The general manager says they're close. The starting catcher, who likely will be playing on another team next season, says they couldn't be further away.
"This organization is going in a different direction," catcher Johnny Estrada said of the Diamondbacks. "It's going with a youth movement, it's cutting payroll. The writing is on the wall as far as wins and losses. You can try and kid yourself all you want, but at the end of the day, you can't be convinced you're putting a championship team on the field."
After a 76-86 season, which tied them with Colorado for last place in the National League West, the Diamondbacks realize they have to add quality pitching help to the starting rotation. General manager Josh Byrnes said they will do just that, but probably not a whole lot else in terms of big-name additions or subtractions.
The team had three pitchers log 200-plus innings this season -- right-handers Brandon Webb (235), Livan Hernandez (216) and Miguel Batista (206 1/3) -- but Batista could leave as a free agent. Even if he stays, there is a need for a top-end starter to pitch behind, or possibly even in front of Webb, a Cy Young Award candidate this year after posting a 16-8 record and a 3.10 ERA.
Or Arizona could make a move to get a younger pitcher with a large upside.
"We have things we can trade to try and target that type of guy," Byrnes said.
Byrnes indicated there may be a tweak or two to the bullpen, but the priority is finding a starting pitcher -- probably through a trade -- and by using a surplus of arbitration-eligible players and dangling some young prospects.
"I don't think we need to make a ton of moves," Byrnes said. "Obviously, we finished the year kind of as a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of as run scoring and run prevention. I think we'll bring back the vast majority of our pitchers.
"But I think more than likely, off-season acquisitions will probably relate more to pitching. I think we have a good foundation of both starters and relievers, but I think can break out of the middle of the pack and get to a little bit better level where we're a playoff type of team."
Arizona will be saving a lot of cash in losing the salaries of outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, and there may some temptation to alter the starting lineup next year by adding a player with some pop in his bat. The last two sluggers brought in, however, only spent a year with the club before moving on.
There was Richie Sexson in 2004, Troy Glaus in 2005. But there is glaring hole in the cleanup spot, as the Diamondbacks don't possess a true slugger. They produced only 11 home runs and 79 RBIs out of the No. 4 spot this year.
"The overall balance was fine," Byrnes said, "but to go from a solid type of team dynamics to one that's playoff-ready, to one that's one of the four best in our league, I think we need to add a little more offense. We ended up scoring 70 more runs than we did last year, but we've got to get up to the 800s and we've got to have the type of lineup that can do that, and probably the best way is to get a little more dangerous in the middle.
"That might come from improvement from our own (players) or who knows? I think one through eight was good, we scored runs, it was solid, but was it sort of above average? No."
--LF Luis Gonzalez played his final game for the Diamondbacks on Sunday, going 0-for-5 in a 7-6 loss to the Padres at Chase Field in front of a sellout crowd of 48,946, the largest ever for a regular-season game at the ballpark.
Gonzalez leaves the team as the franchise's career leader in games (1,194), at-bats (4,488), runs (780), hits (1,337), total bases (2,373), doubles (310), home runs (224), RBIs (774), sacrifice flies (44), times hit by pitch (61), walks (650) and intentional walks (94), in addition to slugging percentage (.529) and on-base percentage (.391).
--3B Chad Tracy collected his team-best 49th multi-hit game of the year Sunday. He also hit two home runs, his 19th and 20th, giving him just the second multi-home run game of his career.
--RHP Brandon Webb may have significantly hurt his chances of winning the NL Cy Young Award when, in his last start of the season, he tied a season high by allowing seven earned runs in his shortest outing of the year -- four innings -- in a 7-6 loss to San Diego on Sunday.
Webb, who finished 16-8, saw his ERA climb from a league-best 2.88 to third overall at 3.10.
"I don't think that this one game, hopefully, won't affect it too much," he said. "It probably did a little bit of damage to the ERA and things like that, but I don't think this one game will make or break."
--Bench coach Jay Bell announced he will be stepping down from his position, but the team said he will return as a special assistant to manager Bob Melvin. Bell, who has aspirations of managing in the majors, also will some part-time coaching during homestands. He wants to spend more time with his family, which is the reason hitting coach Mike Aldrete gave for recently announcing his resignation.
--Arizona finished the season 76-86, just one victory shy of matching last season's win total when it improved 26 games over the 111-loss campaign of 2004. The Diamondbacks' all-time record after nine seasons is just shy of the .500 mark (728-730).
