WTNYJanuary 11, 2005
Better Than We Thought?
By Bryan Smith

A few weeks ago, I checked in on the A's slew of moves and how if affects their future going forward. Today, I would like to do the same with the D-Backs, who have been stockpiling players of the age bracket opposite of Billy Beane. Sure it was their subtraction of an aging veteran that has created the most buzz, but all that proved was Joe Garagiola's belief in 'quanity over quality'.

Most recently, Arizona finalized the off-and-on deal between them and the Los Angeles Dodgers for Shawn Green. The deal's expansion to four players hardly hurt the D-Backs' farm, as Dioner Navarro wasn't there long enough to be noticed, and none of the Juarez-Muegge-Perez trio was even noticed in the first place. So, in effect, they lost Randy Johnson for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Shawn Green and $19 million (ten from L.A., nine from N.Y.). In my mind, this both is a win in 2004 value (26 win shares to 25) and future value, as Randy realistically only had a year left in the desert anyway. Under that light, Arizona looks to be a winner.

On the free agent market, not so much. Other signings have made the Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz signings look disastrous, but we must still realize the monumental improvement they offer from last year. Worse are the signings of Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell, who will make a combined $2.65 million in 2005, with Counsell making another $1.75M in 2006. There were better deals to be had here, and this really stunts the growth of Alex Cintron and Scott Hairston, with the latter appearing to be nearing the 'bust' column.

The Glaus signing, and eventually the Green acquisition, has created a logjam of sorts at first base. Shea Hillenbrand has been loyally serving the Diamondbacks since they sickened of Byung-Hyun Kim, further fooling fans with his deceiving statistics. And on the other hand, there is Chad Tracy, who defied expectations in his first season of work at the hot corner. His defense was thought of terribly by fans though, so a move to first may create a vision of what Lyle Overbay would have brought to the table.

With Hillenbrand likely being dealt, and we'll look for possibilities in a second, the only open holes seem to be behind the plate and in center. The former should be some combination of Koyie Hill, Robby Hammock and Chris Snyder, with Hill the most logical option to get 2005 at-bats. No matter what, spending more than 750k on two catchers will be an overpayment, I'm afraid. As for centerfield, that will remain undecided. So far, we have seen the Diamondbacks express interest in both Eric Byrnes and Mike Cameron, though I view the Met as quite unlikely.

Instead, Billy Beane should lend another helping hand to the Diamondback organization, coming up with another one of his multi-team trades. His good friend J.P., for one reason or another, was once interested in Hillenbrand, giving us our three teams. The rumored offer for Byrnes is currently Jose Valverde, and for Hillenbrand, Adam Peterson. If Beane prefers the latter, this trade could be done quickly and easily. No matter what, I have a hard time believing Riccardi and Billy can't figure something out.

This makes the Arizona 2005 lineup something like this:

1. Eric Byrnes- CF
2. Craig Counsell- 2B
3. Luis Gonzalez- LF
4. Troy Glaus- 3B
5. Shawn Green- RF
6. Chad Tracy- 1B
7. Koyie Hill- C
8. Royce Clayton- SS

Not terrible, but still a far cry from what we had envisioned last October. What will remain extremely important, for Garagiola's sanity, is a lot of health. It's not a terrible prediction to see Green, Gonzalez and Glaus needing to move to first in the coming years, which could be disastrous for a team that has all three until 2007 (Glaus until '08).

Furthermore, this currently blocks the Diamondbacks' two best prospects, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. You'll see how the two stack up against each other next week, but no matter how you rank them, both are marquee prospects for this organization. The problem, is they were once thought to be the future corner outfielders in the Arizona desert. My guess is that Gonzalez or Green will be the player most likely to move to first, opening up the RF spot for Quentin, or if he falls, Josh Kroeger or Jon Zeringue. This really hurts the D-Back future for Jackson and Chad Tracy.

What that projected lineup will not block, however, is the future for Sergio Santos and Stephen Drew. My guess is that not only does Drew get signed, but then moved to center, where he'll ultimately be Byrnes' successor in center. Santos will take over for Royce Clayton in 2006, though it's entirely plausible that he will one day shift somewhere for Justin Upton. That's a situation left for re-evaluation come June.

