There are many ways to interpret the Diamondbacks’ designation of reliever J J. Putz.
On Friday, clubhouse personnel cleaned out his locker, removed his name plate and the organization bid the former closer a fond farewell.
Finis, finale, closure.
On the designation, the Diamondbacks have 10 days to make a formal decision and they will likely release Putz. In the second year of a two-year deal, Putz signed a $13 million deal before last season, and is scheduled to make $6.5 million this year. Should another team pick up his contact, the amount becomes pro-rated with money paid and money owed.
Yet, timing for the Diamondbacks was right.
Putz’s fall from grace was abrupt as it was fatal.
On the disabled list three times over the past two seasons, Putz was relegated to a minor role in the bullpen. His closer role was given to Addison Reed and the critical eighth inning set-up job was essentially the domain of Brad Ziegler.
In effect, Putz was somewhat the Nowhere Man, a reliever without a role and without a home. He even seemed an after-thought on the roster and wandered aimlessly throughout the bullpen landscape, telling manager Kirk Gibson, “I’m over here, I feel great and I can help this team.”
As early as spring training, many pundits believed the Diamondbacks should have cut ties with Putz at that time. With his velocity down and his signature splitter no longer effective, the organization appeared to keep him around because, somehow, they had to justify the $13 million, two-year deal they signed prior to the 2013 season.
“We have some young guys knocking on the door and need to make room for them,” Gibson said before Friday’s game with the Giants in Chase Field. “We want them exposed to (the major league) atmosphere, and decided to go in a different direction.”
Putz received the news in a conference with general manager Kevin Towers and Gibson after Thursday’s game with the Brewers.
“It’s sad and I enjoyed my time here,” Putz told reporters Friday afternoon. “This is a first class organization and I’d like to thank (Towers and Gibson) for the trust they had in me.”
Yet, the Diamondbacks can no longer trust Putz to effectively pitch, get hitters out in critical situations and carry the mettle of the bullpen.
In effective, the Diamondbacks have begin the transition between older players to a cadre of younger arms and players with long-term potential.
In cutting ties with Putz Friday, the Diamondbacks essentially said the 37-year-old had to make way for a plethora of arms that have stockpiled in the organization. Despite treading starters such as Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, David Holmberg, Jarrod Parker and Ian Kennedy in recent years, the organization appears rich in relievers and the first step occurred Thursday when Arizona called up reliever Matt Stites from Triple-A Reno.
By all accounts, Stites appears firmly entrenched on the D-backs’ radar screen and Gibson told reporter before Friday’s game that he intends to use Stites as a sixth,, seventh or eighth inning pitcher. At this point, Gibson added, Stites will not close games.
Given Putz’s ineffectiveness and recent trips to the disabled list, the move did not come as a shock.
“I was not really surprised,” Putz said. “It was a matter of timing, I guess, but I didn’t know when. From a team standpoint, this was the most logical decision. Me? I feel fine and my arm feels good. I still would like to keep pitching.”
At this point, Putz said he would not accept going to the minors. His goal is to make contact at the major league and, as he said, “be successful and get people out.”
Realistically, this could be the end of this major league career. In the big leagues for over 10 years, Putz entered The Show with Seattle in 2003 and pitched for the Mariners, Mets, White Sox and Arizona. In 2011, the year the Diamondbacks captured the National League West title, Putz said that season, and how it played out, was the highlight of his career. He recorded a career-best 45 saves out of 49 save opportunities and had a 2.12 ERA, the second-lowest of his career.
Despite Putz’s desire to continue pitching, Gibson may have sounded the death knell.
“Look, he had a great career, and I wish him and his family all the best,” the manager said. “He had great success and the real winner through all this is his family. Families endure quite a bit to help a baseball career along and he has a great family.”
The biggest disappointment, Putz admitted, is not being around the Arizona clubhouse and bonding with his extended baseball family.
“These are quality, character guys,” he said. “It will be tough not seeing those guys every day.”
Still, a needed transition in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, and likely beyond, has began.
With Putz’s departure, the D-backs actived outfielder Ender Inciarte from the 7-day concussion list. Inciarte was in the lineup Friday night against Giants’ right-hander Tim Lincecum.