo benching with aplomb. The team handled the
Jason Grimsley mess by essentially turning their back and ignoring it, but then
Kendrick once again opened his mouth, talking about suing Grimsley for his
salary, as if the team was going to miss the $400,000 they had paid him.
They gave Gonzo his proper sendoff, announcing in plenty of time that this would
be his last season with the Diamondbacks, and giving fans a chance to say
goodbye, but who is to say that didn't have more to do with packing an
increasingly empty stadium on the final day of the season?
It was, by all accounts, an up and down year for the franchise, and for the
franchise's front office. There is nothing nice about finishing the season
in a tie for last place in the division, 12 games under .500, but the front
office, in particular Byrnes, did his job, developing the young talent that is
going to power the D'Backs in the future, moving high salaries (we didn't even
mention the Troy Glaus deal that eliminated a ton of salary and netted both
Miguel Batista and Orlando Hudson or the Javier Vazquez deal that landed us top
center field prospect Chris Young and Orlando Hernandez) in an effort to produce available salary for
future pitchers, and keeping a team in contention all the way through the end of
August. It was a pretty good year.
Front office grade: B-