June 2010

D-backs need quality starter, closer. That’s it!

PHOENIX — Ken Kendrick, the D-backs managing general partner, said this week in the wake of the club’s 10-game losing streak, that major changes are in the offing for the Major League roster.

“When the team is playing as badly as this team is…you really need to look very broadly at everything and try to objectively determine what kind of changes you really want to make,” he said.

The current roster as it stands is quite adequate except in two areas: The D-backs need a quality starting pitcher and reliable closer. That’s it. Both holes are the residue of organizational decisions that shouldn’t be blamed on anybody.

In this space I’ve said before that the decision to trade Jose Valverde after the close of the 2007 season, mostly for financial reasons, started a domino affect on the bullpen that the D-backs are still feeling to this day. The D-backs lost Valverde’s 47 saves in ’07 and have yet to find anyone who can replace them. They saved 39 games in ’08, a falloff of eight from Valverde’s numbers a year
before, and finished two games out. They saved 36 games last year, 10 so far this year — 11 blown.

Brandon Webb hurt his shoulder at the outset of the 2009 season, although there was ample evidence in September of ’08 that the problem was ruminating.  He hasn’t pitched since. After shoulder surgery last August, the D-backs made a decision to exercise an $8.5 million option on Webb for this season, hoping he would return to his former Cy Young award-winning form. When he couldn’t even throw, there was no “Plan B.” Webb won 22 games in ’08. With a patchwork quilt of starters trying to fill that slot, the D-backs haven’t even come close in each of the last two seasons.

Certainly there have been other mistakes: The contract to Eric Byrnes, since released and out of baseball, that the D-backs are still paying. The failure to come to terms with second baseman Orlando Hudson, causing another round robin of free-agent signees and utility players at that key position.

The D-backs have a core of good young players that should remain untouched — Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Miguel Montero and Ian Kennedy. But they need a top starter and a closer. You can’t win, especially in the NL West, without that.


Padres are best of past and present

SAN DIEGO — The resurgence of the Padres shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Jed Hoyer and company took the best of what Kevin Towers left behind in the switch of general managers and made it better.

Hoyer added Jon Garland, Yorvit Torrealba and Jerry Hairston Jr. as free agents. He sat down with manager Bud Black and instituted a running game. And then he didn’t tamper with what Towers put together. While most “experts” were picking the Padres to go nowhere again, an astute view of their 2010 edition during Spring Training offered a much different perspective.

Here they are in first place in the National League West post Memorial Day, which is beyond anyone’s expectation, although I certainly thought the Padres would be competitive.

With Towers still in the last year of his Padres contract (value, $1.3 million) and working as a scout for the Yankees, there’s still time to congratulate him for a job well done, perhaps the best job he ever did in his 14-years as Pads GM in putting together this year’s team.

Adrian Gonzalez? Adam Eaton trade. David Eckstein? Free-agent signing. Everth Cabrera? Rule V Draft selection. Chase Headley, Kyle Blanks, Will Venable, Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc?  All came up through the Minor League system. Tony Gwynn Jr.? Jody Gerut trade. Kevin Correia?  Free-agent signing. Clayton Richard? Jake Peavy trade. Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, Heath Bell, Edward Mujica? All acquired in trades by Towers.

Well, you get the picture.  It’s been a heck of a composite effort.