This is one of a series of posts in which we grade each team’s wily hot stove maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.
Concluding last year’s HOA for the Diamondbacks, I wrote:
Yes, they’re young; yes, they have the O-Dog at second and a promising shortstop, not to mention, promising outfielders, but these D’backs are one or two full seasons away from truly measuring up and contending for the NL West crown as previous generations of Snakes did.
Little did I know, the D’backs were ready then! I guess I need to learn to make bolder predictions! At any rate, I honestly can’t say nobody saw it coming. Banking on the performance of young players like Justin Upton, Chris Young, Stephen Drew and Connor Jackson, Arizona managed to reach the NLCS only a year after finishing 4th with a .469 winning percentage. It could be said, then, that with a few strategic moves in the offseason, the Diamondbacks would be poised to return to the postseason and make a run at a World Series berth. It helps that GM Josh Byrnes has been working the phones (and working the league); not only has he solidified the farm system, he’s recently acquired tons of major-league-ready talent.
Last year’s motto was simple: let the young players play and they’ll show results soon enough, while at the same time purge the payroll of overpriced veterans that had already produced all they could for the championship clubs of yesteryear.
This time around, Byrnes’ approach is the natural evolution of last year’s plan of attack. Once you weed out the talent that never materialized, you can make shrewd moves to bring in proven stars. And there is no better example than the Dan Haren trade. Byrnes beefed up his team’s rotation, sending a crop of minor league talent that became expendable in exchange for the young Oakland ace. With Brandon Webb anchoring the starters, Byrnes has put together one of the best one-two punches in the league.
But to top it all off, and in what may be considered his most controversial move, Byrnes shipped closer Jose Valverde to the Astros for Chad Qualls, Juan Gutierrez and outfielder Chris Burke.
Sure this last move may seem puzzling to some, but as Nick discussed in his post back in December after the trade had been announced, Valverde was becoming too cost-prohibited to keep around. As soon as closers compile huge save numbers, their stock rises just as quick. With Chad Qualls, manager Doug Melvin has a proven reliever that may be up to the challenge and assume the closer’s role, or he may let a dark horse emerge from his other bullpen arms.
The Diamondbacks’ infield was set last year, even more so with the emergence of Connor Jackson. And as far as the outfield is concerned, last year’s pleasant dilemma of an outfielder surplus allowed Byrnes to make the necessary moves to land Haren.
He traded Carlos Quentin to the White Sox for minor leaguer Chris Carter and quickly turned him around, including him in the package he sent Oakland, along with two outfield prospects, Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham, and three other pitchers. (The D’backs also received right hander Connor Robertson along with Haren). Keep in mind that the Valverde trade also brought in Burke who’ll likely come off the bench, with Eric Byrnes, Young and Upton set as starters. Rotation wise, the return of Randy Johnson solidifies a strong squad anchored by Webb and Haren.
It’s clear that Josh Byrnes is quickly and quietly becoming one of the best in the league and with the moves he’s pulled off this offseason the Diamondbacks could be set for 2008.
Additions: Dan Haren, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, Billy Buckner, Connor Robertson, Juan Gutierrez.
Losses: Jose Valverde, Carlos Quentin, Brett Anderson, Greg Smith, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Chris Carter, Alberto Callaspo, Tony Clark, Livan Hernandez, Jeff Cirillo, Bob Wickman
CF Chris Young -
2B Orlando Hudson
LF Eric Byrnes
1B Connor Jackson
3B Mark Reynolds
SS Stephen Drew
C Chris Snyder
RF Justin Upton
P Brandon Webb
SP – Brandon Webb
SP – Dan Haren
SP – Randy Johnson
SP – Doug Davis
SP – Micah Owings
Generally, a team that makes it deep into the playoffs only needs to upgrade (if at all) at few positions. The Diamondbacks added one of the best pitchers in the game to a staff that possesses former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb and that’ll feature a healthy (albeit old) Randy Johnson. However, the Valverde deal has enough of a risk involved to prevent that A- from being a solid A.