N.L. West -- 2005

When 31-year-old "Moneyball" supporting player Paul DePodesta was hired as the Dodgers' general manager on the eve of spring training, the expectation was that DePodesta would play the hand he was dealt through the 2004 season. But big changes would come immediately afterward in the Dodgers' front office.

After the team's first division title since 1995, those changes actually have been fairly modest. DePodesta completed a restructuring of the team's scouting and player development departments in the last week with the promotion of Terry Collins to director of player development and the hiring of Roy Smith in the new role of vice president for scouting and player development.

Collins fills the void created a year ago when Bill Bavasi left the Dodgers to become GM of the Seattle Mariners.

Smith assumes a new role in which he will "cross all the lines from scouting to player development to the big leagues," DePodesta said. The former major league pitcher spent the last six years as assistant GM for the Pittsburgh Pirates (and interim GM for a short period in 2001). In eight big-league seasons as a player, Smith was 30-31 with a 4.60 ERA for the Twins, Indians and Orioles.

DePodesta retained director of amateur scouting Logan White and director of international scouting Rene Francisco. Both will continue to have autonomy in their areas, DePodesta said, with White running the amateur draft for the Dodgers. White has earned industry praise for some of the best drafts in each of the last three years.

Additionally, the Dodgers hired Dan Feinstein as coordinator of baseball operations. Feinstein spent the last 10 seasons working for the Oakland Athletics as a scouting assistant and major league video coordinator.

Former director of pro scouting Matt Slater is the odd man out in the restructuring. Slater has been offered a position with the Dodgers as a major league scout if he is unable to find a better position with another team.


-Agent Scott Boras' comments to Houston media that free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran is seeking a 10-year contract was a popular topic of discussion at the GM meetings. Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta said he would obviously be reluctant to commit to any player for that length of time.

"The ability to project a player's performance next season is difficult," the GM said. "To predict it two, three years out, it becomes even more difficult. Beyond that, it's like throwing darts, to some degree. It becomes incredibly difficult."

--1B-OF Shawn Green was at the center of two of the offseason's first trade rumors. Published reports had the Dodgers talking to the Chicago Cubs about a potential deal that would send Green to the Cubs in exchange for OF Sammy Sosa and to the New York Mets about a deal that would send Green to New York for former Dodger favorite Mike Piazza. In both cases, no-trade rights and some of the highest salaries in baseball complicate matters. Both the Cubs and Dodgers denied the Green-for-Sosa rumors. Mets GM Omar Minaya confirmed that the Dodgers were one of a handful of teams he had talked to about trading Piazza. DePodesta would say only that he had "laid the groundwork with a number of teams" that could result in trades this winter.

--LHP Kazuhisa Ishii pitched two scoreless innings Saturday at the Tokyo Dome in the seventh game of the eight-game Japan All-Star Series. Ishii is one of two Dodgers (along with 2B Alex Cora) playing for the major league all-star team in a series of exhibitions against Japanese all-stars. Earlier in the series, Ishii pitched in his native Japan for the first time since 2001 and allowed just one run on five hits in five innings. Padres manager Bruce Bochy (manager of the touring major leaguers) said promoters requested he start Ishii in one of the nationally televised games in Tokyo as well.

bBY THE NUMBERS/b: 162 -- Number of home runs by Shawn Green in his first five seasons with the Dodgers.


The success or failure of GM Paul DePodesta's efforts to upgrade the 2004 NL West champions in his first offseason with the team might hinge on one player -- free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. DePodesta has said re-signing Beltre is his top priority, but he will have to deal with high-powered agent Scott Boras in order to get it done. Boras is not likely to make it easy (or cheap) for the Dodgers to retain Beltre, which means the negotiations might drag on deep into the winter. DePodesta has said he won't let that hinder his attempts to address the Dodgers' other areas of need -- mainly, starting pitching and a new catcher.


DEPARTURES: INF Robin Ventura (retired).

