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D'backs preview: Center Field

2004 performance
Steve Finley .278/.341/.495, 23 HR, 48 RBI
Luis Terrero .238/.312/.355,  4 HR, 14 RBI 

2005 predictions
Jose Cruz Jr .262/.345/.469, 22 HR, 70 RBI
Luis Terrero .267/.319/.394,  4 HR, 25 RBI
A veteran from the class of December 1998 like Gonzalez, Finley patrolled the oddly-shaped center field at Bank One Ballpark with a degree of ability only truly appreciated after he left for Los Angeles in a trade deadline deal. Despite missing the last 1/3 of the season, he still lead Arizona in home runs (23), and added 13 for the Dodgers down the stretch. As usual, Finley was the epitome of the streaky hitter: in any month last year, he either hit below .230 or over .330, never in the middle. A free agent at season end, there was a chance he'd return to Arizona, but instead signed a two-year, $14m deal with Anaheim; not bad for a man who turned 40 earlier this month.

After his departure, the center field job was handed to enfant terrible, Luis Terrero, who earlier missed 36 AAA games and had to go on an anger management course in the minors, for hurling a ball into the stands and nailing a fan. [It wasn't even the one he was aiming at.] In the majors, he did nothing so dumb, but while his raw tools often impressed, bunting for hits and with a cannon of an arm, he had an alarming tendency to uncork throws home that sailed to the backstop, or attempt reckless steals of third. And watching him play center field was often like watching a dog chase birds; he'd run to where the ball was, not where it was going to be.

As a result, a center fielder was always on the shopping list for the D'backs. After scary suggestions of trading one of our top prospects for (gack!) Eric Byrnes - D'backs fans have nightmares over any trade with Oakland, ever since we swapped Erubiel Durazo for Elmer Dessens - we got Jose Cruz Jr. from Tampa. It's hard to get excited about this, either way: it's only a one-year contract so, unlike Shawn Green, there's no blocking of prospects involved, and he'll almost certainly be well gone before the D'backs have a realistic shot to contend.

Cruz was briefly considered a credible candidate to bat leadoff, less because of his hitting - the last time he hit over .250 was in 2001, though BOB's hitter-friendliness will help - than because he gets a lot of walks, 178 over the past two seasons. He's generally not a bad fielder, though last year had a career-high ten errors, the most at his position. It's also been a few seasons since he's played center with any degree of regularity: with both Tampa and San Francisco, he was almost exclusively in right. Coping with the intricacies of center in Phoenix will be a challenge, but will likely be less painful an experience to watch than Luis Terrero's flailings there in 2004.