Maybe the Tooth Fairy Can Help

Since the season is now over for the Arizona Diamondbacks there are many decisions that need to be made. Each player and coach will be assessed to determine whether they fit within the vision that the franchise has for 2007 and beyond. It will not just be talent that will be evaluated, there are also other factors. Every year we hear about chemistry and how important it is not just on the field but in the clubhouse. When a team works closely together over the course of 162 games it becomes paramount that the players and coaches be on the same page and working towards the same team goals instead of 25 players working on individual goals with hopes that the team will benefit. So when general manager Josh Byrnes and manager Bob Melvin meet they will go over each player and see if they are a piece to the puzzle or if they go in the extras box to be used as trading material to find pieces that better fit. When all of the pieces have been laid out and Byrnes and Melvin have a clear picture of what the puzzle will look like, then the hard part begins. Can we afford to put this puzzle together?

After the 1998 season it was clear that for the Diamondbacks to gain a loyal fan base and retain a strong flow of fans into the stadium they would need to put a winner on the field rather quickly. Owner Jerry Colangelo had a 5 year plan for building the team but after that first season the plan changed and timetables escalated to bring the future into focus sooner rather than later. Instead of getting by with expansion draft players and building a strong farm system that would pay dividends in 4 or 5 years, Jerry chose to delve into the free agent market to bring in established talent who knew how to win. From October through December 1998 general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. and Jerry Colangelo courted several big name stars such as Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre, and Bernie Williams. The Diamondbacks also traded away youngster Karim Garcia for a journeyman outfielder named Luis Gonzalez. Each of these players came to town and Colangelo presented his plan of how he was going to make the Diamondbacks a winner. With the exception of Bernie Williams, all of them bought off on the dream and signed a contract to play for Arizona. Outfielder Steve Finley had wanted an opportunity to join the team as well but after the signing of Randy Johnson, Jerry Colangelo stated at the press conference that the Diamondbacks were probably finished in the free agent market. Finley contacted Phoenix Suns coach Danny Ainge asking if he could talk with Jerry and give him an opportunity to be a Diamondback. Ainge provided Finley with Jerry’s cell phone number and the two finally connected and consummated a deal to make Steve Finley the Diamondbacks center fielder. All of this talent included the perfect chemistry. Each of these pieces fit perfectly with those that were already a part of the team such as Jay Bell, Matt Williams, Brian Anderson, and Travis Lee. The one thing that didn’t quite fit was the price tag of this new puzzle. Jerry Colangelo is never one to accept problems so he worked feverishly to try and make the puzzle more affordable without changing the picture. This meant creative financing at its finest. Salaries were deferred to push the burden into the future when it was expected that the Diamondbacks would have an established and strong fan base coupled with television revenue money to pay back these salaries when they came due. The problem with this plan was that the fans did not flock back to the ballpark and the revenue streams were not as strong as everyone had hoped. The result was a need for additional capital to pay for this plan and that capital came with the price of giving up control of the team. This in turn led to the other owners letting Jerry Colangelo go which brought the beginning of the Ken Kendrick era as managing general partner.

Today the Diamondbacks find themselves with a season ticket holder base which continues to slide although the decreases have leveled off recently. The total paid attendance for the 2006 season broke the 2 million mark in the last weekend of the season thanks in part to the farewell to Luis Gonzalez the last game of the season. Those deferred salaries from 1999 are still on the books and will be for another 3 years. Add to this that the Diamondbacks are paying Russ Ortiz roughly $20 million to not pitch for them and they are paying another $4 – $5 million to the New York Mets so Shawn Green doesn’t play for Arizona either. All of this will add up to another long winter as Josh Byrnes and Bob Melvin try to define the picture the puzzle will represent while maintaining strict budget parameters. If only revenues could somehow increase it would allow the Diamondbacks to pursue some of the upper tier talent especially starting pitching.

Today my daughter Mallorie went in to have her wisdom teeth taken out. As we brought her home and laid her in bed, my son Dakota was worried about his older sister. After assuring him that she would be fine, his attention turned to her teeth. Did she get to keep the wisdom teeth after the doctor removed them? None of us had even thought to ask. I was curious why that mattered to Dakota. He explained, whenever he lost a tooth the tooth fairy left a dollar under his pillow and that was just for some crummy baby teeth. He was pretty sure the tooth fairy would pay big bucks for teeth this size especially if they contained wisdom. He had a very good point and one I could not argue with. It suddenly occurred to me, maybe this is how the Diamondbacks can get out of the financial condition they are in with the deferred salaries of former players. Maybe what we need is for people to start losing some teeth and we can use the tooth fairy money to get some starting pitching. I’d be more than happy to contribute a molar with a cap on it if it would get us a 20 game winner.

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