The Diamondbacks made Oakland right-hander Dan Haren their No. 1
offseason target, and with Haren in the rotation, they believe they have
the pitching in place to make a strong defense of their 2007 title in
the invigorated NL West.
Haren came aboard during a Dec. 14 trading frenzy in which the
Diamondbacks made three deals involving four teams and 14 players but lost
only one 2007 contributor, closer Jose Valverde. It was, however, a
numerically significant loss, inasmuch as Valverde led the major leagues
with 47 saves last season.
The Diamondbacks filled the closer spot internally by promoting
setup man Brandon Lyon, who was spectacular in that role the first six
weeks of the 2005 season (14 of 15 in save opportunities) before suffering a strained ulnar collateral
ligament in his right elbow. He did not have the elbow surgically repaired,
but he sat out three months.
Otherwise, the Diamondbacks enter spring training with virtually the
same group that had an NL-best 90-72 record while becoming the first
team in major league history to have the best record in its league with
a negative run differential (minus-20).
The Diamondbacks were last in the NL in batting average and were
14th in runs last season but anticipate continued, natural improvement as
young position players such as first baseman Conor Jackson, shortstop
Stephen Drew, third baseman Mark Reynolds, center fielder Chris Young
and right fielder Justin Upton continue to get experience. Among them,
only Jackson has as much as two years' major league service time.
Reserve first baseman/top pinch hitter Tony Clark left via free
agency, and the Diamondbacks must fill his big shoes, especially in the
Randy Johnson's health remains an issue after his August surgery to
repair a herniated disk in his lower back, the same disk that was
surgically repaired in October 2006. The Diamondbacks believe the extra two
months will make a difference.
Tony Pena and newcomer Chad Qualls will be the setup men on a team
that enters spring with maybe two jobs open: One in the bullpen and one as a
stopgap until Chad Tracy gets healthy.
WHERE, WHEN: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. First Cactus League
game is Feb. 28 against the Rockies.
TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: LHP Randy Johnson may seem an odd choice,
inasmuch as he is a Hall of Famer-in-waiting, but Johnson was dominant
when he was healthy last season. In a period of five starts a year
ago, he went 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA and 42 strikeouts and four walks over 29
2/3 innings. He will enter the season with two more months to recover
from a back surgery than he had last year, and that could make all the
TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: It is not that RF Justin Upton does not
have all the tools. He was the first player taken in the 2006 draft,
and he was considered a better prospect than older brother B.J., who hit
24 homers and had 22 stolen bases with Tampa Bay in his first extended
playing time in 2007. But Justin Upton had only 259 at-bats above
Class A while shooting through the minor league system. He hit .221 in with 13
extra-base hits in the majors, and he had 37 strikeouts 140 at-bats.
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Bob Melvin received a contract extension that
will take him through 2010, as the front office turned a 2009 option in a
guaranteed year and added another year to the deal in the offseason.
Melvin was the 2007 NL Manager of the Year after leading the young
Diamondbacks to the NL West title despite the fact the team scored 20 fewer
runs that it gave up. Pitching coach Bryan Price, who has been with
Melvin since their days in Seattle, was named the major league coach of the
year by Baseball America for his work last season. Third base coach
Chip Hale is considered to have major league managing potential.
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