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When the Diamondbacks officially announced a one-year extension with Torey Lovullo on Sunday, they technically set him up to be a lame-duck manager for a fourth consecutive season. That is not ideal in any job, much less as a big league manager.
But Lovullo is keeping things in perspective. It is not lost on him that he was part of a 110-loss season just two seasons ago — the type of season most managers do not survive.
“It would be great to get a lifetime contract,” Lovullo said. “But that just doesn’t happen in sports. I have, for whatever reason, been able to work through some very tough times here. And I’m more grateful for that than I am any new contract that I’m getting. They stuck with me, and I owe this organization my absolute best effort.
“Of course I want as long-term a deal as possible, but I’m grateful for this extension.”
After having his 2023 club option picked up last August, Lovullo has led the Diamondbacks to a National League West-leading 37-25 record through 62 games. They have the second-best record in the NL, trailing only the 37-24 Atlanta Braves.
It is still early in the season, but D-backs general manager Mike Hazen had reason enough to pull the trigger.
“Getting into the month of June,” Hazen said, “a third of the way through the season, the way the team has been playing. And the team’s been playing this way the entire time. From spring training on, the degree of preparation that we see that goes in with Torey and with his coaching staff is something that we think is an asset.
“The way the team plays for him, that’s been fairly consistent, even in the seasons where it hasn’t gone extremely well from a win-loss standpoint. And it’s something we’re looking to, culturally, continue to make sure is here every day.”
For Hazen, the move was not just about rewarding Lovullo on a job well done. It was about ensuring continuity for a young core that has helped the team reach new heights so far this season.
“The investments that he has made into our players,” Hazen said, “I want to make sure that those investments can be made back. I think that’s an important piece of the young club that we have and where we’re looking to get to.
“We’re gonna go through some ups and downs again, and to know that that stability is there is important. The conversations that he’s having with players today about what we’re going to be doing today and moving forward, I think there’s more substance behind that because of this.”
Entering 2023, Lovullo was already the longest tenured and winningest manager in Diamondbacks history. Next year will be his eighth season with the team. No previous Diamondbacks manager has ever lasted more than five seasons.
Here are three takeaways from the D-backs’ decision to bring Lovullo back for one more year.
1. A Torey Lovullo extension was inevitable
Entering Thursday, the Diamondbacks are a half game away from having the best record in the National League. At this point, it is more than a nice early-season story. It is an unprecedented turnaround — and surely the manager behind it ought to be rewarded.
“The way we were playing, this was sort of a foregone conclusion,” Hazen said. “The growth that we’ve seen in this team and how he’s responsible for a lot of that, this was going to happen.”
By all accounts, Lovullo has been a key part of the organization’s pivot from a rockbottom 110-loss season in 2021 to now being at the center of the NL playoff picture well into June.
During Sunday’s presser, Hazen lauded Lovullo’s ability to help young players realize their potential.
“[Lovullo] has grown tremendously as a manager in the sense of pushing these guys,” Hazen said. “He uses those relationships that he builds that he invests in in a very positive manner, but he’s tough on these guys too. He holds them accountable. And that’s something that we felt was we needed to continue to grow with as we transitioned from a veteran team, the one that we inherited, to the team that we have now.
“We’ve had to transition how we were operating even off the field about ensuring that the development of these guys into winning baseball players with the development of their skills was non-negotiable. And he’s done a very good job with that.”
Lovullo would be the first to say that confrontation is not his strong suit. But he has learned that, at times, it is a necessary component of helping his team reach another level.
“When I first got here,” he said, “I was more about just allowing guys to perform go out there and do what they did best, putting them in a comfortable situation and supporting them. But I’ve learned over the past couple of years how important it is to hold the staff accountable and the players accountable to getting better every single day.
“I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”
Last summer, Diamondbacks third baseman Josh Rojas spoke about Lovullo’s ability to strike an appropriate balance between encouragement and critique. Rojas was one of many Diamondbacks players who were elated to see the club pick up Lovullo’s 2023 club option.