Interestingly enough, the Diamondbacks are plentiful in both veteran hitters and prospect sluggers, but the well runs a bit drier on the pitching end. This off season has seen the overhaul of the Johnson-Webb-Fossum trio atop the rotation, and seen it changed to Vazquez-Ortiz-Webb. If you view this change via Win Shares, it represents a loss of one win, going from 36 to 33. What could actually, gasp, help is the upcoming signing of Shawn Estes. The southpaw accounted for nine Win Shares last year, presumably more than Arizona got out of their mixed-bad fourth spot.

While Estes does continue to bring a veteran feel to this team, it ignores the fact that Brad Halsey and Mike Gosling are better choices for the spot. Though my guess is that Halsey will be the fifth starter for now, with Fossum replacing the newest Cub (Stephen Randolph) in the bullpen. So, the rotation as we know it, though I wouldn't ever put Estes and Halsey back-to-back:

1. Javier Vazquez- RHP
2. Russ Ortiz- RHP
3. Brandon Webb- RHP
4. Shawn Estes- LHP
5. Brad Halsey- LHP

Since Arizona doesn't have a lot of pitching prospects, this really isn't blocking much. I do like Dustin Nippert, who should be ready to replace Shawn Estes in the 2006 season. Vazquez, Ortiz and Webb will all likely be here until 2007 or 2008, though this doesn't look to effect any real prospect (sorry Chico) too negatively.

Finally, let's move onto the bullpen. You shouldn't see a lot of changes here, though recent reports have the team close to signing Steve Reed. Again, another veteran signing, though I've always liked the way Reed competes against every batter. With Fossum moving to the bullpen, and expected improvements from everybody in the bullpen, I really like the way this turns out:

CL- Jose Valverde
SU- Greg Aquino
MR- Oscar Villareal
MR- Mike Koplove
MR- Steve Reed
LOOGY- Randy Choate
LH/Long- Casey Fossum

So, this leaves five open spots for the bench. I think we have to assume Robby Hammock, Alex Cintron and Matt Kata all get spots, which shouldn't be too damning on the offense. Finally, I would give the final two spots to Luis Terrero and Josh Kroeger, a RH hitter and a leftie, speed and power, centerfield and the corners.

What will this team do? If we look at 2003 Win Shares, since many were injured in 2004, and just view the ten veterans acquired (assuming Byrnes and Reed but not Estes) this winter, you get 142. Remember, a .500 team should get 243 Win Shares, meaning that the team would need 101 WS from Koyie Hill, Chad Tracy, Shawn Estes, Brad Halsey, their bullpen and their bench. I'm pretty sure such a thing could be done, and if many out-do their 2003 number, even 85-90 wins. Given the uncertainty from the rest of the division, it remains possible the Diamondbacks could come back and win this division.

And for kicks, a quick look at what the Tuscon offense could look like next year:

C- Chris Snyder
1B- Jesus Cota
2B- Scott Hairston
SS- Sergio Santos
3B- Jamie D'Antona
LF- Conor Jackson
CF- Victor Hall
RF- Carlos Quentin

Does Vegas offer 2005 PCL odds yet?


Bryan, great article, just what I was hoping to read today.

I don't believe the Diamondbacks recent moves are part of any long-term plan. Its a lot to ask of Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin to wait until at least 2007 for a spot to open up now that the team has traded for Shawn Green (particularly since both should be ready to contribute in 2005). I think it is more likely that Carlos Quentin is the odd man out here with Shawn Green remaining in right and Conor Jackson taking over at first base in 2005. Bryan, what do you think of this possibility?

I keep seeing good reports about Chris Snyder's defense, and he obviously has more power than Hill. So why is Hill continually being mentioned as the starter for this year? Since I've really never seen either of them play, I'm sure I am missing something easy.

I think the Diamondbacks are unfairly being criticized this offseason (not by you, Bryan - you're the first to give them any credit at all). Sure they overpaid for Russ Ortiz, but he's monumentally better than three of their starters last season and its not like the league has been fiscally responsible in signing league average pitchers this offseason. By looking at all of their moves as a whole, they'll likely improve by 20-30 wins this season. Thats pretty huge. They won 51 games last year, and they weren't likely to sell a lot of tickets with a repeat performance. They *might* be better in the long run if they went with a youth movement but then again they might not. At least now they have a chance to be competitive in 2005.

I think they're being fairly criticized for all the right reasons. They just came off a last place finish, they have a stacked farm system with prospects at every position, and they were just able to unload one of the most valuable players in the game before he retires (obviously this ownership is somewhat looking towards the future).

