The Diamondbacks had Sergio Santos, a top shortstop prospect, coming off shoulder surgery that would keep him out of the bigs for the '05 season, and first round pick Stephen Drew, the heir apparent at the shortstop spot, had yet to sign.
Clayton was here for a year. With the G-Force providing the offense and Craig Counsell manning the lead off spot in the batting order, Clayton could hit down in the batting order, and make Brandon Webb a better pitcher, simply by catching the ball. It gave the D'Backs time to sign Drew, evaluate Santos, and figure out what the future of the shortstop position would be.
Now we head into 2006, and it appears the same questions are upon us. Why? The simple answer is it took Drew a long time to sign.
Drew waited, quite literally, until the last possible minutes to sign on with the Diamondbacks, early June, and thus only got about half a season to prove himself. Scouts, coaches, and FutureBacks are all in agreement that he is for real, but there is some disagreement about whether a player with less than 500 pro at bats (all in the minor leagues) is ready to step into the spotlight of a starting job in the big leagues. If the Diamondbacks determine he's ready, the case is closed, Stephen Drew is the starting shortstop in Arizona for the foreseeable future (read 10 years).
But what if he's not.
This is where things get sticky. Clayton seems uninterested in being a backup, something he almost certainly would be by midseason at the latest, and even if the Diamondbacks were willing to guarantee Clayton the starting job all the way through 2006, he's seeking a two year deal, and there is no way the Diamondbacks are going to let Drew ride the pine that long.
But if Drew isn't ready? Do you rush the #1 prospect in the organization? Do you risk destroying his confidence and the fans support of him by hurrying him to the bigs, and if not, do you go back to Clayton, assuming you could even get him to sign?
There is another answer, and one that would fit like a glove.
His name is Nomar.
Diamondbacks fans, sit down for a second, because the next statement might knock you off your feet.
Deep breaths everybody. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Does somebody have a paper bag?
It makes sense on virtually every level. Garciaparra has continued to prove two things over the last three years.
NUMBER ONE: When he is healthy he is productive.
NUMBER TWO: He is incapable of staying healthy.
And that's exactly why the Diamondbacks should be aggressively pursuing him. Garciaparra will come cheap, and come short term. He's desperate to prove that he can play a full season, so desperate that he won't blink before signing a one-year deal. He won't command more than $1 million, and as long as he's healthy, he's worth five times that. Last season in Chicago he continued to prove he can't play everyday, appearing in only 62 games, but he also continued to prove when he's on the field he's an asset, hitting .283 with nine homers in just 230 at bats. The rumors of Garciaparra being a selfish player also seemed to be laid to rest last season when he returned from injury and offered to play third base for the Cubs after Aramis Ramirez went down with an injury.
So bring him on. Pay him a million, give him a one year deal, and watch this next scenario play out.
Garciaparra comes to Phoenix (where he'll be closer to wife Mia Hamm, whom the cameras will love during Diamondbacks broadcasts), pledging that he intends on staying healthy all year long. Stephen Drew starts the year in Triple-A, just a two hour drive away. Drew starts the season on fire, hitting nearly .400 in his first month at Tucson, while Garciaparra is solid in the #2 hole of the Diamondbacks lineup, protected by Chad Tracy and Luis Gonzalez behind him.
MAY: In the seventh inning of a home game against the Dodgers, Garciaparra comes to the plate with two on and two out in a one run game. He laces a shot to the left center field gap, scoring both runners and giving the Diamondbacks the lead. As he rounds second base the ball is thrown to the plate, and Garciaparra aggressively takes off for third. Half way there his face suddenly contorts in pain. His groin, which caused him to miss three months in '05, is tweaked. He heads to the disabled list for three weeks. Drew is called up from Tucson.
JUNE: Drew struggles in his first go round in the Majors. He's hitting the ball hard, but everything is right at guys, and he starts pressing, lunging at breaking pitches and chasing balls outside the zone. Garciaparra is deemed fit to return in the middle of the month, and does. Drew is sent bat to Tucson to settle down and regain his confidence.
JULY: With the Diamondbacks trailing the Giants by three games in the West, Garciaparra goes on one of his patented hot streaks, hitting nearly .500 with runners in scoring position during the month and hitting back to back game winning home runs in SBC field as the D'Backs sweep the Giants and take over first place. In the final game of that series Garciaparra goes deep in the hole to field a ground ball, leaps, throws, gets his man at first base but comes down awkwardly and leaves the game. Meanwhile Drew has gotten back on track, is taking breaking balls the other way, and tearing up the Pacific Coast League again. The Diamondbacks elect not to call Drew up until an MRI is performed on Garciaparra. Alex Cintron will start at second base, and Craig Counsell will move over to short.
AUGUST: Garciaparra's MRI reveals a strained tendon in his knee, and after Cintron struggles, hitting just .200 and striking out in half his at bats during a two week stretch following the injury, Drew is recalled from Tucson. In his first game after the call up, Drew goes 3-5 with a home run and a game winning sacrifice fly against the Dodgers. In game two Drew walks twice, goes 3-3 and scores two runs hitting in the #2 slot in the batting order. He goes on to hit .335 in August, and though Garciaparra is reactivated, the Diamondbacks trainers say while he might be available to DH in interleague games and pinch hit, he's not yet strong enough to play everyday.
SEPTEMBER: Drew continues to hit well, and Garciaparra, now as close to 100% as he's likely to get, becomes a utility infielder, spelling Troy Glaus at third when his knee acts up for a couple of days, and Craig Counsell against a couple of left handed starters. The Diamondbacks cling to a three game lead in the NL West. On the last weekend of the season, Drew is given a day off against the Dodgers Odalis Perez, who Garciaparra has hit well against throughout his career. In the third inning Garciaparra is hit by a pitch in his left elbow and is forced to leave the game. Drew comes on and hits the game winning single that clinches the division for the Diamondbacks. Garciaparra is kept on the postseason roster, and has a pair of pinch hit singles in the postseason, while Drew plays solid defense and hits well, though the Diamondbacks lose the Division Series to eventual World Series champion St. Louis in five games.
The Diamondbacks thank Garciaparra for his services, but elect not to pick up their club option for 2007, and Drew wins Rookie of the Year by hitting .321 with 13 homers, 57 RBI and 40 runs scored in 84 games. The next season he makes his first All-Star Game, and takes the Diamondbacks to the World Series twice during the next four years. In 2011 the Yankees sign Drew to replace the retiring Derek Jeter. They pay him $135 million dollars over seven years.
Not bad for a million dollar investment. Sign Nomar.