This year, Diamondbacks youngsters have continued to succeed under Lovullo’s leadership. Corbin Carroll is slashing .300/.387/.541 in his rookie season, and is on pace for 29 homers and 47 stolen bases. Gabriel Moreno has taken well to his role as the club’s primary catcher in Carson Kelly’s absence, hitting .288 while showcasing a cannon of an arm behind home plate. Geraldo Perdomo has made significant strides as well.
In light of everything that has gone right for the Diamondbacks in 2023, it was only a matter of when, not if, the team would extend Lovullo. As things turned out, the answer was June 4.
2. After abysmal 2021 season, Lovullo’s extension is unprecedented
Not many MLB managers last even one year after losing 110 games. Lovullo, however, is now under contract through the end of 2024 — three full years after the hellish nightmare that was the 2021 season.
Over the past 60 years, almost every manager who lost 105-plus games in a season was canned by Opening Day of the following year. For the few managers that did survive, there have generally been extenuating circumstances.
The Toronto Blue Jays, for example, went 54-107 under manager Roy Hartsfield in 1977. Hartsfield was retained in 1978, and again in 1979. However, 1977 was the Jays’ inaugural season. Patience was warranted. But it did not last long; when the Jays lost 109 games in 1979, Hartsfield was not invited back.
More recently, the Baltimore Orioles lost 108 games in 2019 and 110 games in 2021, both under current manager Brandon Hyde. However, it is widely accepted that the Orioles were tanking during those years, seemingly absolving Hyde of any responsibility. Now, the Orioles are off to an impressive 37-24 start in 2023 with Hyde still at the helm.
The D-backs retained Lovullo after 2021 because they did not think he was part of the problem. The 2021 season was marred by catastrophically poor injury luck and a lack of organizational depth to overcome it. It was a trying time for everyone, including Lovullo.
“I’ve never stopped thinking about the ’21 season,” he said, “even as we are coming out the other end. It is extremely motivating for me.
“It taught me how to continue with my process and to see the path forward. It was really blurry at that time. I doubted myself. I doubted my messaging. I just wasn’t sure what would work anymore. But I think at the end of the day, when somebody says to buck up, be tough and get the job done because that’s who you are, I think that’s where I kind of stood. I stood as tall and as strong as I possibly could.”
It appears the Diamondbacks have worked their way out of that rut, and Lovullo has been a big part of it. Many other managers have not gotten that chance.
3. Long-term extension could still come soon for Torey Lovullo
Just because the Diamondbacks gave Lovullo a one-year extension does not preclude the possibility that a long-term deal could be around the corner. If the D-backs do claim their first playoff berth since 2017 this year, the team could negotiate a long-term deal with Lovullo prior to next season.
When asked why Lovullo was only given a one-year deal, Hazen referenced the contract status of other D-backs coaches and front office members.
“In aggregate, with where we’re all at, it just seemed to make a lot of sense for us, where we in the front office are at too,” he said. “This seemed to make the most sense for everybody.”
It appears that Hazen’s contract, which was extended in fall of 2019, also runs through 2024. In extending Lovullo through 2024, the D-backs synced up Lovullo’s contract with Hazen’s.
It is rare for a team to have its manager signed for a longer term than its general manager. That means that, while a Lovullo extension might not be in the cards now, it could come quickly should the organization extend Hazen.
If the Diamondbacks make the playoffs in 2023 — a feat that few expected them to accomplish — both Lovullo and Hazen could both have long-term deals before long.
With how much success the team has had to date, it is hard to imagine the keys being taken away from Hazen or Lovullo any time soon. And suffice it to say that, given the opportunity, Lovullo would be happy to stay a while.
“I want to stay here for the rest of my life,” he said. “I love Arizona. My family and my wife, we love Arizona.
“I want to be here for every day of the rest of my career.”
Top photo: Scott Taetsch/USA TODAY Sports
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