Tony La Russa is nearing the end of his second full season as the chief baseball officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in that time he has basically seen the organization ride a roller coaster.
In 2015 things were good, as they rebounded from an MLB-worst 64-win season in 2014 to post 79 wins, and the improvement had many believing they were on the right track.
The D-backs followed that up with an offseason that saw them land ace Zack Greinke from the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as acquire pitcher Shelby Miller in a controversial trade with the Atlanta Braves, and while not all were convinced the team was destined for the postseason, no one could have foreseen what would actually happen.
Entering play Wednesday, the D-backs are 52-74 and lately a lightning rod for controversy and hot takes.
Last week, ESPN’s Keith Law posted a story calling for the team to part with La Russa and GM Dave Stewart, and just a day later USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote a story saying the team would be silly to dump the pair after just two full seasons, and instead pointed whatever finger there was to the folks who are even higher up the food chain than they are.
In Nightengale’s piece, it was noted how the La Russa and Stewart had planned on relieving manager Chip Hale of his duties and had a deal lined up that would have sent Miller to the Miami Marlins for a trio of pitchers.
A guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday morning, La Russa discussed the reports.
“Exaggerated, exaggerated,” he said. “The process that we did, for example, during the trade deadline was to listen to every offer or interest about our players — except for Goldy, nobody asked about Goldy — that was our charge. If you had interest in our players, we would talk to you.
“But you had to understand we liked our core and we were not going to touch it unless there was something really dramatic where your core ended up being better because you overpaid for it.”
La Russa said Miller was a player who garnered a lot of attention in large part because the upcoming free agent market will not offer much in the way of starting pitchers. So even though the 25-year-old struggled to the point where he was demoted to Triple-A, teams looking to add an arm may have been best served doing so via trade.
So, La Russa said they fielded a lot of calls about Miller, Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley, Rubbie De La Rosa and Patrick Corbin.
As for the rumored Miller deal, La Russa admitted he would have been part of a deal that “made some sense” before providing a take on the team’s process for making a deal.
“The standard form in Major League Baseball today is for ownership — it’s their investment and their investment group — they control the money,” he said. “Then you have a president and CEO if he’s different from the GM. Those guys are up top and they’re looking at the whole organization, the whole forward-thinking, and they are always going to ask the people, whether it’s player development or scouting, but this case we’re talking about acquisition of players and trading, you’re always going to be accountable to them to match up what you think is best with what they know for the long range they have to deal with.”
La Russa said there were multiple times over his 16 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals where ownership vetoed an idea or made a call.
“So it’s not accurate to portray our ownership here, Ken Kendrick is the guy, who is standing there and just has his finger off the button and only OKs it occasionally,” he said. “The stuff about Chip is just not true. We were very concerned, and I think it was a very strong message sent by Dave Stewart to Chip that, look, there’s an urgency that has to be apparent in the way we compete. You lose that, then that’s not acceptable.”
As for the idea that two years is not enough time to make an impact, La Russa said he thinks that is plenty of time and that if ownership wanted to make a change he would understand.
But when it comes to his relationship with his bosses, La Russa said he has the utmost confidence that D-backs ownership is willing to do whatever it takes to win, and wants to make sure the team does. He pointed out how the D-backs have been very active with regards to making moves during his time in the organization, so if there is an idea that he and Stewart are being impeded in any way, it’s an incorrect one.
“He’s not saying don’t go to work; what he’s saying is he’s going to scrutinize, and so is Derrick (Hall),” La Russa said. “And that’s exactly what happens in every organization. The top, the guys in charge of running the organization, scrutinize what’s going on.”
That pretty much covers La Russa’s thoughts on Nightengale’s story, which the CBO said went a little too far in giving the impression that his and Stewart’s hands are tied when it comes to shaping the roster.
As for Law’s story, however, La Russa is far less amiable.
Not because he is upset over the team being painted in a bad light, necessarily, as La Russa understands falling as short of expectations as they have will open up the organization to criticism, some of it warranted.
But what he wasn’t a fan of is how Law went about it, especially the point about how Stewart may not have a full grasp on the game’s rules.
“When you take your shots, you should have some integrity in what you write or what you say,” he said. “That article had many, many omissions of things that have been really done right, by, for example, Dave Stewart and our front office.
“When they talked about not knowing the rules and some general manager said it had to be explained…it’s so much bull (expletive) — that it’s really upsetting.”
La Russa said with the contract given to Yoan Lopez, which Law cited as a big mistake that showed a lack of understanding of the rules, was not nearly what Law wrote it to be. He said there were other teams who offered him more money.
“We thought and we think that we have a young man that, if he progresses, will be a major league, impact pitcher.”
La Russa went on to say there is zero truth to the idea that the D-backs’ front office needed to be taught how to navigate salaries and MLB rules.
“That’s just downright wrong,” he said.