Welcome to the first edition of our All-Time Franchise Starting Lineups segment! Every other week we’ll go through each of the 30 current MLB franchises to determine which players are most deserving. We won’t stop until we’ve covered all 30 franchises! Before we launch into our first club – the Arizona Diamondbacks – let’s review the selection process parameters.
The Ground Rules
- The player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. However, other considerations were made at our discretion when the WAR values were close.
- Only statistics earned with the franchise in question were counted for each player. For example, someone like Albert Pujols can’t make the cut as the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can be plugged in anywhere they played for a reasonable period with the team.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes a semblance of sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. This also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Diamondbacks came into existence as an expansion team in 1998. Thus, along with the Rays, they are currently the newest franchise in MLB in their 25th year. Since its inception, the team’s winning percentage has been below .500, and they have only made the playoffs six times. However, Arizona can boast a world championship, which they won in 2001 over the Yankees in seven games. This World Series has generally been regarded as one of the most entertaining in MLB history. It was capped off by the Diamondbacks’ dramatic come from behind win in the ninth inning against arguably the greatest closer in history, Mariano Rivera.
As the D’back’s history is not a long one, its all-time starting lineup does not feature as many of the game’s luminaries as most clubs. However, some great players still played for Arizona, many of whom were a part of that magical 2001 club.
Catcher: Miguel Montero
Second Base: Ketel Marte
Ketel Marte is the only active member of the Diamondbacks to make the list. Jay Bell was considered for second base also, and he was with the team longer than Marte has been to date. However, in the end, Marte’s offensive prowess is far superior to Bell’s. We could have used him in the outfield as well, but that has been a strength of the Diamondbacks historically, so the keystone is a better fit. He broke in with the Mariners in 2015 and was traded to Arizona after the 2016 season. Marte made his lone all-star appearance for the team in 2019.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew
Selecting the shortstop wasn’t easy. Nick Ahmed has a higher WAR with the Diamondbacks than Stephen Drew, and Craig Counsell wasn’t far behind. The problem with Ahmed is his WAR is based entirely on his defense, which is superb. While we love defense, we couldn’t get over his lifetime .236 batting average and .290 OBP. Counsell was more of a utility player, lining up all over the infield. Thus the selection went to Drew, a good but not a great player. He was with the Diamondbacks from 2006 until he was traded to the A’s in August 2012. That was enough time for Drew to lead Arizona shortstops in plate appearances, home runs, runs, and RBI – though Ahmed will likely pass him in most of these categories soon.
Third Base: Matt Williams
There weren’t a lot of great candidates for third base either, as is evidenced by Matt Williams’ WAR with the Diamondbacks. The aforementioned Craig Counsell, Mark Reynolds, and Jake Lamb all had WAR values in the same ballpark, but we gave the nod to Williams as he was a solid contributor on offense and defense. Williams was also a key member of the 2001 world championship club, driving in seven runs in the series, which tied him for the team lead. He began his career with the Giants, playing ten seasons in San Francisco. After one year with the Indians, he was traded to Arizona in the winter of 1997. As such, Williams was one of the original D’backs, playing in their inaugural season. His illustrious career ended after the team released him in June 2003. He made one all-star appearance for the Diamondbacks in 1999.
Left Field: AJ Pollock
If you are wondering why Luis Gonzalez isn’t listed here, it’s simply because AJ Pollock was a better fielder, so we slotted Gonzo in at DH. Pollock actually played center field in Arizona, where he was a well-above-average defender early in his career. Despite only playing in 637 games for the team, primarily due to injuries, Pollock is third in WAR among D’backs outfielders. After the 2018 season, Pollock left Arizona as a free agent, signing with the Dodgers. He is now a member of the Chicago White Sox after being traded just before the 2022 season began. In 2015, Pollock made his lone all-star appearance as a member of the Diamondbacks. He also won a gold glove that year.
