Free agency has begun and the Diamondbacks are both affected by, and could effect, the market. Breaking down the needs, wants, and desire of the D'Backs in this offseason's market.
Who We Lose
Carlos Baerga, Jeff Fassero, and Shane Reynolds have already filed for free agency. While Baerga is a great clubhouse guy, he's past his prime and would only be brought back if he were very cheap. Fassero was signed he last week of the season after being cut by the Rockies. He is left handed and throws strikes. He is also 234 years old and has never exactly been dominant. He is versatile, he's started, done the middle relief thing, been a lefty specialist, and closed. Problem is he hasn't really done any of it well since '98 with the Cubs. Reynolds looked like a great pickup before last season. He was coming off a 'Comeback Player of the Year' caliber season with the Braves in '03 and the D'Backs got him cheap. Then he went on the disabled list and only made one start for the D'Backs in '04. Don't expect him back.
The other players who are eligible, but have not yet filed (they have until Nov. 11th). Danny Bautista, Greg Colbrunn, Mike Fetters, Matt Mantei, Quentin McCracken, Scott Service, Steve Sparks, and of course, the big one, Richie Sexson.
Colbrunn, Fetters, Service, and McCracken are all guys the D'Backs probably want back, and who probably won't ask for that much cash. Fetters is a local guy coming off arm surgery, expect the Diamondbacks to resign him on the cheap, McCracken is the one most likely to get offers from several other clubs, mostly because he doesn't mind waiting until someone gets hurt to play, and then he'll hold his own. The Diamondbacks have a lot of outfielders in the minors ready to step up, so expect him to move on. Service finally got his chance with the D'Backs this year after Jose Valverde went down to an injury...and promptly lost his opportunity to rookie Greg Aquino, it seems likely the Diamondbacks with not need Service's service any longer. Colbrunn is something of a wild card. If the Diamondbacks can not sign Sexson, Colbrunn becomes an interesting short term option at first base, but probably not as interesting as the already signed, sealed, and producing Shea Hillenbrand.
Danny Bautista is a mystery. He was argueably the Diamondbacks best hitter in 2004, but let's be honest, that really isn't saying much. He is a better than average defensive right fielder, but without the pop most teams usually expect out of a corner outfield spot. Much will depend on how much cash Bautista wants, and more to the point, how big a contract he expects.
Matt Mantei is finally off the books. The one-time dominant closer (and I mean that almost literally, there was one time where he was dominant, just one) has been plagued with injuries, and has been a less than stellar club house guy. He's gone, probably without so much as a pat on the back.
Steve Sparks was never intended to be a long term solution for the Diamondbacks, and his ineffectiveness in '04 means that he will likely be changing addresses again.
And then there's Richie. The Diamondbacks will and are persuing him aggressively. They will push, scratch and claw to get him. The sticking point is the number of guaranteed years on his contract, as the D'Backs are scared to give big, long term, money to a guy who is one check swing away from retirement.
Who We Should Go After
The free agent list is daunting. All of this is predicated on what happens with Richie.
IF HE SIGNS: Then first base, and the clean up spot, are solidified. Go on the assumption that Luis Gonzalez is going to come back strong, there's your LF and 3 spot hitter. The Diamondbacks are happy with Chad Tracy's progression at third, or at least happy enough to not go after a high priced alternative. Alex Cintron isn't fooling anybody, but he's solid defensively, and may be moved to 2B if the Diamondbacks can sign first round draft pick Stephen Drew. Either way, expect Cintron in the middle, alongside Drew, Jerry Gil, Sergio Santos, Matt Kata, Scott Hairston, or maybe even Robbie Hammock at second base.
The Diamondbacks like Koyie Hill, Chris Snyder, and after some more reps Chris Myers at catcher. They might be interested in a veteran backup, but the list of free agent catches doesn't exactly blow anybody away. If anyone comes expect a cheap vet, of the Brent Mayne/Paul Bako caliber, but if the Cardinals don't resign Mike Matheny he would be a fantastic pick up to help tutor the (inevitably) young pitching.
This leaves us with two outfield spots. The D'Backs aren't ready to give up on Luis Terrero in center, but what he showed in the last two months of the season certainly didn't blow anybody away. They will aggressively persue Steve Finley right up until the point where he signs with San Diego or Los Angeles. Carlos Beltran would be great, but the Diamondbacks will not come close to the cash the Yankees will offer him, and if he's going to sign for anything less than top dollar, it will be back in Houston. Outside of those two there aren't a lot of real attractive center fielders on the free agent market. Tom Goodwin anyone?
Right field is a little more jumbled. If they resign Bautista then the question is moot, but if not then what?
