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4 Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona wants to win now, but a stockpile of pricey pitching won't be enough

March 29, 1999
March 29, 1999

Table of Contents
March 29, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
1999 Baseball Preview

4 Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona wants to win now, but a stockpile of pricey pitching won't be enough

The upside-down financial laws of baseball are on display at a
spring training compound in Tucson. On one side of the complex
are the White Sox, one of the original American League clubs,
trying to start over with a group of young, unproven players.
Across the way are the Diamondbacks, one of baseball's two
youngest franchises, whose management didn't leave much room for
rookies after spending $118.9 million on Randy Johnson and other
free agents over the winter.

This is an article from the March 29, 1999 issue Original Layout

"It was like we didn't have an off-season," says Arizona manager
Buck Showalter, who hopes the last few months of dice rolling
have improved the Diamondbacks exponentially. Arizona is hoping
to overtake the 1995 Rockies, who in their third year became the
youngest expansion franchise to reach the postseason. At the
very least the Diamondbacks want to join the 1962 Angels (86-76)
as the only expansion teams to achieve .500 in Year Two.

By signing seven free agents, including five pitchers, Arizona
added decades of experience to a club that produced only 65 wins
last season. First baseman Travis Lee and third baseman Matt
Williams are the Diamondbacks' only Opening Day starters of 1998
who are returning at the same positions. "I look around here and
see a lot of guys who have done it, who know what they're doing,"
says Gregg Olson, who returns as the Arizona closer.

But can they keep on doing it? The Diamondbacks already lacked
speed before the injury to their two-time National League steals
leader; leftfielder Tony Womack will be sidelined for the first
three weeks of the season after having fractured his right ulna
in spring training. Williams and centerfielder Steve Finley are
trying to come back from nagging injuries. Jay Bell has moved
from shortstop to second base and has been asked to cut down on
his strikeouts. With the exception of the 29-year-old Womack,
all of them, plus rightfielder Luis Gonzalez, are on the far
side of 30. Old age might be the dooming irony for Arizona.

Nonetheless, the Diamondbacks are to be congratulated for trying
to erase the last two syllables from last year's hopelessness.
After much fanfare they won just eight of their first 39 games,
which ultimately prompted club officials to scrap their original
five-year plan and go after Johnson. "We could see we weren't
going to have the kind of honeymoon we thought we'd have," says
Jerry Colangelo, owner of the Phoenix Suns as well as the
Diamondbacks. "My 32 years of experience in pro sports have
taught me that if you see something, you'd better adjust.
Hopefully we can compete, and compete now."

In 1988 Colangelo rebuilt the Suns by trading for Kevin Johnson
in midseason, and drafting Dan Majerle and signing free agent
Tom Chambers in the off-season, thereby transforming woeful
28-win Phoenix into a 55-27 playoff team. To make Arizona
competitive now, Colangelo tapped the same boldness that he
showed in the NBA, though his tactics were somewhat different.
"It's easier in basketball, because if you can find two or three
right guys, you can turn things around quickly," he says. "There
was a lot of speculation about Bernie Williams coming here, but
we knew how long it would take us if we tried to improve
position by position. If there's one spot in baseball you can
upgrade to make a difference in your team, it's pitching."

Arizona has rebuilt itself around the 6'10", 35-year-old Johnson
in the hope that he'll continue to follow the path of Roger
Clemens, who was rejuvenated two years ago after leaving the Red
Sox. Johnson was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA for the Mariners before
his midseason trade to the Astros, for whom he was 10-1 with a
1.28 ERA. The Diamondbacks believe they signed the latter-day
Johnson. "Look at my last four years in Seattle," says the Big
Unit. When his contract wasn't an issue, he won the Cy Young
Award in 1995 and finished second in the voting for it in '97.
"Then last year was a rough year," he says. "They say, 'Go out
and keep doing your thing.' Sure, I tried to do that, but you
want to know where you're going to be. I was physically fit, but
mentally I lacked focus a little bit until I left Seattle."

Thanks to the backloading of Johnson's, Stottlemyre's and
Finley's contracts, the Arizona payroll will be around $45
million, giving the Diamondbacks a chance to break even. Their
top pitching prospects--Nick Bierbrodt, John Patterson and Brad
Penny--will be able to spend the year in the minors, and Arizona
has three of the top 71 picks in this year's draft. Over the
long haul the Diamondbacks should continue to attract free
agents to Phoenix, a preferred year-round base for millionaire
athletes.

