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The Hot Stove Corner, part 2: First Base

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          BA  AB  R   H HR RBI BB   K  OBP  SLG   OPS
Tracy   .306 291 39  89 14  40 21  39 .353 .533  .886 
Clark   .310 277 41  86 26  66 32  66 .378 .664 1.042 
Jackson .250  68  7  17  2   7  7  10 .329 .382  .711 
Total   .302 636 87 192 42 113 60 115 .361 .574  .935 
NL Rank    4   -  9  =3 =2   3 11   9    8    3     4

2005 review
The Diamondbacks approached the season with some trepidation at first-base. The original 2004 incumbent, Richie Sexson, tore his shoulder up, and missed almost all that year; his replacement, Shea Hillenbrand, did not have his contract renewed, and was traded to Toronto in what was effectively a salary dump.

The daily plan was to move Chad Tracy across from third to first, a move designed to minimize his wayward throwing, which lead to a franchise-record number of errors in 2004. As backup, and to help him learn the position, Tony Clark was brought in on a $750K, one-year contract, widely derided in many circles as a waste of money, since his average from 2002-2004 was only .220, though he had hit 16 HR in only 253 at-bats the previous year.

However, Clark ended up becoming the everyday first baseman, thanks to a blistering level of performance. He was voted Arizona's MVP by SnakePit visitors, and became only the second player in the past decade to hit thirty homeruns in less than 350 AB's (Mark McGwire, 2000). He hit .319 or better each month from Apr-Jul, and after a down August, bounced back with 8 homers in just 67 September at-bats.

Even hitting close to .300 all year, and making only 3 errors in 653.2 innings (just one more than Clark) poor Chad Tracy found himself squeezed out of first, and ended up patrolling right field, after Shawn Green moved to center.

But a new hero did arise: the long-awaited arrival of Conor Jackson...and after going 5-for-14, capped with a two-homer game August 6 against the Rockies, it looked like expectations were going to be surpassed. However, that weekend, Clark was signed to a two-year contract extension: coincidence or not, Jackson then got just two hits the rest of the month. He ended the year batting .200 overall, and his play at first was highly unimpressive too, though great things are still expected from him (with the lumber, anyway!) down the line.

2006 Possibilities

Free Agents
I think it's probably safe to say this is an area in which Arizona will not be particularly active. The top free agent in the entire 2006 market, according to ESPN, plays this position: I refer, of course, to Chaparral High School graduate and consequent local World Series hero, Paul Konerko. Despite drooling from some quarters, I think it's safe to say he won't be in purple next year: Boston is the consensus destination, if he leaves the South Side.

There are a bunch of ex-D'backs who might become available too, though their signing is probably even less likely. Greg Colbrunn, Erubiel Durazo and former golden boy, Travis Lee will all be on the market. But after Konerko, the general quality available takes a big drop to names like Kevin Millar. Maybe signing Clark to a 2-year contract wasn't such a bad idea after all...

Trades
Much the same goes here. The odds of us trading for another first baseman are probably slimmer than signing one outright - unless our plan is to try and corner the market by signing every single one out there. Which would be cunning, but probably doomed to failure. Any such acquisition would almost certainly be part of a three-team deal, temporarily passing through Phoenix on his way elsewhere.

If I was looking around on those terms though, one interesting possibility is the Phillies, who look like they may be trying to deal Jim Thome to make way for RotY phenom Ryan Howard. The Good Phight has been casting envious eyes at Vazquez - even though they're supposedly on his black-list - so maybe something like Thome for Vazquez, then turn round and spin him off to, say, the Twins in exchange for Torii Hunter. [Cash would be moving around too] But any deal would have to be approved by Thome, and this is, I cheerfully admit, basically wild speculation.

Prospects
We've just had one top-notch player come up through the farm system in Conor Jackson: what more do you want? Oh, alright... Pulled up to Tucson to replace Jackson at first base for the Sidewinders was Jesus Cota. However, he hit a disappointing .214 there, and will need to do better than that in the upcoming season. If not, he may end up getting squeezed out, with Jackson ahead of him, and upcoming talent beginning to follow close behind.

The most promising of these is perhaps Chris Carter, who flourished in Double-A, hitting .297 after getting promoted to Tennessee, with 10 homers in only 128 AB's. Javier Brito is another name to remember; signed as an undrafted free agent, he batted .292 for the High-A Jethawks, and .296 at Low-A South Bend. Cesar Nicolas also played there for the Silver Hawks, hitting .302 in 91 games with 21 homers.

Summary + Prediction
Oh, who am I trying to kid with the above? Tony Clark will begin the season as our starting first-baseman. Conor Jackson will spell him from there, but just as Tony came out of Chad's shadow last season, so Conor has every chance to take the starter's job from the veteran. Expect Melvin to play "the hot hand" at this position initially, but if Jackson lives up to potential, Clark could be little more than a late-inning defensive replacement by mid-season - especially if he returns to his normal level of production.