Cashman is the Jeter of GMs, young and accomplished
|D-Backs GM Joe Garagiola Jr. traded Karim Garcia in exchange for Luis Gonzalez (above) and cash.
PHOENIX -- Jerry Colangelo had seen enough.
The Arizona Diamondbacks Managing General Partner watched his expansion team stumble through the 1998 season with a 65-97 record. And he wasn't alone. Over 3.6 million fans walked through the Bank One Ballpark turnstiles that season. It was a profitable year on the balance sheets for Colangelo, but losing wasn't what he envisioned when he bought into Major League Baseball.
"Jerry felt principally that this team as it was constituted was not competitive," Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "He was never in the mode that we would tell our fans we weren't going to be competitive for five years. He's just not wired that way."
So they devised a strategy. While the club waited on its first few crops of prospects to develop, they would bring in some veterans in an effort to compete now. Meanwhile, they would continue to focus on player development and have players set to replace the veterans when they moved on.
Three seasons later, the Diamondbacks have fulfilled at least one of those two goals as they take on the storied New York Yankees in the World Series. Arizona is the fastest club to reach the World Series, eclipsing the Florida Marlins' previous record by one season.
And what about the farm system? Well, that depends on who you listen to. The Diamondbacks feel they have a strong crop of prospects that will make their way to Phoenix in the next few years as the veterans age. Some publications have disputed that, but with minor leaguers only time will tell.
Garagiola did not have prior experience as a Major League GM when Colangelo tabbed him back in 1995 to head up Arizona's Baseball Operations Department. The club hired veteran baseball front office executive Roland Hemond to advise Garagiola, and named another respected baseball man, Sandy Johnson, to be his assistant GM.
A measure of just how far Garagiola has come was evident earlier this year when Hemond resigned to take a similar job with the Chicago White Sox. Hemond, never one to want to sit idle, said at the time that Garagiola had grown so much in the job that his help was no longer needed. Meanwhile, the White Sox had a rookie GM in Kenny Williams who needed his counsel.
While there was tremendous attention paid to the free agent signings of Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre and Steve Finley after the 1998 season, free agency is just one of the ways Garagiola has built the Diamondbacks.
It started out innocently enough. The Diamondbacks had an interest in the versatile Greg Colbrunn prior to the 1998 season, but Colbrunn was looking to be a starter and Garagiola couldn't offer him that. After the 1998 season though, the Diamondbacks still were interested in Colbrunn and he ended up signing in November.
Then the dominos started falling. Greg Swindell was signed, then Todd Stottlemyre, Armando Reynoso and Randy Johnson. The press conference to announce Johnson's arrival was actually held a few days after his signing. It was then that Colangelo said the Diamondbacks had spent their money and were done signing free agents.
Then center fielder Steve Finley, whom the Diamondbacks had negotiated with at one point, but gave up when the two sides seemed far apart, called.
He told Colangelo, "You can't be done, because I haven't signed yet."
Less than a week later, Finley was in the fold as well.
Arizona went on to win 100 games and the 1999 NL West Division before falling to the New York Mets in the NL Division Series.
After the disappointing 2000 season, the Diamondbacks signed free agents Miguel Batista, Mark Grace and Reggie Sanders, all three of whom have made significant contributions to this year's team.
While free agents have no doubt been important to the Diamondbacks' success, it's the trades Garagiola has made that have really separated the club. Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez, Tony Womack, Danny Bautista, Curt Schilling and Albie Lopez are some of the key contributors that Garagiola has acquired over the past four years.
Williams came over just after the Expansion Draft in exchange for third baseman Travis Fryman and pitcher Tom Martin, while Garagiola will be hard pressed ever to top the Gonzalez trade. In that deal prior to the 1999 season, he gave the Tigers outfielder Karim Garcia in exchange for Gonzalez and cash. Meanwhile, Womack was acquired from Pittsburgh for a minor league outfielder and Bautista came over from the Florida Marlins in exchange for utility man Andy Fox.
Schilling was obtained in July 2000 from the Phillies in exchange for Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa, Vicente Padilla and Omar Daal. Schilling was supposed to help clinch the NL West for the Diamondbacks last season, but struggled down the stretch. This year though, the right-hander has won 22 games and will start the first game of the World Series.
And when he felt the team needed one more starter, Garagiola traded pitcher Nick Bierbrodt and outfielder Jason Conti to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Lopez, who pitched a shutout the night the D-Backs clinched the division.
Though the Diamondbacks farm system has received some criticism, Garagiola was able to deal prospects from that same system to pick up players such as Schilling, Womack and Lopez.
Minor League Free Agents
The Diamondbacks have searched the globe to find talent. Closer Byung-Hyun Kim was signed out of South Korea, while they found Erubiel Durazo in the Mexican League. In addition, Arizona took gambles on Craig Counsell and Mike Morgan that have paid huge dividends.
The First-Year Player Draft
Mike Koplove was the lone draft pick on the postseason roster, but he was made inactive for the World Series in favor of lefty Troy Brohawn. The Diamondbacks used several of their picks such as Bierbrodt and Brad Penny to acquire Major League-ready talent in Lopez and Matt Mantei among others. As a fourth-year expansion team, the Diamondbacks hope to see their drafts start reaping even more dividends over the next few seasons.
The Diamondbacks still have two players left from the 1997 Expansion Draft, pitcher Brian Anderson and catcher Damian Miller.
"We are in the third year of what I said back in '99 was a four-year plan," Colangelo said. "Joe and his staff have done a great job of putting this team together."
Steve Gilbert is the site manager of azdiamondbacks.com.