In five days, the Diamondbacks officially begin a journey they have not taken in a half-dozen years — defending their NL West championship. The group they will take to Tucson is familiar with the path, however.
The D-Backs made very few winter additions, most notably that of talented right-hander Dan Haren, who will replace Livan Hernandez in the starting rotation.
Haren was the D-Backs’ No. 1 offseason target, and he cost them six players, although none has his résumé — the 2007 AL All-Star Game starter for Oakland and the only player in the major leagues with at least 34 starts in each of the past three seasons.
Haren’s addition fills the rotation, providing Randy Johnson’s second back surgery in 10 months relieves some of the pain Johnson has had to pitch through in each of the past two seasons.
The D-Backs lost only two major contributors from a team that went 90-72, but they were big pieces — closer Jose Valverde and reserve first baseman/clubhouse glue Tony Clark. The replacements will come from within.
The relative lack of change gives the D-Backs a new set of questions as they prepare for their first workout Friday in Tucson.
1: How is Randy Johnson’s back?
Johnson threw off a mound at Brett Fischer’s training complex the first week of February and the reports were good. The D-Backs believe they have a good gauge on what they can expect this season after seeing him in spring training.
2: Will the D-Backs miss closer Jose Valverde?
The D-Backs would not have traded closer Valverde and his major league-high 47 saves had they not believed they had suitable alternatives. New closer Brandon Lyon enters spring training after a career year as a setup man, and Tony Pena has a closer’s arm.
3: How soon will Chad Tracy be able to contribute?
The D-Backs do not believe Tracy will be full-go when spring training starts after being delayed in his recovery from right knee surgery when he developed a blood clot in November. They fear he will be forced to open the regular season on the disabled list.
4: How will they replace top pinch-hitter/clubhouse sage Tony Clark?
The D-Backs believe veteran leadership will be provided by Orlando Hudson, Eric Byrnes and others, and believe they have enough bats on the bench in Miguel Montero (three pinch-hit homers last season, like Clark), Tracy and newcomer Chris Burke.
5: How many jobs are open?
Very few. The 13 position players appear set, although Tracy’s injury would open the door for a temporary fill-in, perhaps Robby Hammock. There appears to be one job open in the bullpen, maybe two if Doug Slaten (knee surgery) is delayed.
6: How will newcomer Dan Haren fit in the rotation?
The plan is to put Haren in the No. 3 spot, after opening day starter Brandon Webb and Johnson, with Doug Davis and Micah Owings rounding things out. Edgar Gonzalez will be the sixth man.
7: Is Justin Upton ready for the big time?
Upton came within a single of becoming the first teenager in major league history to hit for the cycle last Aug. 7, his home debut, but he had only 259 at-bats above Single-A before his promotion to the D-Backs last year.
8: Is this Orlando Hudson’s last spring with the D-Backs?
It seems hard to believe, given Hudson’s value the last two seasons, but a budget-conscious organization always has cost/benefit analysis in mind, and 2B Emilio Bonifacio is considered the best prospect among position players in the organization.
9: With so many young players in the majors, is there anyone left?
Right-hander Max Scherzer, their first pick in the 2006 draft, played at three levels in his first pro season after signing at the May deadline and is a candidate to make the team in the bullpen.
10: Will this be the season Stephen Drew breaks out?
Drew had 12 hits in 31 postseason at-bats, shucking off a .238 batting average in his first full regular season. He never seemed to let his struggles at the plate affect him, playing quality defense and getting 60 RBIs.