01 September 2009

We Dont Need No Stinkin' Veterans?

The dirty secret about spoilers is that, often, they spoiled their own season first. In retrospect, it's clear this Diamondback season was sacrificed on the petard of Josh Byrnes' ego. Not in releasing Melvin necessarily, but by installing a neophyte who mismanaged a competitive team into a demoralizing May through early July death spiral.

Now, late in a season whose competitive expectations have been tabled to 2010, the players are loose. After plummeting like Icarus, out of the wildcard, they're jellin' like Magellan (if not quite triumphantly circumnavigating the baseball World).

It's been fun to watch. Arizona fields the youngest positional roster in baseball, and has been one of the youngest for years. To date, this has been fairly characterized as a cost containment strategy at odds with staging competitive teams.

That may be changing. Despite fussing to the contrary, Arizona's young positional stars were already carrying the hitting load last year. This season, that load feels lighter. Breakout contributions from Reynolds, Upton and Montero, and the recent, accelerated transition of fading veterans to a "second wave" of youth, are the reasons why.

Here's the ages of the positional core driving Diamondbacks success:


Three others struggled, but are still young enough to potentially contribute in 2010:

Chris Young(26 this week)
CoJack (28 next May)...
Chris Snyder(29 next Feb)

Here's that "second wave", taking over for fading veterans in 2010:

Parra(22)- long term
Allen(23) - long term
Tony Abreu(24)-long term?
Roberts(29 this month)- short term?
Ryal(26)- short term?
Hester (26 next week)?

Nobody's even 30 years old. Those 'stinking' veterans are, or will be, gone:

Chad Tracy(30 next May) 68 ops+...will not be re-signed
Felipe Lopez(30 next May)..traded for prospects, aged 25 and 23
Augie Ojeda(34)...76 ops+
Eric Byrnes (34 next Feb)
Tony Clark(37)...released

The newbies arent the '27 Yanks, or the NLW's elite, but unlike the past few years it's becoming speculative whether the Dbacks require much in the way of traditional veteran free agents to bolster their positional core. They still might; it's just not overwhelmingly clear, as in past years.

Beyond production, replacing the over 30 crowd has shifted clubhouse dynamics, and thrust youthful stars (Reynolds, Upton and Montero) into this team's de facto leaders. In addition to their fine play, Mark, by virtue of his July "This is bullshit" diatribe, Miguel, by virtue of his enthusiasm, and Justin, by virtue of his unnerving athletic aggresion.

To skeptics hard pressed to see a 22 year old, mistake prone African American 'kid' as team leader, last night's victory over the Dodgers should be instructive. The Dodgers, who are playing for something, didnt beat themselves. They got beat, in a close, competitive game. Made close, in large part, by Justin's three hits and homer; made competitive, when Upton barreled into Ronnie Belliard at second, attempting to break up a DP in the sixth. Later, in a tie game on the road, rather than wait for a sacrifice, he led a double steal that facilitated the winning run, in the tenth and final frame.

It's not just one game. The make up of this team has changed, in terms of personnel, confidence and competitive spirit. Some free agent signings have masked the fact JByrnes has been tweaking the club younger for years. What's different now is this richer, maturing contingent of youngsters seems more ready to compete, independent of mediocre (and costly) veterans.

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