But this isn't a team for the long haul. It was put together
with used parts to win now. Olson has already noticed the
improvement. "Last year every opportunity was meaningful,
because we were battling for every win we could get," he says.
"This year the downside of me screwing up is going to be
different, especially if we're in a pennant race. It's just
going to be nice going out to the bullpen knowing we have a
really good shot at winning. That alone keeps everybody's head
in it."

--I.T.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO During the winter, Arizona threw $95 million at five free-agent pitchers, including Todd Stottlemyre, who's averaged 13.5 wins over the last four years.COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 65-97 (fifth in NL West)

BATTING AVERAGE .246 (16)
RUNS SCORED 665 (14)
HOME RUNS 159 (8)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .266 (11)
ERA 4.63 (13)
FIELDING PCT. .984 (3)

Better than Worst

Last season the Diamondbacks' record was 11 games better than
that of the defending world champion Marlins. The National
League has expanded in 1962, '69, '93 and '98; the American
League has added franchises in 1961, '69, '77 and '98. In every
one of those years at least one first-year franchise has
finished with a better record than at least one of the
preexisting clubs in its league.

Year Expansion Franchise W-L Preexisting Franchise W-L

1998 Arizona Diamondbacks 65-97 Florida Marlins 54-108
1993 Colorado Rockies 67-95 San Diego Padres 61-101
1993 Florida Marlins 64-98 New York Mets 59-103
1977 Seattle Mariners 64-98 Oakland Athletics 63-98
1969 Kansas City Royals 69-93 Chicago White Sox 68-94
1969 Seattle Pilots 64-98 Cleveland Indians 62-99
1962 Houston Colt .45s 64-96 Chicago Cubs 59-103
1961 Los Angeles Angels 70-91 Kansas City Athletics 61-100

Next Up...

"I knew we were going to do something," says first baseman
Travis Lee of Arizona's outrageous off-season. "Then I show up
the first day, and the clubhouse is all veterans." Not that he's
complaining. "There are a lot of 10-year guys to learn from,"
says Lee, 23, a Rookie of the Year candidate in '98 until a
groin injury limited him to five second-half homers. This year
the Diamondbacks expect big numbers from their youngest starting
player. He could also teach his elderly teammates a few tricks
with a yo-yo, his constant companion on road trips. On top of
that, Lee is ambidextrous. He throws and bats lefthanded, but in
high school he was a righthanded quarterback.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Buck Showalter (second season with Arizona)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

LF Tony Womack[1] L-R 70 .282 3 45 58
2B Jay Bell R 238 .251 20 67 3
CF Steve Finley[1] L 141 .249 14 67 12
1B Travis Lee L 72 .269 22 72 8
3B Matt Williams R 90 .267 20 71 5
RF Luis Gonzalez[1] L-R 234 .267 23 71 12
SS Tony Batista R 196 .273 18 41 1
C Kelly Stinnett R 253 .259 11 34 0

BENCH

OF Bernard Gilkey R 243 .233 5 33 9
IF Andy Fox L-R 247 .277 9 44 14
OF David Dellucci L 356 .260 5 51 3
IF Greg Colbrunn[1] R 363 .307 3 23 4
C Damian Miller R 365 .286 3 14 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Randy Johnson*[1] 7 19 11 7.2 1.18 3.28
RH Andy Benes 40 14 13 6.8 1.28 3.97
LH Omar Daal 87 8 12 6.6 1.21 2.88
RH Todd Stottlemyre*[1] 100 14 13 6.7 1.33 3.74
RH Armando Reynoso[1] 182 7 3 6.2 1.40 3.82

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Gregg Olson 26 3 4 30 1.18 3.01
LH Greg Swindell[1] 229 5 6 2 1.36 3.59
RH Amaury Telemaco 280 7 10 0 1.32 3.93
RH Aaron Small 286 4 2 0 1.55 5.59
LH Brian Shouse (R)[#] 292 2 0 6 0.90 2.90
LH Brian Anderson 188 12 13 0 1.18 4.33

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats [#]Triple A stats