As much as Shawn Green loves the Valley of
the Sun from a tourist's point of view and enjoys playing at hitter-friendly
Bank One Ballpark, the thought of him joining the Diamondbacks as little as
three months ago likely would have made the slugger sick to his stomach.
The Diamondbacks ended the season with the worst record (51-111)
by a National League club since 1965, then botched the hiring of Wally Backman
as manager. They were the laughingstock of baseball.
My, how times -- and perceptions -- have changed.
"At the end of the season, I would have never expected
Arizona to be in the position it's in going into spring training," said
Green, who waived his no-trade clause to leave the Dodgers in a five-player
deal that sent catcher Dioner Navarro (obtained from the Yankees) and three
minor-league pitchers to Los Angeles. The Dodgers, meanwhile, sent $10 million
to the Diamondbacks along with Green.
"I knew with (former player agent) Jeff Moorad (now the
Diamondbacks' CEO-elect) coming in that there was going to be an upswing, but
you never expect it to turn overnight. But the organization here has been very
creative and both clubs, the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks, are two completely
different ball clubs than they were at any time last season."
Green, a lifetime .314 hitter at Bank One who agreed to a
restructured, three-year contract worth $32 million, will bat fifth in the
lineup behind Luis Gonzalez and new third baseman Troy Glaus. The Diamondbacks
are so excited about the heart of the order, they've already got a nickname
prepared for the trio of Gonzalez, Glaus and Green: The G-Force.
"I'm excited about it," said Green, who replaces free
agent Danny Bautista in right field. "I haven't been on a team with as
balanced of a lineup as this is turning out to be. You've got three guys in
the middle of the lineup who have all hit over 40 home runs -- Gonzo over 50
home runs. You add in some of the young talent here in guys like (Chad) Tracy,
a guy like (Craig) Counsell, who does the little things, and the veteran guys
who go about their business, and I think it's going to be a great mix."
The Diamondbacks have added three new starting pitchers to the
rotation (Javier Vazquez, Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes), retooled the middle of
the infield (Royce Clayton and Counsell), added power at third and right field
(Glaus and Green) and were close to landing a new center fielder (possibly
Oakland's Eric Byrnes) and relief help (Steve Reed).
"From the outside, you see the Diamondbacks added a couple
guys. Then, all of a sudden, it's a whole new team and championship-caliber
team," Green said. "Who wouldn't want to come here for the
Diamondbacks and do exciting things?"
Randy Johnson wasn't interested. The ace pitcher stayed devout to
his word and, despite Arizona's massive overhaul to improve the on-field
product, was able to help orchestrate his much-anticipated trade to the
Yankees. In addition to Navarro, whose acquisition helped net Green, Arizona
received Vazquez, lefty Brad Halsey and $9 million from New York.
It's a deal the Diamondbacks would do again in a heartbeat even
though they would have loved to see Johnson retire in purple pinstripes.
"While we're sorry to see Randy go and we wish him the best,
we think we've improved our ballclub. And I'll say that categorically,"
said Diamondbacks general partner Ken Kendrick. "The players that we
obtained for Randy Johnson will make us a better team than we would have been
had we kept Randy Johnson. No disrespect intended to Randy by that
--Commissioner Bud Selig appeared close to rendering a decision
on the status of former sports agent Jeff Moorad as the Diamondbacks' CEO and
Moorad's planned investment in the club as a minority owner. An industry
source familiar with the situation indicated Selig would approve Moorad's role
with the team by the end of the month and allow his investment, believed to be
at least $30 million, to take place.
Moorad won't be the Diamondbacks' "control person" on
the ownership side, however. That role will remain with Ken Kendrick, one of
four general partners.
--1B Shea Hillenbrand was the club's most productive player at
the plate last season, with a team-best .310 average and 81 RBIs, but he
became expendable and was dealt to Toronto for RHP Adam Peterson because his
potential price tag as an arbitration-eligible player -- about $4 million --
was perceived to be too rich on a club that already has added new
multimillion-dollar contracts for the likes of RF Shawn Green, RHP Javier
Vazquez, 3B Troy Glaus and RHP Russ Ortiz.
