****For better or for worse, Bob Melvin is on the hot seat. While he will be brought back for his second season, expect him to be on a short leash, and if they start 2006 poorly, expect a change to be made by June. Why bring him back only to fire him two or three months into the next season? It's hard to make a case that Melvin did a poor job in '05, and you certainly couldn't blame him for the fact that the bullpen was decimated by injuries, and when it wasn't it was a group of kids who proved to be ineffective. The other reason the Diamondbacks are considering this tact is that they have not one, but at least two legitimate candidates already in their organization.
Mark Grace openly campaigned for the job before Wally Backman, and then Bob Melvin, were hired, but don't bet on Gracie getting the gig. Some inside the Diamondbacks organization question whether or not he's ready to be a big league manager, considering he's never even been a coach. What might be knocking Grace even more is that fact that he's been so open about not taking a 'training gig' in the minors. One of the things that got glossed over when Backman was hired and then fired last season was that the Diamondbacks offered Grace the Lancaster JetHawks Manager's job, and not only did Grace turn it down, he then told the press he had turned it down. One of the most appealing things about Grace as a manager is that he seems immune to the politics of the game, but in this instance, that immunity may have cost him a chance (at least for now). Front office officials don't typically enjoy opening the Arizona Republic and reading about how one of their own said, 'Thanks but no thanks,' to a job offer.
There are other candidates as well, but the name that really sticks out is Matt Williams. Always considered a student of the game, Williams is a popular figure in Arizona, a member of the World Champion team, and currently a member of the front office in Arizona. Add to that the fact that Williams is a former client of Managing Partner Jeff Moorad, and it seems a recipe for an easy hiring process. If the D'Backs start '06 on the wrong foot, expect Williams to be the D'Backs skipper by the All-Star Break.
****The shortstop position is one the Diamondbacks need to figure out quickly. Sources report the Diamondbacks have made an offer to Royce Clayton, but that Clayton is currently looking elsewhere to see if he can find a better deal. Clayton would prefer a multi-year deal that included some reassurances that he would be a starter, and the D'Backs are not likely to give Clayton either of those things. With Stephen Drew and Sergio Santos both waiting on the doorstep to claim the shortstop job, possibly as early as opening day of 2006, the Diamondbacks aren't interested in giving Clayton more than a one year 'mentorship' deal, which would likely be a starting job until either of the youngsters were ready to take over full time. Since the Diamondbacks have other options, namely moving Craig Counsell to short and starting Alex Cintron or Andy Green at second base until Drew or Santos are ready, and there always seems to be somebody looking to sign a player like Clayton (better than average defensively and an at least average hitter), anyone holding a Royce Clayton D'Backs jersey might want to throw it up on EBay as soon as possible.
****It seemed a foregone conclusion at the end of the season that the Diamondbacks would go into the trade market dangling one of their three corner outfielders (Shawn Green, Luis Gonzalez, or Chad Tracy) to the league in an attempt to get more pitching. Green, who had a solid but unspectacular year, seems the least likely because of the contract extension the D'Backs gave him when they traded for him. Gonzo is the face of the Diamondbacks, a 10/5 guy (thus giving him the ability to veto a trade), a left fielder with a below average arm, and will make $11.5 million next year, so unless a big spending American League team is interested in bringing him in to DH for one more year, the cards seem stacked against a Gonzo trade as well.
Which left Tracy. He seemed the obvious choice, because he's young, cheap, is coming off a breakout year and has shown he can play at least serviceable defense at four positions (both corner outfield and infield spots). But FutureBacks has learned that the farewell party for Tracy might be a little premature. Tracy was put on a weight program during the last offseason that resulted in ten extra pounds of muscle, and an increase in power (just eight homers in '04, up to 27 in '05), and he's expected to add close to another ten pounds this offseason. The Diamondbacks don't think Tracy has reached his full potential yet, and are now thinking they might be able to get at least as much, if not more, if they put young first base prospect Conor Jackson on the trade block. Because Jackson has just debuted in the bigs, small market teams like the Royals and Devil Rays might be more interested in him, because they'll be able to hold onto him longer without having to give him a long term, high dollar contract. Sources have confirmed to FutureBacks that the Diamondbacks have talked with the Minnesota Twins about a deal that could feature Gold Glove center fielder Tori Hunter coming to the desert in a deal that would include Jackson.
****Another name that has perpetually been mentioned in trade rumors is Scott Hairston, but is seems since Hairston's season ending shoulder injury, the interest in the young outfielder/second baseman has waned. The biggest stumbling block as been Hairston's defense, and while he was making progress in the outfield before the injury, teams interested in him have shied away since most feel he'll need at least another half season in the minors before he's ready to be an everyday big league outfielder. The Diamondbacks are stocked with corner outfield prospects, and would be willing to deal one (or more) of them for pitching, but at the same time aren't looking to give away any of the talented group without getting equal value in return.