Monday, May 12, 2008

The Morning Word: Dbacks Recipe For Success

There has never been a perfectly run baseball team. However, the Diamondbacks, led by GM Josh Byrnes and Assistant Peter Woodfork, have turned the league’s 2004 laughing stock into a National League favorite in just three years. Here’s a look at how the team ranked 23rd in payroll has become one of baseball’s best teams.

Good Drafting

The 2005 draft yielded top overall prospect Justin Upton along with starting pitchers Micah Owings and Greg Smith (sent to Oakland in the Dan Haren deal). In 2006 they selected starting pitcher Max Scherzer with the 11th overall pick. It wasn’t clear the Diamondbacks would be able to sign Scherzer, but they recognized his talents and overpaid for his services. On Saturday he looked great in his second major league start (no earned runs in six innings against the Cubs), and can be expected to be a member of the rotation for years to come.

Good Player Evaluation – Both Internally and Externally

Javier Vazquez had a decent year for the Diamondbacks in 2005, going 11-15 with a 4.42 ERA (100 ERA+) and 192 strikeouts in 215.7 innings. Rather than retain him at a high salary ($11M) and hope he would continue to perform at that level, the Diamondbacks decided to sell high. They traded Vazquez to the White Sox for Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young. Young now looks like a potential star. Vazquez has pitched well for the White Sox, going 30-23, but at $12M+ per year, he’s not the type of value the Diamondbacks need to succeed on a small payroll.

As a side note, the Diamondbacks spun Hernandez into Jorge Julio, who then was used to acquire Yusmeiro Petit. Each move saved the Diamondbacks money and got them a younger player.

After the 2006 offseason, the team recognized it needed more pitching depth and managed to steal Doug Davis from Milwaukee. Not only did they part with spare parts to get Davis (Dave Krynzel, Johnny Estrada, Greg Aquino and Claudio Vargas), they also got pitcher Dana Eveland from the Brewers. Eveland was packaged to Oakland for Haren.

Currently the Diamondbacks are working on an offer for star pitcher Brandon Webb. Webb is 8-0 this season and 42-18 since the start of the 2006 season. He is baseball’s most underpaid pitcher. After locking up Webb, the Diamondbacks hope to lock up Haren long-term – for whom they gave up six prospects. That’s a lot of prospects to give up for one player, but the Diamondbacks have built up an excellent minor league system they can leverage in this manner. Their farm system and ability to smartly evaluate players, both on their own team and others’ teams, will enable them to stay competitive for seasons to come.

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