When the fans and media talk about the Arizona Diamondbacks 2009 season they typically point to the loss of Brandon Webb on Opening Day as the key reason why the team went from being a contender to a pretender.
While losing your staff ace is never a recipe for success, losing a single player should not result in a team completely collapsing like the Diamondbacks did this season. Looking back it was a combination of events that led to the downfall.
The lack of pitching depth definitely was a factor. Having shortstop Stephen Drew and center fielder Chris Young take a step backwards in their development also contributed to the problems.
Perhaps the most forgotten issue though was the loss of Conor Jackson. Jackson was the Diamondbacks most consistent hitter in 2008. I would argue that the loss of Jackson had more of an impact on the team than losing Brandon Webb.
While Webb is dominating when healthy, he can only control the outcome of a game every five days. As a starting position player Jackson has the opportunity to impact every game. Even when not playing, Jackson is capable of pinch hitting and changing the outcome.
When Jackson was finally correctly diagnosed with valley fever it became a waiting game to see when or if he would be able to return. Valley fever drains your body of all energy and more than a few people never return to full health again.
The 2009 season was perhaps the most frustrating time in Jackson’s life. One day he would wake up thinking his recovery was progressing and the next day he would have no energy whatsoever.
It seemed as though for every step he took forward his body took two steps backwards. Finally during a minor league rehabilitation assignment in late August he gave up unable to put together consecutive days where he could play.
After the season ended, the Arizona Diamondbacks sent Jackson to instructional league in Tucson. They were hoping he would begin to regain his stamina. The plan was to monitor his progress and if it went well Jackson would be sent to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball.
All of this extra work was necessary to help him regain his strength and timing to make up for lost at-bats he missed this season. The other and perhaps more important part of this was to allow the Diamondbacks to evaluate Jackson’s future with the club.
Arizona has a log jam in the outfield with Justin Upton, Chris Young, Eric Byrnes, Gerardo Parra, and Alex Romero vying for three spots. If you add Conor Jackson to that mix you realize that two of these players will most likely not make the team next season.
There has been discussion within the Diamondbacks organization that if Jackson did not rebound during instructional and winter ball that the team would non-tender him cutting ties with Jackson making him a free agent.
The reports from Tucson said Jackson was playing well and he was able to play on consecutive days without the fatigue that had plagued him earlier in the year. After what everyone is calling a successful instructional league stint, Jackson was sent to the Dominican Republic.
Jackson is playing for Leones Del Escogido. Early indications are that Jackson is progressing nicely. Through eight games he is hitting .400 with four doubles, a home run, and seven runs batted in. He even has three stolen bases.
While it is still premature to claim Jackson is cured and back to his old self, it has to make Diamondbacks fans feel a little better knowing he may be back producing next season.
Of course this makes the Diamondbacks personnel decisions a little harder since it would appear if Jackson continues to progress as he is the team will offer him a contract for next season bringing the total of potential outfielders back up to six.
Perhaps the Diamondbacks fortunes aren’t quite a bleak as first imagined. If Jackson and Webb can both recover and contribute in 2010; next year will be a lot more fun at the ballpark.