Over on Purple Row, RoxGirl gets out the telescope and gazes a very, very long way into the future, and concludes, "It's fairly clear that Colorado is moving further ahead of Arizona in the years after 2009 and the gap gets wider as you go along."
Oh, hold my aching sides, for I fear they may split. Really, I don't quite know where to start with such a delicious smorgasborg of wrong-headedness. First of all, "further ahead"? The NLCS aside, the Rockies have first got some catching up to do, even to pull level with us. For a reality check reveals that for 5 1/2 months last season, they were the fourth-best team in the National League West. And that's no exaggeration; take a look at the standings after the games of September 16. You'll find the Rockies, yes, back in fourth, 6.5 games behind us.
Basically, the 2007 Rockies were a .500 team who got insanely hot for a spell - but even so, required help from just about everyone else in the division to reach the playoffs. Sure, there is something to be said for making your own luck and riding it as far as possible [I would never claim the 2001 D-backs were the best team in baseball that year] - but when you get dealt a royal flush in poker, it doesn't make you a good player. If any one of the following had not unfolded exactly the way they did, the Rockies would have finished third, and we would probably not be having this conversation.
- The Dodgers rolling over and losing seven straight against the Rockies down the stretch.
- Arizona sending out our B-squad over the final weekend; the Sunday starters included Bonifacio, Salazar, Montero, Clark and Quentin in LF, and we still only lost by one run.
- The Padres blowing a ninth inning, two-out, two-strike lead over Milwaukee on Saturday.
- The Padres scoring three in the first, having a 4-2 lead in the fifth and still losing on Sunday.
- The Padres' blowing a two-run, 13th inning lead in the playoff on Monday.
Thoroughly entertaining and amusing the San Diego implosion was, any club would be foolish to rely on that as a reliable component or indicator of their future success. Plus, the off-season moves have made Arizona a significantly stronger team. Rox Girl plays this down, saying "the Dodgers and Diamondbacks moves haven't pushed them that far ahead," and citing Larry Mahnken's early projections to that end. These "projections" give the Bonds-less Giants 79 wins. I'm not sure what else they said, since I was doubled over with laughter and unable to see the screen.
And when I say, "a long way into the future," Rox is talking about up until the year 2015. Eight seasons to go. Where were the current members of our roster eight years ago? Eric Byrnes has just finished hitting .238 for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds; Orlando Hudson .267 with the Hagerstown Suns A-ball team. None of our other anticipated starters were old enough to vote. Chris Young and Mark Reynolds were barely old enough to drive. And Justin Upton was twelve. We can't even project, with any degree of confidence, how young players will perform this season. How did Rodrigo Lopez work out for Colorado this year? Not as well as Livan Hernandez, I would remind Rox Girl. :-) Gazing so far into the future, you might as well use this. [I just asked it, "Will the Rockies prospects outperform the Diamondbacks' ones in 2015?" and got the response, "My sources say no." So, there you go.]
Another difference between the two teams can be seen in Group II as chosen by Rox, scheduled to peak from 2010-2012. For Arizona, five of the seven players were already basically full-time major-leaguers last year; one got a cup of coffee; the last was Max Scherzer, a first-round draft pick. Contrast the Rockies, whose Group II included Seth Smith (8 major-league career at-bats), Joe Koshansky (12), Greg Reynolds (8 games in Double-A) and Brandon Hynick (yet to pitch above High-A). Meanwhile, Chris Young hit 32 homers in the majors as a rookie. Yet, according to Rox, we have "clearly fallen back behind both the Rockies and Dodgers in talent that figures to be peaking in that timeframe." Sure, some of the Rockies prospects might be great. Operative word: might. There's many a slip 'twixt High-A and Coors, as Ben Franklin might have said. Had he been a baseball scout. And not dead for 200 years, of course.
There's no arguing that Arizona sold off a lot of prospects to bring Haren to us, and our focus is, unquestionably, to put together a team which can win over the next few seasons. That's something I think is eminently sensible, given the almost completely unpredictable nature of prospects, and the surge of them which had come through the Diamondbacks' farm system. Basically, outside of second-base, our lineup is all but settled until the end of 2010, and further than that in a number of places (Micah Owings, Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton are under our complete control through 2012; Chris Young and Stephen Drew until 2011). We don't actually need any prospects for the next three seasons, even if Rox had not inexplicably omitted the likes of Yusmeiro Petit [ERA+ 103 at age 22] from her list.
Beyond that, of course, things will get more doubtful; "Cannot predict now," according to my source above, in fact. However, there are a number of drafts, likely with additional early picks for AZ as people like Hudson leave, which will allow us to restock. The players who will be peaking in 2014 are likely still in college: any differences in strength reflects only a difference in strategy, if a team has drafted more high-school prospects. The 2008 and 2009 drafts are of far more importance; worrying about - or even thinking about - what will happen four years down the line seems both pointless and irrelevant.
Four years ago, we had a different manager, GM and owner, and were just about to sign a plethora of free agents, including Roberto Alomar, Shane Reynolds, Steve Sparks and Juan Brito. How'd that work out? 51-111, as I recall. Must have been part of a cunning plot to get us the #1 pick, I guess. This illustrates how quickly things can chance. While I imagine our front-office staff has a good handle on long-term planning, it's very premature to be basically calling the 2014 NL West as a two-horse race between the Rockies and Dodgers.
Ever bit as credible a scenario, I'm anticipating a swell in attendance as local people leap back on to a division champion's bandwagon. This leads to increased revenue, and the ability to keep most of our superstars here in Arizona as they hit free agency - they'll probably be keen to add to their collection of World Series rings. And so, to mis-quote Orwell, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a Sedona Red cleat stomping on a purple dinosaur -- forever..."