The Arizona Diamondbacks edition of the MLB Network's 30 Clubs in 30 Days show debuts on Monday at 5pm Arizona time. It will re-air on MLB Network on Tuesday, at 7am and 9am. The hour-long episode, hosted by Matt Yallof, will feature interviews with players and manager Kirk Gibson, as well as analysis from MLB Network's Mitch Williams & John Hart. In advance of the show, Mitch and John were kind enough to answer some questions for us, on what the Diamondbacks 2011 season might bring.
The Diamondbacks roster has undergone a major revamp since last season. What do you think, overall, of the job done by Kevin Towers and his crew?
John Hart: Kevin Towers is definitely the right man for the job. When you win 65 games, it's almost required to have a do-over and this is just the beginning of the process. Kevin didn't add a lot of impact players other than J.J. Putz which filled a glaring need. But think back to when Kevin was in San Diego. Not a lot of people knew about Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams and look what happened. They lost a lot of strikeouts in their lineup, and they have strengthened the farm system, trading away Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson. Watch out for Daniel Hudson, I really like him. Towers put the team back on track this off-season.
Mitch Williams: Kevin Towers did as good a job as he could do this off-season. He's trying to rebuild the bullpen that led the entire world in losses last year. He got rid of the strikeouts at third base, but they're going to suffer a bit defensively. He's definitely building the Diamondbacks through pitching. Did you see what the Padres did last year? It was Towers who built that team. He landed in a bad situation in Arizona and is trying to clean it up. It's going to take some time.
The bullpen was a particular vulnerability in 2010, and JJ Putz is now the closer, a position he hasn't held for some time. Does he have what it takes to succeed again there?
John: I think he does, because he's finally healthy. He has two solid pitches, A-plus fastball and A-plus split finger. They both are good weapons to get three outs in the ninth inning. He's done it before and is coming off a good year. He didn't perform well in New York because he wasn't healthy. I don't think the closer spot will be a worry for the Diamondbacks this year.
Mitch: J.J. Putz is going to have a monster season. He's going back to being a closer where he doesn't have to throw as many strikes. He's got an above average fastball and a way above average split finger. As far as we know, he's healthy and that bodes well for this team.
Towers shipped out Mark Reynolds and let Adam LaRoche walk. That should help the team cut down on strikeouts, but could the resulting loss in power outweigh that?
John: It could, but I think the Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche deals had more to do with the economics of the ballclub. Look, they're losing 65 home runs and they're not replacing them with Melvin Mora. It's going to be a different type of offense this year and there's nothing wrong with that. They hit a lot of home runs last year, but that didn't translate to wins. I don't think because they're losing the power, it's going to make them any worse.
Mitch: Kirk Gibson is going to play a whole different game. He's going to basically play small-ball, he's going to emphasize speed and pitching. They're going to play the game hard, and if these guys don't play hard, Gibson will find players who do.
It will be Kirk Gibson's first full season as manager. What is your take on how he'll do?
John: Kirk Gibson is the right man for the job. Gibson and his coaching staff are real veterans that all have tremendous credibility. It’s not because of how long they played, but because of the way they played. It’s going to be a tough group that commands respect. Remember, Gibson played for Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson. He’s been around the block. It’s a great fit, and I was surprised he didn’t get the job a few years ago.
Mitch: The entire coaching staff is loaded with credibility. You’ve got a bunch of big league players who are making a lot of money. Nothing against A.J. Hinch, but not a lot of players knew who he was. There isn’t anybody on that coaching staff who these players don’t know and respect. These coaches played the game at an elite level. Kirk Gibson is a gamer. He played the game as hard as you could possibly play it. He’s going to be a real good fit because he simply knows the game of baseball.
Towers has emphasized the bringing in of 'character guys', veterans like Henry Blanco and Willie Bloomquist. How important are intangibles like this?
John: I think it’s important. Towers brought in a lot of players he knew from his San Diego days. He’s trying to change the culture and when you do that, you have to do it from the bottom up. He has a nice core with Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Justin Upton. You want to surround them with winning players that have been part of winning baseball teams.
Given the team appears to be rebuilding, what would you regard as a successful season for the Diamondbacks in 2011?
John: They’re going to get closer to .500 baseball. This is the first year of the process. They have two top-ten picks coming up and I think it’s going to be a very good draft. For me, if this team can get to 75-81 wins, it’s going to be a very good improvement. Arizona is going to be relevant again in the NL West. They’re going to play a different brand of baseball.
Mitch: This team is headed in the right direction, but they won’t compete for a division title this year. They’re defensively strong up the middle, and you need that when you’re trying to build the team around pitching. Daniel Hudson is going to get better. He’s not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch. He changes speeds and locates the baseball very well. Arizona has some talented players, and now they need to build around them. Mark them down for 72 wins this year, which would be a seven-game improvement. It takes time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Tune in to the show tomorrow, to hear more thoughts from John and Mitch on the Diamondbacks' upcoming season. Thanks to them, as well as Louis at the MLB Network, for helping put this together.