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D'backs preview: Left Field

2004 performance [LF only]
Luis Gonzalez     .259/.373/.495, 17 HR, 47 RBI
Quinton McCracken   .301/.342/.388, 1 HR, 7 RBI

2005 predictions
Luis Gonzalez    .271/.375/.477, 19 HR, 80 RBI
It's difficult to believe, but the days when left field will no longer be the domain of Luis Gonzalez are looming closer and closer. Gonzo has been with the major-league side since December 1998 when, in possibly the best deal in franchise history, he + $500K came from the Detroit Tigers, in exchange for Karim Garcia, One quick stat: since the trade, Garcia has 161 RBIs for six different organization; Gonzo 622, all for the D'backs.

In five seasons, 1999-2003, Gonzo sat out only 29 games. But 2004 was a disaster; he played almost the entire year with a tear in the ligament of his left elbow. While not supposedly affecting his swing, was clearly a factor in only hitting .259, his lowest since 1997. It certainly affected his defense, with a cutoff man often required even on relatively shallow throws from left. He finally gave up and had an operation in August after 105 games, transplanting a tendon from his wrist to replace the ligament.

He will be ready for Opening Day, though he has been eased gently into Spring Training games to start with, and has done a fair bit of DH'ing when the chance arose. However, he is now 37, and the contract extension given to him by Arizona, through 2006 with an option for 2007, now seems more like a charity one, to make up for underpaid years like 2001 (when he became the only player since 1991 to hit over 50 homers and earn below $5m).

Since there's a slew of outfield prospects coming up, and his offensive production has declined steadily since that hit off Mariano Rivera won the World Series for Arizona...pause to bask in the glow of that memory...this may be his final season as a full-time player. With protection from Glaus and Green behind him in the line-up, and an elbow that doesn't cramp his style, Gonzalez should be a notch above last year in most aspects of his game. However, if he reaches any more than 20 homers, I'll be pleasantly surprised.