Luis Gonzalez won the 2001 World Series with his Game 7 ninth-inning single, but he would have trouble reminiscing even in his own clubhouse these days. Reserve middle infielder Alex Cintron and newly re-signed free agent Craig Counsell are the only other current D’backs players with a 2001 Series ring, although manager Bob Melvin and bench coach Jay Bell (who scored the winning run) also have ties to the title team.
Even with a 51-win 2004, the Diamondbacks remain above .500 for their seven years (575–559) in the major leagues, a tribute to their failure to accept the normal waiting period for excellence by aggressively hitting the free agent market after their first year. None of the other recent expansion teams — Tampa Bay (’98), Colorado (’93) and Florida (’93) — has a cumulative .500 record.
I know you
New third baseman Troy Glaus already knows a little about Arizona’s training staff, although not through medical channels. While in the Valley for spring training with Anaheim the past several seasons, Glaus rented the house of D’backs’ assistant trainer Dave Edwards, who needed a tenant because he was in Tucson with the D’backs in their own spring training camp.
State of flux
Not only did the D’backs use more than 100 different lineups last season, they also did not have a single regular spend more than half the time at one spot in the batting order. Shea Hillenbrand hit cleanup 81 times, the team high. Fifteen players hit No. 2; 16 hit No. 6; 19 hit No. 7.
Koyie Hill and Luis Terrero put the past behind them after becoming teammates with the D’backs on July 31. The two were on the opposite sides of bad blood in a Pacific Coast League game July 4, when Terrero homered while playing for Tucson and then finished his trot by kneeling to kiss the plate right in front of Hill, who was catching for Las Vegas. Terrero served a one-game suspension for the incident.
How the West was lost
Before winning their final two series of the 2004 season, the Diamondbacks won only three of 30 series beginning June 15, when they played host to the New York Yankees for the first time since the 2001 World Series. They lost 22 of 25 games to NL West contenders Los Angeles and San Francisco in that run, 12 of 13 to the Dodgers.
Out with the old. In with the new. This is the first day of the rest of the Diamondbacks’ life after new management pushed out franchise founder Jerry Colangelo late last summer and followed with a comprehensive offseason overhaul that gave Randy Johnson his wish (a trade) but pampered new manager Bob Melvin with solid pros Javier Vazquez, Troy Glaus, Shawn Green, Russ Ortiz, Craig Counsell, et al. The D’backs’ injury-forced youth movement netted 51 victories last year, and they are determined to leave that in the rear-view mirror.
With Johnson following former D’Back Curt Schilling to the American League East, newcomers Vazquez, Ortiz and Shawn Estes will fortify the starting rotation, where Brandon Webb and Casey Fossum return to regular duty. Vazquez fell out of favor in New York with a subpar second half in 2004 but still has great stuff and a tireless arm. Steady Ortiz, who signed a four-year deal, also will take the ball, having averaged 16.5 victories and 209 innings in the last six seasons. Webb and his heavy sinker should benefit from improved middle infield defense. Estes gave the D’backs a hometown discount and will join the rotation after a 15-win season in Colorado. Fossum, the lefthander acquired for Schilling two winters ago, will get the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the rotation after failing to find himself following a late 2004 start because of shoulder surgery. Righthander Oscar Villarreal, stellar as a setup man in 2003 before missing most of last season with elbow problems, was a durable starter in the minors during his way up and will get a look. Former second-round draftee Mike Gosling and newcomer Brad Halsey lead a cast of younger arms that includes Edgar Gonzalez, Casey Daigle and Ramon Antonio Peña. You might remember Peña as Adriano Rosario, who falsified his name and age — but not his stuff — while swiftly rising through the D’backs’ system.
