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?
First, 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.
So 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.
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.