|PHOENIX -- Jerry Colangelo had seen enough.
The Arizona Diamondbacks Managing General Partner watched his expansion team stumble through the 1998 season with a 65-97 record. He wasn't alone. Over 3.6 million fans walked through the Bank One Ballpark turnstiles that year. It was a profitable year on the balance sheets for Colangelo, but losing wasn't what he envisioned when he bought into Major League Baseball.
"Jerry felt principally that this team, as it was constituted, was not competitive," Arizona General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "He was never in the mode that we would tell our fans we weren't going to be competitive for five years. He's just not wired that way."
So they devised a strategy. While the club waited on its first few crops of prospects to develop, they would bring in some veterans in an effort to compete now. Meanwhile, they would continue to focus on player development so they would have players ready to replace the veterans when they were were finished.
Three seasons later, the Diamondbacks are celebrating their second National League West Division title in the past three years.
While there was tremendous attention paid to the free-agent signings of Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre and Steve Finley after the 1998 season, free agency is just one of the ways Garagiola built the Diamondbacks.
It started out innocently enough. The Diamondbacks had an interest in the versatile Greg Colbrunn prior to the 1998 season, but Colbrunn was looking to be a starter. Garagiola couldn't offer him that. After the 1998 season, though, the Diamondbacks still were interested in Colbrunn, and he ended up signing in November.
Then the dominoes started falling. Greg Swindell was signed, then Todd Stottlemyre, Armando Reynoso and Randy Johnson. The press conference to announce Johnson's arrival was actually held a few days after his signing. It was then that Colangelo said the Diamondbacks had spent their money and were done signing free agents.
Then center fielder Steve Finley, with whom the Diamondbacks had negotiated at one point, but gave up when the two sides seemed far apart, called.
He told Colangelo, "You can't be done, because I haven't signed yet."
Less than a week later, Finley was in the fold as well.
Arizona went on to win 100 games and the 1999 NL West Division before falling to the New York Mets in the NL Division Series.
After the disappointing 2000 season, the Diamondbacks signed free agents Miguel Batista, Mark Grace and Reggie Sanders, all three of whom have made significant contributions to this year's team.
While free agents have been important to the Diamondbacks' success, the trades have really set the club apart. Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez, Tony Womack, Danny Bautista, Curt Schilling and Albie Lopez are some of the key contributors Garagiola acquired over the past four years.
Williams came over just after the Expansion Draft in exchange for third baseman Travis Fryman and pitcher Tom Martin. Garagiola will be hard-pressed to ever top the Gonzalez trade -- in that deal, prior to the 1999 season, he gave the Tigers outfielder Karim Garcia in exchange for Gonzalez and cash. Meanwhile, Womack was acquired from Pittsburgh for a minor league outfielder and Bautista came over from the Florida Marlins in exchange for utility man Andy Fox.
Schilling was obtained in July 2000 from the Phillies in exchange for Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa, Vicente Padilla and Omar Daal. Schilling was supposed to help clinch the NL West for the Diamondbacks last season, but struggled down the stretch. This year the right-hander won 22 games and earned the starting assignment in the first game of the NLDS.
And when he felt the team needed one more starter, Garagiola traded pitcher Nick Bierbrodt and outfielder Jason Conti to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Lopez, who pitched a shutout the night the D-Backs clinched the division.
The Diamondbacks' farm system was criticized by a prominent baseball publication, but Garagiola was able to deal prospects from that system to pick up players such as Schilling, Womack and Lopez.
Minor League Free Agents
The Diamondbacks virtually scoured the globe to find talent. Closer Byung-Hyun Kim was signed out of South Korea. They found Erubiel Durazo in the Mexican League. In addition, Arizona took gambles on Craig Counsell and Mike Morgan that have paid huge dividends.
The First-Year Player Draft
Mike Koplove is the lone draft pick on the postseason roster, but the Diamondbacks used several of their picks such as Bierbrodt and Penny to acquire Major League-ready talent in Lopez and Matt Mantei.
The Diamondbacks still have two players left from the 1997 Expansion Draft, pitcher Brian Anderson and catcher Damian Miller.
Steve Gilbert is site manager for azdiamondbacks.com.