PHOENIX, AZ - U.S. Futures All-Star Tyler Skaggs #11 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the first inning during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Tyler Skaggs is making his debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday. He might finally be the ace in the right place at the right time that they've been looking for over the past few years.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have really packed a lot of baseball into their 15 seasons of existence. They won 100 games in just their second season, and they won the World Series in their fourth. They've also lost 111 games and had the worst bullpen in baseball history in different seasons. They've had contenders and rebuilding projects, often within a couple years of each other.
The post-championship era has been a little bit funky for the Diamondbacks, though, as they've often been caught between a youth moment and a win-now team. They won a World Series with one of the best two-ace setups in baseball history, but their timing has been off when it comes to replicating that formula. A short history of the recent Diamondbacks fortunes:
The 2007 Diamondbacks won the NL West behind ace Brandon Webb, but they were bounced from the NLCS after poor outings from Livan Hernandez and Micah Owings. What they needed, it seemed, was a second ace. They had the best minor-league system in the game, and it wasn't even close. They could afford to trade some depth for another pitcher.
Before the 2008 season, they traded for Dan Haren. With Webb perennially contending for the Cy Young, and Haren one of the best young pitchers in baseball, they finally had something to at least compare with the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling setup from the past. They parted with a package that included Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson. But their homegrown offense sputtered -- Chad Tracy, Chris Young, and Mark Reynolds each had an OPS+ under 100, and the team combined for a below-average 88 OPS+.
The next season, Brandon Webb made one start. It might have been the last start of his career, and the Diamondbacks lost 90 games. In the 2010 season, they were even worse. They were officially in rebuilding mode, so out Dan Haren went for prospects.
Then a funny thing happened: There was no rebuilding process. They somehow turned Max Scherzer into both Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy in two separate transactions. Everything coalesced immediately, and the Diamondbacks went from worst to first, winning 94 games behind their young pitching staff. But they were eliminated in the first round.
They sure could have used Dan Haren, who threw 238 innings for the Angels and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting.
The point of the history lecture is twofold. The first point is to highlight the just-misses of the past five years. What if they had Haren a year before? What if they kept him a year longer? What if they kept both Gonzalez and Anderson? What if, what if, what if? Everything they tried seemed to be a year too soon or too late.
But the most important part might be the Diamondbacks could still come out way ahead in the long sequence of transactions. In 2011, there might have been an undercurrent of regret that they traded Haren a year too soon. There is no such regret this year. Haren has been mediocre to bad for the Angels this year, and when the Diamondbacks traded him away, they received two pitching prospects. Patrick Corbin was put into the starting rotation at the beginning of August, and the Diamondbacks have won all four of his starts.
The real prize might be making his debut on Wednesday. Tyler Skaggs, a 20-year-old left-hander, was the #12 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America before the season. He'll probably be ranked higher next season. Here's what he's done this year:
Those numbers are already impressive for a 20-year-old, but there's more to it. Playing in Reno of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) is like playing on the moon -- the Reno Aces average 6.14 runs per game, and they allow 5.66. Even in that hostile environment, Skaggs stood out.
Skaggs is coming up to help the Diamondbacks fight for the NL West and the Wild Card. It's an uphill battle, as the team is six back in the West and 6½ back of the second Wild Card entering play on Wednesday. But even if he can't help the team win this season, he's around for the next six. The odyssey of the D-Backs to put together a young, dominant rotation has taken some strange turns, with All-Stars and Cy Young candidates flying in every direction. But Skaggs (and Corbin) give them to come up on top after all with nary a regret.