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.
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