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PHOENIX — The streets outside the ballpark are virtually vacant, with one homeless man sitting hunched over on the sidewalk and another looking for shade by a tree with no leaves.
You can grab a parking spot just two blocks away for less than a price of beer being sold inside Chase Field, with some lots charging just $10 and others only $5.
Walk inside the spacious stadium, and sections upon sections are completely empty. The concession workers are standing around with no more than three, perhaps four, people in any single line. They announce a paid attendance of 9,173 this weekday night, but the actual crowd is perhaps a third of that.
There were nearly as many fans for the Phoenix Suns’ viewing party at Chase Field during the NBA Finals than the total attendance for last week’s three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The only thing more dreary than the atmosphere at Chase Field these days is the product on the field.
They are the Arizona Diamondbacks, the worst team in baseball, with a 31-69 record, losing 55 of their last 67 games before beating up the Pirates. They are on pace top 110 losses and may have a shot at the all-time record of 120 defeats.
The fans have become apathetic towards their hometown team, averaging just 12,941 fans a game, third-lowest in the National League, in a ballpark that seats nearly four times that amount.
It has gotten so ugly that former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods ripped owner Ken Kendrick on Twitter, imploring him to sell the franchise after they set the modern-day record of 24 consecutive road losses.
“In Spring Training, we said this team is non-competitive and an insult to fans,’’ Woods wrote. “KK needs to sell the team to someone who cares. Or don’t expect us to care.’’
Kendrick responded back in a nasty email that Woods shared with The Athletic.
The D-backs’ popularity these days really is confined to a small circle of vultures, rival general managers knowing that the D-backs are about to be stripped down with their spare parts going to the highest bidder.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,’’ D-backs GM Mike Hazen tells USA TODAY Sports, “and I never hope to never, ever, see it again. It’s some of the worst baseball ...
“I have to take as much responsibility as much as anyone. I believed in these guys, and we just played so poorly. We went into this season planning to compete, and that hasn’t happened.’’
You name it, and it has gone wrong. The defense has been sloppy all season, bordering on atrocious. The pitching is the worst in the National League with a 5.38 ERA , having only one pitcher with more than four victories. The hitting is woeful, with only one player producing more than 10 homers.
“The defense has just abandoned us at all of the wrong times,’’ Hazen says. “The frustrating part for us is that’s not how we intended to build our club. We intended to play tight defense, be fundamentally sound, but we’ve just had so many defensive miscues that have cascaded into big innings against us. We weren’t built to withstand that on a nightly basis.
“There will be some changes that have to be made in terms of the way we are building a roster," Hazen says.
The D-backs, who already fired two hitting coaches, will wait to make a decision on manager Torey Lovullo’s fate until the season ends, Hazen says. Lovullo is in the final year of his contract, and barring some dramatic turnaround, the team will be looking for its fifth manager since the boneheaded decision to fire Bob Melvin during the 2009 season.
“We’re going to evaluate everything,’’ Hazen says.
In the meantime, the D-backs have no choice but to open their doors for a full-blown garage sale.
Other teams are filling the phones lines trying to whittle down the price tag of acquiring starters Merrill Kelly and Caleb Smith. The D-backs already dumped veteran catcher Stephen Vogt, and All-Star infielder Eduardo Escobar should be next. Outfielders David Peralta, Kole Calhoun and Josh Reddick are on the block. And veteran relievers Joakim Soria and Tyler Clippard are available if anybody is interested.
It only takes money if you really want veteran starter Madison Bumgarner, who still has $60 million remaining on his contract after this season.
“We have a lot of popular players right now,’’ Hazen says.
So, the question is where do the D-backs go from here?
“Long term, we need to be mindful where our team is at relative to our competition,’’ Hazen says. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep running up the hill over and over again if in fact we’re not necessarily prepared to do so.’’
Said Hall: “We need to realistically assess how long recovery will take.’’
This is a franchise that has only reached the playoffs four times since Luis Gonzalez’s Game 7 walk-off against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, and once since 2012. The drought has been long and threatening to get a whole lot worse.
The D-backs say they don’t want to go into a full rebuild, but how realistic is it to believe they can suddenly catch up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants?
“No matter what we attempt to do,’’ Hazen says, “we’re going to have to deal with that. It’s not going to go away, and it’s probably not going to go away any time soon.’’
Says D-backs president Derrick Hall: “It is arguably the most difficult division in baseball, which makes our need to find a consistent model that is competitive even more urgent. In a market like ours, we cannot make mistakes and have re-emphasized the need for a large segment of our roster to be homegrown through the draft and player development.’’
