Diamondbacks veteran was 'blindsided' getting cut before Arizona's World Series run

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. − The Arizona Diamondbacks stunned the baseball world with their greatest season in 22 years, reaching the World Series, but their longest-tenured player in franchise history couldn’t bear to watch.

Shortstop Nick Ahmed, who had been with the organization since 2011, didn’t watch a single pitch of their postseason run.

The anger was too much to even turn on the TV set and see his former teammates play on the biggest stage.

“It hurt, it was really hard," Ahmed said Friday, putting on a San Francisco Giants uniform for his first game with another organization. “You give 10 years of your life to an organization. I was there longer than anyone besides the clubhouse guys and training staff. You build relationships with guys, you helped build something, you helped build the culture, you helped move the direction in the right direction.

“And then for it to end the way it did was really tough.

“It just ends in the blink of an eye."

Nick Ahmed, who had been with the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2011, didn’t watch a single pitch of their postseason run last year.
Nick Ahmed, who had been with the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2011, didn’t watch a single pitch of their postseason run last year.

Ahmed, the Diamondbacks’ quiet and respected clubhouse leader, helped his teammates endure the anguish of their embarrassing 110-loss season two years ago. He hit 19 homers and drove in 82 RBI in 2019. He won two Gold Gloves.

And on the afternoon of Sept. 6, after the Diamondbacks’ 12-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies, Ahmed was summoned into manager Torey Lovullo’s office where GM Mike Hazen awaited.

He was informed he was no longer wanted.

He was being designated for assignment to make room for rookie Jordan Lawler.

The timing was absolutely brutal.

There was no way for Ahmed to inform his family.

They were on a flight, halfway to Chicago, to meet Ahmed and spend the weekend for the D-backs’ series against the Chicago Cubs. It wasn’t until they landed that Ahmed was able to get ahold of his wife, Amanda, who tearfully had to break the news to their two sons and daughter.

Dad wasn’t coming.

He was fired.

They stayed at the airport and took the next flight back to Phoenix.

Ahmed drove back home to North Scottsdale.

The drive took 30 minutes, but felt like 30 years.

“I mean, I knew I wasn’t playing well," he said. “I’ll take ownership of that. But there was no prior communication. Nothing.

“I was blindsided."

Ahmed, who turns 34 in two weeks, was still recovering from his 2022 shoulder surgery. He was struggling at the plate, hitting .212 with two homers and a .560 OPS in a backup role. He started in just 56 games.

Still, to be released just three weeks before the end of the season, no matter how close he was to his teammates, the pain was too fresh to watch the rest of the season.

He didn't see their glorious September run where they became the last team to make the playoffs. Not during their upset wild-card, NLDS and NLCS triumphs. Or their World Series battle with the Texas Rangers.

“I couldn’t watch, I just couldn’t do it," he said. “I was just trying to distance myself with it. You build a bond and a relationship with a lot of people, but there’s hard feelings obviously towards the organization how things ended.

“I’m happy for the players and the coaches that they could experience that, but now I’m going to be playing against them this year. It’s going to be interesting."

If Ahmed wanted to get away from the reminder how baseball can be a cruel, cold-hearted business, San Francisco is the wrong place. The man he’s trying to replace is Brandon Crawford, a Giants icon, who never wanted to leave.

Crawford, 37, spent 15 years with the Giants, winning two World Series championships, earning four Gold Glove awards, three All-Star selections, and playing more games at shortstop than any player in franchise history, was cast aside, too.

On the same day Ahmed signed a minor-league deal with the Giants, Crawford was flying to Florida to sign a one-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“The bottom line is I was not wanted back by the one person whose (opinion) matters,” Crawford told The Athletic, referring to Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations. “So I went with a team that gave me a major-league contract."

Just like Ahmed, Crawford struggled last season, hitting just .194 with a .273 on-base percentage and .314 slugging percentage. The Giants still have no idea who will be their starting shortstop, but believed Crawford was no longer a viable candidate. Crawford gave the Giants one last chance to match the Cardinals’ one-year, $2 million offer, willing to be a backup player, but was informed they could offer him only a minor-league deal.

“That was the nail in the coffin,’’ he told The Athletic.

That opportunity now belongs to Ahmed, who is battling with Marco Luciano, Casey Schmitt and Tyler Fitzgerald for the starting shortstop job.

He’s rejuvenated. Invigorated. And, has a Grand Canyon-sized chip on his shoulder.

It was a rude awakening to sit around all winter and not get a single contract offer. He talked to the Cardinals as well but nothing ever materialized.

“The free-agency market, my agent and I weren’t expecting it to be that slow," Ahmed said. “There was a pocket of guys, especially the middle infielders, that didn’t move at all until mid-February. That was kind of surprising.

“I didn’t know really what to expect coming off a down year and the year before where I was hurt [shoulder surgery]. So, I knew I didn’t have a great platform coming into it, but still we were expecting it to be quicker. There were no offers, nothing. It was always like, 'Hey, we’re monitoring the trade market and we’ll get back to you at some point.’ Everything was very vague, no urgency."

When the Giants called and made their offer, Ahmed pounced. It was perfect.

“Having a chance to come in and compete for the starting shortstop job, that’s what kind of attracted me to come here," Ahmed said. “We had conversations with other teams that looked like a backup type role. I’m a point in my career where I feel I can be a good starting shortstop and do it a high level."

If first impressions mean anything, he looked awfully good in his new colors in his Giants’ debut Friday, making several fine defensive plays while hitting a three-run homer.

“We’ve talked about the need to shore up our defense," said new Giants manager Bob Melvin, with the Giants making 13 more errors than any team in baseball last season, “and he can do that. He’s had some injuries. He’s fully healthy now. He looks good, really good.

