SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When the 2012 season ended, infielder Eric Chavez knew it was time for his stint with the Yankees to do the same. There were multiple reasons, but chiefly, he wanted to get closer to his home in Scottsdale.
In that sense, there couldn’t have been a much better fit than the Diamondbacks, who were interested in signing the veteran of 15 major league seasons. But the more time the ink on Chavez’s one-year deal has had to dry, the better the fit has looked.
“After I signed here, (general manager) Kevin Towers went and signed (Brandon) McCarthy and signed (Cody) Ross, then he made the trade for (Martin) Prado,” Chavez said. “You start looking at the makeup of the team, and you know, it’s definitely a team where we feel we’re going to be really competitive and a fun team to watch.
“Location was a big part of it when I first came here, but it slowly evolved into ‘Hey, this is actually a team that is going to be a great fit for me, and we’re going to have a chance to win.'”
As good of a fit as the D-backs were for Chavez, he was just as good a fit for the D-backs. The team was looking for veteran bench bats and had a hole at third base before the Prado trade. Chavez, after a healthy season and a half with the Yankees, fit the bill.
“When you play the game, you have a lot ability early in your career and maybe not a lot of wisdom, and then (later) it kind of goes the other way,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “He’s very knowledgeable. He knows how to play the game.”
That’s one of the dynamics the D-backs hope Chavez provides — a veteran presence to help guide a group that features young players at some key positions.
Chavez has been to the postseason seven times and battled through countless injury-related frustrations. The D-backs were looking for guys who have been there.
“That’s been a part of my game the over the last few years and my last couple years in Oakland, where I’ve really felt like I have a lot of information to give,” Chavez said. “In New York, you couldn’t really do that because everybody had the experience, but here there are a lot of guys that haven’t had it.”
But Chavez provides more than leadership and know-how. He’s a capable left-handed hitter who posted a .348 on-base percentage and 37 RBIs in 278 at-bats last season. He’s also a six-time Gold Glove winner who can play first base or third base.
And for the second season in a row, Chavez enters the season healthy. That sounds insignificant on its own, but consider what Chavez endured from 2007-11 and it’s huge. In that span, Chavez averaged just over 42 games per season.
Between significant back, shoulder, elbow, neck and foot injuries along with a host of minor ailments, Chavez missed 598 games in five seasons. Last year, he missed just 10 games, seven to a concussion and three to back soreness. He played in 113 for the Yankees, his most since 2006.
“There was a point there where I didn’t think I was going to play again,” Chavez admits. “I’ve had success the last couple years in New York, and I’ve had a fun time playing baseball again. That’s really it: If you’re not having fun, there’s no reason to keep going. I found baseball fun again, and that has to do with being healthy.”
The D-backs are taking it easy with Chavez this spring. He doesn’t want to do anything he won’t do in the regular season, such as playing three days in a row. Gibson figures Chavez will end up with a little more than 40 at-bats before Opening Day.
“Of all the guys, he’s really a guy you’ve got to watch out for,” Gibson said, acknowledging Chavez’s situation will require constant monitoring this season.
After all Chavez has been through with injuries, postseason success and heartbreak and everything else along the way, he feels like he’s in a place similar to where he was in his early years with the A’s, only his role has been reversed.
“We always brought in older veteran guys, like a Dave Justice or Ron Gant, but we had younger guys that were coming up and we had good starting pitching,” Chavez said. “This reminds me a lot of that.”
Chavez had options after last season. The Yankees would have liked him back. The Red Sox and White Sox both pursued him. But all it took for Chavez to decide where he wanted to play in 2013 was a phone call from Towers to Chavez’s agent the week before the annual winter meetings; the deal was done.
And just like that, Chavez had found the right location for the next chapter of his long, winding career. Everything that developed afterward was icing on the cake.
“As soon as he made that call, it was kind of a no-brainer for me that this was going to be the right situation,” Chavez said. “There could not have been a better fit.”