BIGGEST NEEDS: While free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre is the most crucial individual in the Dodgers' offseason, starting pitching and a catcher rank as their greatest needs heading into 2005. The Dodgers' rotation all but collapsed in the final two months of the 2004 season, and only RHP Jose Lima acquitted himself well in the team's brief playoff cameo. Brad Penny (biceps nerve irritation) will enter 2005 with health questions to answer.

Other than that, the Dodgers' rotation projects to be filled out by Jeff Weaver, Kazuhisa Ishii and unproven Edwin Jackson. Look for DePodesta to attempt to add two new names to that list. Catching, meanwhile, became a black hole after the midseason trade of Paul Lo Duca left it in the hands of David Ross and Brent Mayne. That must be addressed for 2005.

FREE AGENTS: 3B Adrian Beltre, LHP Odalis Perez, OF Steve Finley, RHP Hideo Nomo, RHP Jose Lima, INF Jose Hernandez, RHP Paul Shuey, C Brent Mayne, LHP Wilson Alvarez, C Todd Hundley, RHP Elmer Dessens. Re-signing Beltre is the Dodgers' top offseason priority, GM Paul DePodesta has said. It will cost them after his MVP-caliber season, but they are helped by the fact that most teams willing to spend big money are not in the market for a third baseman this winter.

OF Steve Finley becomes a high priority only if Beltre leaves and the Dodgers need to make up the lost offense throughout their lineup. The Dodgers are also likely to retain relatively inexpensive pitchers Jose Lima and Wilson Alvarez. Odalis Perez seems intent on leaving. The rest of the players on this list are of little interest to the Dodgers (or most other teams).

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: RHP Eric Gagne, RHP Brad Penny, OF Milton Bradley, INF Olmedo Saenz, 2B Alex Cora, SS Cesar Izturis, RHP Giovanni Carrara.

Gagne was an angry man last winter when he lost his arbitration case despite having just won the Cy Young Award. He would like the Dodgers to come to him with a multiyear contract offer but has little or no leverage to make that happen. It ranks fairly low on the Dodgers' offseason priorities, and if they're not willing to do it for Gagne, none of the other players on this list should hold their breath for more than a modest one-year offer to avoid arbitration. Saenz, however, is the only one who should worry about non-tender status.

IN LIMBO: 1B-RF Shawn Green, LHP Kazuhisa Ishii.

Green is entering the final year of a six-year deal that will pay him $16 million in 2005. Green's production (particularly his power numbers and clutch hitting) has dropped off in the last two seasons, leaving him seriously overpaid. The Dodgers would love to get out from under the last year of that contract, but Green has no-trade rights.

In Ishii's case, the Dodgers have tired of the erratic left-hander's inconsistency and would gladly move him. But Ishii can veto trades to a list of 10 teams and might have limited market value. MEDICAL WATCH: 3B Adrian Beltre (recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from left ankle, should be ready for spring training), OF Jayson Werth (strained tendon in right elbow, hoping to rehabilitate without surgery), C Todd Hundley (recovering from hip and back surgeries, didn't play in 2004 and not likely to play in 2005), RHP Darren Dreifort (recovering from hip and knee surgeries, not likely to play in 2005), RHP Paul Shuey (recovering from hip surgery, not likely to play in 2005).

INSIDE PITCH The Giants' signing of SS Omar Vizquel clearly upgraded their infield defense, which was one of general manager Brian Sabean's major offseason concerns. Deivi Cruz's hitting was a pleasant surprise last season, but his defense at shortstop hardly resembled what Vizquel can offer. But Vizquel didn't come cheap -- surprisingly, the Giants gave the 37-year-old a three-year contract worth $12.25 million. If that precludes acquiring the power bat Giants fans have been clamoring for since Jeff Kent left after the 2002 season, the element Sabean calls the "lunatic fringe" in the Bay Area might go crazy.