Greg Aquino emerged as a solid closer after injuries provided an opportunity in the second half of last season. Aquino has a mid-90s fastball and a wicked slider. Hard-throwing setup men Jose Valverde and Brian Bruney pitch regularly in the mid-90s and can go higher on the radar gun, making this trio of power arms the best the franchise has ever had. Valverde has been effective as a closer, too, as was Bruney while moving up in the system. Mike Koplove is a pinpoint setup guy. Lefthander Randy Choate adds balance, although he isn’t a true situational guy. Peña is a candidate to work out of the pen, too. Villarreal was strong as a setup man as a rookie in 2003 and could be used in that role again. Brandon Lyon appears recovered from ulnar nerve transposition surgery that cost him the 2004 season.
The D’backs made it a priority over the winter to improve their middle infield, and Royce Clayton and Counsell were brought in to comprise the new doubleplay combination. Clayton is a solid defensive player; Counsell is the consummate gamer. The two also provide some small-ball table-setting at the top of the order, with Counsell likely to lead off because of his terrific eye and plate discipline. Matt Kata is a Counsell-type handyman at either spot, and Alex Cintron got better when pushed late last year. Both are more than capable reserves.
When healthy, Glaus, who signed a four-year free agent deal, is one of the few legitimate 40-homer guys in the majors. The shoulder injuries that have plagued him the last two seasons appear to have been repaired to satisfaction. Chad Tracy will replace Shea Hillenbrand (traded to Toronto) at first, making the same move Hillenbrand did last season, from third base to first after Richie Sexson went down with a shoulder injury. Tracy is a no-frills worker whose bat has been compared to that of former Diamondback Mark Grace. Counsell has started at third; handyman Robby Hammock could spend time at either corner infield spot.
Luis Gonzalez missed the final two months of 2004 after undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. The D’Backs hope Gonzo will return to 30-homer, 100-RBI form. He is a professional hitter who waits for a pitch he can drive, then does. Jose Cruz takes over in center after being acquired from Tampa Bay. He's a decent power hitter and a solid fielder. The D’backs landed Green in a second try with Los Angeles last winter. He will return to right field, where he played before shoulder problems forced a move to first base. Veteran reserve Quinton McCracken can play all three outfield spots, while Hammock can play either left or right. Scott Hairston, who has proven he can hit at this level, is transitioning from second base.
Veteran Kelly Stinnett and fresh faces Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder will compete in a wide-open race for playing time behind the plate. Hill was the prime pickup in the trading deadline deal that sent Finley to Los Angeles last season, and he had a four-hit game before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in August. Snyder stepped up then and showed power and receiving prowess. The likely scenario involves Stinnett and one of the youngsters playing in the majors, with the other getting more minor league seasoning.
Backup infielders Cintron and Kata can field all three infield positions as well as provide occasional pop. Outfielder Luis Terrero is a gifted player who has multiple tools and will continue up the learning curve. He received on-the-job training in center field after Steve Finley was shipped out of town at the trading deadline last year. Hammock, who was to be the starting catcher before being sidelined with a knee injury last season, will be used more as a backup at both corner infield and outfield spots, giving manager Bob Melvin extra flexibility. McCracken and Stinnett are veterans who know their roles.
The Gang of Four businessmen who control the purse strings joined the franchise after a whirlwind courtship that included a trip to the World Series as then-managing general partner Colangelo’s guests in 2001. But this group split with the ultra-competitive Colangelo when he wanted to spend more than budgeted last year. The selection (and subsequent non-sign) of first-round draft pick Stephen Drew was the final straw. The hiring of Wally Backman without the proper vetting was a misstep, but Bob Melvin has a history here after being Bob Brenly’s bench coach in 2001. The new partners have shown they are not afraid to spend money to turn things around.
Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola, one of the few team executives still in place from the expansion days, made solid free agent signings and got some quality players for Johnson under difficult circumstances over the winter. There doesn’t seem to be any way the Diamondbacks will disintegrate the way they did last year, when wholesale injuries robbed the roster of veterans, and the subsequent on-the-job training was too much for the kiddie corps. But the starting pitching, especially Vasquez and Ortiz at the top of the rotation, will have to step up for the team to contend again.