The Diamondbacks wasted little time
getting in line to jostle with other clubs in their pursuit of potential free
agents who become available on Nov. 11.
On the first day players could file for free agency, general
manager Joe Garagiola Jr. began contacting the representatives of dozens of
players Arizona has targeted as possible new additions.
Among those ranked high on Arizona's wish list: infielders Rich Aurilia (Padres), Royce Clayton (Rockies) and Craig Counsell (Brewers);
outfielders Jeromy Burnitz (Rockies), Jermaine Dye (Athletics), Steve Finley
(Dodgers) and David Dellucci (Rangers); and pitchers Matt Clement (Cubs),
Shawn Estes (Rockies), Russ Ortiz (Braves), Brad Radke (Twins), Glendon Rusch
(Cubs), Rheal Cormier (Phillies) and Carl Pavano (Marlins).
The Diamondbacks figure to be active in the free-agent market in
light of recent revelations that they managed to reduce significant red ink in
their operating budget during the 2004 season. Team officials said they were
projecting losses of $8 million -- down from $42 million the previous year.
The club still owes $165 million in deferred salaries to 15
players -- 13 of whom are no longer under contract -- but a recent influx of
investors and the targeting of long-term loan to lessen the immediate burdens
of those deferred salaries will provide additional cash flow for the club to
be competitive on spending for free agents.
"We want to show that good financial stewardship can
work," said Ken Kendrick, one of the club's general partners.
The Diamondbacks had a payroll of $77 million last season,
according to Kendrick, and although he wasn't prepared to say what the payroll
will look like in 2005, it is widely being presumed inside the organization
that the club's new owners are prepared to help fortify the roster instead of
settling on a youth movement.
The top free agent on the Diamondbacks' priority list is one of
their own, first baseman Richie Sexson, who can begin soliciting offers from
other clubs on Nov. 11 if Arizona can't re-sign the slugger. The Diamondbacks
made Sexson a significant new offer on Oct. 26, one that includes a three-year
deal, but team officials did not immediately hear back from Sexson's
Should Sexson sign elsewhere, the Diamondbacks would receive a
compensatory sandwich pick between the first and second round of next year's
draft and will use the $9 million they pegged to pay Sexson next season on
their free-agent spending spree.
--The Diamondbacks finished their second round of interviews with
the three finalists for their vacant managerial position -- Wally Backman, Bob Melvin and Manny Acta -- and appeared set to announce their selection by
Wednesday (Nov. 3). Backman and Melvin were seen as their top two choices and
Backman seemed to gain some momentum after reportedly canceling his interview
with the New York Mets about their vacant manager's job.
--GM Joe Garagiola said part of the interview process with each
of the eight candidates Arizona brought in for interviews included pitches for
retaining some of the coaching staff that finished the season and gauging if
the candidates would at least consider the idea.
Most of them did, meaning pitching coach Mark Davis, batting
coach Rick Schu and former third base coach Al Pedrique, who managed the club
for the final three months of the season after Bob Brenly was fired on July 2,
could resurface with the club in 2005.
--Former manager Al Pedrique said he was optimistic about
returning to the Diamondbacks in his initial role as the club's third base
coach and said he was told by management that the club is interested in
keeping him in the organization. He said he probably wouldn't consider a
position somewhere in the minor leagues, where he spent nine years until 2004.
"If it doesn't work out with the Diamondbacks, I'd
definitely like to see where my options are, but hopefully I don't have to get
to that point," Pedrique said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 15 -- Phone calls made by GM Joe Garagiola Jr. to
various agents representing this year's free-agent pool as the Diamondbacks,
at least on the surface, appear to be willing to reload by adding veterans to
a club that lost 111 games rather than rebuild with a youth movement.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As long as Andy MacPhail is still there, I
won't go back to Chicago. Maybe if they offered me $10 million, I'd consider
it. But that's not going to happen." -- Diamondbacks television analyst
Mark Grace, when asked if he would consider taking Steve Stone's old job as a
Cubs broadcaster for WGN-TV. Stone recently resigned and Grace, and MacPhail
had a falling-out during Grace's final year in Chicago.
Arizona was ravaged by injuries in 2004 -- 16 Diamondbacks
players underwent surgery, resulting in a dizzying series of minor league
call-ups. Not all of them were ready for full-time duty, but the Diamondbacks
used the second half of the season as an evaluation process, which gives them
a jump start on analyzing their roster for next season.
STARTING ROTATION: Beyond Randy Johnson, the Diamondbacks didn't
have a starter they could count on to halt losing skids or always keep them in
the game long enough for them to make something happen offensively.