The money doled out to Vizquel also could prevent the Giants from landing a free-agent closer. The indication Sunday was that Dustin Hermanson will return in that role if the Giants can come to contract terms with him. That, too, might not sit well with fans who blamed the team's bullpen problems for the fact that it came up one game short in the National League wild-card race.

Manager Felipe Alou indicated that Vizquel will bat second in the lineup. Vizquel hit .291 last season and had 19 stolen bases, giving him 318 for his career. He also finished the season with a 55-game errorless streak and has the best fielding percentage (.983) in history among shortstops who have played at least 1,000 games.

Jason Schmidt finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

It's not bad. But it's disappointing considering he was the leading candidate in mid-August, when he was 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA.

"I had lunch with him during the All-Star break," Cy Young winner Roger Clemens said, "and he wasn't just in the race -- he WAS the race. He was outstanding."

Schmidt pulled a groin on Aug. 17 and went 3-3 with a 5.54 ERA the rest of the way. In the balloting, he finished behind Clemens, Randy Johnson and Clemens' teammate, 20-game winner Roy Oswalt.

"I think he's the rightful winner," Schmidt said of Clemens. "If not for getting hurt, I would've liked to make the race closer. I didn't expect to finish first, and second was very debatable. I was a little disappointed I didn't finish third, but I can't complain."

Schmidt already was named NL's Pitcher of the Year by the Sporting News and the league's Outstanding Pitcher in the Players' Choice Awards, sponsored by the players' association.

Schmidt finished 18-7 with a San Francisco-record 251 strikeouts. Clemens earned a $100,000 bonus for winning the award. Schmidt earned $25,000 for finishing fourth.


--RHP Jason Schmidt finished behind Roy Oswalt in the Cy Young Award balloting. Schmidt was fourth, Oswalt third.

More voters had Schmidt on their ballots than Oswalt, who had a lower winning percentage, higher ERA and fewer strikeouts than Schmidt. But 10 of the votes for Schmidt were for third place. Oswalt had five thirds, three seconds and one first. Considering the 5-3-1 point system, Oswalt collected 19 points to Schmidt's 13.

BY THE NUMBERS: 37 -- Years without a Cy Young Award winner for the Giants. Jason Schmidt finished fourth. Mike McCormick won in 1967.


The Giants were in contention until they were eliminated on the final Saturday of the season, and that surprised many fans who didn't think the roster was capable of staying in the race. With many of the same faces back, the Giants think they can be a force again in 2005. But to convince their fans they're the real deal, they must add a big bat to the lineup.

ARRIVALS: SS Omar Vizquel (free agent from Cleveland).


BIGGEST NEEDS: The Giants need someone to protect Barry Bonds ... have you heard that one before? Bonds will continue to walk at a record rate unless the Giants finally find him some support, and Edgardo Alfonzo isn't the answer. Vizquel provides the defense the Giants needed at shortstop, and they also are in the market for a center fielder and need to beef up the bullpen.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Dustin Hermanson, LHP Jason Christiansen, RHP Dave Burba, RHP Robb Nen.

It's not an attractive list, and the Giants wouldn't be interested in Hermanson if they can acquire an experienced closer. However, it appears they will stick with Hermanson if they can agree on contract terms.

Christiansen, coming off a three-year contract, was a bust, and Burba was a September acquisition who could return with a small contract. Nen hasn't pitched since the 2002 World Series and might sign a minor league contract.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Pedro Feliz, C Yorvit Torrealba, OF Dustan Mohr.

Pierzynski probably won't return after beating the Giants in arbitration last spring and not living up to expectations, especially early in the season when he struggled at the plate and was criticized by pitchers on his own staff. The Giants are more focused on bringing back Feliz and Torrealba, and Mohr is expected to return because he'll be cheap.

IN LIMBO: The Giants would love to shed the salaries of infielders Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham, but it'll be tough to trade players on the downside of their careers whose bodies aren't exactly durable.

