Anybody But Tony, Anytime But Now

When Tony Clark signed a one year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks the expectations were that he would come in as an insurance policy to be used in case the Diamondbacks youth movement didn’t pan out.  In that season Clark saw more than his fair share of playing time getting 349 at-bats and put up statistics that were well above his career averages.  His .304 batting average coupled with 30 home runs and 87 RBI infused life into the Diamondbacks and led to a 2-year contract extension that kept him in what was then purple and turquoise.  Despite the gaudy numbers that Clark put up that season, expectations were that his role would continue to be a back-up infielder and pinch-hitter for the snakes in 2006.  Clark would also take on the role of clubhouse leader and mentor for young Conor Jackson to help mold him into a more complete defensive player.  Clark had an injury plagued 2006 campaign but his off the field contributions were immeasurable to this team as Arizona began infusing more youth into its roster.

The 2007 season saw Clark again wearing the mantle of clubhouse leader and it was a daily occurrence seeing him counseling one of the younger players from the bench or on the field.  His defense continued to impress everyone and Bob Melvin would rightfully insert Clark into many games as a late inning defensive upgrade over Conor Jackson.  As the season progressed and the up-and-coming Arizona Diamondbacks tried to establish an identity, it was Tony Clark who penned the statement “Anybody, Anytime” which became the mantra of the team and the city.  Simply stated it meant that any player on the Diamondbacks roster could be a hero at any time and lead his team to victory.  It established that the collective team was more important than the individual contributor which is a foreign concept to many major league players.  The motto worked for the Diamondbacks.  It seemed as though a different player stepped up each night to make something special happen which led to a 90 win season for the Diamondbacks.
This past season was the end of Clark’s two-year extension making him a free agent after the year ended.  I think everyone just assumed that Tony would be returning to the desert in 2008.  It seemed like such a natural fit.  Signs point to the fact that Conor Jackson may never develop into an elite defensive first baseman but having Tony Clark around to assist and teach him the nuances of that position can only be viewed as positive.  Clark’s presence in the clubhouse is definitely still needed as this young group of ball players begin to mature into major league positions.
Over the past month few details were released on how contract negotiations were going.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of movement but the overall message appeared positive so the fans were led to believe a deal would get done before Spring Training.  It was anticipated that Tony would be brought back on a two year deal the only question was the money and structure of the contract which was dependant on Tony’s role.  Would he continue to be a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch hitter or would he have a more active role getting more at-bats taking away playing time from Conor Jackson?  Even with these questions the structure of a deal began to formulate.  Clark’s representatives and the Diamondbacks were $750,000 apart which sadly is pocket change in the current baseball economy.  It really did look as though Clark would be back in the familiar Sedona Red.  That all changed with the flurry of deals that the Diamondbacks accomplished last week.  It was the Jose Valverde trade to Houston that sealed Tony Clark’s fate.  In exchange for Valverde the Diamondbacks received pitchers Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez but more pertinent they also received infielder/outfielder Chris Burke.  Burke is capable of playing nearly every position making him the utility player the Diamondbacks needed.  Unfortunately that eliminated the roster spot that was Tony Clark’s.  This effectively eliminated Tony’s chances of returning to Arizona for a fourth year.  From a statistical perspective it is hard to argue that fact.  Burke is younger and has more versatility and potential.  It is the soft skills that I am most worried about though.  How do you put a value on the leadership and mentoring abilities of someone like Tony Clark?  It is in these areas that I am afraid the Diamondbacks lost out on and I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt them.

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