Are We Done Yet? Have We Done Enough?
<i>Estes might be another piece</i>
Estes might be another piece
Managing Editor
Posted Dec 13, 2004

The way the off season has played out for the Diamondbacks meant the Winter Meetings were going to go one of two ways. Either they were going to cap off one of the worst off seasons in the history of baseball, or they were going to redeem a front office that appeared constantly confused as to what should come next. Already it has become obvious the latter of the two choices was made, and the D'Backs keep claiming there's more to come.

The Diamondbacks say they are not done dealing at the Winter Meetings, but even if they were the expectations of most Diamondbacks fans have already been exceeded.  With Shawn Estes, Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell on the verge of inking deals the Diamondbacks will have some decisions to make and quick.  If all three signed the D'Backs 40 man roster would stand at 44 players, and something's got to give.  After the Rule V draft on Monday it seems certain that at least a few of these guys would be immediately optioned back to their minor league clubs, and it's possible that all six players bumped up to the 40 man would be returned to their minor league clubs.  

The question now is what would the Diamondbacks be looking to add for 2005?

The knee jerk reaction is starting pitching, because time and again it has been shown that a Major League Baseball team can not physically have enough starting pitching, but if Estes signs that would make three free agent starters added during the Winter Meetings, and as long as Randy Johnson stays, that would make five quality starters.  It is almost impossible to think that Brandon Webb wouldn't start '05 in the rotation, so if Estes signs and the D'Backs still continue to pursue free agent starters one thing is very clear.

It will mean good bye to Randy.

Again, $17 million is a lot of money, but one has to wonder if trading Johnson might not undermine all the good PR the D'Backs have managed to get for themselves over the last week.  For the first time since Spring Training of '04 there is a legitimate buzz in Phoenix about the Diamondbacks.  People were skeptical when Glaus signed, wondering if he isn't going to be a poor man's Richie Sexson, but after the D'Backs inked Russ Ortiz the mood in the Valley changed.  Now there were people talking about the Diamondbacks being more than better than they were in '04.  They were talking about the Diamondbacks being good.

Yes, it's a lot of salary to clear, and if the deal brought another legitimate starter to the Diamondbacks rotation, as well as a...right fielder?  Second baseman?  Veteran catcher?  Then maybe we could buy in.  But Randy is Randy, there's not another pitcher on the planet, righty or lefty, starter or reliever, as dominant as the Big Unit, and moving him might just undue all that buzz, might just get people talking about rebuilding again.

One of the names being linked with the Diamondbacks is Orlando Hernandez, the ex-Yankee.  I suppose if Randy gets traded and Hernandez wasn't looking for much in the way of cash or years, he might be a nice pickup.  Problem is that word on the street has Hernandez looking for very similar numbers as Matt Clement, which is to say three years and $20 million.  I'm not sure Hernandez is exactly the guy you want mentoring the youngsters in the D'Back's system. He's never been consistent, there have been rumors about his discipline and work ethic, and I have heard rumblings about him being something of a downer in the clubhouse. Not exactly the guy you want, and let's not forget, if the D'Backs hold onto Randy, and sign Shawn Estes (which they are close to doing) they've already got four veteran starters and several guys to compete for the fifth spot.

The possible starting rotation (if Estes signs)...

1) Johnson
2) Russ Ortiz
3) Brandon Webb
4) Shawn Estes
5) Mike Gosling, Casey Fossum, Andrew Good, Jeff Fassero, Edgar Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert, Billy Murphy.

Fossum would seem to be the top contender, but the D'Backs are in love with Gonzalez's arm (and he can't possibly be as bad as the 0-10 record), and there are questions about how good a rotation with three lefties in it might be in the West (left handed hitters in the West...Bonds hits everybody, Shawn Green is probably getting moved, Todd Helton hits everybody, Klesko is getting moved, most of the thunder in the West is righties). The other bright spot here is that because of all those 'fifth starters' our bullpen ought to be pretty good.

A likely list of D'Backs pitchers:

Starters Middle Relief Set Up Closer
Randy Johnson Casey Fossum (lefty) Mike Koplove  Greg Aquino
Russ Ortiz Jeff Fassero (lefty) Shane Nance  
Brandon Webb Andrew Good (righty)    
Shawn Estes Jose Valverde (righty)    
Edgar Gonzalez Oscar Villarreal (righty)    

That's already 13 pitchers for a staff that will (at most) carry 12, and probably 11.  But again, depth is a positive.  Koplove may not return, so Valverde, who had success as a closer before an arm injury, becomes your righty set up guy.  If Gonzalez falters again, Fossum, Good, and Fassero could all step in at a moments notice, and this list doesn't include a single rookie.  Waiting in the wings will be Clint Goocher, Billy Murphy, and Mike Gosling for the starting rotation as well as Jason Bulger, Mike Schultz, and Phil Stockman in the pen.