It smells like a rebuild is in order, although Hazen cringes at the word, refusing to embrace the idea of giving up unless he’s left with no choice.
Hazen, 46, is a fighter. He stays at home caring for his wife, Nicole, who’s battling brain cancer, along with their four young boys. He’s technically on a leave of absence, but still talks with his front office staff every day, making decisions from his home instead of the ballpark.
Life can be cruel, and in many ways, so can the game of baseball.
“Look, I don’t know what that word (rebuild) means,’’ Hazen says. “I want to go out there and compete every single day. I feel like we have young players up and down our system and our major-league team that if we can figure out a way in the offseason to make some smart choices that we can still go out there and compete.’’
And yet ...
“I also have to be realistic,’’ Hazen says, “that the path that I’ve led us down, going to ownership and telling them to continue to compete, and push. In certain ways, that has not been successful for us the last couple of seasons. I have to own that.
“Looking back, it may not have been the wisest choice to continue doing those types of things, but I just don’t believe in the other side. I don’t want to go into a season where we are not prepared to go out there and compete now.
“But I do think we have to look at everything in front of us, both with regard to what our current division situation stands like, and what the National League situation looks like. We probably have to make more assessments before we make any proclamations what kind of direction we’re going to go in.’’
The D-backs have the fifth-best farm system according to FanGraphs. They have a front-line starter in Zac Gallen, who was acquired from the Marlins in the Jazz Chisholm trade. They have a star in injured center fielder Ketel Marte. Catcher Carson Kelly was having a breakout season until he broke his right wrist. Josh Rojas has proven to be a dependable player.
Maybe MLB expands the playoff field from 10 teams to at least 14 in the future. Maybe one of the three powers in the NL West will have a slip-up. Maybe the Diamondbacks can stun the baseball world.
“Look, I feel like there’s tools we have to work with,’’ Hazen says, “and there’s potential to take it well above this gear. Now, I could be off on those assessments, but that’s how I feel.
“Ultimately, no matter what that perception is, that perception has to become reality.’’
– The Marlins appear set to trade Starling Marte, who flatly rejected their contract extension offer, and the Giants, Yankees and Astros are being the most aggressive in their pursuit.
Really, he’s the ideal fit for the Giants, who are proving every single day that they could be the team to beat in the powerful NL West.
– The Padres say they won’t mortgage the farm, but then again, they don’t plan on letting the Yankees or anyone else walk away with their No. 1 prize: Texas Rangers left-handed power hitter Joey Gallo.
Who knows, maybe they can get Rangers starter Kyle Gibson along with him?
– The ideal spot for Cubs’ outfielder/third baseman Kris Bryant is the New York Mets, but several rival GMs predict it may not happen since the Cubs are asking for the moon and the Mets are refusing to give up prospects – but willing to take on money.
– The Chicago White Sox’s first choice is to acquire Rockies shortstop Trevor Story and move him to second, with the fallback plan Eduardo Escobar of the D-backs. The Yankees also are among the handful of teams expressing interest in Story.
Yet, several GMs and talent evaluators are predicting that Story stays put.
Nats take a stand on Starlin Castro
The Washington Nationals could have hidden behind some wishy-washy statements. They could have pretended that they supported their teammate. They also could have also said nothing.
Instead, club leaders condemned infielder Starlin Castro after he was placed on administrative leave by MLB for an alleged domestic violence issue.
It doesn’t matter what MLB decides, it sure appears that he won’t be putting on a Nationals uniform again.
“You don’t go home with [players], you’re not in their houses and that type of thing,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. “But what I told the players when we met with them was, ‘We got to do better. We got to do better at this. The whole world has to do better at this, and it’s unacceptable.’
“It’s zero tolerance here, and I don’t care how good of a player you are. It’s zero tolerance, and we’re just not going to put up with it. It’s not something [manager] Davey Martinez or Mike Rizzo’s Washington Nationals are going to have.”
When asked if Castro would play again for the Nats, Rizzo shook his head.
“I do not plan on having him back," Rizzo said.
Martinez said he was stunned when he heard the accusations. His feelings turned to anger and then disgust.
“What I can tell you about me and this organization,’’ Martinez said, “we do not tolerate any kind of domestic abuse. Speaking for myself, domestic violence is awful. There’s no place for it.’’
Around the basepaths
– The Brewers can probably start printing their playoff tickets.
