As a sports town, we don’t ask for much. That’s part of our problem.
But on Monday, the Diamondbacks sold off everything that wasn’t nailed down. It was the kind of trade deadline salary dump you get away with only when fans aren’t around to demand refunds or threaten lawsuits.
Just 35 games into a new season, Arizona traded away a prized offseason acquisition (Starling Marte); a closer and local fan favorite (Archie Bradley); and the promising pitcher that was once Robbie Ray, the guy with an electric arm and 9-volt command.
They received very little in return, other than financial flexibility. They are one of the biggest losers of Pandemic baseball. They look like a franchise tanking for Trevor Lawrence.
In other words:
They do not at all resemble a team run by general manager Mike Hazen, a cunning and ruthless predator that doesn’t make deals out of weakness, who once imported J.D. Martinez and Zac Gallen at the trade deadline. This is a guy who buys and sells during the same trade deadline, just to throw off his scent and maximize his leverage. But Monday’s deals?
These trades all carried the whiff of desperation. Or resignation. Or both.
Unless he’s gone soft from the heat and/or weakened by the Valley’s endless tolerance for mediocrity, there is something else in play on Jefferson Street. Hazen has likely been told his 2021 payroll will be slashed significantly. The cutbacks will happen just as Madison Bumgarner’s salary jumps significantly, an ace who will earn $65 million over the next three seasons. Maybe the owner doesn’t like the investment in Bumgarner, the moonlighting rodeo star; or the listless baseball team he signed off on in the summer of 2020.
Welcome to our new reality in Arizona, where a once-promising sporting Mecca is being compromised by the economic ruin of a pandemic. Granted, there are losses to recoup all across professional sports, where the absence of paying customers is taking a huge toll. Sports fans are the biggest suckers on the planet, myself included. Who else embraces a $15 beer?
But in the Valley, we might have low-ceiling owners who are like turtles scrambling back into their shells.
The Suns have already sold their G League team. ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst hears owner Robert Sarver will be looking to reduce costs in the offseason, despite his team’s unbeaten performance in the NBA bubble. Cost-cutting constraints couldn’t come at a worse time.
The Coyotes are once again a franchise in distress. Many jobs have been cut. There’s not enough talent in the dressing room, no real GM in place and not enough draft picks to validate a youth movement. The lack of real direction might prompt Rick Tocchet to leave, and the arrival of a billionaire owner might’ve been highly overrated. If he’s even a billionaire any longer.
But the Diamondbacks?
Everything about the 2020 season seems so foreign. The team passed on the idea of cardboard cutouts populating Chase Field, even though it was exactly the kind of homespun, fan-centric gesture that has defined this franchise for decades. The team was strangely ambivalent about supporting their NBA brethren after the Bucks refused to play following a police shooting in Wisconsin.
And while Bradley paid homage to the raucous, rebellious history he helped create in the Valley during Monday’s interview with Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo, there was no real sense of heartbreak or mourning in his voice. Maybe I was hearing things, but he almost sounded excited to be leaving for a 15-19 team in Cincinnati.
Smart sports fans do not lose faith in smart sports executives. That certainly applies to Hazen, who I would hire before any other GM in baseball. Still.
But he’s not a magician. He’s going to need money to beat the Dodgers and the Padres in the coming years. And let’s all hope the pandemic-spawned financial pall descending on three of our four major professional sports franchises somehow misses the Cardinals, the team with the real future, the team that has to get DeAndre Hopkins under contract as soon as possible, the one team that can’t let us down.