By James Quintong, SI.com
The Diamondbacks have the ingredients to make another run at the World Series: the dynamic duo of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, a high-powered offense and plenty of veteran leadership. However, Arizona learned the hard way last year that there's a fine line between being a veteran team and being old and prone to injury.
Thus, it might have been fitting that Arizona nearly acquired Larry Walker, a frequent visitor to the DL, from the Rockies this winter in a deal including Matt Williams.
After leading the NL in runs scored last year, the D'backs scored just six in a three-game sweep by the Cardinals in the first round. Losing Luis Gonzalez to a separated shoulder in the final week of the season didn't help Arizona's cause. Neither did season-ending injuries to Craig Counsell, Danny Bautista and the now-departed Erubiel Durazo.
Gonzalez, 35, and Steve Finley, who will turn 38 on Opening Day, still carry the offense, but for how long? There is a bit of a youth infusion on the team, but it's a slow process. Second baseman Junior Spivey was a revelation last year, and the team has high hopes for rookie first baseman Lyle Overbay.
The offense needs to produce to take some of the pressure off the pitching staff. Outside of Johnson and Schilling, the rest of the rotation is still mediocre, although newly acquired Elmer Dessens, youngster John Patterson and the versatile Miguel Batista would like to turn that around.
With their financial difficulties still swirling, the Diamondbacks need to get younger and cheaper to stay competitive in the years to come, because they can only rely on aging veterans for so long.
Byung-Hun Kim bounced back from his infamous 2001 World Series by saving 36 games. However, manager Bob Brenly says Matt Mantei is the closer heading into camp. Mantei pitched well in the second half after recovering from major elbow surgery in 2001. But it remains to be seen if he'll pitch at the same level before he got hurt.
Matt Williams turned down a trade to Colorado in the offseason because he wasn't assured a starting job there. However, he doesn't necessarily have one in Arizona, either. Craig Counsell is expected to start at the hot corner, although there are still questions about whether he's recovered from neck surgery that ended his season early. But Williams wants to prove he still has something left.
With the trade of All-Star Damian Miller, the starting catcher's job is up for grabs between Chad Moeller and Rod Barajas. Both are solid defensively but question marks offensively.
Elmer Dessens hopes to do what Rick Helling and Todd Stottlemyre couldn't: be a consistent No. 3 pitcher behind Johnson and Schilling. Dessens was sixth in the NL last season with a 3.03 ERA, although he had just a 7-8 record. Part of that had to do with pitching in front of a mediocre Reds lineup; part of it had to do with the fact that he averaged just six innings per start. With a career ERA of 4.29, Dessens needs to prove last season was no fluke.
With Erubiel Durazo shipped to Oakland in the Dessens trade, Lyle Overbay takes over as the first baseman of the future and likely will be the Opening Day starter. Overbay hit .343 with 19 homers and 109 RBIs in the minors last year and is cut from the same mold as teammate Mark Grace, who will serve as his mentor and backup. Arizona is looking to get younger, and he's a good first step in building a nucleus for the future.
Arrivals: RHP Manny Aybar (free agent from San Francisco), LHP Ron Villone (free agent from Pittsburgh), RHP Mike Jackson (free agent from Minnesota), RHP Ricky Bottalico (free agent from Philadelphia), INF Carlos Baerga (free agent from Boston), LHP Gary Noyce (trade from Chicago Cubs), OF Gary Johnson (trade from Chicago Cubs), RHP Elmer Dessens (trade from Cincinnati).
Departures: RHP Mike Fetters (free agent signed with Minnesota), RHP Todd Stottlemyre (retired), RHP Mike Morgan (free agent), LHP Brian Anderson (free agent signed with Cleveland), 1B Greg Colbrunn (free agent signed with Seattle), INF Jay Bell (free agent signed with New York Mets), C Damian Miller (traded to Chicago Cubs), 1B Erubiel Durazo (traded to Oakland).
As long as Schilling and Johnson pitch like they have been the past couple of years, there's no reason the D'backs won't be competitive in the NL West. And there's enough veteran firepower in the lineup to keep the team humming. However, the team would like to see what its youngsters can do because it doesn't look like they'll be able to rely on their veterans for much longer.