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D-backs have problems everywhere

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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“Organizational advocacy” isn't working out so hot for the Diamondbacks.

General manager Josh Byrnes invoked that term when he changed managers on May 7, 2009, selecting farm director A.J. Hinch to replace Bob Melvin.

Hinch, then 34, had not managed at any level. But Byrnes, in explaining his decision, cited Hinch’s leadership and understanding of the front office’s goals.

The choice, perceived by many within the industry as an affront to traditional baseball thinking, has only accelerated the D-Backs’ demise.

Ken Kendrick, the team’s managing general partner, spoke out last week, effectively putting the entire organization on notice in an interview with the Arizona Republic.

Kendrick talked about changes — big changes, including a possible roster overhaul. Curiously, he seemed to exonerate Hinch, who's signed through 2012. Byrnes’ contract runs even longer, through 2015, and his deal includes a small stake in ownership.

The lengths of the two contracts seemingly would preclude Kendrick from firing either Hinch or Byrnes. Then again, the Diamondbacks took an $11 million hit when they released outfielder Eric Byrnes last January. Managers and general managers earn far less money.

The Diamondbacks, under Melvin, reached the National League Championship Series in 2007. But since a 20-8 start the following season, they own the fifth-worst record in the majors.

Their young core is a collective disappointment. The team lacks veteran leaders who could help instill professionalism. Hinch appears to have lost the confidence of his players.

Consider the grim facts:

• The team ERA since Hinch took over is 5.31, nearly a full run per game higher than it was under Melvin, who managed from 2005 to May 2009.

True, right-hander Brandon Webb was healthy for nearly all of Melvin’s tenure and unavailable to Hinch, but the D-Backs won in ‘07 with a largely undeveloped offense, in part because of the pitching expertise of Melvin and his former pitching coach, Bryan Price.

Melvin, like Hinch, is a former major league catcher. Price, now with the Reds, resigned the day Melvin was fired. The Diamondbacks replaced him with Mel Stottlemyre, Jr., who had no previous major league coaching experience.

• The D-Backs’ bullpen, composed largely of the same relievers who were with the club last season, has a 7.29 ERA.

That number, over a full season, would represent the worst bullpen ERA in the majors since at least 1952, when STATS LLC began tracking such data.

Not just the worst - the worst by more than a run per game.

• The D-Backs’ offense, which showed such promise early in the season, has taken a major step backward.

The team averaged 5.9 runs in their first 22 games, 4.0 in its next 35 - and that latter number drops to 3.5 when subtracting two double-digit outbursts within a five-day span in mid-May.

Kendrick said of Hinch, “The personnel mix is not working, and he isn’t the guy who is primarily responsible for putting the personnel together.”

Still, Hinch previously was the farm director.

“I feel a part of each and every one of them,” Hinch said the day he was hired. “I’ve been involved in different aspects throughout their career so far, and I think that’s to their advantage and I think that’s to my advantage.”

Byrnes, who received no endorsement from Kendrick, can't be blamed for the ridiculous Eric Byrnes contract — that was ownership’s call. Nor should he be questioned for exercising Webb’s $8.5 million club option when the pitcher was coming off shoulder surgery; Webb was potentially too important to simply discard.

Still, Byrnes bears responsibility for placing too much faith in the team’s young players and prematurely awarding contract extensions to center fielder Chris Young and catcher Chris Snyder. The farm system's thinned due to trades and the departure of former scouting director Mike Rizzo, now the Nationals’ GM, in July 2006. The Diamondbacks have struggled, in particular, to develop pitching.

Byrnes’ biggest trade — the Dan Haren blockbuster following the ’07 season — also is starting to look questionable. Haren's struggling in his third season with the club. Two of the players Byrnes traded — Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and A’s left-hander Brett Anderson — are budding stars. Chris Carter, the A’s DH-in-waiting, also shows considerable promise.

Bad 'Backs

 
Since May 1, 2008 Arizona has the third worst record in the NL and fifth worst overall. (Source: STATS LLC)
Baseball's worst teams
Team Record Win %
Orioles 132-220 .375
Nationals 134-219 .380
Pirates 141-211 .401
Royals 152-203 .428
Diamondbacks 154-199 .436
 

Arizona's young players, even third baseman Mark Reynolds and right fielder Justin Upton, are underperforming. The team lacks identity, seemingly playing on auto-pilot. Attendance is down, and trading Haren or right-hander Edwin Jackson might be necessary in the likely event that ownership plans to reduce payroll.

