One of my pet peeves is when people speak or write in absolute terms about a team's distant future. To say, "Oh, the Pirates are going to break through in 2008", or, "Yeah, the Giants aren't going to win a division title once Bonds retires," is ignoring decades of baseball history. Luis Gonzalezeses happen. Jeff Kents happen. Corey Pattersons happen. Dwight Goodens happen, for both better and worse. I certainly don't like where the Giants are heading, but I'll probably make a point to catch a game or two over the next decade, if you don't mind.
I just can't work my fuzzy math to make me feel better about the Diamondbacks. Over the years they've had some hitters put up some gaudy minor-league numbers, but those numbers didn't translate perfectly into the majors. Erubiel Durazo, Alex Cabrera, Lyle Overbay, and Chad Tracy all hit around .670/.790/2.411 at various stops in the minor league system, but didn't really come close to that in the majors. Well, Durazo hits great when he stays healthy. And, yes, Tracy did have a breakout year last season. Sure, Alex Cabrera didn't get a chance to prove himself in the majors, and then dominated the Japanese leagues. But Lyle Overbay is little more than an average first-baseman who generally helps his team win. Ha! Take that, inflated minor-league numbers!
So, even though the Diamondbacks have their young hitters play in a string of great hitter's parks, it doesn't mean their numbers are worthless. It just means a little restraint is needed when talking them up. Fine. But even when exercising that restraint, it's hard to not go straight into the fetal position when thinking about the Diamondbacks minor-league system. As this diary notes, Arizona has a good-to-great prospect waiting for every single position on the field. John Sickels writes they could have three of the 20 best prospects in the game. At least three of the players not included in that ranking would likely be the best hitting prospect in the Giants organization.
What of the pitching? Dustin Nippert is a good-not-great prospect. Brandon Webb is young, and will be with the team for the foreseeable future. That's a thin bunch, and that's the good news. The bad news is that if half of the hitters pan out, the Diamondbacks are going to be paying nothing for their starting lineup, and will be able to spend whatever the heck they want on good pitching. I've played Baseball Mogul. I know how this all works. If the starting eight make something like a combined $15M, that'll leave a whole lot of duckets to throw around on the pitching staff.
A team rich in pitching prospects is like a paper millionaire in 1999. Maybe the pitchers will turn out to be eBay, but they'll most likely all be some variation of Pets.com. A team rich in position-playing prospects is a much different story. The Diamondbacks scare the bejeepers out of me. The unknown quantity of a new general manager can give a little hope, but the early returns seem to indicate he knows what he's doing. He received good value for Javier Vasquez, a player everyone knew was going to be traded. He was able to unload Troy Glaus' hefty contract, even getting a nice, young middle infielder in return. His computer defensive modeling algorithms are so advanced, he knows Eric Byrnes is the best defensive centerfielder in the game, while the rest of us fools still think he plays center like a drunk Bob Brenly. Okay, that last one might be a stretch, but it's the only questionable move made by the Diamondbacks this offseason.
The organization doesn't have a catcher all that close to the majors, and Justin Upton has yet to even start playing professional baseball. Those bits, combined with the dubious pitching depth, are about the only things for Giant fans to cling to. There is always the string of McClichés, too, where I mutter some cautionary tale about Jack Cust and boldly go out on a limb to note prospects are far from sure things. All things being equal, though, I'd trade the future of the Giants for about half of the Diamondbacks future. The win-now house of cards for the Giants has a great chance to collapse, and it's disheartening to see a division rival ready to take advantage.