On Sunday, Randy Johnson no-hit his old team through six innings, finishing with seven strikeouts and just three baserunners allowed through seven frames. Adding to the insult, the Big Unit erased both of the runners he let on base via free passes, picking off Chris Young and inducing pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds into an inning-ending double play.
Sadly, if Diamondbacks fans were to look objectively at RJ's three starts this year (1-2 6.32), they would have to conclude that he is easily having one of the worst seasons among ex-Diamondbacks so far. To make matters worse, while D-backs fans can tell themselves that they could not afford Johnson's services (a lie; Jon Garland is making about the same salary), many of the players they have recently let get away are making less than a million dollars.
Here is a sampling of guys that the Diamondbacks may wish they had back. Listed with each player are his 2009 stats, 2009 salary, and method of departure from the desert (all stats accurate through Monday, April 20):
We all know what Carlos Quentin did for the Chicago White Sox last year before injuring his hand. This year, he's proving that he is healthy and that last year was no fluke. He is currently leading the American League with seven home runs, and that is not merely a product of hitter-friendly US Cellular Field, as he has hit 20 of his 43 White Sox homers away from the Cell. The D-backs can take some solace in the fact that Chris Carter had a monster 2008 season in the minors himself (39 HR, 104 RBI, .930 OPS) and that they used him as part of the package that brought Dan Haren to the desert, but that does very little to soften the blow, particularly when Diamondbacks outfielders are currently batting .170 with a .494 OPS.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, .814 is Quentin's SLG, not his OPS.
Orlando Hudson: .385/.467/.635 - $3.38 M + $4.62M in performance bonuses - Signed by the Dodgers as a free agent -
Like Johnson, Hudson has already come back to bite his own team personally, as he homered against the D-backs April 11th. Like Quentin, Hudson is coming off a hand injury, so no one knew for sure that he would come back strong in 2009. O-Dog has answered all questions presented him and then written a follow-up essay for extra credit. Unlike many of the D-backs recent personnel moves, this one still looks good. His replacement, Felipe Lopez, is one of the only Diamondbacks currently hitting worth a lick (.352/.386/.574), and Lopez doesn't make $8 million if he has a good year the way that Hudson does. The D-backs also received two draft picks when the Dodgers signed Hudson, including the 17th overall selection, which was the highest compensatory pick possible.
Even though it's hard to convince a Diamondback fan of the fact just now, this transaction has worked out well for all three parties so far.
Juan Cruz - 1-0 0.00 - $2.25 M - Signed by the Royals as a free agent -
Cruz also brings back two draft picks to Arizona, although not as high of picks as Hudson generates. For that reason, letting him sign with Kansas City was an understandable move. On the other hand, no D-backs reliever has an ERA under 2.70 whereas Cruz has not yet allowed a run in 5.2 innings. Cruz would be the second-highest paid member of the D-backs bullpen if you consider that the Mets are paying a portion of Scott Schoeneweis' $3.6 million salary, but $2.25 million is still not a lot for a reliever who can dominate the way that Cruz does.
I have to admit, I had always thought that the Arizona front office overrated Bonifacio. He seemed like a one-tool player that had made few developmental strides in many years in the system. Well, he is beginning to make the front office look right... in a way. Bonifacio is leading the National League in both runs scored and stolen bases as one of the primary reasons that the Florida Marlins have gotten off to such a hot start. But Bonifacio is also 4-for-his-last-33 (.121) with one walk, 11 strikeouts, and no extra-base hits after beginning the season with five consecutive multi-hit games. Those five games were likely a fluke, but I bet the D-backs would still rather have him than Jon Rauch, who has been simply terrible since joining the club.