Center Field: Steve Finley
The well-traveled Steve Finley spent five and a half seasons with the Diamondbacks. He signed with them after their first season, in December 1998. Finley remained with the team until he was traded to the Dodgers at the deadline in July 2004. Thus, he was a member of the 2001 championship team and acquitted himself nicely in the series, batting .368 with a .478 OBP. Despite his relatively short tenure with the team, Finley’s 18.2 WAR is second all-time among the club’s outfielders. In 2000, Finley represented Arizona at the all-star game, and he won two gold gloves with the team.
Right Field: Justin Upton
The last of the outfield slots goes to Justin Upton. There were several good candidates for the outfield in addition to the three listed and Luis Gonzalez, who is in the DH slot. David Peralta and Chris Young both have WAR values higher than some of the infielders who made it, but those are the breaks. The Diamondbacks drafted Upton with the first pick of the 2005 draft. He broke in with the team two years later as a 19-year-old rookie.
Upton was a regular in the D’backs lineup through the 2012 season, after which he was traded to the Braves. Despite his young age, he was a consistent offensive producer during his entire tenure with the team, though he never developed into the superstar many thought he’d become. Two of Upton’s four appearances in the all-star game came as a Diamondback, and he won a silver slugger award while with the team in 2011.
Designated Hitter: Luis Gonzalez
Of all of the hitters on the list, the one most famous for being a Diamondback has to be Luis Gonzalez. Gonzo has the second-highest WAR among all D’backs position players and leads the franchise in most offensive categories, including plate appearances, home runs, runs, and RBI. His greatest season was 2001 when he hit 57 HRs and finished 3rd in the MVP voting.
He ended that season in style, driving in the winning run in the World Series with a single off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth. Gonzalez didn’t join the Diamondbacks until 1999 when he was traded there by the Tigers at the age of 31. Nobody would have guessed at the time that over the next eight seasons, he would make five all-star teams and win a silver slugger for the franchise.
Left-Handed Starter: Randy Johnson
This pick was the most obvious of all. With all due respect to Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, no other lefty comes close to what Randy Johnson achieved in his tenure with the Diamondbacks. The Big Unit signed with Arizona as a free agent in December 1998 and proceeded to win the Cy Young award over the next four seasons. His six-year run in his first stint with the team was one of the greatest in league history.
In addition to the Cy Young awards, Johnson made five all-star teams with the club and was the co-MVP of the 2021 World Series. He sported a 1.04 ERA during the series and won three games, including Game 7, when he appeared in relief after pitching seven innings the day before. After the 2004 season, Johnson was traded to the Yankees but rejoined the D’backs for two more seasons from 2007 to 2008. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 with 97.3% of the vote.
Right-Handed Starter: Curt Schilling
We initially had Brandon Webb penciled in as the right-handed starter as his lifetime WAR with the Diamondbacks is nearly five points higher than that of Curt Schilling. However, it took Webb 91 more starts to get those five points, and thus we decided to go with the more dominant pitcher. Schilling wasn’t in Arizona very long. He was traded there by the Phillies during the 2000 season. Three and a half years later, the Diamondbacks moved him to the Red Sox in November 2003.
However, if not for his teammate Johnson, he may have won Cy Young awards in 2001 and 2002. As it was, he made the all-star team both of those years and was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with the Big Unit. In the series, Schilling was nearly as dominant as Johnson, starting and winning three games with a 1.69 ERA in 21.1 innings pitched. The two of them made up one of the most dynamic duos in post-season history.
Reliever: Byung-Hyun Kim
The choice of closer came down to two players: Jose Valverde and Byung-Hyun Kim. Valverde had 28 more saves, but Kim had the higher WAR and lower ERA. Ultimately, Kim got the nod because of his post-season heroics in the 2001 NLDS and NLCS, in which he garnered three saves and gave up no runs over 6.1 innings. However, he did not fare well in the World Series, as the Yanks took him deep three times and scored five runs against him in 3.1 IP. Kim signed with the D’Backs as an international free agent before the 1999 season and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in May 2003. He made one all-star appearance in 2002.
Though the Diamondbacks’ history isn’t long, it is still replete with some memorable players and performances. The 2001 world championship was one for the ages, and it is no surprise that six players from their all-time starting lineup were a part of it. Next up, as we go in alphabetical order, will be the Atlanta Braves.
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)