From the moment San Francisco Giants’ closer Brian Wilson threw that 90 MPH slider by Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz the 2010 season was over. While the Giants accumulated on the infield of Rangers Stadium, the clock began ticking for all 30 Major League Baseball clubs.
That out signified the beginning of what feels like an eternal off-season. Most of the country has begun preparations for the cold winter months. The last thing on anyone’s mind is baseball and the “Boys of Summer”.
For clubs like the Arizona Diamondbacks, that moment marked not an end but a new beginning. After setting up permanent residence in the National League Western Division cellar, the team hopes to vacate that neighborhood and move closer to their neighbors the Giants.
The 2010 Diamondbacks had several problem areas highlighted by the ridiculous 5.74 ERA for the bullpen (the third worst ERA in baseball history) and the incredulous 1,529 strikeouts by the Diamondbacks “offense”.
Both of these areas are a high priority for new General Manager Kevin Towers. Towers has spent the majority of his time thus far evaluating the front office and setting up the coaching staff under manager Kirk Gibson.
Now Towers focus can move forward defining what this team will look like not just in 2011 but beyond. It did not take long to see the first changes to the roster. Less than 24 hours after the completion of the World Series the Diamondbacks made their first move.
Arizona declined their option on first baseman Adam LaRoche, the team’s most productive hitter in 2010. The option was mutual meaning both the team and LaRoche would have to agree, something both camps admitted was probably not going to happen.
LaRoche hit .261 with the Snakes last season including 25 home runs and driving in 100. That RBI number lead the team. Along with that production came a hidden cost, 172 strikeouts. While 172 punch-outs seems ridiculous it is important to put that in perspective. That total put him at number four in all of Major League Baseball and was second on the team.
The reigning strikeout king continues to be third baseman Mark Reynolds who whiffed 211 times, the third consecutive season he has led that category.
Since being named GM, Towers has stated the strikeout total was near the top of his list to address. We’ve now seen how he is planning to do so, through attrition. Rather than trying to change the hitting style of the players Towers is looking to change the player.
With the departure of LaRoche, the Diamondbacks roster still has four of the top 20 strikeout leaders so Towers work is far from over. It should act as an incentive to the remaining members of that club that they either need to reduce the strikeouts or they too could be filling out change of address forms before next season.
Losing LaRoche does open up a rather large hole at first base. His play last season was instrumental in the team’s fielding percentage. Defense is sometimes overlooked. Look for the Diamondbacks to venture into the free agent market for a slick fielding first baseman with a high on base percentage foregoing some offense and hopefully a lot of strikeouts.