Johnson, the club's vice president and senior assistant to GM Joe Garagiola Jr., was a rock of experience and an invaluable source of confidence and trust in the Diamondbacks' front office. When he decided to join the New York Mets as an advisor to rookie GM Omar Minaya, the Diamondbacks were in a quandary.
"You just don't lose somebody like Sandy Johnson and expect to replace him," one Diamondbacks official said following Johnson's departure.
The Diamondbacks, though, believe they may have done just that with the hiring of fellow longtime baseball man Bob Gebhard, who left his post as an assistant to St. Louis Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty to become Garagiola's top assistant and senior advisor in Arizona.
Gebhard, 61, helped build the Colorado Rockies, for whom he served as general manager for their first eight years, providing a blueprint the Diamondbacks tried to emulate when they began play six years later.
"This guy has done it all in the game of baseball, and I'm confident we found the best possible candidate to join our baseball operations department," Garagiola said of Gebhard, who followed an 11-year playing career by serving in various on-field and front-office positions with Montreal and Minnesota. He spent the last five seasons with the Cardinals, who reached the World Series this year.
Gebhard was offered a pay raise to remain in St. Louis but opted to join the Diamondbacks despite only the guarantee of a one-year contract.
"It's fine. It really is," Gebhard said. "I'm sure everyone involved in the decision-making, if they feel they want to do something beyond that, then in time, they will."
Gebhard will be heavily involved in all decision-making done by the front office as it relates to major league talent, and one of his immediate tasks will be helping Garagiola pinpoint and execute strategy in strengthening the 2005 roster with free-agent help in various areas.
Gebhard was to begin his duties Tuesday (Nov. 30).
"I felt this was a bigger challenge and something I really wanted to do," he said. "I'm going to try to help Joe bring this ballclub back to being a competitive team. The Diamondbacks were really torn apart with so many injuries to key players last year, and it seemed like everything bad that could happen, happened.
"Now we have to step back, evaluate what's in the (minor league) system, what we have at the major league club and try to move forward the best we can and stay within the budget that's been given us."
The Diamondbacks' payroll in 2004 was $77 million but could be smaller next season, depending on what happens with Randy Johnson and Richie Sexson. Combined, they made nearly $25 million last season, and although Arizona would love to keep them in the fold, both might end up playing elsewhere.
--1B Richie Sexson received what might have been the Diamondbacks' final contract proposal to him when they offered the free-agent first baseman two separate deals. One was a three-year package, the other a four- to five-year offer, and both included some injury provisions should Sexson re-injure his left shoulder.
The Diamondbacks were still awaiting a response from Sexson's agent, Casey Close, although it is widely expected Sexson will continue to shop the market and wait to get multiple offers from other clubs before making any decisions about the Diamondbacks.
Sexson is also drawing interest from the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners.
--The Diamondbacks put the finishing touches on new manager Bob Melvin's coaching staff by hiring Brett Butler as the new first base coach. Butler, who will be making his major league coaching debut after spending the past two seasons working in the New York Mets' minor league system, figures to be immensely beneficial tutoring base running and bunting techniques, which were the staples of his major league career.
BY THE NUMBERS: 39.6 -- Average number of home runs hit by Richie Sexson during his final three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers (2001-03) before coming to Arizona and injuring his shoulder. Sexson managed to hit nine homers for the D-backs before his 2004 season was cut short after just 23 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some of the smaller-market clubs have smaller budgets than we're going to have, and those clubs did outstanding jobs." -- New Diamondbacks assistant general manager Bob Gebhard on the club's 2005 payroll, expected to be at or lower than last season's budget of about $77 million.
The Diamondbacks haven't made their projected payroll in 2005 public information, but it isn't expected to be higher than last year's $77 million budget, and yet the club has multiple holes to fill. The D-backs could free up as much as $26 million by trading ace pitcher Randy Johnson and losing power-hitting first baseman Richie Sexson to free agency, but then they would need at least two quality starting pitchers, a new shortstop, and at least two outfielders in center and right.
