At the conclusion of the 1998 season, then owner Jerry Colangelo made a decision to change the plans for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Instead of attempting to grow the fan base slowly as the team was built from high draft choices obtained by finishing at the bottom of the standings for an extended period, Colangelo decided the team needed a “win now” attitude.
During the off-season General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. set out to sign veteran players who wanted to win. It began with the Diamondbacks bringing Todd Stottlemyre to the desert. They went on to sign left-hander Greg Swindell, infielder Greg Colbrunn, and right-hander Armando Reynoso. They traded for left fielder Luis Gonzalez to strengthen the outfield and the coup of the off-season was signing left-hander Randy Johnson.
After the Johnson signing Colangelo announced that they were finished; no other free agents would be added. Looking at the roster the Diamondbacks were going to turn center field over to relatively unknown Dante Powell whom they got from the San Francisco Giants for Alan Embree.
As a fan I can tell you I was extremely nervous about how the outfield was shaping up. There were rumors that San Diego Padres center fielder Steve Finley was interested in coming to Arizona but after Colangelo’s announcement that did not seem to be possible.
Finley had other ideas. He called Danny Ainge whom he had previously met and asked if there was any way Ainge could help him contact Colangelo. Ainge gave Finley Colangelo’s cell phone number. Finley called the owner and expressed his desire to be a part of what the Diamondbacks were creating. Colangelo was so impressed with Finley that he offered Finley a four-year contract to play for Arizona. That signing brought the Diamondbacks their first Gold Glove and solidified the center of the diamond catapulting them to the playoffs in just their second year in existence
This off-season I have a sense of déjà vu. General Manager Kevin Towers has made a splash bringing in closer JJ Putz and adding several arms to the woeful bullpen making it much better at least on paper.
He has eliminated nearly 400 strikeouts from the team total by cutting ties with Adam LaRoche and trading Mark Reynolds to Baltimore. He has added a veteran presence with Xavier Nady, Geoff Blum, and Melvin Mora. He added Zach Duke to the middle of the rotation and brought in youngster Juan Miranda to play first.
Now Towers is publicly stating that he is about done and that he feels comfortable with the roster if the season should start today. I am left with that same uneasy feeling I had with Dante Powell in center those many years ago.
Can Miranda or youngster Brandon Allen handle first base for a full season? With LaRoche there last season, shortstop Stephen Drew and second baseman Kelly Johnson we much better defensively. I’m worried the defense will take a step backwards which could be catastrophic for this team.
I was hopeful that we would have a repeat of the Finley scenario and free agent Derrick Lee would reach out to owner Ken Kendrick or CEO Derrick Hall and we would have a New Years gift of a talented and good defensive first baseman. Instead Lee has signed with the Baltimore Orioles where he will hopefully make Reynolds look like a better fielder than he really is.
Hopefully we won’t be revisiting this day in September with the words “what if” drifting through an empty Chase Field as the Diamondbacks finish in the basement of the NL West for the third consecutive year.