Second-year man Brandon Webb came close, but if Arizona is forced to trade
Johnson, he isn't ready to inherit ace status just yet. RHP Shane Reynolds (2
innings for $1 million) was a bust and knuckleballer Steve Sparks (3-7, 6.04
ERA) didn't deliver. The Diamondbacks need at least one or two more capable
starters, and that's assuming Johnson remains for the final year of his
LHP Randy Johnson (16-14, 2.60 ERA) might have had his best
season in the majors, considering the sorry state of the Diamondbacks and the
fact he was as dominating as ever with a major league-leading 290 strikeouts
and a National League-leading .197 opponents' batting average.
RHP Brandon Webb (7-16, 20 quality starts) was often the victim
of a lack of run support, like Randy Johnson, and his 3.59 ERA was better than
the likes of annual ERA leaders such as Greg Maddux (3.88) and Pedro Martinez
(3.90). Webb has some control issues to sort out, however, after he led the NL
in walks (119) and wild pitches (17).
LHP Casey Fossum (4-15, 6.65 ERA) got stronger as the season
progressed following shoulder surgery, but he had a penchant for giving up the
long ball (a team-high 31 home runs allowed). He could find himself back in
the mix simply because of his upside.
LHP Michael Gosling (1-1, 4.62 ERA) did enough in just four
starts in the final few weeks of the season to earn himself a shot on the
starting staff next season unless Arizona keeps Randy Johnson and decides to
add veteran help via free agency or trades. The Diamondbacks love this kid's
poise and presence.
LHP Stephen Randolph (2-5, 5.51 ERA) didn't show nearly enough
control (76 walks in 81 2/3 innings) during the six starts he made after being
elevated out of the bullpen. He has awesome stuff when he's on, but he works a
little too slowly and can't avoid the big inning.
BULLPEN: Thought to be the club's greatest strength exiting
spring training, the relievers would up getting beaten and bounced around to
the tune of a 4.70 ERA. Injuries and inconsistency marred the mix, although
hard-throwing rookie Greg Aquino might have won himself the closer's job in
RHP Greg Aquino (16 saves, 3.06 ERA) came into the organization
as a shortstop, but his fastball, clocked regularly in the 97-98 mph range,
earned him a shot as the stopper after injuries befell Matt Mantei and Jose Valverde. Aquino's save total was a club record by a rookie.
RHP Mike Koplove (4-4, 4.05 ERA) had a rocky season but settled
in once he was re-established as the club's top setup man. He made 76
appearances (third all-time in Arizona history) and was used in too many
different situations, partly out of need. But he figures to be a prominent
fixture in the 'pen in 2005.
RHP Brian Bruney (3-4, 4.31 ERA) used a midseason trip back to
the minors to work on his off-speed pitches, and if he can mix them in
effectively with his blazing fastball, which he relied on too often in the
past, he can form a nice late-inning tandem with Mike Koplove.
RHP Scott Service (1-1, 7.08) was mired with a lower back strain
much of the season and doesn't figure to be in the club's plans next season.
RHP Mike Fetters (0-1, 1 save) battled his way back from Tommy
John surgery and is hopeful of getting another shot with the organization, but
his time is likely over even though the veteran can be of some help in the
RHP Edgar Gonzalez (0-9, 10 starts) had zero luck and almost zero
confidence left after he was mercifully taken out of the starting rotation.
He's probably best served in the 'pen until he can solve a lot of the little
nagging problems (mostly pitch selection and faith in a couple more of his
pitches) that could stunt his career.
LHP Randy Choate (2-4, 74 appearances) wasn't spectacular but was
serviceable enough in a role in which he mostly came in to face left-handed
hitters. He stranded 56 of 76 inherited baserunners (74 percent, tied for 14th
in the National League).
CATCHING: Arizona went through six catchers in 2004 and is
looking for a capable starter to emerge now that it appears Robby Hammock will
be moved to a utility role following knee problems and durability issues. The
Diamondbacks are awfully young here and might need to turn to a veteran, which
would also help a young and inexperienced pitching staff.
C Chris Snyder (.240, 15 RBIs in 29 games) made the jump straight
from Double-A ball and wound up stealing starts down the stretch from Juan Brito after Koyie Hill was lost for the season because of a fractured ankle.
Snyder, who nabbed six of the last 12 base-stealers he faced, has some pop in
his bat and will get a shot to compete for one of the two jobs next year.
C Juan Brito (.205, 53 starts) desperately needed to pick up his
productivity at the plate and did just that at season's end, hitting safely in
nine of his last 11 games (.343, 12 for 35). Once Koyie Hill returns, however,
Brito could return to the minor leagues.
INFIELD: The Diamondbacks' two key free-agent additions (1B
Richie Sexson and 2B Roberto Alomar) didn't provide the punch Arizona needed.
They both got hurt, Alomar was later dealt to the White Sox, and Sexson might
leave as a free agent. Defense was a major problem around the horn, which
contributed to a major league-leading 139 errors -- 32 more than the previous
club record. There could be new starters at every single position in 2005.
