Running down the rosters: Arizona Diamondbacks

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Give the Diamondbacks credit; even though all of the team’s key players were already under control for 2012, they didn’t stand pat after winning the NL West crown last season. In writing the team’s postmortem last October, I stated that adding a No. 3 starter had to be the priority. That’s what the team did in trading for Trevor Cahill. The Diamondbacks also spent to re-sign Aaron Hill and Joe Saunders (after originally non-tendering him) and then made one of the winter’s most surprising additions in bringing in free agent Jason Kubel.

Rotation
Ian Kennedy – R
Daniel Hudson – R
Trevor Cahill – R
Joe Saunders – L
Josh Collmenter – R

Bullpen
J.J. Putz – R
David Hernandez – R
Takashi Saito – R
Brad Ziegler – R
Craig Breslow – L
Joe Paterson – L
Bryan Shaw – R

SP next in line: Wade Miley (L), Trevor Bauer (R), Joe Martinez (R), Barry Enright (R)
RP next in line: Sam Demel (R), Jonathan Albaladejo (R), Mike Zagurski (L), Zach Kroenke (L)

That’s not necessarily a great rotation — I think Hudson is the only one of the returnees likely to duplicate his 2011 performance — but it’s certainly one that will keep the Diamondbacks in games. The Cahill acquisition was excellent, though it came at the expense of the team’s most major league-ready pitching prospect in Parker. Fortunately, Bauer, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, might not be far behind.

The bullpen is underrated. Putz can’t be counted on to stay healthy, but he was terrific over the course of 58 innings last season and Hernandez is perfectly capable of filling in as closer. Ziegler is an underrated righty specialist and can be paired with Breslow and Paterson in the seventh inning. There’s also plenty of depth. I especially liked the move to sign Albaladejo, the Yankees castoff who spent last year in Japan.

Lineup
SS Stephen Drew – L
2B Aaron Hill – R
RF Justin Upton – R
C Miguel Montero – L
CF Chris Young – R
LF Jason Kubel – L
1B Paul Goldschmidt – R
3B Ryan Roberts – R

Bench
C Henry Blanco – R
1B Lyle Overbay – L
INF John McDonald – R
INF-OF Willie Bloomquist – R
OF Gerardo Parra – L

Next in line: C Craig Tatum (R), INF Geoff Blum (S), INF Cody Ransom (R), OF Cole Gillespie (R), OF David Winfree (R)

The Diamondbacks still don’t have a real leadoff hitter, but it’s a potent lineup anyway. They’ll likely again try to get by with Drew in the spot, or Bloomquist if Drew opens the season on the disabled list. I’m not a fan of Hill in the two hole either, but he did hit .315/.386/.492 in 124 at-bats after coming over from the Jays last season.

Everything after that looks good. The Diamondbacks finished fourth in the NL in homers and third in slugging percentage last season. I think they’ll improve on both of those positions this season. The two teams that finished ahead of them in slugging happened to be the teams that lost Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.

Part of the reason for that is the Kubel signing. I’m not really sure he’s an upgrade on Parra in left field — the power will come at the expense of defense — but it did give the team a lot more depth. Now they can just plug in Parra if an outfielder gets hurt. Without Kubel, they’d be stuck playing Bloomquist regularly or trying Gillespie or Winfree in the event of an outfield injury.

Another thing the Kubel signing did was give the team six bench players for five spots. Unless Drew or someone else needs to start off on the disabled list, Blum, the recipient of a foolish two-year contract last winter, will probably be released.

At the end of last season, I wasn’t optimistic about the Diamondbacks repeating in 2012. Now, I am. Props go out to ownership for expanding the budget and GM Kevin Towers for bringing in a couple of quality pieces. They definitely had a better winter than the Dodgers or Giants.