MEDICAL WATCH: LF Barry Bonds (left knee surgery) is expected to be fully recovered by spring training after undergoing surgery Oct. 12. His rehab was to be three to six weeks. RHP Robb Nen (right shoulder tendinitis) is coming off three shoulder surgeries, and his career might be over. OF Dustan Mohr (bruised kneecap) was hurt in the final week, though it wasn't as serious as expected and he played in the final game. RHP Jim Brower (tight elbow) appeared in eight straight games down the stretch but was unavailable the final weekend.


The Padres would like to trade either Ryan Klesko or Phil Nevin this winter to hasten a reshaping of their club that would meet the wide-open confines of Petco Park.

But sources close to the club say moving either will be difficult ... although Nevin's agent, Barry Axelrod, has supplied the Padres with the list of 21 teams to which Nevin would have to accept a trade.

The problem is that both are first basemen -- although Klesko played in left last season, hurting the Padres defense.

Klesko, 33, has a no-trade contract that guarantees him $10 million in 2005 and $10.5 million in 2006. Since Klesko is coming off a season in which he hit .291 with only nine homers in 402 at-bats, it is even more doubtful that anyone would be interested in him at that cost. Klesko, however, had shoulder surgery in late 2003 and started to find his stroke again near the end of the 2004 season.

Nevin, 33, is due $18 million over the next two seasons. He hit .289 last season with 26 homers and led the Padres (for the fourth time) in RBI with 105.

It has been rumored that the Padres would even couple Nevin with third baseman Sean Burroughs to sweeten the deal. Meantime, Axelrod said Nevin has told the Padres Nevin would be willing to reduce the amount of his contract for 2005 and 2006 in return for a contract extension. The Padres refused the offer.

"Our hope is Phil will remain with the Padres," said Axelrod. "This is where he lives, this is where he wants to play."

But the Padres would do anything to add speed and range to their outfield, something they can't achieve if Nevin returns at first and Klesko is still in left. But general manager Kevin Towers said last week that he expects both to remain with San Diego.

"Phil's not somebody we're trying to push," said Towers. "He's the type of bat we need to be successful. We'd have a hard time replacing that bat."

--OF Xavier Nady's stock increased last week when the Padres traded OF Terrence Long and RHP Dennis Tankersley to Kansas City the LHP Darrell May and RHP Ryan Bukvich. Counting Klesko and Nady, the Padres had four corner outfielders (including Brian Giles) before Long was traded. And there could be another in the mix if the Padres acquire a pure center fielder and decide to move Jay Payton to a corner.

Long, 28, hit .295 with three homers and 28 RBI in 288 at-bats with the Padres last season. He was the Padres' top pinch-hitter, going 17-for-50 (.340) with a homer and eight RBI.

--Speaking of left-handed pinch-hitters, the Padres are interested in signing former Padre Mark Sweeney, 35, who is a free agent after playing with Colorado last season.

--SS Khalil Greene was happy for National League Rookie of the Year Jason Bay. "Honestly, I'm kind of glad Jason won," said Greene, who was the runner-up. "I was not overly concerned with it. The season is over. I'm getting ready for next year." Greene and Bay are close friends who were roommates in 2003 while both played for the Padres' Triple-A affiliate in Portland.

--The Padres believe RHP Dennis Tankersley, 25, might have a future in the major leagues. But they were convinced it wasn't going to happen as a Padre. His record in three cameos with the Padres was 1-10 with a 7.61 ERA in 86 1/3 innings. In his only start of 2003, for example, he gave up seven runs in San Francisco without recording an out. This year he was 0-5 with a 5.14 ERA.