Unfortunately this team is not being built to accomodate their young and emerging talent...but I can't blame the new ownership for wanting to come in and spend money. As an A's fan, I gotta respect their commitment...but also as an A's fan, I gotta shake my head as I watch them piss all this money down the drain. They want to win so badly, they really do. But at the end of this 3-4 year spending binge they will have absolutely nothing to show for it, other than some frustrated blocked prospects, and a $100 million tab.

Of course this franchise is still in great shape, they have a much better team on the field than last year, and they're farm system is untouched. Who knows, these young guys might blend seamlessly with the veterans over the next few years and they could have a real powerhouse in AZ. But wouldn't that $100 million that they're spending on glaus/green/ortiz be a lot better spent once quentin, jackson, drew, snyder, santos and the like all start to emerge.

Bryan, nice roundup on D-Backs. Though, I wish Hairston gets more of a shot somewhere in the lineup. Does Bruney get a spot in the bullpen? I thought Aquino earned ths closers job after the team soured on Valvarde. But, its a new regime I guess. Too bad about Backman though. He put the team in a situation where they ahd no choice. But, then again he was managing in their organization going in, so problem lays with D-Back management.

Hey guys, thanks for the comments. To answer a few quick questions, I predicted Hill because I think the club would be best suited to give Snyder some time at AAA. And David, yes, it's entirely possible that Bruney gets a spot and Valverde loses his closer position. Those are just guesses more than anything else. Jake, I like your guesses, though I just don't know about Luis and Shawn staying in the outfield.

As for this offseason as a whole, I think there is a lot of good and bad. No matter what, I think you have to accept these two different statements:

1. This team is a lot better than they were last year.
2. This team was built a bit negligently, both with the $ spent in comparison to other contracts, and with an eye for the future.

But, this is not the first team to overpay and ignore their prospects, so I'm not sure how much we can fault them there. I think this was a fine offseason for a team that needs to start drawing fans again before they become second to the Suns in the Phoenix area.

They definitely need to maintain their fan base, and thus I think they've made the right decision. They can't go through 5 years of bottom feeding like the Marlins did after their first championship. Prospects are just that, prospects.

Hi Bryan, I've read your blog a lot of times, but I thought I'd post here since you're talking about my team, the Dbacks. A few comments.

Gonzo's deal expires after 2006. The Dbacks have a mutual option for 2007, but if Jackson/Quentin are tearing it up by then, I can see Gonzo riding in the sunset to make room in LF for Jackson. That may mean Green to 1B to make room for Quentin in RF. After Green is gone (after 2007, as I just don't see AZ picking up his option for 2008), Jackson can play 1B, Quentin RF, and Zeringue LF. Then, there's Kroeger, of course. Not to mention Chris Carter, who I think will rise through the system very quickly. His best position may be 1B or DH, however. And, this also supposes Glaus stays healthy and at 3B.

I think Drew might end up at 2B or CF, if and when he signs. I can see AZ putting him in CF to rush him through the system; plus, they've got a very interesting prospect in Schindewolf at 2B who I would like to see get a chance with AZ. His BB/K ratio, and supposedly excellent defense at 2B, make him a more likely partner for Santos at SS. I have no idea if AZ will gamble on Justin Upton this summer; if he's all that and more, then I'd love to see AZ sign him, sure. By the time he's ready for SS, Santos could move to 3B as Glaus's deal should have expired by then.

In terms of pitching, I too see AZ giving Halsey a shot at the fifth spot, possibly offering him some healthy competition with Villarreal, Gosling and Edgar Gonzalez in ST. I also think AZ might let Estes pitch in the 3rd spot, sliding Webb to the second spot (my preference) or the fourth spot. I don't care that much one way or another, really.

In terms of pitching prospects, Nippert had a Tommy John surgery this past June and is gone for a year. That puts his ETA in AZ at 2007 at the earliest. I still like Chico more than you do, and then AZ has Ramon Pena (previously Adriano Rosario) who, despite aging a couple of years, is only 22. Also, kids like Enrique Gonzalez and 2004 picks AJ Shappi and Garrett Mock figure to run up the system quite quickly, and might get in the rotation mix in 2007. That would be very nice.

Again, thanks for your great article. And keep up the excellent work.