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Gambo: 5 issues at stake for the D-backs

Now that the Phoenix Suns season is over, it’s time for Arizona sports fans to turn their attention to baseball and the Arizona Diamondbacks. And once you do, you will find out that things aren’t going so well for the boys in Sedona Red.

First off, they have lost seven games in a row. They are in last place in the NL West with a 20-31 record and are a full 9 games out of first place. Only the Houston Astros have a worse record in the National League.

It is safe to say with just about a third of the season gone that this is not going to be the D-backs’ year. They are not a playoff team and therefore need to start making decisions for the future of the organization.

And there is no better time to start then now, so I give you the top five issues at stake for the Diamondbacks.

1) Chad Qualls is not a closer. He had his fourth blown save Sunday, and for a team struggling to find wins this is unacceptable. His ERA is a pathetic 7.64 as he has given up 31 hits and six walks along with 15 runs in 17 2/3 innings. In the last 3 years Qualls has 43 saves and 17 blown saves.

The bottom line is that he should not be closing games; he is better suited to be a setup guy.

2) Sometimes it’s as simple as the guys aren’t good enough. And that is the case in the bullpen right now. Juan Gutierrez (10.00 ERA and nine home runs allowed in 18 innings), Saul Rivera (ERA of 22.09) and Cesar Valdez (ERA of 6.32) are not good enough to play major league baseball, and the jury is out on Esmerling Vasquez (ERA of 5.06). I haven’t seen enough of Carlos Rosa to make a determination about him yet.

The team has already released veteran Bobby Howry and sent Blaine Boyer and Daniel Stange down to the minors after poor performances. Only Aaron Heilman in the bullpen has been steady. One guy is not good enough.

This is the worst bullpen in baseball by far and this area needs a complete overhaul between now and spring training 2011.

3) Billy Buckner is not a major league starter. I’m really not sure why he is still in the organization, but he is. I saw enough of him in 13 starts last year to realize he can’t pitch at this level as he went 4-6 with a 6.40 ERA. Due to injuries he has gotten another chance this year, and I’m not at all surprised he has flopped again. Buckner is 0-3 with an ERA of 11.08 and has given up a mind boggling 26 hits and 16 runs in 13 innings.

I know the cupboards are bare in the high minors for pitching right now, but this guy can’t pitch and needs to go find a real job somewhere. So please, Arizona, put him out of his misery and spare the D-backs fans from ever having to see him start a game again.

4) Conor Jackson is back this year. So what. Jackson has played surprisingly well in left field but he lacks any power. He has no home runs in 113 at bats and is hitting just .221. Jackson has batted .291, .284 and .300 in past seasons but his lack of power for a corner outfield spot — just 45 home runs in 1,737 at bats– should be an issue.

This is a big year for Jackson because if he doesn’t get things going and soon, he could end up being a fourth outfielder for the rest of his career.

5) Trade deadline. Arizona has talent, lots of good young talent. But they don’t have enough starting pitching or relief pitching and have too many high strikeout guys (5 players amongst top 25 in strikeouts including the top 2, Reynolds and Upton).

Upton is untouchable. In my opinion, he is the only true untouchable and that includes Dan Haren. While it’s nice to have an ace, it would be wise to see what Haren could fetch on the open market. If there is a package that includes various young star pitching prospects, it might be worth trading him for the future. What might hurt is that Haren is not having a good year (5-4 with a 5.35 ERA) and there could be a lot of quality starting pitching available (Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets to name a few).

His salary for the next three years is $8.25M, $12.75M and 12.75M. So for $33.75 million over the next three years, he is reasonably priced. Haren should be available, but only for a home run deal.

Arizona should listen to offers for anyone and everyone outside of Upton and see if some team in the hunt wants to overpay for one of their everyday players.

In closing, it’s really quite a shame that things have gone so wrong this year. A lot of it can be tied to Brandon Webb’s inability to come back from shoulder surgery –something the D-backs were banking on.

Arizona made five major off-season moves and only one of them flopped — the signing of Bobby Howry. The signings of Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche have been good quality moves. The trade for Aaron Heilman was a solid move. The trade of Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson has been a wash so far and only time will tell on that one.

There are still over 100 games to be played, and anything can happen in a long season, but based on what I have seen thus far I would address those five issues first in getting this ballclub turned around.