Tyler Kepner a few days ago, on the National League West's last-place team:
- The Diamondbacks, who host the Yankees for three games this week, have regressed each season since reaching the National League Championship Series in 2007. They wheezed to 82 victories in 2008, dropped to last place in the West last season and remain there now.
[Brandon] Webb is one of three potential free-agent starters for the Diamondbacks, with Dontrelle Willis and Rodrigo Lopez. Their ace is Dan Haren, who is signed through 2012, and Byrnes would probably at least listen to offers for him.
"There’s not sort of one player on our team we have to trade, but we’re open to changing the look and feel of our roster to some degree," [General manager Josh] Byrnes said. "In a market like ours, we have to be disciplined with managing our payroll. It doesn’t hurt to assess what’s out there and see if there's a good deal. But the perception that we’re going to make a lot of trades is probably overblown."
Well, just to review some recent franchise history ...
When the Diamondbacks won 90 games (and reached the National League Championship Series) in 2007, they were outscored by 20 runs. Every time I brought this up during that season, somebody tried to convince me that manager Bob Melvin had discovered some magic formula for winning games while being outscored.
In 2008, they outscored their opponents by 14 runs and went 82-80. Which is to say, after beating their Pythagorean projection (big time) in one season, the next season they hit it exactly. Stop the presses.
In both seasons, the Diamondbacks essentially played like a .500 team ... and before both seasons, I expected them to play better than that. Last year, they went 70-92 with the run differential of a 75-87 team ... again, both figures worse than I expected.
Ah, but the Diamondbacks wouldn't fool me again. This year, I would ... Actually, this year I again thought they would be better than they are. Essentially, every year I think Stephen Drew and Mark Reynolds and Chris Young and Justin Upton are going to play well, and every year just one or two of them does play well. Every year I think Dan Haren and Brandon Webb will be one of the best pitching tandems in the majors, and sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't.
And yet ... I still can't help thinking the Diamondbacks aren't that far off. They still have four talented young players in the lineup, and they still have Haren and (eventually) Webb, to whom they've added Ian Kennedy. The bullpen's obviously a disaster ... but the bullpen's the easiest thing to fix, right?
Next year I'm going to be cautious about the Diamondbacks. I'll have to agonize before ranking them higher than fourth place in my preseason projections. But I'm not convinced they need to blow things up and start over.
Procedural Note: I'm not exactly sure what Byrnes means when he references "a market like ours" as if that were a bad thing. Last year the Phoenix metropolitan area was the 12th most populous in the United States, and growing incredibly quickly (sure it's a desert, but land is cheap and people are incredibly short-sighted); within a year or two, the region will break into the top 10.
Maybe the corporate support isn't there and maybe retirees won't pay top dollar for tickets and the people are definitely not concentrated within 20 minutes of the ballpark. But the Diamondbacks do not have a population problem.