The trade of Hillenbrand opens the door for second-year man Chad Tracy, who started 120 games last season at third base, to move into the
starting slot at first, where he played in college and the minor leagues.
Hillenbrand, who also plays third, had received interest from the
Blue Jays for several weeks, and a deal was put together on Wednesday (Jan.
12) in which Toronto sent Peterson, a hard-throwing reliever who made his
major league debut in 2004, to Arizona.
--RHP Jose Valverde, who underwent shoulder surgery to repair a
small tear in his labrum on Sept. 9, has started a throwing program that is
expected to see him throw off the mound at least three times before the start
of spring training. There had been rumors Valverde might be linked to a trade
with Oakland that would bring CF Eric Byrnes to the Diamondbacks, but
Valverde's recovery likely nixed his involvement in any deal.
BY THE NUMBERS: 51-43 -- Combined 2004 record of the first four
pitchers in Arizona's starting rotation (Javier Vazquez, Russ Ortiz, Brandon Webb and Shawn Estes), compared to the 34-80 record of Diamondbacks' starters,
including Randy Johnson, last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously, it was time to move. There's no
doubt about that." -- Right fielder Shawn Green on leaving the Dodgers,
who repeatedly had tried to deal him this winter, and joining the Diamondbacks
in a Jan. 11 trade.
SS Royce Clayton signed a one-year deal worth $1.28 million and
will be Arizona's everyday starter in 2005. 2B Craig Counsell signed a
two-year deal worth $3.1 million and is expected to be the club's starting
second baseman next season. C Kelly Stinnett agreed to a minor-league
contract. RHP Andrew Good was released. LHP Shane Nance was designated for
assignment. 1B Richie Sexson signed with Seattle as a free agent. LHP Randy
Johnson was traded to the Yankees. RF Shawn Green was obtained from the
Dodgers along with $10 million, and Green and the Diamondbacks agreed Sunday
night (Jan. 9) on a three-year, $32 million extension. LHP Shawn Estes was
signed to help fill out the rotation.
ARRIVALS: RF Shawn Green (trade with Dodgers), RHP Javier Vazquez
and LHP Brad Halsey (trade with Yankees), LHP Shawn Estes (free agent from
Colorado), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent from Anaheim). RHP Russ Ortiz (free agent
from Atlanta), SS Royce Clayton (free agent from Colorado), INF Craig Counsell
(free agent from Milwaukee), C Kelly Stinnett (free agent from Kansas City).
DEPARTURES: LHP Randy Johnson (traded to Yankees), 1B Shea
Hillenbrand (traded to Toronto), RHP Casey Daigle (designated for assignment,
moved off 40-man roster), OF Danny Bautista (free agent, signed with Tampa
Bay), 1B Richie Sexson (free agent, signed with Seattle), RHP Shane Reynolds
(released), RHP Matt Mantei (free agent, signed with Boston), RHP Andrew Good
(released, signed with Detroit), LHP Shane Nance (non-tendered).
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Diamondbacks still want a major league center
fielder, and their top target is Oakland's Eric Byrnes.
FREE AGENTS: RHPs Shane Reynolds, Steve Sparks, Mike Fetters and
Scott Service; INFs Greg Colbrunn and Carlos Baerga.
The Diamondbacks offered arbitration to 1B Richie Sexson, but he
left as a free agent and signed with Seattle.
IN LIMBO: SS Alex Cintron.
Cintron spent the last six weeks of the season at second base and
will compete with Counsell there now that Clayton has been signed to play
MEDICAL WATCH: LF Luis Gonzalez, who underwent Tommy John surgery
to repair a torn ligament in his right throwing elbow, will be watched closely
in spring training to make sure he has recovered.