D-backs hope to be as sharp as new uniforms
PHOENIX -- The D-backs now have new uniforms for any occasion, eight spiffy versions that include the original purple-and-teal ensemble from their first nine seasons earmarked next year for "Throwback Thursdays."
"Our World Series uniforms," team president Derrick Hall called them as the blinged-out garb was introduced Thursday night at Chase Field in front of a throng of adoring season-ticket holders and business partners.
As everyone knows well, it's the players the D-backs put into the new unis that will make all the difference. The D-backs went a long way in that area on Friday by reportedly adding free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke for six years and $206.5 million. That 2001 World Series win over the Yankees is starting to become a distant memory.
"The better you play, the better you look, always," said Tony La Russa, the Hall of Fame manager who, as the club's chief baseball officer, is charged with upgrading those players. "We proved that with the White Sox years ago . Nobody liked those uniforms. Then we won 99 games, and suddenly it was, 'Hey, those are good uniforms.'
"These are really, really sharp. I love them. The kids are going to love them, too."
The fans will love them even more if the D-backs continue their 15-game turnaround from 98 loses in 2014 to this past season's 79-83 record. Based on the 2015 numbers, the D-backs will need every one of those 15 more wins if they intend to make the playoffs.
The Dodgers won the top-heavy National League West with 92 wins and the Cubs were the NL's second Wild Card team with 97.
How do the D-backs get there in a division where the Dodgers and Giants are always going to seriously outspend them? With increased local television dollars kicking in this coming season, Arizona's baseline is a $100 million payroll. Despite signing Greinke away from the Dodgers, the two California clubs are going to always ante up for free agents.
"It's tough, but we just have to be committed and stick to our game plan," Hall said. "It's really got to be about scouting and player development and sprinkle it in with a free-agent signing or trade that we can afford. We've built this core nucleus. We just have to stay in our lane, continue developing this team and sustain it."
Since 2007, the D-backs are the only team to win the West aside from the Dodgers and Giants. The Dodgers have won three division titles in a row and went to the NL Championship Series in 2008-09 and '13. The Giants have won the World Series three times in the past six seasons.
The Padres haven't made the playoffs since back-to-back division titles in 2005-06, and the Rockies have never won the division, going to the World Series as a Wild Card team in 2007.
Most recently, the D-backs topped the division in 2007 and '11 followed by precipitous falloffs. To Hall's point, they went from 90 wins in '07 to 92 losses in 2009 and 97 in '10. In '11, they won 94 games, and three years later, they dipped to 98 losses. During that time, they've been through four managers and four general managers.
Hall is well aware that the D-backs need a lot more consistency, and they now seem poised to attain it. The new unis may not signal immediate improvement, but it's all heading in a direction where the D-backs can vie to be competitive again with the Dodgers and Giants.
"We can't be in a situation where we have to make up 15 games like we did this year," Hall said. "We have to be consistently over .500 and in a position to win the division or a Wild Card spot every year."
How far away from that does he believe the club is?
"I think we're close," he said. "If I put a timetable on it, is it this year or the next year? I'm not sure. I just know we're very close. We exceeded my expectations this year. I was pleasantly surprised. I may think we're a little closer than what we are. But I think if you ask these guys they'd tell you there's something special in the works."
No question, the D-backs have an outstanding core in Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. They have substantial other outfield parts in Ender Inciarte and David Peralta, a former pitcher in the Cardinals organization who's developed into a .312 hitter.
They will tell you they expect more from second baseman Chris Owings (.227 with a .264 on-base percentage) and shortstop Nick Ahmed (.226/.275). Third baseman Jake Lamb was injured early and fell off the map in the second half, batting .155 with no homers and two RBIs during the season's final 28 days.
The starting pitching had a 4.37 ERA and its 51 wins was ranked 20th in the Major Leagues. That's the reason why the D-backs decided to make an early splash by offering free agent Johnny Cueto a six-year, $120 million contract. Cueto turned it down, which might have been a blessing in disguise. Greinke, at 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA this past season for the Dodgers, had much better numbers, but he is 32 and will be 38 when the final year of his contract begins.
"We have to be disciplined. We can't make many mistakes," Hall said. "If we go out and sign a high-ticket player and it doesn't work, we're in trouble. It sets us back. We have to be very careful in which direction we go."
The D-backs made just that kind of move last winter when they signed Cuban Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract with an opt-out for the player after four years. It was the largest contract in club history. The D-backs discovered early that Tomas could not play third base, and in 118 games overall, 59 starting in the outfield, Tomas hit .273 with nine homers and 48 RBIs.
The jury is still out on that deal.
Meanwhile, La Russa said he's going into next week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., looking to make improvements in the team, but not major changes beyond the signing of Greinke.
"I don't want to do too much," La Russa said. "We've got a nice club going in. We need a little tweak here and a little tweak there. Pitching is the key area, but everybody is looking for it. It's tough to come by.
"How far are we away? We'll see when we go to Spring Training what we end up with."
The better they play, the better they'll look. Always.