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2010 Diamondbacks: Hope, Disaster, Dumping, Hope Again, Expected Changes

The 2010 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks, as terrible as it turned out, had a little of everything. There was hope, disaster, change, some new and tempered hope, and there are yet changes to be made.

65-97. The record for the 2010 Diamondbacks. It also happens to be the record that the Diamondbacks had in their inaugural 1998 season. The difference? In 1998, everyone was just happy to have baseball in town and couldn't wait for the seasons to come.

This season took fans through a roller coaster (and not the fun kind) of a season. Much like every season, it started with hope. From there, hope turned into disaster, disaster led to dumping, and the dumping led to hope (but a smaller, dimmer, longer term version of it).

By the end of the 2010 season, most of us were relieved that we didn't have to watch any more and that, mercifully, the local baseball season was giving way to more pressing things, like cheering for the Suns as they look to find success after an offseason of changes (or watching the Sun Devils or the Cardinals take target practice on their feet and try to outdo one another for the most frustrating football team in the Valley of the Sun, or even just watching the grass grow).

Hope:

It didn't start this way. There wasn't a ton of buzz about the team, but there was some optimism.

The contract signings of Upton and Mark Reynolds symbolized a franchise in the right direction, locking up key young players so that they could be contributors for years to come.

Brandon Webb was supposed to come back early in the season, giving Arizona a formidable top three starters. Between Webb, Dan Haren, and newly acquired Edwin Jackson -- the D-backs starting pitching was expected to be its strength.

The bullpen was bolstered by veterans Aaron Heilman and Bobby Howry, adding depth and versatility to a group of pitchers that did not pitch consistently well in 2009.

Conor Jackson was supposed to take over left field and return from a miserable 2009 season, free agent acquisitions Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche were to provide veteran leadership and shore up the offense and defense, Upton was going to have a breakout season, Reynolds was going to be the big feared power bat in the middle of the lineup, and the team was ultimately going to compete for the division crown.

Disaster:

Too bad that only one of those things actually happened: LaRoche and Johnson had great years offensively and defensively.

The Brandon Webb saga started out hopefully: he would pitch by Opening Day, then he would miss his first few starts, then June was the target, then July, then after the All-Star Game, and so on and so on until he didn't throw a single pitch in a game the entire season.

The supposedly bolstered bullpen was apparently bolstered by kindling and lighter fluid. Bobby Howry made it through 14 appearances, with six HR allowed and a 10.67 ERA before he and his $2.5 million were sent packing. Chad Qualls started as the closer, then wasn't, then was, then was traded to Tampa Bay (why they took him is still a mystery to me).

Juan Gutierrez tried and failed at being the closer. Heilman, who, for the first couple of months of the season was the only consistently good pitcher out of the Arizona bullpen, was given the closer's role after Qualls was traded and promptly turned into Qualls. By the end of the season, the Arizona bullpen blew 25 save opportunities and, only because of a couple of months of pitching close to decent, avoided being the statistically worst bullpen ever, managing to post a collective 5.74 ERA.

After posting an 11-12 record in April, the wheels fell off in May. The team went 9-20 and found itself completely out of the division race before summer hit.

Offensively, the team became king of strikeouts. They blasted through the dubious single-season team record for strikeouts, ending with 1529, more than one hundred more than the previous record. Mark Reynolds, the individual strikeout king, topped 200 for the third straight year (211) and only batted .198. Five players struck out more than 140 times.

The starting pitching was not what was hoped. Webb never pitched, Haren didn't pitch like an ace, and Edwin Jackson was inconsistent.

The injury bug also struck the team. Webb never came back. Kris Benson got hurt in his first start of the year and never pitched again. Reynolds was hobbled by an assortment of nagging injuries (quad, thumb, getting beaned in the head). Upton hurt himself swinging a bat again. Conor Jackson hurt his hamstring jogging in to catch a fly ball. Reliever Leo Rosales missed most the year with a foot injury. Catcher Miguel Montero missed a lot of time because of a knee injury.

Left field was an empty void. The team played Jackson, Gerardo Parra, Cole Gillespie, Ryan Church, and Brandon Allen in that position, hoping to get solid production. No one did much.

