As Torey Lovullo survives thankless year, D-backs must change methods
Firing a manager puts underachieving players on notice. It disperses and pacifies the angry mob. It can work wonders with teams screaming for discipline and accountability. It can liberate a clubhouse yearning for a lighter touch.
The Arizona Diamondbacks took a different route on Thursday. They re-upped with mild-mannered Torey Lovullo, rewarding one of the worst seasons imaginable, even though the 2021 Diamondbacks might set a franchise record for losses, even though the manager made a handful of daffy maneuvers that were beyond description for a man of his intellect.
If Lovullo were in charge of a Little League team, he would’ve been relocated to the concession stand.
The Diamondbacks also did a decent, honorable thing for a decent, honorable man. The one who faithfully executed a plan to tank the 2021 season.
Granted, it’s hard to get past the incompetence and embarrassment of a baseball team that endured a 17-game losing streak while the Suns competed for a NBA championship; and a baseball team that broke the 100-loss barrier while the Kyler Murray’s Cardinals won their first two games of the NFL season, becoming a national conversation piece. The juxtaposition should shame everyone at Chase Field.
The 2021 Diamondbacks featured a roster with underwhelming talent and a roster full of holes. The pandemic of 2020 shut down minor league baseball and stunted all growth down on the farm. General manager Mike Hazen took a leave of absence to handle one of life’s most wicked curveballs, tending to his ailing wife and his four sons. There was nothing to be won or gained in the 2021 season, not with a team built to fail.
Moving forward, the Diamondbacks sorely need a better methodology to compete in the National League West. They need to be like the Tampa Rays, who just clinched a third consecutive playoff berth while sharing a division with big-spending clubs in New York, Boston and Toronto. The Diamondbacks needed to buy time, not players. They need to draft another sizzling crop of talent. And here we are, spiraling and careening for the No. 1 overall pick, with mulligans for everyone.
Diehard fans might be angry for retaining the manager, for passively accepting historic failure. Most will be apathetic. Some are too sated by the simultaneous success of the Suns and the Cardinals to care about a last-place baseball team.
But in the end, this is a fair outcome. Lovullo gets rewarded for his thankless job in 2021. And he gets one more year to prove he’s a manager in full.
It’s also proof that the 2021 debacle falls mostly on Hazen’s shoulders. Not so much for personnel decisions. But for some of his over-the-top efforts to reinvent the wheel. Remember the tunneling theory once presented to Arizona hitters, sending an entire team into a collective slump? How locked up Paul Goldschmidt suddenly appeared at home plate?
Remember how uncomfortable Robbie Ray looked in his final season with the Diamondbacks? He was a roller coaster of desperation and experimentation, always tinkering, changing his delivery and cutting his hair. What about the Diamondbacks culture caused such anxiety? Why couldn’t they get him right? And why is he so much better in Toronto?
In 2021, Hazen’s desire for position versatility has blown up in their faces. The Diamondbacks have become butchers in the field while their bullpen is an atrocity. In the future, they need to get out of the heads of their talent. They need to anchor players in familiar positions. They need to stop with the pre-arranged days off, defying the baseball gods by sitting a player in the midst of hot streak.
They need to remember the quickest path to competitive baseball is defense and pitching. A bad team gets better by not beating itself. By making superior clubs earn their victories.
Lovullo’s new contract also allows the Diamondbacks to slam the book shut the moment the season ends, with no managerial drama creeping into the offseason. And with any luck, Lovullo can finish the worst job of his career like a champion, delivering another No. 1 overall pick to the Valley.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.