The much-maligned tenure of Cody Ross with the Arizona Diamondbacks came to an abrupt end this past weekend when the Diamondbacks released Ross, eating the final $9.5 million remaining on his three-year, $25 million contract. Ross hooked on with the Athletics this week, but looking back, his tenure in Arizona was doomed to fail from the beginning.
When former Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers signed Ross back in December of 2012, the contract didn’t make much sense. Arizona had four solid enough outfielders during the 202 season in Jason Kubel, Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Gerardo Parra, with prospects Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock breathing down their necks. But Kubel, Young, and Upton were due a total of $25.75 million in 2013, and the Diamondbacks weren’t exactly enamored with paying that amount of money. The logical thing to do would have been to move Kubel and/or Young and plant two or Parra, Eaton, and Pollock in the outfield alongside Upton. Naturally, that didn’t happen.
Young was traded before the World Series ended for Cliff Pennington and Heath Bell. Arizona picked up $6 million of Bell’s contract, meaning they were only $2 million in the black after the trade. But hey, no big deal – they’ve still got plenty of outfield depth. They signed Ross at the end of December to the three-year deal, and he was due $6 million in 2013, the first year of the contract. OK, so you essentially added Ross, Bell, and Pennington at the cost of Young and an extra $3 million (figuring in the two-year extension Pennington inked before the season). But Arizona still had a ridiculous amount of outfield depth – another move had to be made, and at the end of January, Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson were traded to the Braves for a package of five players, including Johnson’s replacement, Martin Prado. Prado was soon signed to a four-year, $40 million contract that would pay him $7 million in 2013.
So…wait, what the hell? Here’s the breakdown of what Towers ended up doing that winter.
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For essentially the same amount of money as a 28-year old outfielder, a 25-year old former first overall pick, and a 28-year old third baseman he just acquired in July, Towers brought in a shaky 35-year old reliever, a utility man, a third baseman coming off of a career year, and a 32-year old outfielder (along with a handful of other prospects in the Upton trade). It was just bizarre – Arizona could have taken the money they gave to Ross, spent it somewhere else, and ended up with a better outfield.
2013 was a disaster for the Diamondbacks, especially in their outfield. Kubel played in just 89 games, couldn’t hit, couldn’t field, and was dumped onto the Indians in August, with Arizona eating what was left of the $7.5 million owed to him. Ross had his best year in the desert in 2013, but played in just 94 games. Both Pollock and Parra grabbed starting jobs and didn’t let go, while Eaton was a regular in the second half after missing the first half with a thumb injury.
The next winter, things looked a little safer for Arizona’s outfield. Kubel was gone. Ross was already looking like a sunk cost, and the fourth-best option behind Eaton, Parra, and Pollock. Of course, Towers saw things different. Eaton was traded to the White Sox for, shockingly enough, another “outfielder” in Mark Trumbo. Nothing like taking all of that outfield depth you had just a year earlier, and turning it into a situation where Mark Trumbo or Cody Ross has to play every day.
Of course, neither actually played every day. The pair combined for 171 games and 581 plate appearances in 2014. Parra started throughout the first half until he was traded to the Brewers at the trade deadline. Pollock missed half of the season with a broken hand. Two more outfield options, Ender Inciarte and David Peralta, emerged and played better than both Ross and Trumbo. For as much as the story changes, it remains the same.
And now, Cody Ross is gone. The lone member of that five deep outfield from 2012 is Pollock. Bell was traded to the Rays following the 2013 season, and released after just 13 games in 2014. Prado was traded to the Yankees just 261 games into his four-year contract, and was dealt once again to the Marlins this winter. Pennington is still around, but there’s only so much value a bench player can create in 500 plate appearances over two seasons.
It could have been so easy for the Diamondbacks. They turned Chris Young, Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock, and Adam Eaton into Pollock, Cliff Pennington, Mark Trumbo, and a handful of prospects that may or may not contribute in 2015 and beyond. And it’s not as if Arizona did this on the cheap, either – their payroll has been higher in each of the last three seasons than it was in 2012.
Take a bow, Kevin Towers. This is your legacy in Phoenix.