Michael Schneid. 16th August, 2011 - 7:37 pm
At the first glance of the Arizona Diamondbacks roster, you would never guess they were a first place team. You would likely guess last place. Now take another glance at the roster and this team more than a dozen games over .500 and in first place in the NL West.
The NL West consists of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, who recently acquired Carlos Beltran to help make a push to repeat, the Rockies who have two guys who were MVP candidates a year ago in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the Dodgers who have a payroll over $100 million, and the Padres who traded away their best player Adrian Gonzalez last winter and were a game out of first in 2010.
Arizona ranks 25th in total team payroll. So again, how are they doing this? How is Arizona fielding a first place team with two weeks remaining in August?
In the winter of 2010, the Diamondbacks cleaned house and started over, a process which actually began July 1, 2010. Kevin Towers was hired as Executive Vice President and General Manager. Towers was previously GM of the Padres, a small market, low budget team, and has been a GM in the MLB for 14 years. Jerry Dipoto is the second in command behind Towers and is responsible for several big moves Arizona made last summer after taking over as interim GM July 1.
Also on July 1, Kirk Gibson was named interim manager and was given the job full-time in October when he agreed to a two-year deal. Gibson won a couple of World Series as a player and several individual awards. Gibson had no managing experience, but Towers was willing to trust a first-time manager with the kind of player resume that Gibson possesses.
The road to success began last season at the trade deadline with Dipoto at the helm. He traded Dan Haren to the Angels for Joe Saunders and three other prospects. Saunders is 8-9 with a 3.76 ERA this season.
He also traded Edwin Jackson, who had thrown a no-hitter earlier in the year to the White Sox for a prospect named Daniel Hudson. That prospect is 12-8 with a 3.76 ERA this year. Hudson also finished last season in the majors going 7-1, 1.69 ERA.
The biggest part of the Diamondbacks rotation is Ian Kennedy, who is 15-3 with a 3.12 ERA. The Diamondbacks acquired Kennedy in 2009 in a three-team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Austin Jackson to the Tigers, and Max Scherzer from Arizona to the Tigers. All three teams may have come out ahead in this deal.
The Diamondbacks filled out their rotation with low risk, high reward players like Zach Duke, Micah Owings, Armando Gallaraga (designated for assignment in May) and recently acquired Jason Marquis at the trade deadline (although he was recently placed on DL). JJ Putz was signed cheaply as the closer.
They also have built through the draft with some of their offensive players. The lineup consists of two All-Stars in OF Justin Upton and catcher Miguel Montero. Montero is a former undrafted free agent, while Upton was at the opposite end of the spectrum as the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. Upton leads the Diamondbacks in every major offensive category. SS Stephen Drew is another former first round pick for this lineup. OF Chris Young was also a first round pick in 2001 by the White Sox and traded to Arizona in 2005.
The same low risk, high reward style they used to fill out pitching rotation was used for their lineup. Sean Burroughs is a former first round pick of the Padres, who after bouncing around for a few years has played a key role in the success of the Diamondbacks. Willie Bloomquist has also played some 3B and been a useful utility guy. 2B Kelly Johnson signed in 2009 after being released by the Braves. Lyle Overbay was signed just last week after being released by the Pirates.
The Diamondbacks have pieced together a team full of former first round picks, cheap veterans, and former top pitching prospects acquired via trade. An experienced and savvy GM, a hard-nosed first-time manager and a roster full of 25 players who have all different stories but have bought in to what the franchise is doing and believe in themselves as contenders.