No team in Major League Baseball history has lost 110 games one season and made the playoffs the following year.
The Diamondbacks think they can buck that trend.
Ken Kendrick, one of Arizona’s four majority owners, said Tuesday that the Diamondbacks don’t want to rebuild and get younger but instead acquire some veteran free agents for a 2005 postseason run.
In fact, Arizona is so convinced it can go from worst to somewhere-near-first, internal discussions have been held regarding a contract extension for pitcher Randy Johnson.
"We certainly want to contend," Kendrick said.
The Diamondbacks believe they can follow the same path of the San Diego Padres, who lost 98 games last season but remain in contention for a National League wild-card berth this year.
They’re convinced that if the team hadn’t been decimated by injuries this year, it would have challenged for a division title.
The blueprint: Get some of the injured players back, add a No. 2 starter to sandwich between Johnson and Brandon Webb, and ’05 can be more like 1999 than 1998.
The organization’s plan, however, is contingent on two pieces falling into place: Re-signing first baseman Richie Sexson and convincing Johnson that his talents won’t be wasted on a lastplace team.
If the Diamondbacks aren’t successful on both those counts, Kendrick said, the franchise may change course and decide it makes more sense to rebuild and think long-term.
"It’s not 100 percent clear wh ich direction we’ll choose," Kendrick said.
Sexson is the key. If he resigns, it becomes far easier to convince Johnson that the Diamondbacks can contend in ’05. Arizona also wants to resign right fielder Danny Bautista, who has set career highs in homers (11) and RBIs (64) this season.
Although negotiations with Sexson seem to be dragging because the Diamondbacks don’t want to fully guarantee his contract for three years due to concerns about his surgically repaired shoulder, Kendrick believes Sexson wants to stay in Arizona and that an agreement will be reached.
As for Johnson, CEO Jeff Moorad recently met with the left-hander and told him the Diamondbacks want to sit down with him after the season and discuss the organization’s plans.
During that discussion, Arizona will ask Johnson about his interest in signing a contract extension, Kendrick said.
Johnson’s current deal calls for him to make $16 million in ’05. The Diamondbacks are interested in adding two years to the contract in exchange for a lower salary figure next year.
"We’d like Randy to be a Diamondback for life," Kendrick said, "and we’re pretty sure Randy does not see next year as his last playing year."
Johnson turned 41 last month but leads NL starters in strikeouts (282) and opponents’ batting average (.194) and is third in ERA (2.65).
With any help from the offense or bullpen, he’d have 20 wins and a sixth Cy Young Award.
"I hope he’s another Nolan Ryan," said Kendrick of the Hall of Fame pitcher who retired at the age of 46. "He’s the kind of guy I wouldn’t want to bet against."
The Diamondbacks envision Johnson finishing his career as a closer, a la Atlanta’s John Smoltz and former Oakland A’s stopper Dennis Eckersley.
Whether Johnson would want to change roles is unclear. Johnson has limited his access to the media to the days he pitches and only to questions about that game.
If all goes according to plan, the Diamondbacks’ opening-day lineup in ’05 will look much like it did this year. Luis Gonzalez, Bautista and Steve Finley will roam the outfield — assuming Finley is willing to come back and play for less than the $7 million he’s making this season.
Gonzalez, who will provide color commentary on the postseason for ESPN Radio, said he’ll be "in Finley’s ear" if the Los Angeles Dodgers reach the playoffs and he broadcasts their games.
(The Diamondbacks aren’t convinced that Luis Terrero — .256, four homers, 13 RBIs, 10 stolen bases— is an everyday player.)
Sexson and Chad Tracy will play first base and third base respectively, and Koyie Hill, acquired in the Finley deal, will be the everyday catcher. The middle infield will be determined next spring.
The Diamondbacks are playing a dangerous game in thinking they can prop open their window for another season.
If the roster gets older and the record doesn’t get considerably better, the organization will have lost a season and a chance to rebuild. "That’s certainly a risk," Kendrick said. "We don’t want to become next year’s Mets." It’s a risk, however, they’re willing to take. Should make for an interesting offseason.