New owners jump into Arizona's mess Oct. 15

Updated: October 10, 2004, 1:20 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- A season that went from bad to historically awful is mercifully over, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are facing an offseason that will determine the team's course toward respectability.

"We have a new ownership group, and I think they're going to do things in the right way to put this team in the right direction," said Shea Hillenbrand, who may or may not figure into that future. "This is a transition year. This city and this team is not used to losing like we did."

An avalanche of injuries combined with some disappointing performances to send the team into a tailspin that saw them lose 44 of 52 during one stretch. Meanwhile, a shakeup at the top -- where the new quartet of principal owners pushed out chairman Jerry Colangelo -- added to the turmoil.

Jeff Moorad, the prominent player agent hired to replace Colangelo, doesn't take over until Oct. 15 and has declined any interviews until then. That only adds to the level of speculation about what personnel moves are coming.

"We're going to have a very, very busy offseason," manager Al Pedrique said. "I feel like we have a lot of holes in the lineup right now."

Pedrique could stay in the Arizona organization but maybe not as manager. He was promoted from third base coach when manager Bob Brenly was fired, a move made primarily because the front office felt Pedrique was better at handling the team's young roster.

Three seasons after winning the World Series, the Diamondbacks finished 51-111, 13 games worse than their 1998 expansion year. The 111 losses are tied for eighth most in baseball history. Only a 4-2 final homestand prevented Arizona from climbing higher on that dubious list.

At the top of the team's priority list is re-signing Richie Sexson. The Diamondbacks sent five players to Milwaukee for the big slugger, only to have him go down with a season-ending shoulder injury after 23 games.

Sexson spent long losing seasons with the Brewers, and he wants to play for a contender. Persuading him that Arizona can return to contention in a hurry is central to the contract talks.

Sexson's decision will help the Diamondbacks determine whether they can take steps to return to contention as early as next season or to take the traditional rebuilding approach with young players.

If the rush route to rebuild is taken, expect Arizona to try to re-sign Steve Finley, sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers just before the trade deadline.

"Those guys are all key," said Luis Gonzalez, who underwent season-ending elbow surgery. "Fins had been here a long time. It was great to see what he did (Saturday) night, hitting the big homer, and everybody in here was excited for him, but those guys belong in Diamondbacks uniforms. We want to keep them around here."

Many of the youngsters were brought up out of necessity, not because they were ready. But others showed great promise, chief among them third baseman Chad Tracy and closer Greg Aquino. They figure to be a part of things no matter what else happens.

One Diamondback who did not disappoint was Randy Johnson. The big left-hander, who turned 41 last week, had a magnificent season made all the more remarkable by the fact he was playing with a team made up mostly of recent minor-leaguers. And he was coming off surgery on his right knee.

It was a season that ranks with those that earned him the Cy Young Award in his first four years with Arizona.

"To me the Cy Young goes to the best pitcher," Pedrique said. "What that guy has done playing for this team, he's done enough to deserve that award."

He was 16-14, but the team scored three or fewer runs for him in all but one of those losses. He was 13-2 when the Diamondbacks scored three or more. Johnson was second in the majors with a 2.60 ERA and led the majors in strikeouts at 290. Along the way, he pitched a perfect game, passed 4,000 strikeouts and passed Steve Carlton to become the most prolific left-handed strikeout pitcher in baseball history. He ranks No. 3 on the strikeout list behind Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.

Johnson is scheduled to earn $16 million next year, the final season of his contract. He has brushed aside questions about whether he wants to stay if the team doesn't improve around him. The Diamondbacks, if they decide to go young, might approach him about a deal.

"Randy is under contract for next year with all the no-trade provisions," said general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. "Everything else is just speculation."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press