The Arizona Diamondbacks are a team without an identity. Their history is limited; their fan support is mediocre. Although they have won a World Series, it was a Series that will always be defined, not by the Diamondbacks victory, but by the events in New York City and the Series' role in the city's healing process. Most of the key players from that team are better known for playing elsewhere - Schilling, Johnson, Mark Grace, Reggie Sanders.
pictured: Curt Schilling
The greatest player in team history spent only 8 of his 19 seasons with the club, and was, aside from being a tremendous hitter for five years, a fairly unremarkable player: average in size, average in appearance, soft spoken, and with a thoroughly generic name: Luis Gonzalez, a name shared by two big leaguers and 13 professional baseball players (by comparison, there have been 3 "John Smiths" in Major League history, and 41 pros). Sure, they tried to nickname him "Gonzo", but that word is forever linked to these guys:
pictured: the risks of mescaline
In a way, the team fits the city: Phoenix has a large population, but it is spread out over a massive area (larger than Los Angeles and almost 2/3rds larger than NYC). It lacks the strong identity of cities like Chicago or New York, or even Dallas, and it is far too large to have the charm of a city like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. It is a sprawling mass of humanity in the middle of a state renowned for its awesome natural beauty. Once you've seen the Grand Canyon, Phoenix just can't compete. And so in the search for inspiration, we have to look elsewhere.
Specifically, we look to the owner of the largest chain of unpainted furniture and bathroom fixture outlets throughout the Midwest: Nathan Arizona, Sr. (born Nathan Huffheins).
The team would do well to follow Nathan's example. Manager Kirk Gibson already has a similar philosophy: "Do it my way or watch your butt." Coming off a 65-97 season, some butt watching might be in order.
any excuse to show a picture of Kerri Walsh is a good excuse
Also, much in the same way that a person might be reluctant to buy furniture from a store called "Unpainted Huffheins", I can see why fans might be reluctant to follow the "Diamondbacks". It is a clunky name with a minor-league feel. I've never been very good at coming up with names (as my children, Pastrami and Bologna, will be quick to point out), so I will avoid making any suggestions, but I'm sure a clever person could improve on "Diamondbacks". So, without further ado, on to the preview.
"Eight hundred leaf-tables and no chairs? You can't sell leaf-tables and no chairs. Chairs, you got a dinette set. No chairs, you got dick!" - Diamondbacks’ Pitching
The Diamondbacks pitching staff had a rough time of it in 2010, allowing 836 runs, second worst in the Senior Circuit. That said, they boast a surprisingly competent starting rotation, with six good candidates for the rotation. Unfortunately, those six solid leaf -tables are supported by very few chairs out in the bullpen.
Joe Saunders (age 30; 2010: 9-17, 4.47 with LAA/ARI) Saunders broke out in 2008 with the Angels, winning 17 games and making the All-Star team. He slipped a bit in 2009, and was struggling last year when the Angels sent him away for Dan Haren. Saunders is no Haren (although they had similar performances in Arizona), but he is an experienced starter with a reasonable price tag ($5.5 million). I don't consider him the #1 starter, but for simplicity I am going with the assignments listed on the Diamondbacks official website.
Daniel Hudson (age 24; 2010: 8-2, 2.45 ERA with CHW/ARI). Hudson was acquired in a mid-season trade for Edwin Jackson. While Jackson threw a no-hitter on June 25, and had some success down the stretch for the Sox, the Snakes appear to be winners so far in this trade. Hudson is a young kid with great stuff who was dominant after the trade (7-1, 1.69 ERA in 11 starts). The Reds handed him his only NL defeat on August 17, in his worst start for Arizona, where he went 7 innings, allowing 3 runs on nine hits, walking zero and striking out 10. As I said, it was his worst start. In his other outing against the Good Guys, he tossed 8 innings of shutout ball in a 7-2 win.
Ian Kennedy (age 26; 2010: 9-10, 3.80 ERA). Kennedy emerged as a solid middle-of -the-rotation guy in 2010 after coming over from the Yankees in a three-team trade that also featured Edwin Jackson (who would later become Daniel Hudson), along with Curtis Granderson, Phil Coke, and a cast of thousands. Kennedy has some control issues, and may have been a bit lucky last year, but he is a quality pitcher who is not arbitration eligible until 2013.
Barry Enright (age 25; 2010: 6-7, 3.91 ERA). Enright is the only home-grown prospect in the rotation. A second-round draft pick in 2007, Enright is a soft-tosser who relies on variety and location, much like a certain Nasty Hook we all know and (in some cases) love. Like Bron-Bron, Enright will serve up the occasional gopher ball, allowing 20 HR in just 99 IP last season. Still, none of that matters because the lucky SOB got to go to college in this paradise:
Zach Duke (age 28; 2010: 8-15, 5.72 ERA in PIT). Duke is out until at least May with a broken bone in his hand, so it remains to be seen if he will ever make it into the rotation at all. Duke broke into baseball in 2005 with a line that looks superficially like Daniel Hudson's 2010 (8-2, 1.81 ERA). However, Duke never had great stuff, and the league had him figured out by 2006. After a solid 2009, Duke was terrible last year, and it remains to be seen whether he can bounce back. The injury puts him in a tough spot, as it allows Armando Galarraga to claim the #5 sport to open the season.
Armando Galarraga (age 29; 2010: 4-9, 4.48 ERA in DET). Another guy at the bottom of the rotation that relies on control and location, Galarraga will forever be known as "The Guy Who Got Screwed Out Of A Perfect Game By Jim Joyce".
"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."