The D-Backs are a mess, with no easy way out.

Trouble with the M's

Tension also is rising in Seattle, where the second season for general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu isn't going nearly as well as the first.

The Mariners, outscored 27-7 in getting swept by the Angels over the weekend, are in last place in the AL West, eight games back. Their disappointing performance not only has changed the dynamic between Wakamatsu and his players, but also between Zduriencik and Wakamatsu, sources say.

At least some of the players don't appear to hold Wakamatsu in the same high regard they did a year ago.

Wakamatsu had to navigate a difficult political course in his discussions about retirement with Ken Griffey, Jr. Right-hander Felix Hernandez barked at the manager during a first-inning mound visit in Oakland on May 18. Right-hander Ian Snell bristled at Wakamatsu’s criticism of his tempo in comments to reporters Friday night, though Snell is an emotional sort and the two patched any differences they had in a meeting the next day.

Zduriencik, meanwhile, was hard on Wakamatsu even when the team won 85 games last season, and his scrutiny of Wakamatsu’s game management and lineup decisions has only increased this season, sources say.

Losing always creates increased stress on an organization, but with Wakamatsu signed only through next season, the Mariners’ situation bears watching.

Rangers pitching staff: An evolving unit

Is the league catching up to Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson? Or is the former reliever already wearing down from his increased workload as a starter?

Wilson, after posting a 1.48 ERA in his first seven starts, has an 8.57 ERA in his last four. One scout says the Rangers would be better off returning him to the bullpen and eventually putting closer Neftali Feliz in the rotation.

Feliz, 22, is 15-for-17 in save opportunities with a 2.73 ERA and a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But the scout offers an interesting comparison — the Martinez brothers, Pedro and Ramon.

“I don’t know if he could be Pedro, but he could be a better version of Ramon,” the scout says. “He never gets to throw all of his pitches in a short role.”

For now, the Rangers continue to monitor at least two additional relief options in the minors — Triple-A right-handers Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando.

Good advice dept.

Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, says he received all kinds of counsel during his two-month slump.

The two people who made the greatest impression on him were Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and Padres second baseman David Eckstein.

Dawson, a Marlins executive, told Coghlan, quite simply, “one foot in front of the other.” Eckstein asked Coghlan how he was doing during a meeting at second base. Coghlan said, “I’m grinding.” Eckstein replied, in his usual dead-earnest manner, “Man, that’s the only way to play.”

Coghlan’s resurgence makes it even more difficult to imagine second baseman Dan Uggla remaining with the Marlins after this season; Uggla’s $7.8 million salary likely will rise above $10 million in his final year of arbitration.

The Marlins can move Coghlan back to second to permanently clear left field for top prospect Mike Stanton, who'll join the club Tuesday. Uggla, when asked if he expected the Marlins to sign him long-term, said, “Given their history, no. But with everything going on: the new stadium, the team increasing their payroll ... you never know.”

Diplomatic answer.

Brewrers leaking on ‘D’

The Brewers’ pitching is bad, and their defense only makes matters worse.

The team ranks last in the majors in defensive efficiency, and one scout describes their catching, in the absence of the injured Gregg Zaun, as “the worst in the big leagues.”

Both George Kottaras and rookie Jonathan Lucroy are inexperienced, and the scout says, “they can’t catch strikes, can’t throw anybody out, can’t do anything,” adding that left-hander Randy Wolf was visibly frustrated with Lucroy during a recent start.

Elsewhere, the scout says, third baseman Casey McGehee lacks range to his left and center fielder Carlos Gomez lacks instincts, while first baseman Prince Fielder has regressed defensively and left fielder Ryan Braun plays on the warning track and “never moves — like Albert Belle used to.”

Ouch.

Dickey's hard knuckler

Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball averages only 65.8 mph, according to the PitchFx data on fangraphs.com. The MetsR.A. Dickey, on the other hand, has increased his average velocity on the pitch from 70.6 to 72 to 75 mph over the past three seasons, and Mets catcher Rod Barajas says he occasionally will touch 81-82.

“It always had the potential to be that hard,” says Dickey, who is 3-0 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts. “When I first started learning it, I tried to mimic Tim Wakefield or Charlie Hough. Neither of those guys throws it as hard as I throw it now.

“When I discovered my own personality with the pitch, the less I tried to be Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough, Phil and Joe Niekro while still using the things I learned from those guys — the better I became. That translated into more velocity.”

