Left-field and first-base have been somewhat problematic for the Diamondbacks over the past couple of seasons. By OPS - and that's unadjusted for Chase - our LF ranked 15th in the league last year and 14th for 2009. First was hardly any better, coming dead-last in 2009, and even Adam LaRoche was not sufficient to get the position up to a league-average OPS in 2010. Part of Kevin Towers' solution to this problem signed with the Diamondbacks earlier in the week: Xavier Nady is to be teamed up once again with the man who drafted him in 2000.
Nady and GM Kevin Towers spoke to the media yesterday, and discussed their reunion, whether it's the end of the off-season moves in Arizona, where Nady might play, and whether our new left-fielder is now fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery.
What made you get Nady, what did you like about him?
He was a guy that we targeted when I first got the job. Actually, part of the interview process, Derrick and Ken asked me, is there any players you'd like to be part of the Diamondback club, and Nady was that guy from the get-go. I think his bat plays in this park, his power is straight-away, to opposite field, where the ball carries here. He plays first, he plays left; we're very left-handed. When healthy, he's a guy that's got a chance to put a charge in the ball. He plays very good defense, runs well for a big man, a credible character guy as well. We drafted him in San Diego, and I've known this guy for quite some time. He's now about 18 months post-op from his Tommy John, so we think the arm will be back to full strength again - we think we got a great deal here.
Do you see him as your everyday left-fielder?
I'm gonna leave that up to Gibby and the staff. We've got a lot of guys that play multiple positions; a lot depends on how (Juan) Miranda looks in the spring. We see Nady getting a lot of plate-appearances, probably 400-500. Will that be in left? I think a lot depends on how all these guys we don't have history with. perform in spring training - Miranda and Brandon Allen being two of them.
How much is he able to help a team by being versatile?
If you look at our roster, especially at left, first and third, (Melvin) Mora plays multiple positions, (Geoff) Blum plays multiple positions, Nady does as well. I think it gives Kirk and the coaching staff a lot of different options, to play match-ups - who's pitching, who's got numbers against certain guys. It'll probably be a bit different than last year, when other than left field, you pretty much wrote the same line-up, each and every day. Nady's accustomed to that, a little bit more so last year, coming off surgery, played more first-base than he has. Most of his career he has been primarily a corner-outfielder. I want to say he was a third-baseman when we took him out of college, so he's certainly familiar with the infield.
Can you talk about what (Henry) Blanco brings to the table?
A seasoned veteran that's caught almost his entire career in the National League. Great character guy, incredible with the Latin players, he's kind of a mentor. I think he'll be great for (Miguel) Montero, (Juan) Gutierrez. Knows the National League, knows hitters, great with pitchers, developing young pitchers. Shuttng down the running game, he's averaged over 40% in throwing out would-be base stealers, and I think last year it was around 50%. Great receiver, good catch-and-throw guy that virtually stops the running game, a guy that'll provide some veteran leadership in our clubhouse, and will hopefully help Montero in developing. He's already a good player, but he can be a better player.
How much of Nady's numbers last year were related to coming off surgery.
A lot of it. Nady's got the type of swing where he needs to play. He attacks the ball, it's a bit of a longer, aggressive swing, and he's not the kind of guy that plays once every three or four days and is going to produce good numbers. We want to have him in the line-up pretty much each and every day, and I think last year was more of a rehab year for him. He was getting sparse playing time and he's not that kind of hitter. If you look at his numbers historically, when he has played on an everyday basis, he has performed quite well.
How beneficial is it to be able to play match-ups and move people around positions?
I think one of the biggest plusses is with bench players: the more they play, the better they usually are coming off the bench late in the game. For Blum to be a good pinch-hitter late in the game, or Mora, they need at-bats, and the way our club is designed now, they're all going to get a lot of at-bats. So even on the days when they're not playing, they're probably going to be more dangerous coming off the bench, because of the increased playing time that they've had.
And it gives guys a chance to take a day: when you have guys who can play multiple positions, you're able to rest your players. You look at the Moras and Blums, Blanco, they're in their late-30's, so they're going to need time here and there. It allows Gibby to give them a break when they need to, and to really look at the opposing pitcher and ballclub, and play match-ups more.
Is this the roster we're going to see come February 14th?
I'd say there's a good chance. We've kind of addressed all of our needs: our last two were a backup catcher to add some depth to (John) Hester and (Konrad) Schmidt, and we needed a right-handed bat. That's not to say that we don't add any more pieces before the start of the season, but if we had to start today, we're pretty comfortable with where we're at.
Did Nady's ability to play first put him above a guy like Austin Kearns?
Could he be the starting first baseman?
We'll make that determination when the season starts. Gibby and I have talked, and he wants everyone to earn a spot on the ballclub, and we're not in the business of saying who's got this job, this early.
How are you envisioning your role on the Diamondbacks?
To tell you the truth, I haven't put too much thought into it. I spoke with KT the other night, and there's an opportunity to play. I'm just excited to be there, whether it's at first or left. Whatever the position is, I'm excited to be healthy and be a part of the Diamondback organization, so I'll just play it by ear.
Were there some other teams after your services?
There were a couple of teams interested. Kevin and I have known each other for a while, and I felt that this would be a good fit for me, and for my family. It seemed an unbelievable organization, and I've always enjoyed playing there, and there was the opportunity of hopefully contributing, and being part of a winning team.
You are 100% healthy now?
Yeah, health should be a non-issue. And I think, looking back on last year, it's tough to play this game as-is, and it's tough to play the game when in spring training, you're limited in the swings you can take, every couple of days you're getting at-bats. I was doing a role that I'd never done in my career, a pinch-hit here and there. I'm not making excuses for the numbers I put up, but I'm excited to be healthy, and I still feel I've got a lot of productive years left in me when I step on the field.
Did that inhibit your swing last year at times?
It was tough. I think going into the year, everyone was trying to be on the very optimistic side that my elbow could somehow heal at a rapid pace. But for a second Tommy John, I was still way too early to be doing stuff, so there were days where I'd do long toss and I wasn't able to hit. And that's tough to do when you're trying to take swings every day and you're using to being out in the field and doing all your normal routine. But I learned a lot and hopefully it's a non-issue.
How do you like Chase Field? Have you any recollections of the park?
I've enjoyed it. When I was with San Diego for those couple of years, I always loved coming to Arizona. I know my parents are thrilled, they did 20 years of spring training in Scottsdale. I live in San Diego, it's close to home, the NL West I'm familiar with: it's a wonderful division and a wonderful ballpark. I know quite a few guys, either player-wise or even on the staff, that I've actually played with, so it should be a lot of fun.
What makes you optimistic about the future of the team?
There's a lot of young talent there, and Kevin's already brought in some personnel that'll help us. I know the staff are supposed to be unbelievable. If you get a couple of good years out of some guys, and get guys to start believing in themselves and start off on the right foot, anything can happen. You look at San Francisco or what San Diego did last year, and I feel like with our lineup and our pitching and we can compete with anybody. It's a crazy game, and you've got to anticipate that you're going to be competitive when you go onto that field. I feel like, with the direction that they're going, that we can be, and now hopefully, it's our job to do it.
Do you feel pretty comfortable at first-base?
I'm actually happy that the opportunity came last year, that Derrek (Lee) accepted his trade to Atlanta, because I haven't played over there for years, and I absolutely loved it when I was over there last year. It was good to be back in the infield, and it was fun to be active and part of that. I'm always happy, wherever it is, as long as I contribute and help us win.