TALENT CHALLENGED/NL WEST
Arizona managing general partner Jerry Colangelo is catching
some serious heat. But it's dry heat. Some of his fellow owners
have been sniping at him behind his back for spending too
lavishly and thereby driving up the cost of doing business for
everyone. Undeterred, Colangelo telephoned one prominent owner
and barked, "If you've got a problem with me, say it to me, not
to someone else." Then he assured him that the Diamondbacks'
greenbacks will continue to flow. Since the team is already
among the five highest revenue producers in baseball, without
having played a game, Colangelo has only just begun.
"What it gets down to is jealousy," he says of the criticisms.
"I guess in baseball the egos are bigger than they are in
basketball. The first thing some of these guys should do is look
in a mirror.
"I have a 32-year track record of being responsible," adds
Colangelo, who has run the NBA's Phoenix Suns since 1968. (The
Suns have never won a league title, falling to the Celtics in
1976 and the Bulls in 1993 in their only NBA Finals
appearances.) "Nothing has changed. If anything, the stakes are
even higher. Our goal is to separate ourselves from how baseball
teams have operated for a long time. That's not to say we ignore
tradition, but we're going to do things we believe are right."
The Diamondbacks, who open with a $32 million payroll, have
spooked even George Steinbrenner, whose Yankees are the richest
team in baseball. Worried about losing centerfielder Bernie
Williams to the desert, Steinbrenner has asked acting
commissioner Bud Selig to investigate whether Arizona tampered
with Williams, who is eligible for free agency after this season.
Colangelo's spending spree began with the $10 million he gave
first baseman Travis Lee, a first-round pick by Minnesota in
1996 who became a free agent because he wasn't offered a
contract soon enough by the Twins. Then he made veteran
free-agent shortstop Jay Bell the highest-paid middle infielder
in baseball, at $6.8 million per year over five years. Next up
was third baseman Matt Williams, who got a five-year deal at
$9.5 million a year--after Williams said he wanted to play only
in Arizona so he could be near his children. Then he corralled
pitcher Andy Benes with $18 million over three years. Most
recently, after catcher Jorge Fabregas "lost" his arbitration
and was awarded an $875,000 contract, Colangelo gave him a
two-year, $2.9 million deal anyway. Colangelo said he felt
uneasy about the arbitration figure because Arizona had offered
Fabregas $1.05 million before the hearing.
"We won the arbitration, and I didn't feel good about that,"
Colangelo says. "We made him an offer based on what we thought
his value was, so why should he be penalized? That's the
difference between me and how other people do business. I want
to do what's right."
Said Fabregas, who previously played for the White Sox and the
Angels, "I was very shocked. Things like that just don't happen
in baseball. This is the best-run organization I've known. From
[manager] Buck Showalter to his coaches to everybody else, they
really care about you."
Arizona has one of the highest season-ticket bases in baseball:
34,000. It has a state-of-the-art, $354 million ballpark, $238
million of which came from local taxes. When it will put a
state-of-the-art team on the field, however, is less certain,
though the club's revenue and spending pattern suggest it could
"The Rockies made the playoffs in their third year, but that was
a strike season," Showalter says. "When we get there, we don't
want it to be a one-year deal. We want to be consistent and have
a farm system that makes us a self-replenishing organization.
What a good farm system does is help keep your payroll down."
Clearly, though, the Diamondbacks can speed their maturation
through free agency. Colangelo has all but hung a shingle on
Bank One Ballpark, his convertible-roofed stadium: free agents
welcome. "This is about recruiting," he says. "Having the right
facilities, treating people right and being located in an
attractive place to play."
In the meantime Colangelo knows the rest of the baseball world
will keep a sharp eye on him. Last month for instance, he
attended a charity function in which people wearing Yankees
pinstripes served drinks. "I didn't ask for one, though,"
Colangelo says, "because I thought I might be accused of
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO BELLWETHER The Diamondbacks are counting on Bell to anchor their infield and lend stability to their clubhouse. [Jay Bell in game]
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Jeff Suppan]
BY THE NUMBERS
Expansion Team Statistics (major league only)
COMPOSITE '97 BATTING Avg. .256 STADIUM CAPACITY 48,500
COMPOSITE '97 4.42 SEASON TICKETS SOLD 34,000
AVG. MLB EXPERIENCE 4.7 years PRICE OF A RED HOT $2.75
WHAT THEY NEEDED: Everything.
WHAT THEY GOT: Andy Benes and Willie Blair are solid anchors for
the rotation, Jay Bell and Matt Williams form an expensive but
potent left side of the infield, Devon White still has a slick
glove in center.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS: The Diamondbacks won't be good, but they will
be better than Tampa Bay. Why? They have half a pitching staff,
Bell and Williams might combine for 50 homers, Jorge Fabergas is
a catcher with power and ... and ... well, that's about it.
Showalter always got the most out of disparate parts in New
York. Now we'll find out what he can do with a lot of discarded
When Jeff Suppan learned that Boston was leaving him unprotected
in the expansion draft, he--and he alone--was shocked. Now the
23-year-old righty, who went 7-3 last season, finds himself in
Arizona, one of two promising young guns in the rotation (Brian
Anderson is the other). Suppan, like the Diamondbacks, isn't
ready for big things yet. But if manager Buck Showalter is
patient, the kid will get 30 starts and the Diamondbacks may
develop the ace they'll need a few years from now, when they're
ready to compete.
Projected Roster With 1997 Statistics
Manager: Buck Showalter (first season with Arizona)
BATTING ORDER B/T BA HRs RBIs SBs
CF Devon White S/R .245 6 34 13
RF Karim Garcia* (R) L .305 20 66 11
SS Jay Bell R .291 21 92 10
3B Matt Williams R .263 32 105 12
1B Travis Lee* (R) L .300 14 46 2
LF Yamil Benitez R .267 8 21 2
C Jorge Fabregas L/R .258 7 51 1
2B Tony Batista R .202 4 18 2
OF David Dellucci** (R) L .327 20 55 11
OF Chris Jones R .243 7 25 8
C Kelly Stinnett* R .321 10 43 1
1B Brent Brede L .274 3 21 7
IF Andy Fox L .226 0 1 2
STARTERS W L IPS BR ERA
RH Andy Benes 9 9 6.8 1.24 3.10
RH Willie Blair 16 8 6.3 1.34 4.17
LH Brian Anderson 4 2 6.0 1.38 4.69
RH Jeff Suppan 7 3 5.1 1.60 5.69
LH Omar Daal+ 2 3 6.0 1.83 7.06
RELIEVERS W L IPS BR ERA
RH Hector Carrasco 2 8 0 1.50 4.40
RH Cory Lidle 7 2 2 1.33 3.53
RH Clint Sodowsky 2 2 0 1.64 3.63
LH Joel Adamson 5 3 0 1.34 3.54
RH Felix Rodriguez 0 0 0 1.78 4.30
RH Bob Wolcott 5 6 0 1.63 6.03
(R) Rookie B/T: Bats/throws IPS: Innings pitched per start
BR: Base runners per inning pitched
*Triple A stats **Double A stats +Combined AL and NL stats