D-Backs break budget, go all in for 2012 - East Valley Tribune: Fox Sports Arizona

D-Backs break budget, go all in for 2012

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Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 4:25 pm

The Diamondbacks are all in.

The D-backs overspent on their proposed budget by more than $10 million by signing free agents Jason Kubel and Joe Saunders this winter, the final additions to a group that was 94-68 and won the NL West by eight games in 2011.

After their four pending arbitration cases are resolved, they D-backs will have spent about $70 million on their projected opening day roster and about $80 million on the entire 40-man roster. They spent about $56 million on the major league side last year.

It is a bump of about 20 percent.

It's OK with them. The time is now.

"It shows the commitment ownership has to keeping us on top in the NL West. I'm not used to being in this situation," said general manager Kevin Towers, who won his fifth NL West title in his first season in Arizona.

"We're a better club than we were last year."

Towers won four division titles in San Diego, only one with an on-field payroll of more than $64 million.

"I have a lot of respect for the NL West. It's routinely one of the most volatile divisions in baseball. We felt we couldn't stand pat."

Management agreed and was willing to commit to the team's largest payroll since 2003, the year after the D-backs won back-to-back NL West titles and were coming off 3.2 million in attendance, still living in the afterglow of the 2001 World Series victory.

The D-backs drew a little more than 2.1 million last season as the fans, turned off by a second straight last-place finish in 2010 and facing economic difficulties, did not return to the park until the D-backs took over first place for good in late August.

The original $65 million budget was built on expectations for a modest increase in attendance this season, but team president/CEO Derrick Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick were willing to spend a little more because they believe the budget numbers were on the conservative side.

"We felt we wanted to plug some holes, and if we were a little more conservative than we needed to be in our projections of revenue, which in my opinion we were, hopefully we make up for it," Hall said. "That will have to do with how we play, and we understand that.

"It's a gamble, it's a risk. But it's one we were willing to take, because we, like a lot of our fans, were excited about the way we finished last year and want to build on it."

The first building block was Kubel, who is expected to start in left field and bring a middle-of-the-order bat to a hitter's park. The D-backs entered the offseason with a primary focus on adding starting pitching, and even after acquiring Trevor Cahill from Oakland, they still had a $13 million offer on the table to free agent Hiroki Kuroda. Offensive help was not a priority.

But when Kuroda kept putting off a decision, Towers switched courses and brought the Kubel deal - two years, $15 million - to management. They signed off immediately.

"'KT' asked if we were willing to go to Plan B, Plan B being offense," Hall said. "And when he told us his idea with Kubel, we were just as excited as he was. We lean on him and his people for their opinion on players, and they felt in our ballpark and our environment he would be a nice addition, so we were willing to stretch it a bit to improve the overall product," Hall said.

The reacquisition of Saunders completed the splurge. The D-backs maintained interest in Saunders even after failing to offer him arbitration, since he probably would have earned between $8 million and $9 million had he gone through the process after going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA and a career-high 212 innings last season.

They kicked the tires on older veterans such as Aaron Cook and Bartolo Colon but kept coming back to Saunders. When Towers took the one-year, $6 million deal to management, it was another easy sell.

"I submitted it, they blessed it," Towers said.

"We could have found a guy who is maybe coming back for injury or near the end of his career at, say $1 to $3 million, or you could stretch it a bit and bring in a guy who you know, you know well, who is going to eat innings and that is a popular guy and was part of last year's success," Hall said. "There was a two-month period where he was our best pitcher.

"It just made sense to invest in that area. It's a huge credit to him. Six million is a bargain. When you think what the arbitration numbers could have been. Hats off to Joe for taking that deal and showing us that he really wanted to be here."

The Saunders signing works on two fronts: It gives the D-backs a starting rotation that rivals San Francisco's in the NL West, and now they don't have to rush their young pitching prospects to the majors. Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer and the rest will have more time to develop.

With most of the deferred contract payments finally off the books, the D-backs can look forward to being a market player, at least more so than in the past. It will depend on their attendance, Hall said.

"Hopefully we are willing to spend every year," he said. "That's a question we can answer once we see what revenues are like.

"All we ever want to do is break even and never put a penny in owners' pockets and continue to invest in the product on the field."

 

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