Let's not get crazy either.  With the Tim Hudson trade yesterday the Dodgers starting rotation is very very good, and the Giants are still looking to add another outfield bat (even money on Moises Alou) to hit behind Bonds.  The Rockies will always be the Rockies, but the Padres have added another very good starter in Woody Williams and will undoubtedly pull a deal to unload either Ryan Klesko or Phil Nevin and attempt to get another big bat in return.  What the Diamondbacks have done is started to close holes, and doing it with guys who are not at the tail end of their careers.  Estes and Clayton might only have one or two years left, but Ortiz and Glaus should both be in their primes, with many more productive years to come.  

The Holes--The rotation (especially with Estes and Randy) looks solid, and bullpen is better (and more experienced) than we might have thought.  So now what.  Third base is all locked up by Glaus, and one has to assume Chad Tracy is the new first baseman, maybe in a platoon role with Shea Hillenbrand, but probably not.  Clayton is your everyday shortstop ("Say Hello to YOUR Independent League Shortstop, Stephen Drew!"), Luis Gonzalez is your everyday left fielder as soon as he's healthy.  So you're left with...

Catcher--The Diamondbacks are content with Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill behind the dish, but would like to add a veteran, assuming they don't cost that much.  What that means is that while we aren't dealing the Unit for Piazza, we might be giving $2.5 million a year to Mike Matheny, or more likely $750,000 a year to Paul Bako.  In the former, Matheny would be the everyday catch would might only start 110 games, but would be as good a tutor as you could possibly ask for Snyder and Hill.  In the later case Bako would be a dependable bench veteran (who might become Randy's personal catcher in the same way he has been Greg Maddux's personal catcher for most of the last decade) who could also tutor, and provide another left handed bat off the bench.  

Right Field--It seems more and more likely the Diamondbacks will simply try to resign Danny Bautista short term and cheap.  He was the second best position player on the Diamondbacks roster last season, and with the addition of Glaus, and the return of Gonzalez, he could probably hit sixth, a position he's much more suited to than the 3 and 4 spots he was trying to hit in last season.  Problem is the outfielders (with the exception of Carlos Beltran) have started going quickly.  Steve Finley's an Angel, Jermaine Dye is with the White Sox, Jose Guillen's been moved to the Nationals.  The more first tier outfielders who sign, the more the cost of second tier outfielders becomes.  While Alou is still available, the biggest outfielder 'deal' rumor the D'Backs have been associated with is David Dellucci.  Conventional wisdom says they'd go through with the plans to convert Scott Hairston to the outfield, and platoon Dellucci and Hairston in right, not bad, but maybe not as much pop as you'd like in (their probable lineup spot) the five hole.  

Second Base--For now the plan is to move Cintron there, and Matt Kata should be fully recovered from injury by opening day, giving the D'Backs a second 'in house' option.  When the Mets popped up as a possible Johnson suitor the deal was rumored to include youngster Jose Reyes who would immediately claim the spot, but recently the Mets have stated they'd like to keep Reyes, and the rumors of Johnson heading to Shea Stadium have dissipated.

Center Field--This is the position the D'Backs are least likely to fill through free agency.  They made offers to Finley, but would prefer to stay away from anybody over the age of 35.  Luis Terrero is tearing up Winter Ball, and the Diamondbacks are very pleased with the progress of Marland Williams, though they'd prefer he gets another season of minor league at bats.  The biggest free agent on the market is a center fielder, Carlos Beltran, but the $200 million over 10 years that Beltran wants is out of the D'Backs price range by about $16 million per year.

A projected opening day lineup, consisting of players on the roster, with a couple of 'likely to signs' added in for fun.

1)  CF  Luis Terrero

2) 1B  Chad Tracy

3)  LF  Luis Gonzalez

4)  3B  Troy Glaus

5) RF  David Dellucci/Scott Hairston

6) C  Koyie Hill/Chris Snyder

7)  SS Royce Clayton

8) 2B  Alex Cintron

It's not the '27 Yankees, but its not bad either.  Dellucci and Hairston have enough pop to hold down the five hole, though a more established power hitter would be nice, and because both are young and virtually interchangeable Hill and Snyder could be a productive tandem behind the plate.  Clayton will hit just enough to hold onto the seven spot and Cintron will have at least one month of the season where people start talking about moving him up in the order.  Of course the real question mark is Terrero in the leadoff spot, but it has already been a pleasantly surprising Winter Meetings, and the addition of a true leadoff hitter (either a second baseman or a center fielder) might just be the cherry on top.

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