Bullpen: In 2010, Arizona had one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues. JJ Putz was signed to address this problem. Putz, 34, was solid last year on Chicago's South Side, posting a 2.83 ERA and a 1.037 WHIP, but he hasn't been a full-time closer since 2007 with Seattle. Still, he is a huge upgrade to an otherwise dismal squad. Juan Gutierrez (0-6, 5.08 ERA, 15 SV) will return to a setup role, while David Hernandez (8-8, 4.31 ERA in BAL) will try to add depth, although he could move into the rotation if there are further injuries. There is not a single experienced left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster, opening the door for Mike Hampton (yes, that Mike Hampton) to compete for a spot. Overall, they should be better than last year thanks to Putz, but a weak minor-league system combined with a limited budget usually spells disaster in the pen.
Overview: Hudson and Kennedy will give fans something to cheer about, and the rest of the staff should be OK. However, the bullpen and the offense will likely combine to create a ton of "Harang Games" for these guys.
Tomo Ohka All-Star: Daniel Hudson is working on his application.
"And if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass a-hoppin'." - Diamondbacks’ Offense
The Kings of Infinite K's should be slightly less strike-outy this year, as Mark Reynolds has moved on to the Charm City and taken his 211 whiffs with him, while Adam LaRoche and his 172 punch-outs are now doing business in our nation's capital. Still, the bulk of the lineup will provide plenty of breeze on those hot Phoenix nights.
Catcher: Miguel Montero (.266/.332/.438) is the clear-cut #1 catcher for the first time in his career. At 27, he figures to be a solid presence in the lineup, providing above average power and decent on-base skills for a catcher.
First Base: Juan Miranda VS Brandon Allen VS Russell Branyan. The big Spring Training battle is at first base. Allen, 25, was acquired a couple of years ago from the White Sox. He has decent minor league numbers (.264/.347/.477), but hasn't hit much in his brief time in the big leagues (.221/.320/.389). Disenchanted with his progress, the team acquired Miranda from the Yankees. Miranda, 27, is a similar player with somewhat better success (.281/.367/.478; .253/.330/.458). Miranda appears to be the clear front runner at this point. Russell Branyan has been brought in to compete for the job as well. All three bat left-handed, so a platoon arrangement of any kind seems unlikely.
Second Base: Kelly Johnson (age 29; 2010: .284/.370/.496) Johnson rebounded from a poor 2009 in Atlanta to post the best numbers of his career with his new team. He's a talented hitter in the prime of his career, so it will not be shocking if he is able to equal his 2010 numbers this year. If the team struggles, however, Johnson could be dealt , as he is eligible for free agency in 2012.
Third Base: Melvin Mora (age 39; 2010: .285/.358/.421 in COL) The ancient Mora has posted an OPS+ of over 100 only once in the past 5 years (116 in 2008) and hasn't played in more than 135 games since 2006. None of this is a good sign. Geoff Blum, who is 37 and has a career OPS of .696, could see some time at 3B.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew (age 28; 2010: .278/.352/.458) Future Red Stephen Drew put together another fine season in 2010. A very good hitter for a SS, and a decent fielder, Drew combines with Johnson to form one of the more potent middle infields in baseball.
CF: Chris Young (age 27; 2010: .257/.341/.452) A classic "five-tool" player who has struggled with his consistency, Young enjoyed his finest season to date in 2010. Perhaps even more amazingly, he did it while also pitching for the San Diego Padres, and apparently, pursuing a career as a metrosexual country music star.
A true Renaissance Man
RF: Justin Upton (age 23; 2010: .273/.356/.442) The current "Face of the Franchise", Upton saw his power numbers drop a bit after an excellent 2009 season. Still only 23, Upton has enormous upside - he is to Arizona what Jay Bruce is to Cincinnati. The most surprising thing about Upton is that despite having hit .300 with 26 HR as a 21-year old, he might be only the 3rd best young right fielder in the NL.
There is very little in the way of dangerous bats off the bench. Blanco, Parra, and Abreu are probably locks for the bench, with two spots up for grabs among the others.
Overview: They were 8th out of 16 in the league in runs scored last year, and it seems unlikely there will be much improvement in 2011. Upton still has room to grow (and to a lesser extent so does Young), but Johnson is a good candidate to regress a bit, and it remains to be seen if they can reproduce LaRoche's production at 1B. I expect they will be somewhere between 6th-10th in the league in runs scored this year.
Bill Hall All-Star: Kelly Johnson has hit the Reds pretty hard in his career (.306/.387/.529).
"Hell they're all disgruntled. I ain't running no daisy farm." - Former Reds
The 40-man roster includes long-time Reds' stalwart Willie Bloomquist, as well as future Red Stephen Drew. Micah Owings, Branyan, and Wily Mo Pena are also in camp as non-roster invitees. If all three make the team, they could change their name to "Washigton Nationals:West".
"You know what I think? I think you're an evil man." - Jim Edmonds Memorial Award
Not a ton to hate here, but manager Kirk Gibson has certainly annoyed a lot of people throughout his career. I'm of two minds about Gibson: On the one hand, he helped the hated Dodgers win a World Series; on the other, he defeated the hated Tony LaRussa. I'm originally from Detroit, so I'm grateful to him for the 1984 World Series, but I still resent him for his childish meltdown in the playoffs in 1987 (and because he went to Michigan State).
"And you, my fine friend, are the one who's gonna get his butt kicked." - Prediction
At least some improvement on their 65-97 record seems likely, if for no other reason than there is a lot more room to move up than down. The starting rotation is entirely revamped from the beginning of last season, and much improved. That, plus the addition of Putz, should be enough to add some wins, but not enough to compete in a tough division. I'll go with 73-89.