Some teams will enter the open free agency period with a big rush. The Diamondbacks will sidle in and attempt to avoid the collision between escalating cash in the game and the latest class of nouveau riche.
The D-Backs have their targets. They put in a moderate bid on Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzuka, would like to be considered in Mark Mulder’s future and expect to kick the tires on bullpen help.
Otherwise, they are likely to steer clear of a market with a dearth of top-tier talent but awash in money, not a good mix for a growing team on a budget that is not ready to commit longterm dollars after being stung by recent contracts.
“We have finite resources,” said D-Backs general manager Josh Byrnes, who arrived at the general managers’ meetings this week with between $10 million and $15 million to spend after accounting for players under contract, money owed departed Russ Ortiz and Shawn Green and pending arbitration cases.
Valley resident Mulder would seem a perfect fit, and the DBacks contacted him the first day permissible after he filed for free agency, although there will be a host of contenders.
Mulder, who underwent shoulder surgery in September, is likely to consider a short-term contract while returning to health, and agent Gregg Clifton said “brevity could be in both sides’ interest” in signing a new deal.
The bid on Matsuzaka demonstrated the D-Backs’ belief in starting pitching, although from the outset major league sources called the D-Backs’ chances of adding him “a long, long shot.”
Boston has submitted the highest bid, in the $38 million to $45 million range according to published reports, to the Seibu Lions.
Byrnes has said all along that D-Backs’ most likely option is acquiring a starter through trade because of a market where the other top starters, Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, could command eight-figure deals annually.
Miguel Batista, who has indicated a desire to return, also appears to be out of the D-Backs’ plans, since they have not spoken to his representatives in a month.
Batista could make as much as $7 million a year on a multiyear deal, and the Yankees, Cubs and Philadelphia appear to be possible destinations, with some teams seeking to return him to the bullpen despite his career high 206 2 /3 innings in 2006.
Second-tier starters such as Jeff Suppan and Vicente Padilla could make even more, and the D-Backs seem more likely to spend the money elsewhere while their inventory of young starters matures.
Edgar Gonzalez, Enrique Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert, Micah Owings and Russ Ohlendorf are in their young stable behind starters Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez and arbitrationeligible Claudio Vargas.
“We’re ahead of most teams in regard to starting pitching,” Byrnes said. “A lot of teams are trying to patch holes there. We’re not.”
The D-Backs had closer issues for the second straight year and could consider a bullpen addition after trying to build from within the past two seasons.
“We’ll take a look there,” Byrnes said.
Right-hander Justin Speier had good numbers last season and appears high on some wish lists, while left-handers such as Arthur Rhodes, Jamie Walker, Aaron Fultz, J.C. Romero and Steve Kline are available.
“We’re in good shape to be flexible,” Byrnes said.
Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and, unexpectedly, J.D. Drew are the top free agent bats available, along with another posted Japanese player, third baseman Akinori Iwamura.
And while the D-Backs approach each day with a mindset of “how can we improve today?” and thus always are open to a trade, it is not inconceivable that the only offensive tweak, other than adding hitting coach Kirk Gibson, will have to do with the last position player on the bench behind Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson, Orlando Hudson, Eric Byrnes, etc.