Scouting the NL West: Arizona

The offseason has been one of excitement, change, fear, disappointment, and downright confusion for the Arizona Diamondbacks. One would have thought that anything would be better than 2004's 51-111 record, but the Diamondbacks seemed unsure of how to proceed after last year's disastrous season and it started right at the top.

Jerry Colangelo, the Front Office face of the Diamondbacks since their inception, either stepped aside or was moved out, depending on who you talk to, to make way for a new group of investors headed by former Uber-Agent Jeff Moorad. Moorad's influence has yet to be seen, but after the Diamondbacks moved Randy Johnson to the Yankees for a song, rumors have begun circulating that perhaps Moorad has yet to break his natural instinct to get players everything they want.

Managers, on the other hand, do not get everything they deserve...sometimes they get more. The first public exercise the new front office took on was the hiring of a permanent replacement for Bob Brenly. The list of candidates included interim manager Al Pedrique, Colorado Rockies bench coach Jaime Quirk, former first baseman and current Diamondbacks broadcaster Mark Grace and a former major leaguer with a wild streak and rising stock.

Wally Backman seemed the answer the Moorad and Company's dreams. A World Series winner as a player with the Mets, a smart baseball mind who had just led the Diamondbacks High-A affiliate Lancaster JetHawks to the California League Championship Series, and a fiery personality who charmed the press and fans alike. He was a working man's manager, just as he had been a working man's player.

"Wally possesses the qualities that we believe will help return our organization to the success we have experienced in the past. His minor league managerial record speaks for itself, putting a winner on the field at virtually every stop he has made, including an extremely successful first year as a manager in our organization. Wally not only proved to be a terrific communicator to our young players, he is also not that far removed from his days as a player and can identify with the veteran presence we have in our clubhouse." That's Senior Vice President/General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. talking on November 1st, the day Backman was announced as the Diamondbacks new manager.

"We stated in Monday's press conference that our search began with eight strong candidates and three of those possessed what we thought were special qualities to lead this club. After the second round of interviews, any of those three men were capable of filling our managerial position, and though the initial decision was to name Wally, unforeseen circumstances have afforded us the opportunity to place our trust in Bob [Melvin]. We are very comfortable with this decision, as Bob was once part of our family at a time when we experienced the ultimate success, and he is also a valuable member of our community." That's Garagiola Jr. again, singing a very different tune on November 5th.

Unfortunately, allegations of spousal abuse, bankruptcy and disloyalty to a former organization reared their ugly heads and just four days after he was hired, Backman was fired. A more accurate description of the events was given by Backman's agent Terry Bross, "Wally wasn't hired, he was promoted, he was already employed by the organization, and he wasn't fired, he was railroaded."

Safe to say, the Backman’s and Garagiola’s probably didn't exchange Christmas cards.

But if the changes off the field were startling, the changes on the field were amazing. Heading into the Winter Meetings in Anaheim, California, the Diamondbacks were expected to have their hats in hand. At best they would be looking for someone to give them a good deal for a great player, Randy Johnson, and re-sign a player they wildly overpaid for to begin with, Richie Sexson. At worst they would be looking to unload salary, and start the rebuilding process. All that changed on December 9th when the Diamondbacks signed free agent third baseman Troy Glaus to a four year, $45 million deal. Eyes were opened, but when Managing Partner Ken Kendrick said, "We're not done," no one knew quite how serious he was.

Until the next day when the D'Backs inked free agent starting pitcher Russ Ortiz to a four year $33 million deal. Somehow the beggars had ended up at the head of the table. The addition of Royce Clayton (one year at $1.35 million) and Craig Counsell (two years for $3.1 million) brought to the fore a renewed optimism.

That all came crashing down late last week when word spread that Randy Johnson, perhaps the second greatest left handed pitcher of all time, after Sandy Koufax, was being given to the Yankees.

Of course the trade rumors have swirled around Johnson for months, and just before Christmas a three-team, ten player deal that would have brought Brad Penny, Yhency Brazoban, and Shawn Green to the desert for Johnson and Mike Koplove was on the table, but when the Dodgers pulled out it seemed that Randy would remain a D'Back.

But it was not to be. The deal, approved by Bud Selig on Monday, sends Johnson to the Yankees in return for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and Dioner Navarro. The Diamondbacks also announced Monday that they had agreed in principal with the Dodgers to trade Navarro and pitcher William Juarez to the Dodgers for Shawn Green. The Diamondbacks also receive cash in both deals, reportedly $9 million from the Yankees and $8 million from the Dodgers.

The deals have improved the Diamondbacks, but it would be hard not to improve on last years 51-111 record. The questions become did the Diamondbacks overpay for free agents, and get less than market value for Johnson. If the Diamondbacks take the $17 million they received and parlay that into one or two more free agents to help fill holes (Jeromy Burnitz and Shawn Estes have both been mentioned), this is a team that could potentially contend in a very weak NL West.


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