"You can try and kid yourself all you want, but at the end of the day, you can't convince yourself you're putting a championship team on the field... We're fortunate to be in this division. Compare our record to other divisions; anybody in the American League, the NL East. We're lucky we still had a chance as long as we did."
-- Johnny Estrada
Johnny Estrada does not appear to be going gently into the good night, but appears instead to want a trade to the Greenland Icebergs franchise, bitching about what a dreadful franchise we have here. He is right, in that starting pitching is clearly needed, but this is something everyone knows, and in every interview he has given, Josh Byrnes has said that he intends to address the issue. A third quality starter, to sit alongside Hernandez 2.0 and Webb, will be acquired, probably through a trade. And, hey, Johnny Estrada looks very likely to be part of that particular deal. Given our team ERA was already better than average for the league (6th, at 4.48, and in a very hitter-friendly park), that could be all we need to make a serious run - at the moment, certainly, Byrnes isn't expecting to add more than one starter.
Financially, the D'backs came in about as expected, turning a small profit that can be rolled back into the team for next year. Managing general partner Ken Kendrick said the payroll next year will be around $60m, and between commitments to players already signed or under control, and the money we have to pay out for Shawn Green and Russ Ortiz, we currently look to have about $10m of money in the kitty. Should be enough for a solid starting pitcher and perhaps more offense. Josh Byrnes has said we need to add "a little more danger to the middle", but as with starting, a trade seems more likely the way forward.
That would be helpful. While our batting average was .267, a respectable sixth in the league, our OPS of .755 was only good enough for tenth. AZ's on-base percentage was particularly deficient (.331, 11th=), but there's only seven points covering the spread from fourth to twelfth; not having Johnny the Walkless Wonder in the lineup next year will take care of that. As I've mentioned before, home-run hitters are somewhat over-rated: while our total of 160 is more than only three NL teams, neither the Padres (161) nor Dodgers (153) seemed to find it an unsurmountable problem. However, as with the pitching, we play in a serious hitters' park, and that needs to be taken into account when analyzing these figures.
Kendrick wants to get attendance back up: "We can be very successful at 3 million fans. Successful in terms of financially we can make some profit that we can reinvest into the team in increasing payroll. That would allow us to go out and get selected players out of free agency and have a blend of veterans and younger players that is kind of the best mix you can ever hope for in a middle-market team." We also still have about $100m in deferred salaries left to pay, most of it between now and 2009; that's quite a staggering sum, and the Diamondbacks will be a lot healthier when they're out from underneath that.
However, that three million figures would be almost a 50% increase over the current level of crowds, and one wonders how many diehard fans have been turned away by the departure of Gonzo, the team redesign, etc. I would hope not many, but you never know. On DBBP, Shoewizard reckons, "1.6-1.7 million next year... UNLESS they are winning and come September the walkup numbers give them a huge boost...and they make the playoffs." I'm a little more optimistic, personally, because I think the fans will embrace the Young Bloods - but if we tank in April, for whatever reason, those figures certainly seem quite reachable.
As mooted earlier in the season, looks like Thom Brennaman will be heading back to Cincinnati, where he'll work with - in some capacity - his father. I can't say I'll be too sorry to see him go: I don't think he's a great play-by-play man for television. He's much better on radio, perhaps because he is kept occupied describing the action, and hasn't got time to pontificate at length. However, do have to say, over the past couple of months, I've been more impressed with Thom, as he has tried to educate the fans on things like the need for Gonzo's departure. It may have been parroting the official party line to some extent - but it was a necessary evil. Good luck in future, Mr. Brennaman: it'll be weird hearing anyone else call the games.