Just realised I'd better get my skates on with these, since at current rate, the preview will be finishing somewhere around the All-Star Break. So, without further ado:
2004 performance (1B only): Shea Hillenbrand: .322/.356/.466, 11 HR, 70 RBI Richie Sexson: .233/.337/.578, 9 HR, 23 RBI 2005 prediction: Chad Tracy: .297/.353/.424, 10 HR, 57 RBI Tony Clark: .230/.298/.461, 10 HR, 37 RBI
First-baseman Richie Sexson had signed for $8.7m after a trade that sent six players to Milwaukee. In his first 80 at-bats, he clubbed nine homers, including a 503-foot shot that was the longest bomb in stadium history by 30 feet. But just two days after that, Sexson injured his shoulder, on a checked swing at a pitch by Cubs closer LaTroy Hawkins. If you could point to a date when the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks fell apart, that was it: April 28. Sexson managed only seven more at-bats that season: before that game, the D'backs were 9-11; they went 42-100 the remainder of the year.
Shea Hillenbrand moved across from third to first, and whatever you might say about his defense there ("he tried his hardest" is about the best you'll get from anyone), you couldn't argue with his hitting. Overall, he lead the team with a .310 average and 80 RBIs, easily the best season of his career. With Byung-Hung Kim imploding in Boston, the 2003 trade that brought Hillenbrand to the desert suddenly looked not too bad.
While the stats added up, the financial numbers didn't. After Vazquez, Green, Glaus and Ortiz, there was no money left in the kitty for the arbitration-eligible Hillenbrand, who went to Toronto for pitching prospect Adam Peterson. Sexson didn't return either, signing a 4-year $50 million deal with Seattle - the slugger's time in Arizona cost the club almost $84,000 per plate appearance.
The 2005 starter will be another converted third baseman, Chad Tracy, one of the few bright spots for Arizona last year. After batting .335 in the minor leagues, Sexson's injury and the subsequent shift of Hillenbrand allowed Tracy to become an everyday player. He hit .285 for the D'backs, finishing second in Avg, Hits, RBIs and Homers among qualifying NL rookies. However, concerns about his defense and the signing of Troy Glaus prompted a move to first.
His new position should help reduce these, but to aid with the transition and act as a back-up, Arizona also signed veteran Tony Clark to a one-year, $750K contract. Clark hit .221 with 16 homers for the Yankees in a platoon role at first and, if all goes to plan, he will be lucky to see much more playing time in Arizona. His pop might make him a pinch-hitter, alongside a role as a late-innings defensive replacement for Tracy. Shawn Green also played mostly at first for LA last season.
But the youngster should get the majority of at-bats, though whether he remains at the position long-term is less certain, since Arizona has a crop of outfield prospects nearing the majors. First base might soon become somewhere to slot one of those - Conor Jackson in particular - or even Green, who is signed through 2007 and seems to have a partial no-trade clause in his contract with Arizona. With Troy Glaus locked in at third until 2008, Tracy may find himself squeezed out eventually.