Catching a knuckleball is difficult to begin with, and even more treacherous when the pitch is thrown harder. Both Barajas and Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello fret about catching Dickey.

“It’s no fun at all,” Barajas says. “Once every five days, I‘m a little grumpy. It makes for a stressful day when he is pitching. The good thing is, if I’m having a hard time catching it, they’ll have a hard time hitting it.”

TV leftovers

Stuff I learned preparing for Saturday’s Mets-Marlins telecast:

• The Mets are so high on rookie infielder Ruben Tejada, their fill-in second baseman for the injured Luis Castillo, that they'd be reluctant to include him in a trade for a pitcher such as Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt.

Castillo's under contract for one more year at $6 million after this season. If Tejada ultimately takes over at second, the Mets also wouldn't make their long-anticipated pursuit of Orlando Hudson, who's a free agent after this season.

• Left-hander Nate Robertson's happy to be back with the Marlins, who traded him to the Tigers for veteran lefty Mark Redman the day after his wedding in January 2003. The same general managers made that deal — Larry Beinfest for the Marlins, Dave Dombrowski for the Tigers.

Robertson says he and his wife Kristin spent their entire honeymoon saying, “OK, where do we go now?” The trade worked out well for him, but not initially. The Marlins won the World Series in 2003. The Tigers lost 119 games.

Baseball Hot Streak

• Cool touch by the Mets: The dugouts at Citi Field feature air conditioning beneath the benches. Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez was so impressed, he asked team president David Samson to include the same feature at the team’s new ballpark, which is scheduled to open in 2012. Samson reminded Ramirez that AC wouldn't be necessary; the park will have a retractable roof.

• The Marlins’ Dan Uggla, a former teammate of Sergio Santos in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, had no idea Santos had become a pitcher until he saw him pitch on the MLB Network in an Arizona Fall League game. Uggla said his reaction boiled down to one word: WHAT?

Around the horn

• The 2010 version of Manny Ramirez isn’t all that fearsome — .277/.373/.433, four home runs in 119 at-bats. Prior to his 50-game drug suspension last season, his career line was .315/.412/.594, and he remains far from a defensive asset in left field.

The Dodgers begin a series in Boston a week from Friday. Difficult to imagine that Manny will be comfortable returning to Fenway in such a diminished state.

• Why the White Sox shouldn't necessarily concede: The rest of their June schedule looks like this: home against the Tigers, on the road against the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, home against the Braves, Cubs and Royals.

The Sox also face the division-leading Twins 13 times after the All-Star break.

• The Mets’ Jeff Francoeur on the Padres’ bullpen: “That’s the best bullpen I’ve seen in five years in the big leagues. Every guy they have is different. Ryan Webb throws 95, and he’s their mop-up guy. (Edward) Mujica has an unbelievable split, (Luke) Gregerson the frisbee slider. I was like, ‘Where’s the 87 mph guy throwing balls for you to crush?”

• The Braves’ bullpen isn’t too shabby, either.

One rival club official says of rookie left-hander Jonny Venters: “That’s the best stuff I’ve seen all year. He’s 94 and nasty, throwing strikes. His ball explodes with late movement. His slider goes straight down, no side to side. He hides the ball. It's hard to pick up.”

Venters, 25, was a 30th-round pick in 2003.

• Two other thoughts on the Braves: Their infield defense is stronger when Omar Infante is at third base instead of Chipper Jones, and opponents seem to have discovered rookie right fielder Jason Heyward’s one hole: Up and in.

• One rival executive says the Blue Jays deserve credit for acquiring Fred Lewis from the Giants; any team could've had Lewis in April, and the Jays took a shot.

All of the Jays’ scouts believed Lewis would hit, according to a club official; and one scout, Kimball Crosley, felt the concerns about his defense were somewhat overblown.

• Here’s the rave of the week, courtesy of a scout, on Reds rookie right-hander Mike Leake: “He has a feel to pitch — and no fear. He’s a really good athlete, controls his body so well. But he’s one of those guys, on days he loses even a little command, he will have problems.”

Tagged: Red Sox, White Sox, Brewers, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Rockies, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Manny Ramirez, R.A. Dickey, Roy Oswalt, Rod Barajas, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Chris Snyder, Chris Young, Hanley Ramirez, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson, Dan Uggla, Chris Young, Fred Lewis, Ryan Braun, Chris Coghlan, Mike Leake

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