D-backs owner Kendrick believes in vision
Club's high attendance, personnel investment reasons to be proud
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The D-backs will have the highest payroll in franchise history this year -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $108 million -- but that does not mean there is increased pressure to win.
"I don't see it that way at all," managing general partner Ken Kendrick said.
Instead, Kendrick sees an organization that has finally paid off nearly $250 million in deferred salary to players that helped win the 2001 World Series.
He also sees increased money from sponsorship sales and a new national television deal, not to mention the expected increase in revenue when the team signs a new local television deal in the next year or so.
"We've had significant obligations that were based upon previous losses that we had to cover," Kendrick said. "Now we're operating on our own money and we can afford to make some investments in the team going forward. We think our economics will continue to improve -- they're improving for all clubs -- which is a fortunate circumstance. And in order to compete you're going to have to continue to spend more money, and we're prepared to do that."
The team made an aggressive play for free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka this past offseason, reportedly offering upwards of $120 million before being outbid by the Yankees.
"That whole process with Tanaka, I would say, it was one of my prouder moments as a Diamondback," Kendrick said. "We put our best foot forward."
The D-backs drew 2.1 million fans last year, and D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said the team's season-ticket renewal rate this year is right around 88 percent.
"To me, our projections are right around where they were last year," Hall said, referring to total attendance. "But if any indication is ticket sales, we're doing well. It shows the fan base is excited about this team. We're ahead of where we thought we'd be at this time."
The D-backs were closing in on the previous record payroll of $102 million before adding free-agent pitcher Bronson Arroyo this week to push it well past that figure.
For Kendrick and Hall, deciding to spend more money was secondary to whether or not the baseball-operations department felt Arroyo would make the team better.
"We're going to spend money if we see players that are going to make a difference," Kendrick said.
After not exercising the contract options for general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson following the 2013 season, the team announced last week that both men received contract extensions for an unspecified length.
That kept both Towers and Gibson from entering Spring Training in the final years of their contracts.
"Derrick and I were working through a strategy that would kind of put to rest this lame-duck [talk]," Kendrick said. "Because we never saw them that way. We tried to come up with a plan, and we now have one that we think their potential is they might be Diamondbacks longer than I will be, and that's kind of the arrangement that we think is healthy for us all to be in."
That would mean that both men would be in Arizona for a long time, because Kendrick, who referred to himself as a "youthful 70" has no plans to step away anytime soon.
After winning the National League West in 2011, the D-backs finished with identical 81-81 records the past two seasons and last year were overtaken in July by a Dodgers team that streaked to the division title.
While the team expects to compete for the division crown again, Kendrick said the jobs of Towers and Gibson do not hinge on that.
"I'd like to see us be in the postseason, but I don't put that just on the two of them," Kendrick said. "I think it's something we collectively share the obligation to try and do. We think the talent is here to do it. Of course, circumstances can always intervene. We're in a very competitive division. I think this year our division is as strong as it's ever been -- if not stronger than it's ever been.
"The combination of very competitive opponents, the potential that you could have injuries -- you would look at all of the above in evaluating our performance. But all things being equal, the talent that we begin with -- and if we keep them healthy -- I think we have every reason to believe that we're capable of playing in October. That's what it's about."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.