Not everything was a complete negative. Adam LaRoche shored up the infield defense with his presence and logged 100 RBI, a record for a first baseman in Arizona. Kelly Johnson hit .284 with 24 HR. Chris Young rebounded nicely from a miserable 2009 campaign to earn an All-Star appearance and come very close to being a 30-30 guy.

Even still, there wasn't enough that went well or gave a sense of hope, which led to changes.

Dumping:

The aforementioned failure led to the team getting rid of guys. GM Josh Byrnes and manager AJ Hinch were let go. As already mentioned, Bobby Howry was released. Dontrelle Willis came and went.

In the front office, Jerry Dipoto took over as the interim GM and bench coach Kirk Gibson took over managing the team.

Dan Haren was traded to the Angels, Edwin Jackson was sent to the White Sox, Chad Qualls was sent to Tampa Bay, and Chris Snyder was shipped off to Pittsburgh. In each case, the goal was to shed salaries and acquire some young talent for now and for later.

Hope Again (But Clearly Tempered):

It was a strange thing that happened with the trades. Suddenly, the team was a little bit attractive. In essence, the salary dumps were smiled at.

Of course, it may have had a little to do with the results.

Barry Enright, who was not acquired via trade, but rather was a AA call-up after the D-Train ride started and then derailed. With his less than impressive stuff, he beat the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum, and matched young phemon Stephen Strasburg.

In exchange for Edwin Jackson, Dan Hudson joined the team. As a young two-pitch pitcher, he went 7-1 and a 1.69 ERA.

Ian Kennedy, who had been on the staff all season, led the staff in victories (9) and in qualifying ERA (3.80). He hit a rough patch midseason, but finished strong with an ERA of 2.50 over his final ten starts.

In the Dan Haren trade, Arizona acquired veteran Joe Saunders. His first few starts were spectacular. He tailed off a bit, but became a leader and player/coach for Enright, Kennedy, and Hudson.

Reliever DJ Carrasco, acquired as part of the Chris Snyder deal, looked competent in his role.

Juan Gutierrez recovered from being one of the worst relievers in the league. He converted his final 13 save opportunities after a stint in the minors and looks to be at least in the running for the closer's job in 2011.

Finally, the Diamondbacks hired Kevin Towers as the new general manager. He has a track record of working with a limited budget and putting together a winning team. He even has managed to establish a positive enough work environment that he convinced Jerry Dipoto, who was vying for the GM job, to stay on and work alongside him.

Kirk Gibson was signed to a two-year contract, making him the manager and not just the interim, or seat-warming guy, as I prefer to call it. Almost the entire coaching staff is to be revamped, to bring in a completely new group of leaders and teachers.

In the end, Gibson led the team to only a slightly better record than Hinch (34-49, compared to 31-48), but the feeling of complete and utter hopelessness is less than before. There is a feeling that the leadership in place will now get things going in the right direction sometime in the near future.

Expected changes:

Towers has already said that he wants to address the pitching, specifically the bullpen, and the astronomical number of strikeouts in the lineup. He also will be dealing with a team payroll rumored to be in the range of about $50 million.

What does this mean? It likely means that there will be some trades, as the team will need to shed some more salaries if this is true.

In the starting rotation, it seems that Hudson, Saunders, Kennedy, and probably Enright are locks for next year. In the bullpen, Gutierrez, Carrasco, and perhaps Sam Demel may be the only ones that return.

Offensively, we can expect to hear lots of Mark Reynolds trade rumors. LaRoche will likely be replaced by a less expensive first baseman that makes more contact and fields his position well. Of course, this will require much more production from left field.

As solid a year as both Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson had, it is more than a slight possibility that one or both may have to go, in the name of the Almighty Dollar.

There may be a newcomer to Chase Field, but not in the way of players. To make the ballpark more pitcher-friendly, a humidor may be installed to store baseballs and maintain temperature and humidity.

Towers believes that, with the right moves, Arizona could be in line for a quick turnaround in 2011. Whether this happens or not, there is at least a faint scent of optimism.

That, at least, is something we haven't had for a while.