It's hard to read what 2006 might have in store for the Diamondbacks. If Arizona ever committed to going full-bore youth movement as Colorado has done, a string of division titles might be in the offing. Their talent is just that good. John Sickels rates five of their hitters in the top 20 on his Top 50 Position Player Prospects list in The Baseball Prospect Book 2006. Arizona has benefited tremendously from the unwillingness of the many teams drafting above them to commit huge dollar figures to signing bonuses. Hello, Justin Upton and Stephen Drew. 2003's first round netted them both Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. They added top White Sox farmhand Chris Young in the Javier Vasquez trade. That's five guys who will rake, for cheap, for years to come. That's a good place to be.
Arizona's behavior in the two offseasons since a disastrous 51-111 2004 haven't really befitted a team preparing to build a run around a bunch of 22- and 23-year-olds. In the trades of Randy Johnson and Troy Glaus, Arizona elected to bring aboard players who could provide immediate, if low-ceilinged, help while passing up higher-risk, higher-reward players. The cost of respectability in 2005 could end up being championships in '08 and '09. The team hasn't acted intelligently when it comes to assembling a rotation to support their fresh-faced mashers. None of the guys they've picked up in trades the last two years are long-term solutions: Brad Halsey, Miguel Batista, El Duque. The deal for Johnny Estrada evidences the same lack of logical thinking. Estrada seems like a recent arrival on the major league scene, but he's nearly 30. Orlando Hudson, same problem.
Arizona has talked the good talk about putting a superior defense behind Brandon Webb and his all-world sinker, but I'm not sure what their plan is for their other four starters. Halsey, Russ Ortiz, and Orlando Hernandez are going to get plugged. The hope is that Claudio Vargas builds on his okay '05 or Dustin Nippert, their one pitching prospect to go with all the maulers, puts it together this year. Realistically, even with the 1970 Orioles infield behind him, Webb is more of a number three guy than a true ace, and it may well be that he's gotten as good as he's going to get. In 2001 this franchise won a World Series on the backs of two ridiculously dominant starting pitchers. The mid-decade model will have to find a different formula.
The 2006 Diamondbacks have some strengths on their roster, but in some ways they resemble an apartment one person is beginning to move into before the previous tenant has completely cleared out. Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green will almost certainly not be playing for Arizona when next they appear in the postseason. Since both of those guys have some value, why exactly are they still here? Players like Tony Clark, Craig Counsell, and Damion Easley are less premium examples of the same problem. Well, except for Easley, he pretty much just sucks. In any case Arizona shouldn't make the same mistake they made last year of staying the course at midseason when they were on pace for 75 wins -- and a division title. If anyone comes calling offering them young arms for Green or Gonzalez, they've got to do it.
As far as this coming season is concerned, there's one thing I haven't mentioned yet that pretty much dooms the D-Backs to another nondescript year. Their bullpen was awful last year (dead last, and comfortably so, in the majors in ERA and OPS allowed). To address this they've done: nothing. Well, they signed Terry Mulholland, Kevin Jarvis, and Jason Grimsley and traded for Luis Vizcaino. So, like I said: nothing. Jose Valverde was pretty good last year; he'll be the closer. After that they're hoping Brandon Lyon and homegrown guys Brian Bruney, Brandon Medders, and Greg Aquino get a lot better very quickly. It's true that there's not a lot of sense behind spending a lot of money on free agent relievers when your team is not realistically a contender. Then again, I watched in horror as the Rockies' entire season basically went down the tubes as an all-youth movement bullpen blew game after game in April and May of last year. It might be wise for morale's sake to install Miguel Batista as the setup man and hope to find a hidden gem somewhere to use as another starter.