DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Diamondbacks should be sellers at trade deadline

Jul 22, 2019, 5:42 PM
Mike Hazen introduced as the Arizona Diamondbacks new executive vice president and general manager....
Mike Hazen introduced as the Arizona Diamondbacks new executive vice president and general manager. (Photo by Alexis Ramanjulu/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Alexis Ramanjulu/Cronkite News)

Mediocrity was never meant to be celebrated. The 2019 Diamondbacks are a rare exception. They’ve already won their biggest games.

They made a hard right call on Paul Goldschmidt, in the face of public pressure. They’ve unleashed their next superstar in Ketel Marte. They’re irrigating their dilapidated farm system. They won 50 of their first 100 games after losing three of their top five players.

They’ve carried us to football season without embarrassment. Nothing more is required. Nothing more should be risked.

With the trade deadline looming, two lessons must guide the path forward:

Too often in the past, the Diamondbacks have been prematurely lured into selling long-term assets for short-term gain. Betting over-the-top on a team that wasn’t ready for the big-time. As a result, the Diamondbacks have strung together nothing but one-hit wonders.

They all sounded good at the time.

The history of this organization is important. The Diamondbacks have lived a rowdy, rocky existence. Jerry Colangelo took the team from worst to first in four years, winning a World Series with extreme financial commitment to payroll. He was effectively ousted from office for his spending habits, replaced by a charitable, impulsive, foot-in-the-mouth owner who has never quite found his own validation.

Ken Kendrick doesn’t relish the limelight like he once did, when he presided as one of the most quotable owners in sports. But he has occasionally shown the same financial recklessness he once abhorred in his predecessor. Colangelo signed Randy Johnson. Kendrick has Zack Greinke. His growing hunger led to poor decision-making at critical junctures in the narrative.

That’s why the 2019 Diamondbacks need to be patient. Sellers, not buyers. A stepping stone, not a destination. Everyone must understand the pitfalls ahead.

At times, general manager Mike Hazen has been too good at his job. He was hired to architect a total rebuild in Arizona, to clean up Dave Stewart’s mess. He was gifted low expectations and time to build slowly, only to squander it with J.D. Martinez and a 93-win rookie season. His ever-expanding collection of signature moves keep the Diamondbacks competing at a fairly high level, tempting and distracting everyone involved.

Hazen is also ruthless, maybe his best trait. He traded the face of the franchise in his prime – a guy so revered that he ranks on the Mt. Rushmore of Diamondbacks legends – and is actually winning the deal. There will be an unexpected benefit, no matter how the trade looks down the road.

For too long, the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse was homogenized by Goldschmidt’s presence. This is not meant as blame, and nobody realized it at the time. But Goldschmidt’s temperament was so revered by the franchise and Valley sports fans that it set a stifling standard inside the clubhouse.

Young players are taught to follow the team leader. Many foreign-born players look for clues on how to assimilate in new cultures. Many Latino players bring great exuberance to the game and aren’t sure how to properly emote in this country.

In Arizona, they found a franchise exalting a player who was modest, humble, quiet and never once complained about his underwhelming paycheck. That’s admirable. And boring.

Hazen had the gall to pull it all off, earning massive respect in this space. He’s also shown occasional disdain for this year’s team, for the maddening roller coaster ride. That tells you he’s still not seeing the baseball team he envisions. And that’s good.

The other lesson is simple marketing. To turn Arizona residents into casual sports fans, and casual sports fans into money-spending diehards, our professional franchises have learned that it’s not enough to be good. You have to be entertaining. You have to get people talking.

The Diamondbacks have done some good things. They’ve sustained respectable attendance figures at a time of league-wide decline, while playing baseball indoors, in a desert climate. They are not withering like Tampa, which entered MLB alongside Arizona is now looking to split their market, cohabitating with the city of Montreal.

But in Arizona, there is no uproar over the baseball team. The buzz remains minimal. And here’s another inconvenient truth:

The Diamondbacks will only electrify the Valley when they are good enough to win their second trophy, when they can own the Dodgers the way Steve Nash’s Suns once dethroned the Lakers.

Hazen needs to build that kind of team. Not one that can barely make the playoffs.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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