--LHP Darrell May, 32, was 9-19 with a 5.61 ERA with the Royals last season, but GM Kevin Towers believes May's ERA will drop by at least a run with the Padres. "I think he's a much better pitcher than his major league numbers are," said Towers. "And left-handers flourish in the National League West." Towers likened the "finesse pitcher" to LHP David Wells. --RHP Andy Ashby, 37, has undergone further surgery to his reconstructed right elbow. Ashby had "Tommy John" surgery in November 2003 but advanced so quickly in his rehab that the Padres twice used him in one-inning outings last September. But after his second outing, Ashby had pain and bleeding in the elbow. GM Kevin Towers said he expects Ashby, who was seen as potential No. 5 starter or long reliever, to be ready by next April or May.

BY THE NUMBERS: $4.7 million -- What the Padres owed OF Terrence Long for 2005.

$1 million -- Amount of Long's 2005 contract that the Padres will pick up following the trade with Kansas City.

$3.25 million -- Amount the Padres will owe RHP Darrell May in 2005. $500,000 -- Total payroll savings for the Padres in the four-player deal with the Royals.

The first item on the Padres' to-do list is re-signing LHP David Wells. They would like to trade either LF Ryan Klesko or 1B Phil Nevin and acquire a genuine center fielder.

ARRIVALS: LHP Darrell May, 32, (9-19, 5.61 ERA) and RHP Ryan Bukvich, 26, (6.54 ERA) were acquired from Kansas City via trade.

DEPARTURES: OF Terrence Long, 28, (.295, three homers, 28 RBI) and RHP Dennis Tankersley, 24, (0-5, 5.14 ERA) traded to Kansas City for May and Bukvich. Released RHP Jay Witasick (0-1, 3.21), RHP Marty McLeary (0-0, 14.73), OF Kerry Robinson (.293-0-5) and RHP Ricky Stone (1-1, 6.89).

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Padres need to re-sign Wells for their rotation. Trading either Ryan Klesko or Phil Nevin would leave the Padres with one true first baseman and address the defensive problems that go with Klesko playing in left. The club also needs at least two relief pitchers and a true center fielder, but don't look for the Padres to be able to sign free agent Steve Finley.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Andy Ashby, INF Rich Aurilia, SS Alex Gonzalez, INF Robert Fick, INF Dave Hansen, RHP Antonio Osuna, LHP David Wells. The Padres have put re-signing Wells as their No. 1 priority. They have interest in re-signing reliever Osuna. Aurilia has told the Padres he wants to compete for a starting spot, which is not likely to be the case with the Padres, so their interest is minimal. No interest in re-signing Hansen or Fick. Ashby rehabbing following surgery and will be given minor league offer. Mild interest in Gonzalez.


Padres want to retain utilityman and will have deal done before deadline. Highly unlikely to go to arbitration with him.

IN LIMBO: 1B Phil Nevin will be more attractive to other teams than LF Ryan Klesko. But the Padres might have to throw in another player to trade either one.

MEDICAL WATCH: 3B Sean Burroughs is expected to be ready for the opening of spring training after having season-ending surgery to his right knee. The second phase of his rehab had begun. SS Khalil Greene is not expected to have any carry-over with the damaged ring finger on his throwing hand. RHP Andy Ashby has had further surgery on his reconstructed right shoulder and won't be ready to pitch until April or May.


The removal of Jerry McMorris from the Rockies' ownership picture continues.

McMorris has been eliminated as the team's vice chairman and a member of the Rockies board. He still retains 42 1/2 per cent of the Rockies general partnership, but indications are he is attempting to negotiate the sale of that to brothers Charlie Monfort and Dick Monfort. Charlie Monfort also has 42 1/2 percent of the general partnership, and Dick Monfort has 15 percent. The two brothers have the right of first refusal on McMorris' shares.

McMorris was replaced as president of the team by Keli McGregor in October 2001. He gave way to Charlie Monfort as the chairman of the board and chief executive officer in April 2003.

"Jerry did a great job," said Monfort. "He brought baseball here and needs to be recognized for that, but we need to continue to move ahead. ... This doesn't really change anything in the way the franchise will operate. Keli will continue to be in charge of the day-to-day operations."

