PHOENIX — During the recent homestand and in the middle of a series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Arizona Diamondbacks quietly made a rather forceful decision.
No major news conference was called and no blaring television lights. The executive team of Ken Kendrick, the club’s managing director and Derrick Hall, the team’s president, lauded the job of general manager Mike Hazen and simply extended Hazen’s contract.
Amid rumors, Hazen was heading back to Boston to replace Dave Dombrowski, released as the Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations, but water was quickly doused that fire. When Kendrick brought in Hazen to replace Dave Stewart just after the 2016 season, the former Dartmouth College player was given a six-year deal. Now, that’s been extended and Hazen is safely tucked within the anonymity of a small market team.
Before coming to the desert, Hazen spent 11 years in Boston and brought an emphasis on analytics, trends, developments and a necessity to crunch numbers. Some were evident in the Diamondbacks approach to defense and the plethora of shifts employed against various hitters. With Dombrowski out, the immediate rumor focused on Hazen and his level of success with Arizona.
After hiring Torey Lovullo as his field manager in October, 2016, the Hazen-Lovullo regime reached the post-season in their initial season together and Lovullo was named the National League manager-of-the-year. In the two years since, the Diamondbacks remain competitive and position themselves teasingly close to additional post-season accomplishments.
“What we’re trying to build here is extremely important to all of us who work here,” Hazen told mlb.com. “We want to see this through. We want to continue on this season and seasons beyond at building something a sustainable winner and a World Series championship here.”
Overall, Hazen’s decision to accept a contract extension may not have addressed a significant reason for such action.
There is no question that any position with the Red Sox is high profile and constantly under a national microscope. If, in the long run, Hazen accepted an executive position with the Red Sox, the first rumor might bring Lovullo back to Boston with him. Lovullo was the Red Sox bench coach while Hazen was in the Red Sox front office.
That could mean Alex Cora as the Boston skipper would be out, and a possible domino effect through that organization.
In the end, Hazen must feel comfortable in a rather low-profile sitting. Within the context of the Phoenix sports market, the Diamondbacks are not the most attractive team. There is an assumption that the two highest profiled teams in the market are the NFL Cardinals and Arizona State football. The NBA Phoenix Suns are a close third. Plus, Phoenix is a heightened back-wagon town and if the Diamondbacks play around .500, baseball and they have throughout the 2019 season, the team remains pretty much off the area’s sports radar screen.
That gives Hazen the anonymity and obscurity he would not have in Boston.
Perhaps a more important reason for Hazen to stay is his approach to player contracts.
In a Red Sox environment, the need is always pressing and the requirement to win is immediate. At the late July trade deadline, the Red Sox seem to be front and center in national discussions, and the constant necessity to upgrade for the August and September pennant drives. That usually means acquiring veteran players and with little shelf life.
That approach is contrary to Hazen’s desire to control players for a significant period of time. When a player reaches free-agent status and no longer under the club’s control, they are basically cut from the organization. Case in point was the trade of Paul Goldschmidt last off-season. With one year remaining of control, Hazen knew he could not retain Goldschmidt as a free agent in the volatile baseball marketplace and made the deal with St Louis.
When Hazen discusses players, he normally refers to the ability of contractually control players for a period of time. With the Red Sox, this is not likely an option and that’s because of the “win now” mentality.
So, Hazen quietly signs on for an additional undisclosed amount of years and continues to build the organization through meaningful trades, such as gaining important prospects from Houston in the Zack Greinke trade and drafting intelligently with top prospects, who include Alek Thomas, Dalton Varsho, Corbin Carroll and Kristian Robinson.
For now, Hazen seems to have the best of a few worlds. First, he is not part of the Red Sox simmering cauldron of constant pressure to succeed and, at the same time, he can continue and try to make the Diamondbacks a better baseball team through the comfort of tranquility and quiet.