MLB Arizona Diamondbacks

Ken Kendrick Blasts Justin Upton, Stephen Drew in Interview

As the Arizona Diamondbacks slog through what was supposed to be a glorious return to postseason glory a year after winning the NL West, there are rumblings of discontent at Chase Field.

Ken Kendrick, the managing partner of the Diamondbacks’ ownership group, took his frustrations on air in the Phoenix area on Tuesday afternoon, singling out for particular scorn outfielder Justin Upton and shortstop Stephen Drew. He also empathized with fans of the team, saying “I guess my reaction is like most Diamondbacks fans would feel at this point,” he said. “I’m pretty disappointed.”

As for Drew, Kendrick was even more explicit:

“I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly. I, for one, am disappointed. I’m going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now (when he becomes a free agent) than on going out and supporting the team that’s paying his salary.”

He also had some strong words for Upton’s struggles this season:

“He’s certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him. He’s 24 years old, and it’s time for him to be a consistent performer and right now this year he’s not been that.”

Needless to say, Kendrick is dissatisfied with the way the team has been playing, as they sit with a record of 25-30 despite winning 10-0 against the Colorado Rockies last night. They have been scoring runs with more regularity, but the consistency that they displayed a year ago in that regard, as well as in their fantastic starting pitching, just have not been there. Whether that’s a matter of playing with a target on their back as the defending champions of the division, or just a matter of injuries disrupting the chemistry of the team to a point that it has hurt their on-field performance, the fact of the matter is that Kendrick is right to say that the team has been a disappointment so far.

As for his other comments, they warrant further dissection before a judgment can be rendered on whether they are fair and accurate. In the Drew situation, we all know that the team has been incredibly cautious with his ankle, and with good reason. The injury he sustained when sliding into Jonathan Lucroy was a truly gruesome injury, and we knew that the road back would be a long one. He has been playing in extended spring training games with mixed results in terms of pain and performance, but the one thing that has to be kept in mind is that the biggest obstacle facing any player coming back from an injury is trusting that it is fully healed.

Putting the fact your ankle was damaged on a slide has got to be a difficult proposition, and there really is no way to replicate the play until you face it in game action. Until Drew is confident that he can sprint headlong down the third base line toward a catcher guarding home plate, then he shouldn’t come back, because if he can’t do that, then he wouldn’t be able to help his team in the way they need help right now.

Kendrick could just be trying to motivate Drew to come back and prove him wrong, or he could be trying to deflect blame from fans looking for a scape goat for the season so far.

Either way, it’s interesting that Kendrick has taken this path, and it will be telling to see how Drew himself will respond (although his agent Scott Boras did fire back in the column by Nick Piecoro on the subject).

As for Upton, Kendrick is speaking for Diamondbacks Nation loud and clear on that one. People are disappointed in his performance, and they are right to question why the guy who was in the thick of the NL MVP race a year ago is playing such lackluster baseball. Yes, he has been improving just a bit as of late, but he still isn’t doing his job well enough to escape criticism as the team struggles, and maybe, just maybe, Kendrick’s words and Gibson’s benching of him several times recently (which we will discuss later on today on the blog) could have the desired effect and fire him up.

The Diamondbacks have now won two games in a row (we’ll start doing some recaps again when the Diamondbacks begin their series against the Oakland A’s on Friday), but they still have a lot of questions to answer about their performance so far this season. The dog days of June are going to go a long way toward determining whether the D’Backs will be buyers and sellers at the July 31st trade deadline, and guys like Justin Upton and Stephen Drew will go a long way toward answering those queries.