SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When asked if he felt like his team could win the National League West this year, D-backs team president/CEO Derrick Hall responded with three words.
"Why not us?"
That was the message delivered by Hall, managing general partner Ken Kendrick, general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson during a clubhouse meeting prior to the first full-squad workout of the spring.
"Gibby was articulate, he was direct and there was real purpose behind what he had to say," Kendrick said. "I think he set out challenges for the players and I think this is the right place and right time to do that."
The challenge the D-backs face is rebounding from back-to-back last-place finishes in the NL West, and they do so with a new management team in place, after GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch were dismissed during the carnage of last year's 97-loss campaign.
"We're very comfortable and happy with the leaders that we have in place, and that we're all on the same page," Hall said.
"It feels like one organization. I'm excited about where we're heading. You could tell, I mean, there was determination on the faces in there. We talked about swagger quite a bit. We want this [the team's logo] to mean something. The last couple years this hasn't meant much, and we want it to mean something, so we have to reestablish that."
To do that, Kendrick said, the team will have to play a different style of baseball.
"I'm not a baseball expert, but I'm an old-school baseball person, and I've played it and I know the way I was taught to play, and I have not seen our players play that way," he said.
"I believe if we can get them -- and there's going to be a real emphasis on doing it -- get them to play the game differently than they have collectively, they will achieve a lot more than they may have achieved with the way the game has been played by our club the last couple of years. So, I'm very hopeful about this season."
While the team's Major League payroll will be down from last year's mid-$70 million figure -- it is in the low 60s -- Kendrick and Hall both said the total amount of money spent on baseball operations -- "more than $100 million," according to Kendrick -- is the same. It's just been reallocated.
The organization has put more money into scouting and player development and has set aside more money for the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Arizona has the third and seventh overall picks.
"We have a bigger year on the Draft than a year ago, and that's a good thing in terms of the opportunity that it brings," Kendrick said. "We'll spend the money necessary to sign the players who are the best players out there when our turn comes."
The team is still making payments on $250 million of deferred contracts. The total is now down under $50 million, according to Kendrick, and will be all but retired by the end of 2012.
"It's still a significant number," Kendrick said. "It will be this year and it will be next year, and then beyond that it will reduce substantially. That's certainly been something that we've had to deal with and continue to deal with. My [ownership] group knew that it was there when we signed up for this, so I'm not complaining, but once again reminding that those are real dollars that we write checks for. I'd love to not be writing those checks."
Both Hall and Kendrick said the atmosphere within the organization had changed a great deal with Towers taking over as GM.
"I knew the relationship would be strong, because I've always had a good relationship with Kevin," Hall said. "I see it everywhere now. I see Kevin has a great relationship with the coaches and the coaching staff, and it extends beyond that to the Minor Leagues and the Minor League staffs. The relationships are very strong right now and the communication is flowing. It's very good."
The D-backs drew a franchise-low 2,056,697 fans in 2010, which is the second consecutive year attendance dropped after it had bumped up to 2,509,924 in '08 following the '07 season where Arizona won the NL West and reached the NLCS. The club is optimistic that if there is improvement on the field, there will be more people in the seats.
"I look at it like that's a pretty good number," Hall said. "2.1 million when you lose 97 games? I think that says a lot about what we're doing, how we're treating our fans. I think this market is ready for us, this state is ready for us. We're a very young organization, but there's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for our franchise, and if we win they'll be back."