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Arizona Diamondbacks’ La Russa: Team is built to win now, in the future

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke talks to the media during a press conference, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in Phoenix. Greinke could have stayed with the Los Angeles Dodgers or gone up the coast to the San Francisco Giants. Instead, he signed a massive contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, dramatically shifting the landscape in the NL West. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Tony La Russa, Diamondbacks chief baseball officer

A look at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ offseason would give the impression that they are all in on the 2016 season.

After all, you don’t give Zack Greinke a six-year, $206.5 million contract, trade prospects for Shelby Miller, make a move to acquire Jean Segura and sign reliever Tyler Clippard if you don’t have eyes on contending this season.

MLB.com’s Paul Casella believes the Diamondbacks are a team with their “eye on the prize,” and he’s surely not the only one.

But according to Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa, the team’s moves — while made in an effort to make the team better now — do not mean the team is putting all its chips on the 2016 table.

“Our plan is like five to six years, not two to three,” he told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday morning.

The Diamondbacks won 79 games last season, a total that was a marked improvement from the 64 they won the prior season. They have not posted a winning record since 2011, when they won 94 games and the NL West. Over the last 10 seasons, they have won more games than they have lost three times, so if there was a sense of “now or never,” it’s doubtful people would blame them.

While the D-backs would no doubt like to win a World Series this season, failing to do so would not mean their plan is a failure. Because if it doesn’t happen this year, it could the next or even the one after that.

At least, a long-term contender is the type of team La Russa and the organization are trying to construct.

“The key is do you have enough young (players) to stay competitive,” La Russa said, noting if you have enough young players being paid a lower salary it frees you up to spend more elsewhere while fielding a good team. “Probably the point that’s the least mentioned since the middle of July of ’14 to now, the average age of players acquired…the number of players that we have acquired, added to the organization, is in the 30s, like 33, 34; the average age is 22 years old. Twenty-two or 23.”

La Russa said that includes Touki Toussaint and Dansby Swanson, the team’s last two first-round picks who were dealt in separate deals over that span.

“So the players that we have moved other places, the average age is 28 — including several 30 year olds,” he said. “So the point I’m making is that not only do we feel like the next couple, three years are prime, but our plan would be as guys get more expensive you keep developing your own, and two or three years from now some of these 19, 20, 21, 22s are going to be pitching and playing for us.

“That’s one way you keep economically stable is you keep developing and I think that’s the point that hasn’t been made very much. How many young talents have come into the organization even though there’s been a couple pretty dramatic No. 1s that have gone.”

With all that, though, La Russa does not discount the idea that his team is ready to be a factor this season. Asked to identify a weakness in the roster, at least on paper, he instead offered praise.

“I think we’re exciting,” he said. “I’d probably put our athletes against any of the other 29 (teams).”

So, no weakness then?

“You know where I think our question mark is, is just frame of mind,” he said.

That, La Russa said, is realizing that they’re a good team with good coaches and have a chance to win a lot of games this summer.

“The whole point now is will our players understand how you take this potential and make it translate into competing your ass off and winning games,” he said. “And what you do, you start in spring training by work, work and working, developing the culture of team and toughness.

“So that to me is a question to be decided, because talk is cheap, but talent-wise we’re ready to go.”

 

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