Josh Byrnes of the Diamondbacks is quickly establishing his credentials as the best general manager in the game today. Has this guy made a bad move yet since he took over as D-Backs GM after the 2005 season?

Byrnes surveys his domainFirst, he deserves huge credit for putting his faith in his highly talented young prospects last year rather than signing at least a few big-name “experienced veterans” like almost every other GM would have done if handed a similar squad so inexperienced across the board.

This put the D-Backs in a position to win last year, and while it is true that the D-Backs were a “fluke” last year in terms of run differential, it was Byrnes who got them to a place where they could be such a fluke if a few bounces went there way, and this in only his second full season as GM after taking over a team that was one of the worst in baseball only a few years prior.

Now comes the news that Byrnes has just pulled off two stunning trades that markedly and clearly improve his team, acquiring bonified ace Dan Haren from the A’s for six prospects and getting Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, and triple-A starting pitcher Juan Gutierrez from the Astros for closer Jose Valverde.

I am especially shocked by the Dan Haren trade, because it was made with Billy Beane, and normally we are used to seeing Beane be the one fleecing the other team. In Beane’s defense, all six players can be reasonably projected to become major leaguers someday, but all six are grade-B prospects who are projected to be fourth starter or fourth outfielder types.

Dan Haren: AceSo while Beane did acquire a significant quantity of talent for his ace, and can be credited with spreading out his risk over 6 prospects rather than getting one mega-prospect who might get hurt or flame out while taking a bunch of flyers on a bunch of grade-C players, I’m just surprised that Beane felt this was the absolute max he could get for Dan Haren.

I mean, this is Dan Haren! The one player I would actually have rather my team traded for more than Johan Santana. Consider that Dan Haren 15-9 with a 3.07 ERA last hear and hurled 222.2 innings. Those are numbers you can put right up there with Santana’s and moving that guy into a much weaker league and a much weaker division is just downright scary.

But most of all, whereas Santana is going to be a free agent, and is due for a ginormous payout, Dan Haren is locked up for the next three full seasons, at the ridiculously reasonable price of just over $5 million per season!

So with Santana attracting big-league names like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Phil Hughes, and Melky Cabrerra as possible return values, it amazes me that in exchange for Dan Haren Billy Beane didn’t even get one name that anyone has ever heard of, and Josh Byrnes didn’t even have to give up one player that had any chance of appearing on the D-Backs’ major league roster next season.

I am almost as impressed by the trade Byrnes pulled off with the Astros, who continue to get themselves torn to shreds by Ed Wade’s overwhelming incompetence. In this case, Byrnes shrewdly leveraged the overvalued stat of the Save to sell Valverde and his 47 saves to Houston for two very useful major league players and a 24-year old pitching prospect already on the verge of contributing in the big leagues.

Burke had a down year last season, but is just hitting his peak years at age 27 and still has the potential to become the player the Astros thought could replace Craig Biggio at second base, and Gutierrez was ranked by Baseball America as the #4 prospect in the Astros system last season, praised for his plus fastball and promising changeup.

Chad Qualls loves the children, and is reading my favorite Dr. Seuss book, But the key to this deal is Qualls. Byrnes is clearly gambling that Qualls is the equal, or near equal of Valverde, only minus the bling of a 40-save season to his name. Qualls has quietly racked up a fine career ERA of 3.39 in 284 major-league innings while pitching half his games in a hitter’s ballpark, and had outstanding strikeout and groundball rates last season, which bodes well for his future.

But even more importantly, Qualls has three years left before free agency to Valverde’s two, so Qualls could make this trade even out all by himself, even if he only provided 70 percent of the value that Valverde does per season over the next three years.

With the Padres and Dodgers treading water and the Giants and Rockies backsliding, I think these trades have to instantly catapult the D-Backs to the status of favorites in the NL West by a large margin. The D-Backs’ pitching was already pretty strong last season, but now they have a second ace to pair with Brandon Webb, giving them a one-two punch similar to the one they had with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling back when they won it all in 2001.

