The Nick Ahmed Departure Shows the Downside of the Business of Baseball

Shortstop Nick Ahmed slapping fives with teammates before a 2023 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ahmed, the longest-tenured player in franchise history, was designated for assignment Wednesday afternoon.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Releasing Nick Ahmed Shows the Downside of Baseball

When this reporter covered his first Major League Baseball game on June 24, 2019, a veteran reporter gave him some sage advice. “Baseball is about people,” the veteran stated. “It’s a game, yes — but it’s a game played by people.” One of the people this reporter covered in that game was unceremoniously designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday. That person is shortstop Nick Ahmed, whose 10 seasons in the Sedona Red make him the longest tenured Diamondback in franchise history. And the move, weeks before the end of Ahmed’s contract, shows the downside of professional baseball.

The Right Baseball Move

A heavy-hearted Ahmed told reporters in the clubhouse about an hour after the designation that he understood it from a baseball perspective. General Manager Mike Hazen told him that the team wanted to improve its lineup against left-handed pitching. Ahmed, for years, had been dangerous against lefties. His slash lines against lefties from 2017 to 2021 bore witness to it — .396/.453/.625 (’17), .256/.297/.472 (’18), .312/.377/.560 (’19), .274/.328/.436 (’20), and .252/.317/.462 (’21). But in 2023, he was slashing .155/.197/.207.

In addition, “Slick Nick” has been an elite defender for most of his career. He is the active leader in Total Zone Runs (Rtot on Baseball Reference) with 75, meaning that the Diamondbacks gave up 75 fewer runs with him at shortstop instead of the average shortstop in the league. Defensive Runs Saved (Rdrs on BRef) has him at 81. Either way, the Diamondbacks had elite defense at shortstop with Ahmed there. After a shoulder injury during training camp in the abbreviated 2020 season, Ahmed’s defense suffered considerably, dropping to Rtot/Rdrs levels of 4/4 (’20) and 3/4 (’21). He only played 16 games in 2022, with his shoulder injury rendering him ineffective. But in ’23, his defense also remained close to average, with his Rtot and Rdrs both sitting at one. For a team locked in a dogfight for an NL Wild Card berth, letting Ahmed go makes perfect sense.

Consequences of the Move

But the Diamondbacks didn’t part ways with a robot or some character in a video game. Once again, baseball is about people. And the person they let go — this year’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee from the Diamondbacks — is a class act. It was common to see Ahmed sign baseballs and pose for photos with fans, especially youngsters. He always smiled and said hello to this reporter, as he did with every other reporter around. Ahmed made it a point to learn people’s names and then refer to them by name. He treated people well and earned respect as a result. Letting him go could not have been an easy decision for the front office. Ask any high school baseball coach, and they’ll tell you that it’s tough to cut a kid who is a good kid. If he’s a jerk, removing him from the roster is easy, but not so when he’s a nice kid and a good person.

There’s an additional layer to this, however, and that is timing. Ahmed was mere weeks away from the end of his contract. He didn’t get a sendoff on the last day of the season. The fans didn’t get a chance to give him a final ovation. And manager Torey Lovullo won’t get to do what he told reporters after Wednesday’s game that he hoped to do, which was to hug Ahmed first after this team clinched a playoff berth. Given all that Ahmed has been through — one postseason berth in 10 years, with that berth coming six years ago — Lovullo felt Ahmed deserved this. But that can’t happen now.

The Other Consequence

Furthermore, this roster move has come after the postseason eligibility deadline. Say that Ahmed’s replacement — rookie Jordan Lawlar, who did well in his major league debut Thursday evening — helps the team play well enough down the stretch to make the playoffs. Lawlar, since he was not on the 40-man roster before September 1, will not be eligible for the postseason roster unless he is replacing an injured player — the so-called “injury loophole.” In addition, if Ahmed gets picked up by a contender and helps his new team reach the playoffs, he’ll be in the same situation. This is not fair to either player involved. Had this move happened in August, it would have been a different story. However, it happened September 6, missing the deadline by under a week.

Shortly after this reporter was advised to remember that baseball is about people, a longtime scout made another wise statement. Paraphrased, this scout said baseball is a great game but an ugly business. Situations like this one remind us of the truth of this statement. Professional baseball is a business, and this is one of the downsides. This was the right move from a baseball standpoint, and it should have happened weeks ago. But, again, baseball is about people. And this move — given its timing and its consequences — was not fair to the people involved, neither Nick Ahmed nor Jordan Lawlar.

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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