Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Mixed feelings"

The Diamondbacks are marching toward the National League West title.

Meantime, Josh Byrnes is preparing to scout Padres minor leaguers in San Antonio.

San Diego's V-P for baseball operations, Byrnes admits to "mixed feelings" as Arizona advances toward the playoffs because he was the club's general manager for five years.

"It's definitely bittersweet," Byrnes says. "I know a lot of the people there -- a lot of the people there I'm rooting for, but the goal is to compete against them."

Brynes isn't stunned that Arizona (82-61) leads the West entering tonight's game against the Padres, even though it lost 97 games last year.

"For one, it happens," he says. "It happened with San Diego last year. Teams go from losing records to the playoffs or playoff contention very quickly.

"And," he adds, "we always had the talent."

The Diamondbacks had so many promising young players on a team that won the West in 2007 that outsiders predicted more titles, although the team's negative run differential was a yellow flag.

In 2008, the Diamondbacks spent most of the season in first place and finished second.

Byrnes minces no words about 2009-10. "We stunk for two years," he says, calling it a "confusing" and sometimes "weird" span.

Arizona lost 92 games in 2009 and finished last. In 2010, with the Diamondbacks 15.5 games out of first place and 17 games under .500 midway through the season, owner Ken Kendrick and CEO Derrick Hall fired Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch.

Injuries to several key players, ace Brandon Webb among them, contributed to the team's tumble.

As it turned out, Byrnes had traded for a worthy replacement to Webb in Ian Kennedy, the former USC star and Yankees prospect who emerged this year as an  ace.

Byrnes' decision to shoehorn the bright but miscast Hinch into the manager's job boomeranged on both men. Under Byrnes, however, Arizona's baseball operations staff produced big leaguers such as Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton and Chris Young.

Byrnes isn't taking credit for any of Arizona's success. Instead, he praises several of his former employees, among them Tom Allison, who drafted several players now on the team, including starting pitchers Josh Collmenter and Wade Miley, slugger Paul Goldschmidt and reliever Bryan Shaw; area scout Matt Haas, who pushed for the club to draft Collmenter; and Double-A manager Rico Brogna, another advocate for Collmenter, a righty with an unorthodox delivery who lent vital aid to the rotation.

The Diamondbacks will be chilling victory champagne later this month. They should send a bottle to Byrnes.

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