They have youngsters who are ready, or at least almost ready, to play everyday, which means anybody they pick up would be a second tier guy, who they could get with a short term deal. This rules out the biggest right field name, Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox. He's had injury problems of late, and will probably be looking for a five to seven year deal in the neighborhood of $7 to $9 million a year. J.D. Drew is worth looking into, if for no other reason than signing him might go a long way toward signing his younger brother Stephen. Again though, he's injury prone and will be asking for big bucks, unless of course he and his brother decide to sign for less to play together. Not likely as both are clients of Scott Boras. The name to watch is the Houston Astros' Orlando Palmeiro.
Palmeiro has always been a fourth outfielder in Houston, and a productive one, but if the Diamondbacks offered him the starting job they could probably lock him up relatively cheap, and with a two year deal. Jermaine Dye is another player who might be available at a discount, but his health issues have to come into play. Again, he's not going to command a lot on the market, and might be apt to sign a two year deal.
Other position players of note...Craig Counsell is back on the market, and if the Diamondbacks could resign him it would be a huge boost if for no other reason than the fans would appreciate it...Jeff Kent is not going to be resigned by the Astros, he's aging, but full of production, probably can't afford him though...Ricky Ledee is a younger right handed version of Palmeiro and is available.
The weakest part of the squad was the starting pitching. No secret there. The good news is that the guys we're losing (Sparks, Reynolds, Fassero) were already losing (Sparks) or not playing (Reynolds, Fassero) in '04. The bad news is that the only guy who was winning (Randy Johnson), might be on his way out via a trade. So start with Brandon Webb, Casey Fossum and Mike Gosling, and assume there are at least two (and maybe three) spots to fill in the rotation.
The Diamondbacks are not going to pay top dollar for more than one guy, and then only if Johnson leaves town. Top dollar starters are at a premium, and while Pedro Martinez has stated publically that he would prefer to go to warmer, National League, club, don't expect the Diamondbacks to go from the most durable dominant left handed starter in the league (Johnson), to the perpetually injured, often whining righty Martinez. The D'Backs might be looking to Boston, but it would likely be for Derek Lowe. Lowe's stock certainly rose during his fantastic World Series run, but probably not out of the D'Backs price range. Problem is his stock is high enough that he would become the Ace on the Diamondbacks staff, and nobody's quite sure he is going to be that good, he certainly wasn't in the '04 regular season. On the other hand if the Diamondbacks front office was going to pony up for a stud righty, Florida Marlins starter Carl Pavano has all the right moves. A Cy Young contender this year who is under 30 years of age and while he'll command big money, it won't be Jason Schmidt money, and Pavano has gotten better every year for the last three years.
Brad Radke is a top of the rotation free agent, he's also on the top of the Yankees list. Never mind.
Paul Byrd and Jaret Wright both had resurgent years in Atlanta coming off seasons they missed due to injury. Sound familiar? Fool me once (Reynolds) shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Still, if they were cheap?
Matt Clement is still relatively young (29) and very effective...sometimes. His value will be set by what the Cubs offer him, problem is there is no guarantee the Cubs will offer him anything at all. Glendon Rusch of the Cubs was incredible, left-handed, and versatile last year, but will probably be a priority for the Cubs, still if promised a spot in the starting rotation (something the Cubs are unlikely to do) he might be available at the right price.
Aaron Sele, Brett Tomko, Andy Ashby, Eric Milton, Kevin Millwood, Jose Lima, Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Ismael Valdez, Jamey Wright, and Esteban Loaiza are all mid level guys who could work very nicely, and it seems the entire Cardinals starting rotation is available. While Chris Carpenter is likely to be resigned, the same is not assured for either Woody Williams or Matt Morris.
If I'm the D'Backs front office my priorities go like this.
Sign Sexson. Sign Pavano. Pick a pitcher, any pitcher from the above list (though I'd look to Loaiza, Milton, and Rusch first). After that Palmeiro or Dye would do nicely in right, though I'd actually prefer they convince Bautista to sign a deal for four years or less, in the general neighborhood of four million a year. Pick up Baerga again, let him cheerlead, move Randy and Shea Hillenbrand. Get a big time reliever, another starter (a real good one), and a whole bunch of prospects. Sign a veteran catcher on the cheap, the first name that comes to mind? John Flaherty. Who? He's Jorge Posada's backup in New York, which is of course, why you don't know who he is. He's not going to play much here either, but as long as he walks around with World Series rings and starts sentences with, "Well, Joe Torre always said..." and "When I was catching Mariano Rivera in the bullpen..." he's fine by me.