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Only one direction to go... part 3: Snakes in the Grass

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Arizona Diamondbacks
Games Ahead of the Rockies in 2005: 10

Hot Stove News:I have to admit, Arizona is a tricky nut to crack this offseason. On the one hand they have loads of position talent all across the diamond, and one pretty impressive starting pitcher (Dustin Nippert) knocking at the door. On the other hand, they have exhibited an unfathomable willingness to play the old and the bad instead, and have largely gotten away with it. They're on the verge of losing a good chunk of their rotation, they haven't even begun to address the team's biggest weakness - a bullpen that had D-back fans preferring to sit in Chase Field's 130 degree parking lot, rather than suffer the indignity of another blown lead under the AC- their secondary stats from 2005 show they should have finished behind our team again, and  their payroll is just way too messed up and top heavy for a 77 win franchise to make me comfortable with predicting much success for 2006.

And yet because of the talent rising, I'm not sure if I'm prepared to go out on a limb and say this team will fall back very far. Besides, there are way too many intangibles at this point. What if the D-backs do get Manny? Who will they get to replace Javy Vasquez? Just like LA this team has made a lot of noise, but not a lot of action this fall, leaving much in doubt. As with the Dodgers, I think as the offseason unfolds we'll know better what our chances of overtaking the Diamondbacks are.

Unlike the Dodgers, the D-backs have been able to replace their GM already, and the extra time is seemingly welcome to Josh Byrnes, who has several needs to address. Besides the bullpen, and the emerging situation with the rotation, the Diamondbacks have a similar catcher situation to the Rockies, where touted youth failed to live up to expectations in 2005 and the team is now scrambling for a Plan B. Also needed for the Snakes is a centerfielder, possibly long term if they are unable to sign Justin Upton in the one week window they'll have before next seasons' draft (as Rockies fans who have the number two pick then, we should all be rooting for Upton not to sign). The middle infield could be trouble, not because Stephen Drew and Sergio Santos don't have big time skills, it's just they aren't refined at the MLB level yet, and veteran help besides that named Royce Clayton or Craig Counsell may be needed.

Rockies chances of passing in 2006: On the surface, I would say our chances are pretty decent only because we have fewer questions surrounding our pitching, and while our young core might not have the same expected peak value of AZ's, our young players are more refined in their games right now and closer to their expected peaks in age. That's on the surface though, and I've learned not to trust my logic with this team.

Here's another scenario: the Diamondbacks may or may not have some salary space to play with, depending on how much of Vazquez's contract they can dump when they send him closer to San Juan. Should they find a windfall by dealing him and all his salary to the Mets (for Mike Cameron and Yusmeiro Petit), the money saved would then allow them to sign A.J Burnett (it would be typical of the luck this franchise has), and then I would go ahead and expect him to all of the sudden measure up to his potential, become a leader in the clubhouse and he and Manny (traded for and then offered a $200 million contract extension locking him in until 2018) both become pillars in the community, and take Arizona to it's second WS title of the decade as Stephen Drew emerges all-A-rod style to terrorize all of the NL West along with sluggers Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. Justin Upton in a dream will see a vision of two snakes on a floaty in a swimming pool and decide it's a sign that he needs to play for Arizona right away, take the $5000 signing bonus they offer him straight to the bank, and within two months prove he's ready for the everyday cf job and the Rockies chances of passing the Snakes will be nil.

That's the way I'm leaning right now, however, if you take it by the numbers and straight forward common sense, the Rockies should gain all ten games on the Diamondbacks, but maybe not anymore than that, leaving us in a fifty-fifty sort of gray area until more of their offseason revamp materializes. I'll keep you posted.