DEPARTURES: RHP Shane Reynolds (released), RHP Matt Mantei (free agent likely won't be back), RHP Steve Sparks (free agent).
BIGGEST NEEDS: Arizona has almost too many to mention, but it starts with the starting rotation, which is hanging by a thread if Randy Johnson were to be dealt, as he seems to wish. Brandon Webb isn't ready to anchor the staff. The Diamondbacks need reliable veteran help and have isolated some key free agents, namely Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz and Matt Clement, though they might end up with none of those arms.
FREE AGENTS: 2B Carlos Baerga, RF Danny Bautista, 1B Greg Colbrunn, RHP Jeff Fassero, RHP Mike Fetters, RHP Matt Mantei, OF Quinton McCracken, RHP Shane Reynolds, RHP Scott Service, 1B Richie Sexson, RHP Steve Sparks, 1B Alan Zinter.
The Diamondbacks have been trying to re-sign Sexson, who's their top priority, but if they can't upgrade in right field, they'd love to bring back Bautista. Arizona might be willing to invite Fassero to spring training, but the rest are long shots to return.
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: LHP Randy Choate, LHP Casey Fossum, 1B/3B Shea Hillenbrand, RHP Mike Koplove, RHP Brandon Lyon.
Hillenbrand's situation will become more clearly defined once Arizona knows its status with 1B Richie Sexson and/or decides to look elsewhere for pop in the lineup at either first or third base. Hillenbrand, though, was the D-backs' most consistent player in 2004 and can play first or third. Koplove was one of the mainstays to a rather unpredictable bullpen even though he didn't have his greatest season. He will be back, however, as a setup man.
IN LIMBO: LHP Randy Johnson, 1B Richie Sexson, 1B/3B Shea Hillenbrand, SS Alex Cintron, 3B Chad Tracy.
Johnson might force the Diamondbacks to trade him to a contender (the Yankees top the list), which would free up $17 million (including a $1 million personal services contract). But Arizona must get fair market value for the Big Unit, which could make things tricky. If Sexson stays, Hillenbrand would either move back to third base or possibly be trade bait. If both Sexson and Hillenbrand stay, Tracy could become an outfielder. He also could play first if both Sexson and Hillenbrand leave and the club goes after free-agent 3B Troy Glaus. SS Alex Cintron spent the last six weeks of the season at second base, and Arizona has eyes on bringing in a veteran (Royce Clayton, Rich Aurilia) to play short.
MEDICAL WATCH: Arizona's medical department is predicting there is at least a 10 percent chance of 1B Richie Sexson suffering the same injury that wrecked his 2004 season -- a left shoulder subluxation and torn labrum. LF Luis Gonzalez, who underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right throwing elbow, will begin throwing around Christmas to test his rebuilt arm. C/INF Robby Hammock was scheduled to meet with surgeons who operated on his left knee in spring training to see if another surgery is necessary.
Anaheim Angels 3B Troy Glaus was seen recently taking a tour of Bank One Ballpark, but the Diamondbacks officials would not confirm or deny reports that the club either has or was on the verge of making a contract offer to the free agent. It is thought Arizona would only make a serious offer to Glaus if the club can't re-sign 1B Richie Sexson.
Atlanta Braves RHP Russ Ortiz was seen recently taking a tour of Bank One Ballpark, but the Diamondbacks officials would not confirm or deny reports that the club either has or was on the verge of making a contract offer to the free agent. Ortiz would give the starting rotation some immediate credibility, especially if the Diamondbacks decide to deal ace Randy Johnson, who wants to pitch for a contender in 2005.
Texas Rangers OF Dave Dellucci has been offered a contract by the Rockies. They project him to be the backup at all three outfield positions and a left-handed bat off the bench. Dellucci is the only player Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola Jr. has confirmed he has offered a contract to.