The Diamondbacks got to the playoffs at least a year, maybe two, ahead of schedule this season, and before they start to look forward, they will be looking back and wondering "what if" for a while.
Despite being outscored by 20 runs during the regular season, Arizona managed to put up 90 wins -- the most in the National League -- and won the National League West. Then, it was a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series before getting swept in four games in the NL Championship Series by the Colorado Rockies.
"Right now it's still tough to chew on," first baseman Tony Clark said as the players met for the last time and cleaned out their lockers before going their separate ways for the offseason. "But after we have a chance to reflect on the season, I'm sure we'll have more of an appreciation for what we were able to accomplish."
They got as far as they did with one of the youngest teams in baseball, a roster that in the end, featured three rookies in the starting lineup (third baseman Mark Reynolds, center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton), and another regular (shortstop Stephen Drew) who was in his first full major league season.
They didn't feature a .300 hitter or a big bopper in the middle of the order, but the Diamondbacks were collectively scrappy enough from top to bottom to string together wins and avoid many prolonged ruts or slumps.
A major key was their success in one-run games, in which they went 32-20. Their bullpen, specifically the back end featuring closer Jose Valverde (a major league-leading 47 saves) and setup men Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon, also proved to be an essential piece to the winning formula.
Though general manager John Byrnes anticipates a relatively quiet offseason in terms of tinkering with the roster, he will be on the lookout to secure at least one new starting pitcher, as it seems likely free agent Livan Hernandez won't be offered a new deal.
Arizona could be in the market for a cleanup hitter, but it doesn't appear to be a major priority. The core players, all of them relatively young, will continue to lead a club that already has tasted success ahead of schedule.
"I think we're excited about where we could be in a couple years," starting pitcher Brandon Webb said.
Said manager Bob Melvin, who could receive a contract extension at some point this winter: "It's got the potential to be a very, very nice run."
--1B Tony Clark, who hit .249 with 17 home runs in 221 at-bats, is expected to be re-signed after finishing the second year of a two-year, $2 million contract extension.
"What he's done on the field and off the field for us has been important," GM Josh Byrnes said. "We're certainly going to make an effort (to re-sign him.)"
--The Diamondbacks hit just .148 with runners in scoring position (4-for-27) in getting swept by the Rockies in the NL Championship Series. Arizona hit just .249 in those situations all season, the worst among National League clubs.
--LF Eric Byrnes, who infuriated Rockies fans after Colorado took a 2-0 series lead by saying Arizona had outplayed the Rockies to that point, took a lot of the blame for his team's failure in the NLCS.
"One of the main reasons we didn't win this series is because I didn't hit (expletive)," said Byrnes, who was 3-for-17 with two RBIs. "It's as simple as that. And your middle-of-the-order guy has to produce. It definitely started with me."
--2B Augie Ojeda stepped up big when starter Orlando Hudson went down with a season-ending thumb injury in early September, as he battled .333 (16-for-48) after replacing the two-time Gold Glove Award winner.
"That's always been my goal, to play every day in the big leagues, and I got the chance for a little bit to show what I can do," Ojeda said. "You get that label coming up that you're a utility guy, a guy who can't play every day or whatever. I believe in my ability, and I just wanted to go out there and prove everybody wrong and show what I can do."
BY THE NUMBERS: .152 -- Combined batting average for 3B Mark Reynolds and LF Eric Byrnes in the NL Championship Series (5-for-33).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have talented guys that have the ability to get better," he said. "With the experience they're getting here, I think it's start of something very big for us, and we're excited about the future of the Diamondbacks." -- Manager Bob Melvin.
The Diamondbacks enter the offseason with not a lot of holes to plug, but they most certainly will be in the market for another front-end starting pitcher to compliment RHP Brandon Webb and LHP Doug Davis. They have some trade bait in a handful of quality young players, namely OFs Carlos Quentin and Carlos Gonzalez, and perhaps third baseman Chad Tracy, who is coming off knee surgery.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Diamondbacks will be looking to replace RHP Livan Hernandez, who is set to become a free agent and likely won't be invited back, in part because of salary concerns and his penchant for putting too many men on base. They might look around for a power hitter, but with plenty of power potential in the likes of OFs Chris Young and Justin Upton, not to mention LF Eric Byrnes, that might not be such a priority.
FREE AGENTS: RHP Livan Hernandez, 1B Tony Clark.
The Diamondbacks want to bring Clark back. He is their leader in the clubhouse and one of the biggest clutch bats off the bench in the majors, averaging a home run every 13 at-bats. It will cost them more than the $2 million it took to keep him in Arizona the past two years, however. The team isn't expected to re-sign Hernandez and will look at free agency or a trade to fill his spot at the front end of the starting rotation, with RHPs Micah Owings, Edgar Gonzalez, Yusmeiro Petit and Dustin Nippert all in the mix to vie for spots behind RHP Brandon Webb and LHP Doug Davis.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Robby Hammock, 2B Orlando Hudson, RHP Brandon Lyon, C Chris Snyder, RHP Jose Valverde, LHP Randy Choate.
The Diamondbacks face an interesting decision with Hudson, who has been plenty good for the organization since coming over in a trade from Toronto in 2005, but he will want a rich, multiyear deal, and Arizona may not be willing to open the vault for him just yet. The Diamondbacks also will have to pay big to Valverde, who led the majors with 47 saves and enjoyed perhaps the biggest breakout season of any player on the roster. They also may have to shell out a ton to Lyon, Valverde's primary setup man who has been fantastic the past two seasons. Snyder, meanwhile, had a huge second half and kept Miguel Montero on the bench a lot longer than most expected at the start of the season.
IN LIMBO: RF Carlos Quentin and OF Carlos Gonzalez could be trade bait, as the Diamondbacks' starting outfield in 2008 looks complete with LF Eric Byrnes, CF Chris Young and RF Justin Upton. 3B Chad Tracy underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee and may not be ready for the start of spring training, and with Mark Reynolds having established him at third following a surprise call-up straight from Class AA, Tracy could be wiggling a bit this winter.
LHP Randy Johnson (back surgery in August 2007) had the same herniated disk repaired for the second time in a year. Although he is expected to be ready when the team reports to spring training, the 44-year-old's health will always be a question.
2B Orlando Hudson (left thumb surgery in September 2007) will be completely recovered by the time the team reports to camp in February.
3B Chad Tracy (microfracture surgery on right knee in September 2007) will be unable to work out for much of the winter, which figures to hamper his readiness for next spring.
If the Arizona Diamondbacks "outplayed" the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS as Eric Byrnes suggests,…