As Opening Day 2014 approaches, it’s clear that if the Arizona Diamondbacks don’t evolve out of their state of mediocrity, they’re destined for a state of flux.
Two seasons in a row, the team has finished 81-81, falling short on expectations though seeing a great deal of roster turnover. There, amid such ordinariness, such lack of excitement and appeal, they remain with the offseason in full swing.
Perhaps, you could hypothesize, one of the only sure things in the organization is managing general partner Ken Kendrick — so much else is subject to change.
General manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson both have contracts that are set to expire at year’s end, although the organization has the option to extend them each for an additional year — something it has not exercised for either, and doesn’t yet plan to. Rumors of team president Derrick Hall becoming baseball’s next commissioner abound. Top prospects, once again, have seemingly been reduced to bargaining chips. And the power void left by Justin Upton in the corners seems to be glaring at the organization.
In a lengthy interview with The Dan Bickley Show with Vince Marotta on Friday, Kendrick systematically addressed many of those areas.
“We certainly can always make improvements,” he began, hinting at the team’s offseason plans.
The owner then clarified what, exactly, those improvements might be, backing up something that Towers has already suggested.
“You could have a debate, and internally we have: which is more important — adding a near top of the rotation starter or adding a significant bat?
“Both, frankly, are needs that we would like to fill if the right circumstances present themselves.”
The Diamondbacks scored well above the NL average in runs last season, with 685, while their starting pitching ranked in the bottom-third of league teams in all major statistical categories.
And although the Diamondbacks have mostly addressed the state of flux of the coaching staff — which saw several departures over the offseason — one thing remains to be seen: will Gibson remain at the helm after this season? Then, will his boss, Towers, have a job with the organization too?
“Frankly, it’s a performance business,” Kendrick said.
“People that are in the position of manager, general manager and players are rewarded for performance.”
Over the last two years, that performance has neither been negative nor positive, but .500.
Still, Kendrick changed directions quickly, saying the performance wasn’t necessarily, disappointing to him.
“I’m comfortable with where we are with he and Kevin and I think they’re comfortable with where we are.”
Gibson, in particular, had an opportunity that seemed to have some legitimacy over the offseason, when the Detroit Tigers’ managerial role opened up with the resignation of Jim Leyland. The former Tiger and Michigan native, who resides in the Great Lake state for much of the offseason, was frequently mentioned among the candidates for the opening. But, to the surprise of many, the Diamondbacks skipper was quick to publicize his lack of interest in the position, perpetuating the seeming vulnerability of his job security in Arizona.
“He has a very strong sense of loyalty to a mission that he signed up for here that he doesn’t feel he has completed,” Kendrick said of Gibson.
Moving even higher up the Diamondbacks food chain, the team’s president seems to have a fair shake at being Bud Selig’s successor.
That hot topic, too, caught Kendrick’s breath.
“There are lots of very prominent names that have been mentioned (for the commissioner role),” he began. “I’m very proud that Derrick’s name would be mentioned.
“Of course, I’d be sad to lose him but proud of him if he were selected for the position and I would understand it if he were selected and were to take it.”
If you’re keeping score, three of the top three Diamondbacks personnel — Gibson, Towers and Hall — are in volatile places.
And payroll, too, is on notice, just in a good way.
“We’re at a place now where this year’s team’s payroll is likely to be at or maybe above the highest amount of money ever spent on a Diamondbacks team in its history,” Kendrick boasted.
“We’re back at that $100M of payroll and we will continue to increase payroll and we don’t have that burden of the past that we had to deal with for a lot of years.”
Another team in the division, the Dodgers, have an increasing payroll, too. And the rivalry with that team is one of the only other things that’s sure within Kendrick’s organization.
“We’re not going to spend as much money as they, but we’re going to spend adequate money and ever-increasing money,” the owner said.
“We need to be smarter than the guy who spends more money than we and over time we have been and we’ve had some success with a much more modest payroll than we’re going to have going forward.”
Of the rivalry, Kendrick went on.
“I think it’s great to have an intense competitiveness on the field,” he said.
“I have a hard time controlling what I do and I certainly have no control over what people in Los Angeles do, but my view of sports in general is that you should win with class and lose with dignity.”
Ken Kendrick and the Los Angeles Dodgers — they you can trust will be around when the dust settles after the Diamondbacks’ 2014 season. Most everything else seems pretty up in the air.