D-backs brass preach return to underdog mantra
With no true face of franchise, club aims to channel spirit of '11 division champs
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The 2013 D-backs hope to be more like the 2011 edition, which surprised baseball by winning the National League West, rather than the 2012 edition that was a disappointing 81-81.
That was the gist of the messages delivered by the organization's top management during the first full-squad meeting Friday morning.
"We did make it clear that we've got to get back to how we were in 2011," D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "Back to that tenacious group, never out of the game, playing hard for 27 outs."
With the trade of right fielder Justin Upton and the departures of other long-tenured, well-known players like shortstop Stephen Drew and outfielder Chris Young, there have been questions this spring about who was the new face of the team.
The answer from managing general partner Ken Kendrick on down to manager Kirk Gibson seems to be, well, nobody.
"I think our team loves that, that there's not necessarily a face, and I think it's just produced this sense that we're all in this together as one without a face, and it's fun to see," Hall said. "I think we had a lot of that in 2011 -- we were a team. We were picked that year by a lot of experts to finish last, and I think the group had a sense of, 'Let's show them they're wrong and we're in this together,' and that's a special feeling when a team feels like they're one."
Gibson made a reference earlier in the week to everyone needing to have "the same agenda" this year, and Kendrick seemed to speak to that Friday as well.
"I think the type of team it is, and I used a phrase that's been used before: There's no limit to what you can accomplish so long as you're not concerned about who gets the credit," Kendrick said of his message to the team. "And I think we have the kind of players who can buy into that and go out and perform at a level that makes us very competitive. I don't think that spending time talking about the past ever accomplishes a whole lot. Those who live in the past are doomed to repeat it."
Both Gibson and Kendrick, though, declined to respond when asked if they felt one of the major reasons last year's team was just 81-81 was because players had their own agendas and were more worried about their personal situations.
"Last year was last year and it's over," Kendrick said. "A lot of new guys [this year], so it's a different group and I think a different mindset as well."
The D-backs' Opening Day payroll figures to be around $92 million, which is the highest it's been since 2002. The increase is not a result of trying to keep up with the Dodgers -- who will have the largest payroll in baseball in 2013 -- but rather a reflection of the club's revenues.
"While you pay attention to what the other guy is spending, I don't think you spend because he spends," said Kendrick, who was a charter member of the group that founded the D-backs and who became managing general partner in 2004. "I think the way we approach it is we spend the money that we have to invest into putting the best team we can possibly get for those dollars. So it's all about our resources and the best team it can produce."
With the money, the D-backs have signed extensions with Miguel Montero ($60 million), Martin Prado ($40 million) and Aaron Hill ($35 million).
The organization says it is not stretched by its payroll, meaning it has the revenue to support it and is not relying on an increase in ticket sales in 2013 to support it. In large part, that's because the organization is pretty much done paying off the $250 million in deferred salaries from the 2001 World Series club.
"Frankly, we've reached a point with the finances where we're comfortable and confident in our financial stability going forward," Kendrick said. "The money that we invest is because we have it to invest. Certainly if a team doesn't perform well and attendance falls off and revenues fall off then we'll have to reflect on that. But we don't see our finances as an issue. We don't have unlimited resources, but we have a lot more resources to apply to the Major League payroll, and frankly, across the board in other areas on the player side than in the entire history of my stewardship."
While the season-ticket base figures to remain unchanged at around 11,000, the team has seen an increase in partial and half-season ticket plans, which means that ticket revenue is up from last year.
"That's a good sign on a couple fronts," Hall said. "Obviously, the support of the team and passion for the team, but also hopefully a sign the economy is turning, because we've been waiting for that for several years."