Remember the credits at the end of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon show?
A street cleaner appeared in a white, hospital smock, wheeling a steel, garbage can and scrubbing the street.
With apologies to the street cleaner, this seems pretty much to be the immediate task facing Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks’ newly-appointed general manager. Stewart is like that cleaner in the smock and broom and set out to clean up the mess inherited from former general manager Kevin Towers and ex-field manager Kirk Gibson.
Through the Towers-Gibson regime, the Diamondbacks’ record declined on the field and numbers dropped at the gate. By the time Tony La Russa, the team’s Chief Baseball Office dismissed both, the Diamondbacks racked up the worst record in the major leagues this season. For the record, they end the baseball campaign with the second worst mark in franchise history and attendance stabilized at just over two million for the sixth straight year.
From the time Towers was hired as the GM in September, 2010 until his dismissal in early September of this year, the personnel he traded and released put the franchise in a precarious position.
Consider players Towers thought no longer had value in an Arizona uniform, including outfielder Adam Eaton, pitcher Ryan Cook, pitcher David Holmberg, infielder Chris Johnson,, pitcher Brandon McCarthy, pitcher Ian Kennedy, outfielder Gerardo Parra, infielder Martin Prado, pitcher Tyler Skaggs, outfielder Justin Upton and outfielder Chris Young.
Several represented the core of the 2011 National League West Division-title team and Towers then began to dismantle that squad.
Now, Stewart must rely on Mike Bell, the director of player development and Ray Montgomery, the director of scouting to help put the pieces back.
For Stewart, acquiring a front line pitcher is a top priority for the up-coming off-season. Already, Stewart addressed the pitching situation the day after the season end.
“At his point, I would say that (Wade) Miley and (Josh) Collmenter are locks for the rotation, and that’s it,” he said. “There are some few agents out there and we also have a number of pitchers who may be ready to step into the big leagues.”
Among free agents, the top three for this winter will be Jon Lester of Oakland, Max Scherzer of Detroit (who pitched for the Diamondbacks from 2008-09 before traded to the Tigers) and James Shields of the Royals. Working with a budget identified by La Russa around $100-110 million, the Diamondbacks may not be major players for a front-end, free agent pitcher. Instead, the burden could lay on Mike Harkey, the pitching coach, who is scheduled to enter his second year of a two-year contract in 2015.
Yet, Harkey’s survival with Arizona depends on the wishes of the new manager. La Russa said it be will his call as to construction of the coaching staff.
Waiting in the wings are three right-handers, Archie Bradley, who will pitch for the Salt River Rafters in the up-coming Arizona Fall League, Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley. All figure to constitute the future. Both Blair and Shipley were drafted in 2013 and come into spring training next February with only one full year of professional baseball experience.
In his words thus far to the media, Stewart voiced a conservative approach. Time, he likes to point out, remains a critical factor in any player development decision. Plus, the philosophy in baseball, relative to drafting players, is essentially cautious.
In Major League Baseball and the NHL, players are drafted for the future and for development. Conversely, players drafted by the NBA and NFL are selected as immediate, impact performers.
As Stewart continues to sweep the residue left by Towers and Gibson, he is influenced by a strong sense of urgency.
Results of the recently-completed season are far from acceptable. That’s a given and now Stewart and La Russa are set about a landscape littered with broken dreams and marginal results.