In less than one month, the sands will start to fall rapidly through Kirk Gibson’s hour-glass.
That’s when the Diamondbacks converge on Salt River for the start of spring training and Gibson goes under a microscope. Entering the final contract year as Diamondbacks’ field manager. Gibson finds himself in a “win-now” situation or face possible unemployment.
Yet, he is not alone.
General manager Kevin Towers is also in his final contract year with Arizona and together with Gibson, the pair, to date, brought moderate success to the franchise. It’s not the sustained rate of success which endears the hearts and minds of ownership and fans.
Three years ago, the Towers-Gibson duo help push the D-backs into the post-season but in three years since, many key personnel of that team either moved on or remain marginally on the current Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster.
For Gibson, the sense of urgency is real.
Managing general partner Ken Kendrick and president/CEO Derrick Hall pull the strings and each have said complementary things about Gibson in the past. Yet, Gibson has been unable to forge a winning season in the recent past. In the years following the National League Western Division title in 2011, the Diamondbacks have finished at an even .500 (81-81) in each of the past two seasons.
Should Arizona challenge for the division title, players need to execute and Gibson needs to recognize the immediate need to succeed.
If Gibson is trying to survive in a possible final contract year, he may have by-passed greater security. That’s because he was rumored for the Detroit Tigers’ manager’s position last October.
When Jim Leyland resigned as the Tigers’ skipper, Gibson, a Detroit icon and Michigan native, was mentioned as a possible successor.
Yet, Gibson quickly rejects the notion that he had any interest in the Detroit job. If he does the math, there is one year remaining on his obligation to the Diamondbacks but Gibson could have signed a multi-year deal with Detroit. That is, if he was offered the Tigers’ job but Gibson explained he had no interest. Instead, the Tigers named former catcher Brad Ausmus as manager.
“Why should I be interested,” he asked rhetorically at a recent Diamondbacks’ team holiday event. “I started with (the Diamondbacks) as a bench coach in 2007 and reached the playoffs with his franchise.”
As well, Gibson gave compelling reasons to remain in the desert.
“This is a great organization and I love these guys,” he continued. “The motivation is here, the players are here and the fans are great. Why should I leave?”
As the Diamondbacks head into spring training, Gibson has the formidable task of creating a viable starting rotation and capable bullpen.
While the starting eight position players appear set, the starters, without any further personnel moves, must set their collective bar higher. Rumors abound about the future of closer J. J. Putz and on Friday, Towers acquired Santos Rodriguez, a left-handed reliever from the White Sox to challenge Joe Thatcher and Joe Paterson for the lefty spot in the bullpen.
Last season, Rodriguez was a combined 2-0, 4.91 ERA in 33 appearances with Double A Birmingham and Triple A Charlotte. This move could also be interpreted as creating depth in the organization.
There’s no question Gibson recognizes the moment of importance and his mission now, he said, is “to finish what I came to do.”
At this point, this would the ultimate success in the baseball world and parade down Central Avenue.
The Diamondbacks announced reporting dates for spring training.
Because of their two-game series with the Dodgers at Sydney, Australia in mid-March, reporting dates were pushed ahead. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 6 and their first workout is Feb. 7. Position players report on Feb. 11 and the first workout is Feb. 12.
All practice sessions are open without charge and fans are encouraged to park in the Desert Lot, through 90th Avenue off of Via de Ventura.
GET ‘EM WHILE THEIR HOT
Tickets for all Diamondbacks’ spring training games go on sale Sat. Jan. 11 at Salt River.
Last spring, the D-backs sold out 12 home games and set a franchise record of 12,864 for a March 24 game against Seattle.
For 2014, tickets will go between $9 and $28 and the D-backs open their Salt River slate against the Dodgers on Wed. Feb. 26 at 1:10 p.m.