Dan Uggla - .229/.329/.417 $5.35 M - Selected by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft -
Of course, the Marlins are used to profiting off discarded Diamondbacks second basemen. Dan Uggla has been the best power-hitting second baseman in baseball over the past three years. His overall 2009 numbers don't wow you, but his dozen RBI leads the Marlins and is nearly twice the total of the Diamondbacks' best run producers (Mark Reynolds and Conor Jackson are tied with seven). I guarantee that the Diamondbacks would love to have him back, especially considering that they gave him away for nothing.
Brian Barden - .409/.458/.864 - $ 0.4 M - Claimed off Waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals -
Barden is another infielder that virtually no one figured would develop into the hitter that he has. Barden had always posted solid-but-unspectacular numbers in the minors, but now he is making the Cardinals forget about Troy Glaus' injury and even getting spot starts in the middle infield. He's obviously not going to finish the year a .400 hitter, but I bet any team would love to pay him the major league minimum to be their utility infielder.
David Eckstein - .311/.373/.422 - $0.85 M - Signed by the Padres as a free agent -
Eckstein's numbers look good, not great, until you remember that he has to play half of his games at Petco Park. Away from Petco, his line looks like this: .429/.478/.571. Again, Felipe Lopez has exceeded all expectations so far, but Eckstein could be providing similar offense at a fraction of Lopez' $3.5 million salary. Alternatively, one of those two could have been filling in at shortstop while Stephen Drew's hamstring heals, rather than the punchless Augie Ojeda taking Drew's place.
Callaspo is another cheap middle infielder the D-backs recently relinquished who would have provided an upgrade to the current 25-man roster. To make matters worse, Billy Buckner allowed seven runs in four relief innings before getting sent down to Triple-A. Callaspo was traded more due to an off-field incident than because the team didn't think that he could perform, but it still adds to the prosecution's case that the Diamondbacks aren't making the greatest personnel decisions in the world.
No one is going to fault the Diamondbacks for this one, as Chris Young has played outstanding centerfield defense for almost three years now and the D-backs would have a hard time paying Vazquez' salary. On the other hand, they are paying Eric Byrnes nearly the same amount to be their fourth outfielder this season ($11 million). Would they swap Byrnes and Young for Vazquez and some combination of Gerardo Parra and Alexander Romero in centerfield? Vazquez has fanned 25 batters in 18 innings this year, with only Johan Santana and Zack Greinke totaling more punchouts so far. A combination of Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Javier Vazquez would certainly comprise the best front-three in baseball.
Adam Dunn - .316/.527/.632 - $8 M - Signed by the Nationals as a free agent -
Again, Dunn would have been a difficult man to retain given his salary demands. But he's leading the National League in both walks and on-base percentage. In fact, his OBP is nearly twice the Diamondbacks' team total of .286. Had the Arizona Diamondbacks offered him arbitration and he had accepted, would it have been so bad? It would have prevented the team from signing Jon Garland, but it wouldn't be a stretch for Hector Ambriz, Matt Torra, Cesar Valdez, Evan MacLane, or Tony Barnette to duplicate Garland's performance. There is no one on the Diamondbacks who can come close to Dunn's combination of on-base acumen and raw power. There are few in all of baseball who can. If you've got to let him go, at least make certain that you get two draft picks in return.
Are there any ex-Diamondbacks players off to a slow start this year? Brandon Lyon is struggling as Detroit's setup man and Jose Valverde blew his one save opportunity thus far. Livan Hernandez has had two solid starts for the Mets; nothing to get excited about, but he's another pitcher who could replace Garland's production for about one-tenth of the price. It's hard to identify anyone that the club has recently let go that fans are glad to have gone. Maybe Russ Ortiz, but he's still performing better with the Astros than he did with the Diamondbacks.
As currently constructed, he Arizona Diamondbacks are still a decent team, and likely much better than the 5-8 club that they have shown themselves to be thus far. The bottom line, however, is that the Diamondbacks have shown more talent out the door in the past couple of seasons than they have brought in. If the Diamondbacks do not win the World Series this fall, all some fans will be thinking is how much better they could have been had the D-backs been better evaluators of talent.
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