This is a story about what the Diamondbacks should do in the offseason.
And, regrettably, what they won’t do:
Pursue Washington Nationals left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who will be a free agent and just happens to be one of the most dynamic offensive talents in the game.
How do I know Arizona won’t make a run at Soriano? Because I asked a philosophical question about payroll, and this is the answer I got from general manager Josh Byrnes.
“In general I’d rather divide it up and not bet so much on one player,” Byrnes said. “So many players need to pitch in to win 90 or 95 games. It’s not just one person’s performance.”
Tell that to the Boston Red Sox and David Ortiz. Or in past years, the San Francisco Giants and Barry Bonds.
Look, there’s no doubt Arizona needs to bolster its starting rotation for 2007. Ideally, it will land a No. 2 or No. 3 starter — perhaps Toronto’s Ted Lilly or Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook — and re-sign Miguel Batista as the No. 4 starter.
But the Diamondbacks also need a big bat in the lineup — desperately.
As of Monday, the No. 4 spot in the order had produced 11 homers and 69 RBIs, the worst production of any major league club. The Diamondbacks have received about as much pop from the No. 7 spot — 11 homers and 55 RBIs.
“We haven’t had the dynamic where we can get three runs in one swing from a guy, or have a guy who can carry you for two weeks at a time like David Ortiz,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Soriano, 30, is that guy.
He’s hitting .290 with 45 homers, 91 RBIs and 39 steals. With one more steal, he’ll become only the fourth player (Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco are the others) in the 40-40 club.
Soriano not only would become the Diamondbacks’ best offensive player, he’d have an impact throughout the lineup. Chad Tracy, for example, would see more fastballs if he hit in front of Soriano. Youngsters like Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson wouldn’t feel like they had to carry the club and thus try to do too much.
And if Soriano wanted to bat leadoff, as he has the past few years? Well, he’d be the first true leadoff hitter Arizona could brag about since Tony Womack in 1999.
“I’d love to have somebody like that,” Melvin said.
Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks aren’t just philosophically opposed to paying one player $15 million a year.
They don’t want to spend the money.
Byrnes said Arizona will have less than $20 million to spend in the offseason. That makes one wonder if the Diamondbacks are willing to make the financial commitment necessary to put a winner on the field.
Five players — Livan Hernandez, Brandon Webb, Tracy, Tony Clark and Stephen Drew — are under contract next year at a combined $15.95 million. Throw in player options, arbitration eligible players, the money owed to Russ Ortiz ($7.5 million) and Shawn Green ($4.5 million), and the minimal contracts of all the first- and second-year players that will crowd the roster, and Arizona’s payroll will be somewhere around $39 million.
Let’s say the Diamondbacks re-sign Batista and trade for another starter. At another $13 million (and that’s generous), the payroll will be between $50 million and $55 million.
(You can argue, by the way, that Ortiz and Green shouldn’t even be considered because they’ve moved on; without them, Arizona’s payroll would drop to about $38 million).
The only way, then, the Diamondbacks can’t afford Soriano is if they’re unwilling to exceed $60 million in player salaries, which is approximately their payroll this season.
That figure puts Arizona in the poor house, by the way.
According to USA Today, seven teams have payrolls of less than $60 million this year: the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Florida Marlins.
Of those seven, only Florida has a winning record.
“Of course spending power helps, but I don’t think it’s an absolute,” Byrnes said.
Maybe not, but money does have a tendency to buy happiness in baseball. If the Diamondbacks want to put an end to these boring Septembers, they have to quit thinking small.
Arizona is about to conclude its third straight losing season. Fans deserve a payoff for their patience.
Soriano is only the best combination of speed and power in the game. He’ll cost a lot of money, but that’s the cost of doing business.
And winning games.