The two Monforts also have sizable shares of the limited partnership. McMorris has sold his limited partnership shares in recent years, which has left him with an overall ownership stake of 12.4 percent in the aftermath of regional network Fox Sports buying a 14 percent interest in the ownership group during the past season.

McMorris also has been a central figure among major league owners. McMorris served on Major League Baseball's Executive Council and is chairman of its legislative committee. He also served on the council's finance and compensation committee and served an advisory role in negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement that took effect before the 2003 season.

McMorris was a part of the original limited partners for the franchise when it was awarded in June 1991, but during the summer of 1992, Mickey Monus, the original general partner, ran into legal problems, and Major League Baseball was within days of rescinding the franchise, which began play in 1993, and awarding it to a group in Tampa.

That's when McMorris stepped forward to become the lead in the Rockies ownership group, taking Charlie Monfort and Oren Benton on as partners in the general partnership.

Benton was replaced by Dick Monfort after Benton filed bankruptcy, and the Rockies purchased his ownership interest in the team to keep it from being auctioned off.

--Tampa Bay and the Chicago Cubs have some interest in C Charles Johnson with the agreement that the Rockies will pick up the bulk of his $9 million base salary in 2005. The sides have not had serious talks about the player the Rockies would get in return, and the Rockies do not know whether Johnson would pass on the $1 million trade incentive in his contract to facilitate a deal.

--The schedule always has a quirk or two, such as next year when the Rockies have a three-city road trip that begins with three games in both Los Angeles and San Diego and then concludes with three games in Florida. Florida and Atlanta traditionally have been on the same trip for the Rockies, but next year the Rockies play Atlanta and the New York Mets on the road in their final seven games of the season -- three at Atlanta and four at Shea Stadium.

While the unbalanced schedule is supposed to leave teams with only one home-and-away series with the non-division members of their league, for the second time in three years the Rockies make two trips to Pittsburgh. They also play Cleveland in interleague play for the fourth consecutive season and Detroit for the third year in a row.

--Rockies third base coach Sandy Alomar will interview with the New York Mets about the bench coach job on the staff of new manager Willie Randolph, a one-time teammate of Alomar with the New York Yankees. "I feel I need to go to New York and check it out, but everything has to be just right for me to leave Colorado," Alomar said from his home in Puerto Rico. "Willie and I played together and used to talk about the game a lot. But I have a very good situation in Colorado, so everything would have to be perfect." If Alomar leaves, the Rockies would look initially for an in-house replacement, which would most likely be roving infielder instructor Mike Gallego or Class A Visalia manager Stu Cole.

--Billy Eppler, who had been an assistant director to player development and scouting with the Rockies, has joined the New York Yankees as an assistant to Mark Newman, senior vice president of baseball operations. Eppler is working out of the Yankees' Tampa office and is involved in the minor league operations.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Pitchers in the projected Rockies rotation who will be 27 or younger next year -- Jason Jennings, Joe Kennedy, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook and rookie left-hander Jeff Francis. Veteran Denny Neagle also has indicated he is encouraged about his ability to comeback from arm surgery each of the last two seasons, and a possibility remains that the Rockies could re-sign Jamey Wright if they trade Chacon.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The minor league system is as exciting as anybody's in baseball. (Scouting director) Bill Schmidt has done an unbelievable job. He took some gambles on some guys and they are special talents, and (minor league director) Bill Geivett has done a great job with the system. The organization is headed in a great direction. I'm not living in a fantasy world that we're going to win the World Series next week, but everybody is on the same page about where the organization is heading." -- Former RHP Jerry Dipoto, hired as the Rockies' director of professional scouting after scouting for Boston for three years.