BY THE NUMBERS: 80 -- RBIs by 3B Chad Tracy, which led the team, but tied for the fewest of any yearly leader in the club's nine-year history. Shea Hillenbrand finished with 80 during the 2004 season, which saw the Diamondbacks finish 51-111.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If that game happens earlier in the year, we forget all about it. It's unfortunate that a guy that I felt like pitched better than anybody I've seen this year -- I haven't seen the American League -- but to go out there and have basically one bad game all year is unbelievable." -- Manager Bob Melvin on Brandon Webb's last start of the season, in which he allowed seven earned runs and lasted just four innings, possibly hurting his chances of winning the NL Cy Young Award.
The Diamondbacks enter the offseason with a couple key objectives, which include finding a top-end starter to complement ace Brandon Webb and veteran Livan Hernandez, and deciding if they need to invest in a quality cleanup hitter or trust a fairly capable lineup without a proven slugger. If they decide they need both, the moves likely would occur through trades, not free agency.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Arizona has the defense, but it doesn't have the starting pitching to lead a group of mostly young position players and a bullpen that remains slim on postseason experience. With Miguel Batista probably leaving through free agency, there isn't a difference-maker among the rest of the candidates, and the Diamondbacks may have to part with some of their better prospects to fill this need. Webb and Hernandez aren't enough. Not nearly.
FREE AGENTS: LF Luis Gonzalez, IF Craig Counsell, UT Damion Easley, RHP Miguel Batista.
Gonzalez was told on Sept. 15 that his $10 million club option was not going to be picked up and the team had no plans for him next season, but he wants to be an everyday player and hopes to sign with a team in the NL West, potentially the Padres. There is interest in bringing back Counsell, but only for a super utility role, as shortstop and second base will be occupied by Stephen Drew and Orlando Hudson, respectively. Counsell has said he probably will pass on the offer and try to sign elsewhere if there's a chance to play every day. Easley likely will return in the role he played this year, as a bat off the bench and a player who can make starts at shortstop, third base and right field. Batista and his representatives have had preliminary talks with the club about returning, but it is thought he will sign elsewhere for more money, with the Mets possibly being an option.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 2B Orlando Hudson, C Johnny Estrada, OF Eric Byrnes, RHP Luis Vizcaino, RHP Claudio Vargas, RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Jorge Julio.
Hudson likely will receive a multiyear extension after basically having the best season of anyone on the club. He's in the hunt for his second consecutive Gold Glove Award. Estrada is gone. He will be traded despite a stellar offensive season that saw him hit .302 with a career-high 11 home runs and finish with 71 RBIs. He has too many enemies on the club. Byrnes will be replacing stalwart Gonzalez in left field and is also eyeing a multi-year extension. The only pitchers who could be out of the loop are Cruz and Julio. Cruz is certain to gather interest from several clubs, but Julio has fallen off the radar some because of his wildness.
IN LIMBO: Estrada, Vargas, Cruz and Julio can't be sure of their futures, and ditto with left field prospect Scott Hairston, who has seen a job open in left field with the departure of Gonzalez, only to learn it will given to Byrnes. Estrada's situation is sure to be solved in the form of a trade, and he's already stated he would like to moved to Philadelphia, if possible. If not, destinations could include San Diego, if Mike Piazza doesn't re-sign, and perhaps San Francisco, which is near where Estrada was raised.
PROSPECT WATCH: CF Chris Young didn't get as many at-bats or starting assignments as some of the other youngsters among the position players, but the Diamondbacks have seen enough to know he can handle the job in center next year. He rates out on the plus side of every aspect of his game, and he could mature into a power hitter as well as speed burner with top-notch defensive skills. C Miguel Montero is thought of so highly in the organization, the club is willing to part with switch-hitting starting C Johnny Estrda, who was among the team leaders in RBIs. Montero was a September call-up and made several starts down the stretch. It looks as if he will be the man in 2007, with Chris Snyder helping provide a 1-2 punch. RF Carlos Quentin was promoted in July, and it wasn't long before the Diamondbacks agreed they would be better served trading Shawn Green away -- he went to the Mets -- to open up daily playing time for the rookie, who experienced his share of highs and lows during the second half.
1B Tony Clark, who had right shoulder surgery, should be fine by the time the team reports to spring training. He has one more year left on his contract.
OF Jeff DaVanon underwent surgery to repair a left ankle injury, and he will be ready in time for spring training. He has a player option to return to the club in 2007, and has indicated he plans to exercise it. He also had a cyst removed from his right shoulder late in the season.
The 2006 Diamondbacks got off to an incredibly fast start, going 34-22 (.607) in their first 56…