Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The new-look Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Big Question: Is character and passion enough for the Diamondbacks?
This is Kirk Gibson’s team now, and it only took me two days around Diamondbacks camp at the end of February to get that there is a new sheriff in town. A lot of managers talk about “playing the game the right way” and stuff, but Gibson lives it and breathes it. One gets the sense that, from the time he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed at night — assuming he sleeps — that he’s making eliminating horsesh– baseball his overriding goal. Gibson doesn’t seem to be addicted to Ecksteinian grinders or anything, but clearly values a certain attitude. And he hates bad defense. Oh, and cell phones. Dude HATES cell phones.
There is a real emphasis on character on the Diamondbacks, and it’s not just a Kirk Gibson thing. GM Kevin Towers gave an interview to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick last week in which extolled the virtues of “character, passion and desire.” And in terms of how good and how respected they were as players themselves, the Dbacks may have the most notable coaching staff in baseball. Matt Williams, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor, Eric Young and Gibson himself were all guys that Gibson would have loved to manage and who, at one time or another, were likely described as men who “played the game the right way.”
But will this make any difference? Hard to see how, because with a couple of exceptions we’ll mention below, this is the same Diamondbacks team that lost 97 games last year. They shipped out two guys who didn’t fit the new mold in Dan Haren and Mark Reynolds, but those guys actually have some baseball value too. They brought in some veteran presence, but that veteran presence — Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Henry Blanco and Geoff Blum — isn’t exactly going to make a competitive difference.
Which isn’t to say that the team didn’t need an attitude adjustment. Indeed, based on a lot of the stories that came out of the A.J. Hinch-era Dbacks, an attitude adjustment was necessary. But it’s certainly not sufficient, and I fail to see how, exactly, the Dbacks are all that better off from a competitive perspective in 2011 than they were in 2010. And I imagine in an unguarded moment that Kirk Gibson would admit that. Not that Kirk Gibson ever has any unguarded moments.
So what else is going on?
- There are a lot of new faces at the corners, with first base looking to be some combination of Juan Miranda and Russell Branyan, third base some combination of Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum and left field some combination of Xavier Nady, Brandon Allen and, heck maybe even Wily Mo Pena. Given how much Gibson is said to disdain strikeouts and bad defense, you might guess who among those guys will see the most playing time.
- Ian Kennedy is probably going to be the Opening Day starter. Probably would have been Joe Saunders if he hadn’t missed time for being sick. Not exactly an inspiring one-two punch. Really, though, Daniel Hudson — who I love — is poised to be the team’s ace. This is a rotation that will miss having Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson around. It’s a staff that’s gonna get beat up a lot.
- The bullpen was a crime against humanity last year. Thankfully, Kevin Towers has shown over the course of his career that he may be the best bullpen-building GM in the game. Adding J.J. Putz as the closer will certainly help, but he can’t do it all. Towers’ kung-fu notwithstanding, the pen still looks to be a pretty weak spot.
- Justin Upton took a step back in 2010, mostly in the power department. There are rumblings that he’s going to try to use more of the field this year rather than pull the ball and that he’s going to run more. He’s still only 23, so it’s not surprising his power is still a bit erratic. I just hope this focusing on other stuff isn’t an effort to deemphasize his power game.
So how are they gonna do?
Badly! Last place in the NL West. But they’ll be playing badly The Right Way. And who could ask for anything more?