The Rockies are looking to beef up their bullpen with power arms to work the late innings. They are committed to getting younger in 2005 -- besides inserting J.D. Closser at catcher and Clint Barmes at shortstop, they are considering Garrett Atkins at third base if they can't re-sign Vinny Castilla and will give Brad Hawpe, Cory Sullivan and Choo Freeman opportunities in the outfield.


DEPARTURES: RHP Tim Harikkala (claimed on waivers by Oakland), OF Rene Reyes (refused minor league assignment), RHP Adam Bernero (refused minor league assignment), RHP Denny Stark (refused minor league assignment).

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Rockies need to beef up their bullpen. They will return lefties Brian Fuentes and Javier Lopez and are looking for help from their farm system with RHPs Scott Dohmann, Chin-hui Tsao and Allan Simpson.

FREE AGENTS: 3B Vinny Castilla, OF Jeromy Burnitz, OF Mark Sweeney, SS Royce Clayton, C Todd Greene, RHP Steve Reed, RHP Jamey Wright.

They hope to re-sign Greene and Sweeney for depth and would like to bring back Castilla, but he is looking initially for more than $3 million. Wright could return.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: RHP Shawn Chacon, RHP Jason Jennings, LHP Joe Kennedy.

The Rockies will retain Jennings and Kennedy and will approach Jennings about a multiyear deal. Chacon is being shopped because of concerns about what he could be awarded in arbitration.

IN LIMBO: In addition to Chacon, the Rockies are trying to move veterans C Charles Johnson ($9 million guarantee in 2005) and LHP Denny Neagle ($11 million guarantee in 2005 and $9 million buyout on option for 2006). The Rockies know they will have to either take bad contracts in return for Johnson and Neagle or eat the bulk of the salaries.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Aaron Cook (surgery to remove upper right rib to alleviate problems that caused blood clots in lungs), LHP Denny Neagle (midseason surgery on his left labrum), OF Preston Wilson (rehabbing from two surgeries in 2004 on his left knee). All three are expected to be healthy by spring training.



When Wally Backman was introduced as the new manager of the Diamondbacks -- a position he held for just four days until ownership pulled the plug on his hire because a series of past incidents in his personal life came to light -- he said with conviction that Arizona wasn't a rebuilding project.

Whatever team officials said to Backman about how it plans to build its roster for next season, it would be nice of them to share it with new manager Bob Melvin, who can't be sure what the team will look like in 2005.

The Diamondbacks don't know if their cleanup hitter, free-agent first baseman Richie Sexson, will be back in the fold. In fact, as the start of the free-agent signing period began, it was looking much more likely that Sexson was on his way out for good, possibly signing with the New York Mets or Seattle Mariners.

Now there's word from the Randy Johnson camp that the ace left-hander apparently wants to be traded and, according to his agent, doesn't want to be part of any rebuilding process. Who could blame Johnson if that, indeed, is to be the case in Arizona?

The problem is, nobody knows for sure. General manager Joe Garagiola Jr. has targeted more than a dozen decent free agents he thinks could significantly improve the Diamondbacks' image and on-field success (and there's a lot to improve after 111 losses), but how do you convince free agents to jump aboard what others in the industry apparently view as a sinking ship?

One thing is certain: The Diamondbacks aren't courting any of the marquee names on the free-agent circuit. The Carlos Beltrans and Adrian Beltres are going to end up with the haves, not the have-nots. But even attracting second-tier type players could prove to be difficult, if not downright impossible.

The bungling of the Backman hire, not to mention the plodding pace of naming Melvin's coaching staff (still not finalized by Nov. 12) and the uncertain futures of both Sexson and Johnson make complicated matters only that more complicated for the Die-mondbacks.

Co-owner Ken Kendrick cited "quality of life" and the team's previous winning ways (a World Series championship in 2001 plus three NL West titles) as reasons for players to want to come to the desert. But the reality is, a good portion of the free agents Arizona wants to sign already live there during the offseason and might not necessarily be the best pieces to the puzzle, only the most easiest to convince.