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Josh Byrnes' track record warranted dismissal from Diamondbacks

Jul 2, 2010, 12:58 AM EDT

According to AOL Fanhouse’s Ed Price, it was his refusal to fire manager A.J. Hinch that cost Josh Byrnes his job as Arizona’s general manager on Thursday. In truth, he deserved to lose it regardless and it probably would have happened earlier if the Diamondbacks hadn’t had him under contract through 2015.
Yes, 2015. Byrnes, who was pretty successful initially after taking over the Diamondbacks in 2005, even had a small stake in ownership under the terms of an eight-year deal he was given in 2008.
How poor of a job Byrnes had done since a strong first two years can’t truly be judged without some inside knowledge. It largely hinges on whether Byrnes was the driving force behind the three-year, $30 million extension to Eric Byrnes in 2007 or if he was forced to stand aside as ownership spent to lock perhaps the franchise’s most popular player. The common belief is that the latter version is the truth.
The move was obviously bad at the time, though it took some dreadful luck for it to work out as poorly as it did. Eric Byrnes went from being an above average corner outfielder to an injury-prone liability in record time. And his return resulted in Carlos Quentin being traded away for first base prospect Chris Carter over the following winter.
Those weren’t the only poor moves, though. A couple of dirt-cheap potential regulars, Scott Hairston and Alberto Callaspo, were given away for middle-relief fodder in 2007.
Prior to the 2008 season, Byrnes surrendered Carter, Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham and more to Oakland for Dan Haren. If Haren was the final piece, it might have been justified. However, the Diamondbacks finished the season just 82-80 and their farm system, which had been one of the strongest in the game during the middle of the decade, was suddenly barren.
Byrnes’ big moves going into the 2009 season were to sign Jon Garland and Felipe Lopez. After a poor start, he made the very surprising call to replace manager Bob Melvin with Hinch. Hinch, who had been working in the front office, never appeared to prove himself in the clubhouse and the team went just 58-75 under him.
The Diamondbacks were 31-48 to open this year. Byrnes actually appeared to have his best offseason in years, having snatched up Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche at very modest prices. The jury is definitely still out on whether it was worth giving up Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, but the move hadn’t really had any negative ramifications so far.
One does have to admire Byrnes’ guts. His contract and apparent job security probably had something to do with it, but Byrnes took more risks than any GM in the league during his tenure. Hinch was the big one that backfired. Not only the did the Haren trade involve a huge amount of talent, but Byrnes traded his sure-thing closer, Jose Valverde, on the same day just to create the budget room to pull it off. The Scherzer-Schlereth deal was largely panned, but Byrnes essentially made the bet that Scherzer would never manage to stay healthy and fulfill his potential.
I don’t doubt that Byrnes will have a job again quickly. He’s probably an ideal No. 2 man in a major league front office, and there’s a better than even chance that he’ll return to the GM role someday. Still, the Diamondbacks were right to move on. Byrnes’ teams had underachieved, and he hadn’t put the franchise in a great position going forward. It was time to wipe the slate clean.

  1. Drakos - Jul 2, 2010 at 1:30 AM

    The funny thing is that in Buster Olney’s recent survey of 12 GMs Byrnes got the second most votes for who they would hire as a GM. Granted it was only 2 votes out of 12 but Epstein had 8 of those votes. Friedman and Beinfest each got 1 vote.

  2. Larry Brown - Jul 2, 2010 at 3:14 AM

    I think you’re way off on this premise, Matthew, for several reasons. Like you said, calling him a failure is largely centered around how poorly the Eric Byrnes deal turned out. At the time, Byrnes was the absolute fan favorite like you said and there would have been a huge fan revolt if they let him get away. Most baseball people didn’t like the deal but nobody also could have predicted Eric would have gone into the tank the way he did.
    You also criticized the Dan Haren deal. You must forget that they reached the NLCS in 2007 and the belief was they would be serious players in ’08 after adding Haren, giving them what was conceivably the best 1-2 punch in the NL between Haren and Brandon Webb. They actually were in first in the NL West almost the entire season before totally fading in September. They may have been 82-80 but they only lost the division by two games. Also, with Alberto Callaspo, don’t forget he had a domestic violence arrest in the ’07 season that pushed Byrnes to deal him.
    Byrnes made many good moves and he took stabs with what was a serious playoff contender in both ’07 and ’08. It’s easy to look back now and call him a failure but that to me is wrong. Can you really pin Eric Byrnes’ decline, Brandon Webb’s injuries, and Jon Rauch sucking with them but starring in Washington and Minnesota all on Josh Byrnes? I don’t think so. He did a good job putting together a competitive team in my opinion.

  3. Larry Brown - Jul 2, 2010 at 3:14 AM

    I think you’re way off on this premise, Matthew, for several reasons. Like you said, calling him a failure is largely centered around how poorly the Eric Byrnes deal turned out. At the time, Byrnes was the absolute fan favorite like you said and there would have been a huge fan revolt if they let him get away. Most baseball people didn’t like the deal but nobody also could have predicted Eric would have gone into the tank the way he did.
    You also criticized the Dan Haren deal. You must forget that they reached the NLCS in 2007 and the belief was they would be serious players in ’08 after adding Haren, giving them what was conceivably the best 1-2 punch in the NL between Haren and Brandon Webb. They actually were in first in the NL West almost the entire season before totally fading in September. They may have been 82-80 but they only lost the division by two games. Also, with Alberto Callaspo, don’t forget he had a domestic violence arrest in the ’07 season that pushed Byrnes to deal him.
    Byrnes made many good moves and he took stabs with what was a serious playoff contender in both ’07 and ’08. It’s easy to look back now and call him a failure but that to me is wrong. Can you really pin Eric Byrnes’ decline, Brandon Webb’s injuries, and Jon Rauch sucking with them but starring in Washington and Minnesota all on Josh Byrnes? I don’t think so. He did a good job putting together a competitive team in my opinion.

  4. quint - Jul 2, 2010 at 7:56 AM

    having guts and taking risks is what a small market GM has to do.
    That is a good thing.
    And can we please stop talking about Quentin like it is 2008? he has done nothing worthy since.
    The d-backs problem is they are not producing prospects at the required level. They need to get some guys to play slightly better like the Twins roster who have a bunch of guys who make contirbutions (non Mornaeu, Mauer)

  5. birdmancometh - Jul 2, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    Small market? Please quint. The Padres and Pirates are a small market, not Arizona. Also, the last thing you do as a small market GM is take risks! One bad deal can kill you for 4-5 years. You have to draft well and trade away your stars before they are no longer under your control.

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