For a team two games over .500, the Arizona Diamondbacks were awfully close to winning the division; a fact that belies competitiveness, and rather is evidence of how awfully mediocre those teams that play in the NL West were in 2008.
It actually comes as a surprise, since this same Arizona team had captured the division in 2007, winning 90 games in the process. Looking back at what I wrote before the start of the 2008 season, they were poised to repeat as NL West champs barring, oh, I don’t know, a lapse in pitching, or a below average offense. Or the emergence of worthy contender.
How about two outta three? Though the D-backs featured two of the better pitchers in Brandon Webb and Danny Haren, and a venerable, but solid, Randy Johnson, they eventually missed the playoffs due to great pitching from Dodgers (Who led the league in ERA). Sure the rotation didn’t exactly collapse (fifth best ERA in the league), but it wasn’t good enough to stave off a Dodger resurgence.
If we were to point the finger, however, I’d start with the offense. Their numbers were plain average, hovering near the middle in nearly all offensive categories; and while its true that their 2007 numbers weren’t that much better, even in the mediocre NL West, merely league average won’t do. (If it’s any consolation, the Rockies had a much better offensive season and missed out on the playoffs too).
As far as the pitching is concerned, their 2008 numbers were slightly better compared to a year before. In 2007, they were fourth in ERA (4.13), as opposed to fifth last year (albeit, with a 3.98 ERA); but again, that wasn’t enough to get them over the playoff hump.
I’d hate to attribute a D-back demise solely to the fact that the Dodgers improved a bit, but the evidence seems to suggest that Arizona sat back, waiting for a better offensive performance, and didn’t quite expect the Dodgers to lead the league in pitching.
The major need this offseason, then, was solidifying the rotation. The D-Backs do have a young Max Scherzer waiting in the wings, but GM Josh Byrnes wanted to ease him into his first full season by signing a third or fourth-slot starter.
Given the economic situation most teams find themselves in this offseason, however, Byrnes had limited room to operate. After being unable to resign Randy Johnson, Byrnes sought out Randy Wolf and Jon Garland , both of whom initially turned him down. Money was evidently so tight that while the D-backs resigned Tony Clark, they declined to even offer arbitration to Adam Dunn, fearing he’d accept.
But nowhere was the money issue more at evident than with the Randy Johnson situation. They couldn’t even take up the Big Unit on his offer of a home-town discount late last year. But then they eventually signed Jon Garland to a one-year $6.25MM deal, with a mutual, $10MM option for 2010. So what changed?
Some context, as Nick Piecoro explains: In mid-November, the Diamondbacks were confident that they would get draft picks for Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon. By the time December rolled in, the financial landscape was bleak, thus the decision not to offer Dunn arbitration, while thinking their other draft pick cost obligations would be at or around $10MM.
The D-Backs originally offered Johnson a deal thought to be between $3MM and $5MM, though the Big Unit was seeking around $10MM. Johnson was willing to sign for $5MM less, and waited until the very last day he could to file for free agency, before finally giving up and singing with the Giants for $8MM.
Fast forward to this past week and with Hudson and Cruz still unsigned, the draft pick situation is yet to be resolved. They might get a higher round pick depending on where either veteran signs.
Since Byrnes already addressed some of the other needs, trading for reliever Scott Schoeneweis and replacing a departing Hudson with Felipe Lopez, it made sense to use the money that would’ve been used on Johnson and on the pending draft-picks, and sign Garland.
D-Backs fans are taking the Garland singing with some optimism, setting nostalgic attachments to the Big Unit aside, and realizing that the younger, more durable pitcher is a better option at the back of the rotation.
And yet, I’m not sure if its enough to get back into the playoffs.
Offseason grade: C+
Additions: Jon Garland, Felipe Lopez, Scott Schoeneweis, Travis Blackley
Losses: Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, David Eckstein, Brandon Lyon, Chris Burke, Jeff Salazar, Wil Ledezma, Jamie D’Antona, Robby Hammock
Projected lineup, rotation and closer:
C Chris Snyder
1B Connor Jackson
2B Felipe Lopez
SS Stephen Drew
3B Mark Reynolds
LF Eric Byrnes
CF Chris Young
RF Justin Upton
RH Brandon Webb
RH Dan Haren
RH Jon Garland
LH Doug Davis
RH Max Scherzer
CL Chad Qualls
Though the Garland signing was a good move, I think the the whole Randy Johnson affair was mis-managed. I know, I know, a mere two months ago, the D-Backs weren’t expecting the economy to hit them so hard. Which probably also prevented them from making any better/more offensive acquisitions, hence the plus in the grade.