And with a team full of still developing young players with big upside up and down the lineup, Byrnes appears to be building the Diamondbacks into a perennial powerhouse that will put together strong playoff runs for years to come.

8 Responses to “D-Backs putting even Mongol Hordes to shame when it comes pillage and plunder”

  1. Man, I can’t wait to be a cranky old guy. Those will be the days when I can buy my own loveseat that no one else can enjoy – and I will make sure that no one does by constantly lounging away on it wearing only an undershirt and wool socks. By then, my gut would probably be so big that no one would know I’m not wearing any pants anyway.

  2. Just in case people are waiting with baited breath to see if Conlin will be reprimanded by the DN, he’s got a new column out today. So we at least know he wasn’t suspended.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Coley, I hate to be an ass, but that’s bated breath. Also, I fail to see any reason why Conlin would be suspended.

  4. It’s so fun watching Ed Wade pull off these moves for another team now, after having watched him to it to the Phillies for so many years. There’s something wrong with the guy, and it might be masochism.

    As fluky as the D-Backs were last season, Haren might be good enough to bring them right back to 90 or so wins, assuming that a few of the extra bounces in the D-Backs’ favor last season even out and go to their opponents. If the D-Backs do get ridiculously lucky again, it will be fun watching them near 100 wins.

    They’re really the only true competition I see for the Phillies in the National League. I don’t buy the Rockies again, the Cubs will win the NL Central by default (because everyone else is bad), not because they’re good. And the Mets and Braves will be lucky to hit 85 wins.

    Josh Byrnes has earned some pretty high marks in his short tenure as a GM. I wonder how much or how little he uses Sabermetrics. Is he a new-school guy like Theo Epstein (who is responsible for two World Series since hiring Bill James)?

  5. It’s nice to finally read someone questioning Beane. This doesn’t seem like a deal where equal value was exchanged. I still can’t understand why he wanted to move Haren in the first place as he’s locked in at a reasonable price for 3 years, this seems like the kind of guy you build your team around. I’m sure people will come to Beane’s defense by saying wait until you see what these prospects turn into. The D-Backs could afford to give up the prospects for a proven starter because they already have so many good young players on their roster. I thought this was the deal that would put Arizona in the driver’s seat to win the NL this season until I saw they dealt Valverde. That guy was integral to their success this past year because of the fact that they did not score a lot of runs. Many of his saves were in one run ball games. You may say the save is an overvalued stat but outs 25, 26, & 27 are the hardest to get. Rarely do you see a team win the World Series without a guy that is a lock down closer. If Qualls had been capable of closing, Houston would have moved him into that role, he wasn’t able to fill that void on their team over the last 2 seasons. I don’t understand bolstering your rotation and then weakening the end of your bullpen. Set-up men don’t always have the same success when you move them into the closer role.

  6. Melissa, I understand your point about Valverde, and I agree that while Saves are overrated, it’s also not possible to convert just *any* good middle reliever into a closer.

    However, that said, I still think this was a great trade for the D-Backs. Arbitrators love shiny stats like saves, so Valverde is due for a huge raise this offseason. Also, Valverde has a long history of shoulder troubles, and some pretty sucky seasons in his past, such as 2006, when his ERA was nearly 6.00, so I don’t feel like he is necessarily a sure-bet, lock-down closer going forward.

    Byrnes did a good job of selling Valverde when his value was at the absolute highest it has ever been. Also, I don’t think Byrnes has any intention of making Chad Qualls the closer. I think he is going to turn to one of his other young arms and give them a shot. But Qualls has great value as a reliable setup man.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Bill B, funny you would mention Theo in connection with Byrnes, as Byrnes worked under Theo for the Red Sox through 2005! And of course, Theo and Kevin Towers of the Padres were both mentored by Larry Lucchino. That’s not a bad record for Larry, considering how each of those three teams finished last year.

  8. No doubt the D-Backs have to be considered the National League front-runner in ’08. Webb and Haren is a lethal duo and all those young position players will be a year older, with the experience of having already won the division and a playoff series.

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