D-backs thriving under new philosophy

D-backs thriving with new philosophy

PHOENIX -- These aren't your older brother's D-backs.

The veteran-laden high-payroll clubs that marked the franchise's early years and won three National League West titles, one pennant and the 2001 World Series has given way to a young team of mostly homegrown players and a payroll in the lower third in baseball. That team won an NL-best 90 games this year and will open the NL Championship Series against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

As it turns out, there's more than one way to build a successful organization.

When the franchise began play and lost 98 games in 1998, then managing general partner Jerry Colangelo and then general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. put together a plan that involved a heavy investment in free agents to make the team an immediate contender.

That resulted in the club signing Randy Johnson, Steve Finley and Todd Stottlemyre among others before the following season, as the D-backs won 100 games and became the quickest expansion franchise to make the postseason.

Two years later, they would win the World Series in a thrilling seven-game battle with the Yankees. Their payroll that year according to USA Today was $85 million, and it ballooned up to $103 million in 2002.

But while the club was successful on the field, it went into debt off it to support the high payroll. As a result, Colangelo was forced out during the team's 111-loss season in 2004.

After dabbling in the free-agent market again prior to 2005, the club's new ownership group, led by CEO Jeff Moorad and managing general partner Ken Kendrick, hired GM Josh Byrnes and turned things over to him.

This season, the D-backs started the year with a payroll around $53 million, which doesn't include the nearly $29 million in deferred contracts they paid largely from 1999-2002.

"It hasn't always been easy," Kendrick said of changing the philosophy. "It's been methodical, and as per the plan, we were going to do it with young players. It's pretty sweet to see that they've gotten their chance and been able to produce, and we hope it continues."

Putting young players on the field and reducing your payroll is one thing. Doing those two things and winning is the real challenge.

The D-backs under Garagiola and former scouting director Mike Rizzo drafted well, and the Minor League cupboard was far from bare when Byrnes took over.

"We have a lot of really good players in our system," Byrnes said. "No question having them gave us a head start."

Byrnes helped the process along with deals that brought the club Chris Young, Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis.

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"The progress has been remarkable," Moorad said. "We're thrilled with the leadership and the substance that Josh and his staff have brought to the organization. [We are] thrilled with the progress on the field and we feel like that although it can be argued that our plan is ahead of schedule, we believe that when you put a viable plan together there isn't an exact timetable. This is a big step for us, and we believe that there's much more to come."

One thing the 2007 team has in common with the one from 2001 is the camaraderie.

"That's what winning does," said D-backs broadcaster Mark Grace, who played on the 2001 team. "Winning brings you together, whether you're young or old. I would imagine it won't hit them until much later in their careers just what they've done, because a lot of them are rookies or second-year guys. Us old guys in '01, it meant so much to us, because a lot of us hadn't been there. Needless to say, we really cherished it. I think these guys cherish it, but it probably won't hit them that hard until they become much, much older."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.