1B Shea Hillenbrand (.310, 35 doubles) was the most productive
position player on the team after enduring a horrid April in which he hit .184
and lost his starting job at third base to a rookie (Chad Tracy). But after
Richie Sexson went down, Hillenbrand filled in wonderfully, leading the team
in hitting and RBIs (80). But if Sexson re-signs and Tracy, who comes cheaper,
stays at third, where does that leave Hillenbrand?
2B Alex Cintron (.262, 4 HRs 154 games) couldn't handle batting
in the fifth spot behind Luis Gonzalez and Richie Sexson and never got totally
comfortable at short, prompting interim manager Al Pedrique to move the
second-year man to second base during the final weeks of the season. That's
where Cintron, who got hot near the end, might have to stay if he wants to
stay with the Diamondbacks.
3B Chad Tracy (.285, 53 RBIs) earned a shot on next year's 25-man
roster with a solid rookie season; his personal highlight was snapping Eric
Gagne's streak of 84 consecutive saves with a game-tying RBI single against
the Dodgers on July 5. The club is hoping that an offseason program to help
Tracy with his footwork and timing at third (he had a team-high 26 errors)
will put him in position to retain the starting job next year.
2B Scott Hairston (.248, 13 HRs) showed flashes, but his
instincts at second aren't the greatest and the Diamondbacks will talk to him
about moving to the outfield. Some in the organization question his drive, but
Hairston, the ninth member of his family to play pro baseball, is a proud
player who won't be bullied out of the franchise.
SS Jerry Gil (.174, 31 strikeouts in 29 games) doesn't provide
much at the plate, but the club loves his defensive abilities and his arm,
which is good enough to earn him a spot on the team in 2005, assuming Arizona
doesn't land Royce Clayton or another free agent at short.
INF Andy Green (.202, 109 at-bats) finished cold at the plate,
going 3 for 30, but he's versatile enough to be considered for a utility role
in 2005. He can play third, short and the outfield, and with work at second
base this winter he has a chance to make the club next year.
1B Richie Sexson (.233, 9 HRs in 23 games) underwent
season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder at the end
of May and will test the free-agent market if Arizona doesn't pony up with a
contract extension. It's the entire key to Arizona's immediate future, and as
the season ended it appeared the Diamondbacks' chances of signing him were
less than 50-50.
OUTFIELD: There could be openings in center field and right field
and a possible question mark in left if Luis Gonzalez doesn't return 100
percent following Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow. Steve
Finley was traded to the Dodgers, Danny Bautista is a free agent and the
Diamondbacks don't have enough proven youth to stick in the outfield if they
want to win. They could be very active this winter in shoring up this
LF Luis Gonzalez (.259, 17 HRs, 48 RBIs in 105 games) said he's
convinced he will be ready for the start of next season after undergoing major
elbow surgery on his throwing arm. Gonzalez played with a ligament that was
almost completely torn. The team around him could become completely torn up,
making Arizona's most popular player wonder what he's getting himself into
with one more year plus a club option remaining on his contract.
RF Danny Bautista (.286, 65 RBIs) faded down the stretch because
of tiredness and back and knee problems, but going 3 for 32 in his last eight
games doesn't underscore all the positive things he brought to the club, which
included a 21-game hitting streak at the start of the year. Arizona might go
in a different direction this winter, but Bautista's efforts were overshadowed
CF Luis Terrero (.245, 78 strikeouts in 62 games) has power,
speed and an above-average arm, but he's simply too raw to be counted upon
every day in center. Give him another full year at the Triple-A level, and
he'll be there. Terrero did a lot of maturing this season, however, a good
sign that the unpredictable player is back on track to what could be an
LF Robby Hammock (.261, 47 hits in 62 games) has a problematic
left knee that likely will prematurely end his career as a catcher -- he was
behind the plate for Randy Johnson's perfect game last May in Atlanta. The
club thinks Hammock's best suited to be a utility play, although Hammock
hasn't completely given up the notion of catching. Much will depend on what
the doctors tell him this winter.
LF/RF Doug DeVore (.224, 24 hits in 50 games) has some power and
a strong arm to go along with some unheralded speed and is hoping that playing
winter ball in the Dominican Republic will give him a good head start heading
into spring training.
MEDICAL WATCH: LF Quinton McCracken underwent left knee surgery
(torn medial meniscus cartilage), but it's questionable whether the team will
re-sign the impending free agent. Two coaches -- first base coach Tommy Jones
(hernia) and third base coach Glenn Sherlock (knee) -- also underwent surgery,
bringing the total number of operations performed on the major league roster
to 19. C/UTIL Robby Hammock was expected to get more testing and opinions on
his troublesome left knee, which might require a second surgery