You’ve probably heard about the big trade of Arizona ace Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks to the Angels. If you want to read an 1800+ word diatribe on it from me, check out my Trade Analysis piece on Call to the Pen.
If you don’t care to sift through several pages on it: I’ll boil it down to one sentence for you: Arizona screwed up, bigtime.
(more after the jump)
That affects the Padres, of course, because a small-market team that makes poor moves is simply not going to compete (see the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates). Therefore, Arizona isn’t likely to compete in the near future. Baseball America rated their farm system 27th in the majors entering the year, and they made a huge reach to take Barret Loux 6th overall in the draft, so it’s not like there’s waves of young talent coming to supplement the team currently easily in last place in the NL West.
If the Diamondbacks, who many thought were a serious long-term contender entering the year, are truly out of the picture for the next half-decade, that’s a huge plus for San Diego.
The other teams in the division have problems too. You don’t want Frank McCourt to run a team in the first place, but now the Dodgers have a broke Frank McCourt at the helm. Not good. I’ve never been a fan of Brian Sabean’s decisionmaking over in San Francisco, and that farm system isn’t exactly brimming now that many of their top talents have graduated to the majors. I give Sabean and Co. credit for a year of good decisions, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely convinced they’ve learned from their mistakes.
So, the two “big-market” teams in the NL West have questionable leadership, and the other three teams, including the Padres, are thus theoretically able to compete. The Diamondbacks seem intent on taking themselves out of the race entirely, so that makes the West an annual four-team race featuring two evenly-matched small-market clubs (San Diego and Colorado) and two larger-market teams with more financial flexibility but less leadership. Just doing simple math, if we assume all the teams are equal, the Padres should now have a 1 in 4 chance every year, rather than 1 in 5.
That might not sound like much, but it’s better than just about any other divisional situation in baseball. Both East divisions are extremely tough, the NL Central has six teams, the AL West is the only division in baseball where all the GMs rate in the top half of major league front office heads, and the AL Central features big-market Chicago and Detroit teams, a scrappy Minnesota team, and good young talent in Kansas City and Cleveland.
The NL West is now like the AL East if you swapped out the Yankees and Red Sox for the Mets and Cubs. You have the doormat (Orioles/D’backs), the two intelligent small-market clubs (Tampa Bay, Toronto/Colorado/San Diego), and the two messed-up big-market clubs (Cubs, Mets/Dodgers/Giants (the Giants aren’t on that terrible level, but they have slightly less money)).
Point is, from my point of view, it looks like the Diamondbacks have gone into self-destruct mode, and that’s bad. Even a top-notch executive wouldn’t be able to fix that mess for three or four years–which is pretty much the Padres’ window of opportunity anyway. San Diego, Colorado, and Arizona were supposed to be the three young-talent teams in the West this decade. It now seems like one horse has dropped out of the race, leaving the other two with a better chance to win by default, let alone by skill.