When the Arizona Diamondbacks signed center fielder Chris Young to a five-year, $28 million deal in April, 2008, it appeared as if both Young and the Diamondbacks were on the rise.
The team, coming off of an appearance in the 2007 National League Championship Series, had what appeared to be a solid young core. And Young was one of the centerpieces.
As an encore to their '07 October run, the Diamondbacks reeled off a 20-8 April in '08 and seemed well on their way to long-term domination in a weak NL West.
For that one month in '08, they served as a model for the way budget-conscious teams must run their shops.
No more. Since then, the Diamondbacks have gone 113-134, essentially lost ace Brandon Webb for the year, fallen out of the '09 race practically by Mother's Day and fired manager Bob Melvin. Then, on Monday, exasperated with Young's descent, they finally optioned him back to Triple-A Reno in an attempt to, if nothing else, jump-start what has become a total reclamation project.
Young, currently in a 2-for-27 slump, is hitting just .194 this season and looks nothing like the player he was in '07, when he became the first rookie in big league history to collect 30 or more homers (he finished with 32) and 25 or more steals (he had 27).
The five-year, $28 million deal is looking like a wreck right now, as is the three-year, $30 million deal bestowed upon outfielder Eric Byrnes (.216, five homers, 24 RBI) that does not expire until after the 2010 season. The Diamondbacks owe Byrnes ($11 million) and Young ($3.25) a combined $14.25 million in 2010.
Young still is only 25, but the race is on to see whether he can live up to his contract.
"He hasn't gotten any better," says one scout who watched the Diamondbacks recently. "He's stubborn. He's hacking at pitches out of the strike zone, he's trying to pull everything. He's trying to be a home run hitter, which he is, but you've got to be somewhat selective sometimes.
"Arizona did the right thing with him."
Presumably, the Diamondbacks will take a big step forward next season with the return of Webb, who, teamed with Danny Haren, provides as good a one-two punch as there is in the league. But Doug Davis and Jon Garland each is a free agent this winter. And the $14 million they owe Young and Byrnes is that much more they cannot spend in other areas of need.
Likes: Phillies-Cubs for three beginning tonight in Wrigley Field. Interesting pitching matchups, too: Rich Harden against the Phillies' hot J.A. Happ tonight, Jeff Samardzija vs. Phillies' newcomer Pedro Martinez on Wednesday and a couple of aces, Ryan Dempster vs. Cliff Lee, on Thursday. ... I know all about slump busters, and I have to say, this one's in a class of her own. ... Good for the Washington Nationals, winners of eight in a row. But you know what will kill the goodwill immediately? If they blow the signing of first-overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg. Signing deadline is Aug. 17 at midnight EDT. ... Saw In the Loop the other night, the political satire in which Britain and the United States ready to go to war in the Middle East over a miscommunication thanks to a British staffer. Liked it overall, but doggone it's difficult to understand the accents. ... Really enjoying this season of Entourage. I thought last year it was close to jumping the shark, but this year's storyline is crisp and funny. ... Brad Paisley's American Saturday Night is a bit too country for me, but it's got some good, catchy stuff. The title song and Catch All the Fish in particular stand out.
Dislikes: I know they've got $60 million worth of players on the disabled list, but are the Mets even trying anymore? People around the team seem to think general manager Omar Minaya's job is safe after the club had to toss assistant GM Tony Bernazard overboard, but if the Mets continue to slide and play with no heart, don't be surprised if they wind up sacrificing Minaya for the flawed $100 million roster. Manager Jerry Manuel? I think he stays. Bottom line: It's all going to depend on ownership and how much dough the Wilpons are willing to cast aside, because Minaya is signed for three more years and Manuel is signed through 2010.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"If I had a boat
"I'd go out on the ocean
"And if I had a pony
"I'd ride him on my boat
"And we could all together
"Go out on the ocean
"Me upon my pony on my boat "
-- Lyle Lovett, If I Had a Boat