“I’m excited to see what he can bring."

The Giants, after winning 107 games and the NL West in 2021, only to finish a combined 51 games out of first place the last two seasons, dropped $261.25 million in free agency in hopes of returning to glory.

They may play in the same division as the powerful Dodgers, but as Arizona proved last season, just get into the tournament, and anything can happen.

“I’d love to be a part of it,’’ Ahmed said, “and, yeah, beating the Diamondbacks too.’’

Around the basepaths

≻ MLB team executives widely believe that two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell will ultimately sign with the Los Angeles Angels or possibly the San Francisco Giants, while Texas Rangers’ postseason hero Jordan Montgomery will wind up with the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox have kept in constant contact with Montgomery while the Rangers are keeping tabs if owner Ray Davis suddenly changes his mind.

While the Giants have long been a favorite for Snell, as one executive said, “If [manager] Bob Melvin really wanted him, don’t you think he’d be there by now? I think it tells you something.’’

Melvin managed Snell the last two years in San Diego.

≻ The Philadelphia Phillies have interest in Blake Snell, but only on a one-year or short-term contract.

≻ Matt Chapman is the latest free-agent signee that played the waiting game, and badly lost.

Chapman, who turned down a $125 million contract from the Toronto Blue Jays last year, and a 10-year, $150 million contract from the Oakland A’s in 2019, wound up signing a three-year, $54 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

It’s a far cry from the $150 million he was seeking at the start of free agency.

≻ Former World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, who was released last April and is still earning $14 million from the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, told friends that he’s contemplating a potential return this summer.

≻ Ronald Acuna’s right knee certainly has Atlanta officials concerned. He will fly to Los Angeles to undergo an examination by Dr. Neal ElAttrache to determine the cause of irritation around the meniscus in his surgically-repaired right knee.

If arthroscopic surgery is needed he’ll open the season on the injured list.

Acuna, the unanimous National League MVP winner, was baseball’s greatest offensive player last season, hitting .337 with 41 home runs and 73 stolen bases, becoming the first player in history to hit 40 homers with more than 50 stolen bases.

≻ Kiké Hernandez was close to signing with the New York Yankees before taking a one-year, $4 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He gave Dodgers president Andrew Friedman the chance to match, and knew he’d have more playing time in LA.

“I talked to Andrew and I was like, ‘Hey, if we can’t make something happen in the next couple of days, I’m going to have to turn the page and go somewhere else because I need to do what’s best for me and my family,’’ Hernandez told reporters. “I felt like opportunities were starting to go away by waiting too long.”

≻ Former Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto says he still doesn’t have a job offer that provides regular playing time.

He said on the Dan Patrick show that his morale “is as low as it gets, and at this rate, I don’t see it getting any better.’’

The only real offers this winter, Votto says, are from teams and networks offering analyst jobs.

≻ Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy made his first appearance at Scottsdale Stadium wearing a uniform other than the Giants since 2006.

“I didn’t get lost coming here, I’ll say that,’’ said Bochy, who wound up entering through the stands with two of his coaches. “Great memories.

“I mean, [Brandon] Belt could have a statue here for what he did in spring training. And my first year, I’ll never forget the first two fly balls hit to [Barry] Bonds, he didn’t draw leather on them. I said, 'Oh, geez.’

“And [Tim] Lincecum, too. Even before he pitched for me, he’s warming up, and [pitching coach Dave Righetti] goes, 'There’s your No. 1 pick.' I looked out there, and I say, 'There’s no way.’ He weighed about 140 pounds. Then, I saw that arm action, and I said, 'Whoa!'’’

Bochy, who won three World Series titles, received a huge ovation when introduced to the crowd.

≻ You think business is good in Atlanta since moving to Cobb County?

The franchise generated more than $600 million in revenue, according to financial results disclosed by their publicly traded company. It’s a far cry from the $262 million they received in their last season at Turner Field in 2016.

≻ Three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who’s sidelined until June recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, was provided permission from the Texas Rangers to spend time at home in Jupiter, Fla., during stretches this spring.

Even without the injury, Scherzer had a clause in his contract that he could be home during intervals in spring training when he approved a trade from the Mets to the Rangers last summer.

≻ Kudos to 22-year-old Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz, who spent much of the winter learning English so that he can have fluid communication with his teammates, coaching staff and the media.

Now, De La Cruz is trying to teach Spanish to Reds manager Dave Bell.

≻ Colorado Rockies third base prospect Warming Bernabel arrived to spring training camp feeling lucky to even be alive.

He was shot in the back Dec. 3 in his hometown, Bani, Dominican Republic. He was assaulted by three men who tried to steal a gold chair around his neck when he was shot.

The bullet went completely through his back, missed any organs, and struck his wife’s biceps, he told the Denver Post.

≻ Fabulous display of leadership by 37-year-old Martin Maldonado of the White Sox, who stood up and apologized to his team for not running hard on a slow dribbler near the mound.

“It’s important just to make sure that we’re on the same page as a team,” Maldonado told reporters. “We have some goals to accomplish. I didn’t come out of the box the way I should have come out of the box. I want to lead by example.”

≻ Agent Scott Boras, when asked if any team this winter offered more than the three-year, $80 million contract Cody Bellinger signed with the Cubs: “When I go to a wedding, I never talk about the bridesmaids.”

≻ Congratulations to agent Burton Rocks, who won the Oniros Film Award for best documentary short that he directed: “Burton Rocks Calling.’’ His documentary has now been recognized by eight different film festivals.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Giants' Nick Ahmed was 'blindsided' being cut by D-backs