Retooled D-Backs look to make history - East Valley Tribune: News

Retooled D-Backs look to make history

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Posted: Monday, April 4, 2005 12:00 pm | Updated: 8:40 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

After winning 39 games with the St. Louis Browns in 1898, the Robison brothers concocted a major league quick fix. They bought a second franchise in Cleveland, transferred all of the best players to St. Louis, and more than doubled the Browns’ victory output the next year, to 84.

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A plan absolutely Steinbrennerian in its scope.

When the sham team in Cleveland won 20 games in 1899, the Robison brothers folded it.

Good work if you can get it.

Since the current crop of owners are far less gullible, the Diamondbacks

could not recover from their 111-loss season the old-fashioned way.

They doubled up differently this season, using their lone big-lot bargaining chip — future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson — to retool through free agency and trades.

With Johnson as the fulcrum in a de facto three-team trade involving the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, the D-Backs acquired Javier Vazquez, Shawn Green and $19 million for four minor leaguers, one of whom (Dioner Navarro) was in Arizona just long enough to take a physical.

The extra cash helped the D-Backs spring for free agents Troy Glaus, Russ Ortiz, Craig Counsell, Royce Clayton and Shawn Estes, all of whom were hand-picked in the offseason to address specific needs.

By the time Jose Cruz Jr. was added in trade as a final piece, the change was complete.

The D-Backs may have been one of 12 major league teams in the modern era to lose 111 games last season, but these D-Backs had little to do with it.

As the players like to say, it is not the name on the front of the jersey, it is the name on the back.

"Obviously time will tell,’’ general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said, "but this is now a team that, when you look at it, certainly looks like a competitive team.’’

Two position players return for the D-Backs this season, only one of which — left fielder Luis Gonzalez — will be in the same position now that Chad Tracy has moved from third base to first base.

One member of the starting rotation returns, Brandon Webb.

"Last year we were forced into a situation, primarily because of injuries, to go with at times an almost all-young team,’’ Garagiola said.

"That’s a difficult thing to do and be competitive. In fact, nobody does that and is competitive. As we went through last year, we realized that we couldn’t rely exclusively on our player development system to return this team to a competitive status in 2005."

No team in modern major league history has won as many as half its games after losing 111 or more the year before, but it is not beyond the D-Backs to make a splash.

After their first free agent spending flurry after the expansion year of 1998, the DBacks set a major league record that still stands by improving by 35 games, going from 65 victories to 100.

Of the previous 111-loss teams, the Boston Braves had the greatest recovery the next season, jumping from 38 victories in 1935 to 71 in 1936.

Other than playing under the nickname "Bees’’ from 1936-40 before going back to the Braves, the franchise made only a few personnel adjustments from 1935-36, although one involved arguably the greatest player in baseball history.

Babe Ruth, released by the Yankees because of his age following a 22-homer season in 1934, signed with the Bees at age 40 and made an inspiring debut, homering off Giants’ Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in his first National League at-bat.

But Ruth hit only five more homers that season, giving him 714, and removed himself from the lineup in June after hitting only .181 in 28 games with 24 strikeouts in 72 atbats, a staggering ratio in those days, even for a power hitter.

The Bees released Ruth, added a No. 1 starter, and got back into the game in 1936.

The D-Backs believe their multiple roster additions can return them to their previous levels — three NL West titles and the World Series title in 2001, when they became the first expansion team to win it all in as few as four years. It is the sort of pressure they want.

"I’m glad that we’ve done all the things that we have done,’’ Garagiola said. "The expectation is, this is an organization that will do what it can to improve the team and to make the team competitive.

"To turn away from that and say, ‘We are not going to do that any more. Be happy that we did what we did. Now we are just going to play the kids and try to get better every year.’ We could have said that. We chose not to.’’

D-Backs at a glance

Incoming: 1B Tony Clark, SS Royce Clayton, 2B Craig Counsell, CF Jose Cruz Jr., SP Shawn Estes, 3B Troy Glaus, RF Shawn Green, SP Brad Halsey, SP Russ Ortiz, SP Javier Vazquez.

Outgoing: INF Carlos Baerga, OF Danny Bautista, 1B Greg Colbrunn, RP Jeff Fassero, SP Casey Fossum, RP Mike Fetters, 1B Shea Hillenbrand, SP Randy Johnson, RP Matt Mantei, 1B Richie Sexson.

On the way up: Injuries and mistakes had the Diamondbacks believing in this category last season, which ended in 111 losses. So, they scrapped that and paid or traded for nearly a dozen veterans. Vazquez and Halsey, who came over in the Randy Johnson trade, are critical to a pitching staff that no longer can count on Johnson every five days, and Halsey could be good for a long time.

On the way out: Estes, Clayton and Clark are on one-year deals, and any one of them could be traded if the division gets away from Arizona, which hasn’t given up on shortstop Alex Cintron.

Story lines: The Diamondbacks surprised everybody by paying early and paying big for free agents Ortiz and Glaus, then banked on a sound Green being a retro Green. Despite the improvements, they must pick up at least 40 wins from last season, which is a lot to expect.

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