Several managers and talent evaluators say that the Brewers are a completely different team since May 22, the day they acquired shortstop Willy Adames. They simply have more life, more energy, and a whole lot more confidence.
The standings certainly prove it. The Brewers were 21-23, and sitting in third place, four games behind the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central on May 22.
Ever since, they are 35-18.
– Several talent evaluators say the Rays gave up only fringe prospects in pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman for Twins DH Nelson Cruz, saying there’s no guarantee that either will be a starter in the big leagues, let alone have a high ceiling.
– Remember, there are no more August waiver trades.
– The Cubs are listening to offers on everyone, but first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who turned down a five-year, $70 million contract extension in spring training, is expected to stay put.
– The Rockies have quietly been making front office hires, which rival GMs believe bodes well for interim GM Bill Schmidt to become the Rockies’ full-time GM. In his biggest move as interim GM, he must decide where – or if – to trade Story.
Rival GM’s prediction: Story stays put, the Rockies get the draft pick, and Schmidt is the one making that pick.
– Veteran starter Cole Hamels may have had a solid workout in front of 20 teams a week ago, but entering the weekend, not a single team made a major-league offer to Hamels.
The problem is that Hamels, 37, has made only one start since 2019, and will need at least 30 days just to be ready to step into a rotation.
– When asked to identify the best prospect at the Futures Game, it was a unanimous vote among the handful of scouts on hand: Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals.
– All three contenders from the NL West will be in the postseason – but nobody wants to end up in a wild-card game facing Yu Darvish, Walker Buehler or Kevin Gausman.
– The Cardinals play 24 of 27 games against teams with a sub-.500 record beginning July 30, and they should have ace Jack Flaherty and veteran starter Miles Mikolas returning in August.
“We’ve got some climbing to do,’’ Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said, “but we also are ready for the climb.’’
– The Twins may be listening, and two-time All-Star starter Jose Berrios can be a free agent in a year after saying there will be no hometown discounts, but rival GMs say they’d be stunned if the Twins trade him.
– The White Sox are running away with the AL Central title, but they’ve got to get a chance to even get a whole lot better by doing nothing. Outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert have already begun their rehab assignments, and should be rejoining the White Sox in August.
– Sure, the Royals will listen on offers for Whit Merrifield, but Royals GM Dayton Moore seems to indicate they're not too keen on trading him.
“I’ve never been excited about trading major-league players for prospects,” says Moore, who prefers to draft and develop their own prospects in their own style.
– The Giants, believe it or not, have already used 23 pitchers in relief this season, and they’ve been spectacular, all at a discount price.
Zack Littell, Dominic Leone and Jay Jackson signed minor-league deals. Jarlin Garcia was a waiver claim. And John Brebbia ($800,000), Jose Alvarez ($800,000) and Jake McGee ($2 million this season) were free-agent signings.
– Home sweet home: The Blue Jays finally will be playing their first home games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre since 2019 beginning July 30. They’ve been a traveling show for the past two seasons, playing “home" games in Buffalo last season, another 23 there this season and 21 at their spring-training headquarters in Dunedin, Florida.
– Don’t bother calling Tigers GM Alex Avila trying to get some of his most marketable players. They are virtually closed for business.
“We're trying to bring in more talented players,’’ Avila said. “We're trying to get better. We're not rebuilding anymore. We're building. …
“We have no pressure to make any trades or move any salary.’’
– Phillies GM Dave Dombrowski has been one of the most aggressive GMs for the past 30 years at the trade deadline, and no one expects him to slow down, now, with the Phillies still hanging around the NL East race.
“To me, if you have a chance to win,’’ Dombrowski said, “you go for it.’’
The Phillies are among the teams who are aggressively pursuing D-backs starter Kelly, who’s under club control through the 2024 season.
– It’s incredible that the Angels are even hovering around .500 considering they have been without Mike Trout since mid-May, as well as Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton for long stretches this season.
– The Dodgers should have a former All-Star reliever soon helping out struggling closer Kenley Jensen. Corey Knebel, who has been out since April, is expected to return by mid-August.
“It’s going to be a new trade chip,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “an acquisition. We’re excited about it.’’
– Can you imagine how good the Oakland A’s would be this year if they had just retained shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks?
– Padres starter Blake Snell’s six-inning stint in his last start in Miami was his longest outing on the road since June 9, 2019, at Fenway Park in Boston.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB trade deadline: D-backs open for business as baseball's worst team