This Day in Transaction History: Phillies acquire John Kruk from Padres

John Kruk
Bernstein Associates/Getty Images
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John Kruk is one of the more underrated hitters in baseball history. Kruk, who is currently a broadcaster for the Phillies, had a 10-year career during which he hit exactly 100 homers, batted exactly .300, and posted an excellent .397 on-base percentage. In baseball history, there are only 32 members of the admittedly arbitrary 100/.300/.395+ club. Kruk is one of only 10 members of the club that played after 1963. The others: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramírez, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Wade Boggs. Of them, five are Hall of Famers. Trout and Votto will be, and Helton and Ramírez should be.

On this day in 1989, the Phillies made a franchise-altering trade, acquiring Kruk along with infielder Randy Ready from the Padres in exchange for outfielder Chris James. The Padres had just swept the Phillies at home and were hoping to jump into the playoff race. They immediately went into a losing skid, but caught fire at the end of the season, finishing 89-73. However, that wasn’t good enough as the Giants won the NL West with a 92-70 record. James was solid for the Padres, posting a .743 OPS with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 87 games.

Kruk had an interesting but brief major league career with the Padres. His roommate, Roy Plummer, was an armed robber. Kruk was completely unaware of this. In spring training of 1988, the FBI informed Kruk of his roommates’ activities. Kruk feared retribution from Plummer and said that the anxiety affected his baseball performance. In 1988, Kruk batted what was for him a poor .241/.369/.362 with nine homers and 44 RBI over 466 plate appearances.

The Phillies didn’t enjoy immediate success upon Kruk’s arrival in 1989. The club finished the season with a losing record and would do the same in the ensuing three seasons. None of it was Kruk’s fault, though: in aggregate, from 1990-92, he hit .303/.393/.459, earning two All-Star nominations. In this span of time, the only other first basemen to hit above .300 were Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Hal Morris, and Rafael Palmeiro. The Padres had used Kruk both in the corner outfield and at first base, but the Phillies made him a full-time first baseman, which turned out to be a good move.

In 1993, everything came together for the Phillies and Kruk had what was arguably the greatest season of his career. He hit .316, which was actually seven points below his average the previous year, but he drew 111 walks to push his on-base percentage up to .430. Kruk hit third in the lineup, creating plenty of RBI opportunities for Dave Hollins in the clean-up spot, Darren Daulton at No. 5, and the trio of Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, and Wes Chamberlain in the No. 6 spot. The Phillies shocked the world in ’93, winning the NL East by three games over the Expos with a 97-65 record. They then dispatched the Braves in six games in the NLCS to advance to the World Series against the Blue Jays.

Kruk was productive in the NLCS, contributing six hits including a pair of doubles, a triple, a home run, four walks, five RBI, and four runs scored. But he turned things up a notch in the World Series, registering multi-hit performances in the first three games. He would finish the World Series with eight hits in 23 at-bats along with seven walks, four RBI, and four runs scored. The World Series was winnable for the Phillies as they lost a barnburner Game 4 15-14, and of course, dropped the deciding Game 6 on a World Series-clinching walk-off three-run home run by Joe Carter off of Mitch Williams.

1994 was tough on Kruk in many ways. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in spring training. Knee issues continued to bother him, and then Major League Baseball had a work stoppage. In an abbreviated season, Kruk hit a still-productive .823 OPS. He became a free agent and, when baseball came back, he signed with the White Sox. In the first inning of a July 30 game against the Orioles in ’95, Kruk singled to left field off of Scott Erickson. He reached first base, bowed to the fans, and walked off the field into retirement. Kruk told the media, “The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it’s time to go.”

Kruk has spent his post-playing days working in sports media as both a broadcaster (Phillies, ESPN nationally) and as a commentator (The Best Damn Sports Show Period, Baseball Tonight). The Phillies inducted him into their Wall of Fame in August 2011. One wonders if Kruk hadn’t been bit by the injury bug, and if there hadn’t been a work stoppage, if he might have been able to accrue some more numbers to have a borderline Hall of Fame case. Regardless, he’ll go down as one of the games’ quietly great hitters.