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Arizona's Short-Sighted Firing of Josh Byrnes

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The Arizona Diamondbacks fired general manager Josh Byrnes yesterday (and his handpicked manager, A.J. Hinch), and the criticism's been coming from all corners since. Kevin Kaduk calls the move "boneheaded." Dave Cameron thinks the D'Backs "royally screwed up." You can read Buster Olney's laundry list of praise for Byrnes from other baseball folks if Twitter ever recovers from the World Cup.

And it's hard to disagree with the prevailing thought.

Fairly, Byrnes hasn't been the captain of a particularly seaworthy ship of late. After a 2007 playoff appearance and a 20-8 start in 2008, the Diamondbacks have been more like grass snakes. Since May 2008, Arizona has gone 163-212, winning at just a .434 clip. But that's got plenty to do with injuries and salary restrictions.

Eric Byrnes (no relation), signed personally by former CEO Jeff Moorad, flamed out. Brandon Webb, an ace for so long, has seen his arm all but disintegrate over the last two years. This season's bullpen, a crapshoot for nearly every team in a good year, is on the way to a historically bad performance, putting up . (Juan Gutierrez has given up ten homers in 27.0 innings of relief, and he might not be the most disappointing member of the pen.)

Understandably, though, even a charitable reading of Arizona's luck wouldn't have made Byrnes' tenure look particularly good. But if the Diamondbacks wanted to get better, keeping Byrnes, at least for a while, was the only possible decision.

As one of baseball's worst teams, Arizona's definitely a team that will be a seller at the trading deadline, and there are assets in the desert. Kelly Johnson could be useful to a team needing a cheap bat, Dan Haren could be moved before he becomes unappealing, and there is enough young talent up and down the roster to make moving just one young, cheap piece (Mark Reynolds, for example, would be a great designated hitter) for a few good prospects a decent idea.

And no one in Arizona knows the value of the homegrown talent like Josh Byrnes. Removing Byrnes from the decision-making process and replacing him (with Jerry DiPoto, a VP for player development, for now) is going to make the D'Backs' participation in baseball's swap meet a little harder; without his expertise, valuing their own chips and equating them to others gets harder. (Jettisoning Hinch, who was Byrnes' right-hand man before becoming manager, won't help, either.)

That's just not all that wise. Regardless of the manager/GM in place in Arizona this year, the Diamondbacks weren't making the playoffs. Why exacerbate a bad situation by entrusting a rebuilding job already underway to a new guy with less experience and, if you listen to baseball's chorus of Byrnes praise, savvy?

Byrnes will land on his feet somewhere. (Kaduk suggests the North Side of Chicago, where Jim Hendry has long since worn out his welcome.) Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks may well stay in the wilderness for a while, as they cobble together a pitching staff to match their strong young core of hitters.

Josh Byrnes wouldn't have gotten the Diamondbacks a playoff berth this year, not after the team dug its deep hole. But even Branch Rickey, given George Steinbrenner's checkbook, might have struggled to do that. Byrnes needed more time than he was given. It won't be surprising if the short-sighted Diamondbacks leave scribes writing something similar for his successor in a few years.


This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.