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Gambo: 5 untouchables, the rest are fair game

The firing of Bob Melvin was just the first of what should be many changes coming in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

While the coaching staff had a complete makeover with a new manager, pitching coach and hitting coach, the reality is that the team on the field this year is just not good enough to compete for a National League West crown anymore.

How did that happen in just two years? There is no easy answer. The best way to look at it is that in 2007 the stars aligned just right for the D-backs and everything went their way.

The 2007 NL West champion D-backs won 32 one-run games. They went 50-31 at home. Their bullpen was so good that they went 66-7 when they took a lead into the seventh inning. They hit 171 home runs, including 12 pinch-hit homers. They beat up on everyone outside their division going a remarkable 54-36 against teams not in the NL West. Plus they got career years out of journeymen Eric Byrnes (.286, 21 homers, 83 RBI’s and 50 stolen bases) and closer Jose Valverde (47 saves, 2.66 ERA).

To say the 2009 Diamondbacks don’t have talent is not being realistic. They have quality talent, just not enough. The lack of development of several key players has hurt the team. The injury to Brandon Webb was a crushing blow that they may not recover from as replacement pitchers have gone 0-6 in his place.

The big question facing the D-backs front office is what to do now. At 14-23 through Sunday and a full 11 games back from the Los Angeles Dodgers, it is safe to say that this team will not be a contender this year. But there is a silver lining to that believe it or not. Instead of hanging around the race and wondering if you are pretender or contender, the front office can now start preparing for trades for the future instead of trading off prospects to try and contend now – See Jon Rauch for Emilio Bonifacio.

That should be a huge advantage for General Manager Josh Byrnes and company. Byrnes, by the way is not as bad a GM as everyone wants to make him out to be right now. He has pulled off some good trades (Dan Haren and Orlando Hudson) and had some good free agent signings (Felipe Lopez and Augie Ojeda). He has also had his share of mistakes as witnessed by the recent success of former D-backs (Carlos Quentin, Scott Hairston, Albert Callaspo, Lance Cormier, Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla).

The big question facing Byrnes and the organization is at what point do they give up on players that they had considered a part of their future? Is Chris Young still the answer in center field? Is Chad Tracy ever going to hit again? Is Conor Jackson worth playing every day? Does Eric Byrnes deserve regular at bats or should he be a fourth outfielder? What about Chris Sndyer, Rauch, Mark Reynolds?

The answer to those questions will determine what direction the organization goes in as the July trade deadline approaches. What can’t be denied is that the D-backs have some core players to build around. And while the jury is still out on many of their players the D-backs need to have a list of what I call untouchables as the trade deadline approaches. Players that they believe are still a big part of their future and worth hanging onto and building around. Below is my list of 5 untouchables.

1) Justin Upton – The kid has superstar written all over him. He is just 21-years-old and is getting better month by month. After a slow start he is hitting .310 with 7 homers and 19 runs batted in. Plus his defense in right field is much improved from last year. He will be every bit as good as Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun.

2) Stephen Drew – He hit .291 last year with 21 home runs and while he is off to a slow start this year with a .214 average and missed some time due to injury he is a good defensive shortstop and a cornerstone to build around. At 26 his prime years are ahead of him and though he is arbitration eligible next year he is a key player to keep.

3) Dan Haren – With the uncertainty of Brandon Webb and the start Haren has gotten off to he is the clear ace of this staff right now. A solid competitor with a great work ethic who is signed through 2013. Every team would like to have him but he is D-backs property and will stay that way.

4) Gerardo Parra – After the start the 22-year-old has gotten off to after coming up from Double-A you can pencil him into the outfield with Upton for the next 10 years. Now, understand he will have his growing pains as pitchers make the adjustments after seeing him a few times, but he is a top prospect and has a great future ahead of him.

5) Max Scherzer – Finally got his first win on Saturday and there will be many more for this 24-year-old with the power fastball. He may be a #4 starter now but he will move up to a solid #2 or #3 without a doubt.

I could put an * next to Brandon Webb, but it all depends on his health. Plus he is eligible to be a free agent after next season and will want to cash in if healthy. While Webb would be worth keeping around if he is healthy, cost will certainly be an issue as will health. Another player I would hold onto but not put as an untouchable is Felipe Lopez who, while he has had some mental lapses that are questionable, is hitting well enough at the top of the lineup to warrant staying.

Everyone else is eligible to be traded in my book. I would field calls on all of them and make calls on most of them. The most logical choices to go are Doug Davis a decent starting left-handed pitcher who is a free-agent after this season and should be highly sought after, Scott Schoenweis, a veteran left-handed reliever off to a good start this season, Jon Garland another veteran starter who has a friendly one-year contract and could fetch a good prospect back from a contending team in need of starting pitching. Not sure on what the market would be for 28-year-old Tracy or 27-year-old Jackson but they are no longer prospects having been in the big leagues long enough now. Neither has lived up to the potential they once had so if some team is willing to give up something of value for them then it’s time to part ways.

Just my two cents. But if I’m the D-backs I start shopping these players now as you might be able to get more for them by dealing them earlier rather than later. Teams like when they can get a player for three months compared to two months — see CC Sabathia and the Brewers last year.