You know, we all used to root for the Diamondbacks.
Not the actual, literal, Diamondbacks, thank God, but their non-union mid-2000s equivalent. Back then, the Giants front office was the trendy one to mock: Brian Sabean was the guy who was so averse to rebuilds that if his Lego house fell apart he'd have to buy a whole new set, the farm system was producing nothing but busts, and the future was utterly hopeless, like the end of the second act of a movie. The villain is about to kill the hero's wife! Oh well, we said, that'll probably happen. Too bad. She seemed nice.
Now look at the current Diamondbacks. The Dave Stewart/Tony La Russa combination is hoarding cash like they've got Rachel Phelps breathing down their necks, they keep trading last year's top prospect for nothing, and there isn't any sign that it'll ever get better for them.
I don't want to slight the Diamondbacks for what they have done right, so here goes: Man, Paul Goldschmidt is good. Really, really good. Astonishingly good. Of course, the Diamondbacks are currently on their fourth GM since Goldschmidt was drafted (by comparison, the Giants are currently on their fourth GM since 1985), and it's unclear how many of the guys who spotted him are still around, but hey, they did it. The Diamondbacks got themselves one superstar!
The mid-2000s Giants, if you'll recall, also had one superstar.
There is, though, one more parallel. Both teams were willing to sacrifice their farm system for some cash for their major league team. On Saturday, the Diamondbacks traded Touki Toussaint to the Braves for Phil Gosselin (read: nothing) in order to also send Bronson Arroyo over and save themselves about $10 million. In December of 2003, the Giants signed Michael Tucker, just hours before the deadline for teams to offer their pending free agents arbitration, which the Royals were certainly not going to do. Signing Tucker early cost the Giants their draft pick, which was their deliberate strategy, and it saved the money that would have gone to that pick, which was about $1 million.
Who could the Giants have gotten with that pick? Gio Gonzalez, Yovani Gallardo, and Huston Street were still on the board and would go soon, along with a few other decent-to-fringe major leaguers, but there was also a lot of flotsam. The Royals picked Matt Campbell in that slot, and if you haven't heard of him, that's because you have better things to do with your life than memorize failed Royals prospects, which considering that you're reading this article is saying something. That pick easily could have failed. It probably would have. Most picks in that range aren't worth much.
Conversely, what kind of pitcher is Toussaint going to become? We don't know, but no one has more information on him than the Diamondbacks. Perhaps they see an injury risk, or stuff that won't play at higher levels, or just that his value now is higher than it ever will be. Maybe their scouts are muttering to themselves, saying "Just another Trevor Bauer" and then not checking Trevor Bauer's stats this year so they can think that's an insult. There aren't any certainties here. The trade seems dumb, though. It seems real dumb.
So which was worse? Was it the Tucker move, which saved much less money and exemplified the team's philosophy at the time that the draft wasn't especially important? Or was it the Toussaint trade, which cost a much more impressive prospect than the Giants would have drafted, but also saved more money and could be rationalized away by saying that Arizona's scouts see some uncorrectable flaw that no one else does?
I honestly don't know which is worse. I put a poll at the bottom for you to vote. I sure hope lots of people don't pick that amusing third option and throw off the results! That would be a debacle.
If you're looking to laugh at the Diamondbacks, please do! They're making lots of funny moves that have at least one ex-player talking some smack:
My guy Trumbo got recalled— Cody Ross (@IamCodyRoss) June 4, 2015
But realize that this won't necessarily last forever. In 2003, the Tigers were the kind of franchise whose main rationale for existing was nostalgia, but three years later they'd become a perennial power in the AL. The Pirates had a generation-long streak of losing seasons that didn't last forever, and, of course, we can look at Brian Sabean's Giants, who ended up committing to their farm system, developing boatloads of stars – the boats are canoes, but that still counts – and winning some World Series. There's hope for the Diamondbacks. It might be hard to see, and miles down the road, and in a car that could break down at any second, whose driver reeks and makes you want to get out and walk, but there's still hope, dammit.