As baseball's general managers meet this week in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks can accelerate progress toward the goals of adding a power hitter and a left-handed reliever.
But before — or, at least, at the same time as — Arizona adds to its roster, it has to shed salary. D-Backs general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. has a mandate to reduce payroll by $14 million from last season.
The GM meetings began Monday night with an address by commissioner Bud Selig and a dinner. Between formal sessions today and the rest of the week,
GMs can talk trade or field pitches from agents stalking the lobby.
While the seeds of major deals usually get planted at the World Series, watered at the GM meetings and then flower at the mid-December winter meetings — in New Orleans this year — things may develop quicker than that.
“I don't necessarily view it as (this week) where you do a little more and then you go to New Orleans,” Garagiola said. “No. You do what you can do (now).”
At least one other team senses an urgency on Arizona's part to unload higher-salaried players. The D-Backs are not willing to trade for a player whose contract puts them over budget with the expectation of dumping salary later to make it fit.
The Diamondbacks have tried to trade closer Matt Mantei, who exercised a $7 million player option for 2004 and could be replaced by Jose Valverde or rookie Brian Bruney. But Arizona is having a problem finding takers, especially since Mantei gets all $7 million next year if traded, rather than half deferred if he stays with the D-Backs.
Trading Curt Schilling would free up $12 million, but Schilling has a no-trade clause and few teams could afford to pay Schilling and give up the talent Arizona seeks in exchange. The D-Backs could also make taking Mantei a condition of acquiring Schilling.
Other higher-priced players the Diamondbacks may try to move include outfielder Danny Bautista ($4 million in 2004), infielder Craig Counsell ($3.15 million) and second baseman Junior Spivey ($2,367,500).
If such players were involved in a trade for a big bat, it would accomplish two goals at once, rather than making one deal to reduce payroll and another to add offense.
Arizona covets Milwaukee first baseman Richie Sexson, who was second in the National League with 45 homers in 2003 but will make $8.6 million next season. One baseball source said a package for Sexson could include Bautista, Spivey, first baseman Lyle Overbay and right-hander John Patterson. That would send about $7 million of salary back to the Brewers.
But Milwaukee wants to cut its payroll to about $30 million next year, so it may not want to take on that much salary.
As far as left-handed relief — or, at least, a right-handed reliever effective against lefty hitters — Arizona is more likely to turn to the free agent market than a trade. Monday was the first day teams could discuss financial terms with free agents other than their own.
“It seems to me right now we might not have to give up a player to get a left-hander,” Garagiola said.
Garagiola said he told agents for relievers that he was currently only interested
in offering a non-roster contract. Free agent lefty relievers include Terry Mulholland, Graeme Lloyd, Jesse Orosco, Gabe White, Ricardo Rincon, Arthur Rhodes, Kent Mercker, Mark Guthrie, Tom Martin, Steve Kline and Jeff Fassero.