The Diamondbacks' offseason wish list seems simple enough. A starting pitcher. Another productive bat. A veteran presence in the bullpen.
“We bring back so much of this team into next year, that I think probably with three good moves we can jump from a team that has a good foundation to a team that expects not just to compete but to win the division,” D-Backs general manager Josh Byrnes said Sunday.
The D-Backs finished 76-86, tied for fourth in the NL West, 11 games behind division leaders San Diego and Los Angeles and one game behind their 2005 finish.
Adding a starting pitcher to a staff headed by Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez is the top priority, said Byrnes.
The D-Backs are more likely to add pieces by trade rather than the volatile free agent market, Byrnes said, because they again will try to fix their payroll at about $60 million, about what it was this season. With a trade, “you can control the process a little more,” Byrnes said.
“You are not acquiring a (free agent) player with a four- or five-year commitment and the risks that go with that.”
The D-Backs were hit in the face with the downside of that risk this season when Russ Ortiz was released in June even though he was still owed $17.75 million in salary and signing bonuses after clearing waivers.
The D-Backs will count Ortiz’s 2007 salary, along with part of Shawn Green’s (traded earlier this season), against their payroll this season.
Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook, a sinker-baller like Webb, was scouted heavily by the D-Backs near the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline last summer and they could still have interest.
While Florida left-hander Dontrelle Willis never officially was on the market last summer, he also could be a target. His salary could increase to about $6 million this season through arbitration, and the Marlins are deep in starters, setting a major league record with four 10-victory rookies.
The D-Backs could go young, too, and hope to get a prospect who can grow with the team. They thought they had a deal in place for Chaparral High School alum Brian Bannister last winter before the Mets pulled out.
Before trading Troy Glaus to Toronto, the D-Backs discussed proposals with Oakland that included right-handed prospect Jason Windsor.
The D-Backs’ top trading chips this season appear to include catcher Johnny Estrada, whose potential $3.5 million to $4 million salary via arbitration could price him out of their budget, and outfielder Scott Hairston, who has shown a major league-ready bat but does not seem to have a clear-cut role in 2007.
They would like to re-sign free agent pitcher Miguel Batista, but Batista seems likely to test his value on the open market in free agency.
High-end free agent starters such as Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt are certainly out of the D-Backs’ fiscal reach, and second-tier free agents such as Batista, Ted Lilly, Gil Meche and Jeff Suppan also may be unaffordable.
The D-Backs led the NL in doubles and were sixth in runs scored with 773, but Byrnes said a goal is to score 800 runs next season.
In Boston, the Red Sox signed inexpensive free agent bats David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Jeremy Giambi in general manager Theo Epstein’s first offseason, and protégé Byrnes might consider the same approach, going after project-able players and hoping to catch a big one on the way up.
Acquiring a bat would almost certainly mean moving another, however, as the young core of position players appears set.