D-backs estimate 25,000 attend annual FanFest

Towers says team tried to sign Goldschmidt to long-term deal this offseason

D-backs estimate 25,000 attend annual FanFest

PHOENIX -- In a clear sign that spring has just about arrived, the D-backs held their annual Subway FanFest on Saturday at Chase Field.

D-backs pitchers and catchers report for duty Monday at Salt River Fields, with the position players to follow four days after that.

On Saturday, players roamed the field signing autographs, posing for pictures and taking part in question and answer sessions with fans.

"It's become an annual kickoff to our season and today was another success," D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "Just like we had last year, we estimate that we had around 25,000 fans there today. It shows the passion they have for the organization and this team. I beam with pride when I see our players and our coaching staff interacting with the fans, because we do it better than any team in sports."

There was even some news to come out of the event as general manager Kevin Towers answered a fan's question about Paul Goldschmidt by revealing the team had tried to sign the first baseman to a long-term contract this offseason.

Goldschmidt, who made his big league debut on Aug. 1, 2011, compiled an .850 on-base plus slugging figure last year. While he's not eligible for free agency for another five years, the club hoped to avoid future arbitration hearings with him.

When working out long-term deals like that, or settling arbitration cases the club and player try to come up with comparable players and use those player's salaries as a guide. According to Towers, Goldschmidt's side wanted to delay talks another year while that becomes a little clearer.

"We tried, but he was just confident in his ability at the time and said, 'You know, I'm not looking for security right now and need a little bit more time just to kind of have a better idea with another year of play who my peer group looks more like,'" Towers said. "We honored that and said, 'Fine, we'll wait.'"

Going back to catcher Miguel Montero's five-year, $60 million extension last summer, the D-backs have shown a willingness to sign players they view as key parts of their team to long-term deals.

Over the past few weeks, the team signed newly acquired third baseman Martin Prado and second baseman Aaron Hill to multiyear deals. Prado received a four-year, $40 million contract one season before he became a free agent, while Hill signed a three-year, $35 million extension, which added to the one year he already had left on his deal.

With the moves, Arizona is expected to have an Opening Day payroll of around $91 million, which would be the largest since the 2002 season.

Two of the reasons the club is able to do that is that almost all of the $250 million in deferred salaries from the franchise's early days has now been paid off and the club also has been able to increase its revenue.

All teams will receive more revenue in 2014 when a new national television deal kicks in and Arizona managing general partner Ken Kendrick said the timing of the long-term contracts is a strategic move based on that.

"Baseball is changing pretty dramatically overall in terms of its economics," Kendrick said. "Our view with some of our key players is we can invest in multiple year deals in advance of the wave of money, where all clubs will begin to perhaps spend more on free agents or on their own players. So we made the decision that we had players we liked and we were prepared to invest in them and make them Diamondbacks over time. We think we're making good financial commitments, fair ones to the player and to us and hopefully over time, we'll be able to look back and say those were good decisions."

The Prado and Hill extensions raised some eyebrows because each of those players will be in their 30s at the end of their contracts, a time when skills and production can deteriorate rapidly.

"You're always balancing the player's talent against his age," Kendrick said. "All these deals are built around player's performance continuing, and sometimes performance doesn't go like you would think. If these guys continue to play at the level that they have played, which we hope they will, then I think we will look at all these signings, hopefully all these signings, as good investments."

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