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2011 Organizational Rankings: #29 – Arizona

Quite the fall from grace – not that long ago viewed as one of the best young teams in baseball, the Diamondbacks are rebuilding once again.

Present Talent – 69.17 (26th)

Diamondbacks 2011 Season Preview

Future Talent – 80.00 (t-16th)

Diamondbacks 2011 top 10 prospects

Financial Resources – 69.62 (27th)
Baseball Operations – 75.00 (t-25th)

Overall Rating – 72.38 (29th)

The Diamondbacks front office has been in transition since the middle of 2010. On July 1 ownership fired GM Josh Byrnes, just two and a half years after signing him to an eight-year extension. That left Jerry DiPoto in charge of the team for a few months until management hired Kevin Towers to take over the role.

Towers has more experience than most GMs in the game, having led the San Diego Padres from 1995 through 2009. Yet Arizona’s baseball operations score ranks tied for 25th in the league, along with Washington, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. Why such a low mark, then, just a year after we ranked Arizona No. 16? The front office changes certainly play a large role.

Through the start of last season the team had a long-term plan in place. Josh Byrnes was under contract through the 2015 season, and there was little reason to believe his job was in jeopardy. The team had finished last in 2009, but finished first or second in the previous two seasons. But when things fell apart in 2010 ownership wasted little time in making a change.

The Diamondbacks do have quality people in place. We know Towers’ pedigree, both as a scout and as a GM. He has already helped improve the Diamondbacks, and while the team will likely finish last again in 2011, he’ll likely have them out of that position in 2012. If professional scout Joe Bohringer, whom we met twice during the FanGraphs Arizona trip, is any indication, the team also has hard-working, enlightened members in its scouting department.

Chances are we’ll see Arizona with a much better baseball ops score next year. But for now, with a major change to the team’s long-term plans and three general managers in the last year, the low score is understandable.

On the financial side, since their tremendous turn-of-the-century outlays, the Diamondbacks have been a team on a budget. In fact, the team’s current financial situation is largely dictated by the $268.9 million the team paid its players from 2001 through 2003. It’s not as bad now as it was in 2004, when the team owed $200 million to players who helped win the franchise only World Series title. But as of last April the team still owed $40 million to long-gone players.

Last year owner Ken Kendrick spoke with The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro regarding the team’s financial situation. In addition to the $40 million still owed to former players, Kendrick also talked about the team’s payroll and profit situations:

If the team doesn’t perform well and we’re in a tough economy and we have the payroll where we have it, then it’s going to be tough to make a profit. We’ll deal with that when and if it comes. Our focus is putting a good team on the field, having a team that appeals to the fans and generating increases in attendance, and therefore revenue.

The team didn’t perform well last year, and ownership responded by having an interim GM trade its best pitcher. Losing Dan Haren was a further blow to a struggling team, but the team’s financial situation puts it in the type of position where such a move might become necessary. This shouldn’t prove an issue this year, since payroll will check in under $60 million and no player on the team will make more than $5.85 million. But it is clear that the team needs a contender in order to boost payroll beyond that point. At this point that appears to mean building a contender on the cheap and then raising payroll once they start winning again. That’s never a comfortable position for any team.

Just a year after ranking No. 16 on our organizational list, the Diamondbacks have fallen all the way to No. 29. In many ways it speak to problems that brew below the surface, which only come to light later. Heading into 2010 it appeared that the Diamondbacks were a quality franchise that had suffered an unlucky 2009. But throughout the season it became apparent that they were a bit worse than that. They might now be in good hands with Kevin Towers, but it’s going to take plenty of work, and some lucky breaks from the farm system, for Arizona to again climb the organizational ranks.