The Diamondbacks left the winter meetings after agreeing on a one-year contract with free agent second baseman Felipe Lopez, who has all the specifications they were seeking in a replacement for free agent Orlando Hudson.
Felipe Lopez, whose one-year, $3.5 million deal is now official, adds a left-handed bat against right-handed pitching (he is a switch hitter), can defend at second base, runs well, and can hit at the top of the lineup.
"We feel that Felipe fits our club well," said Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes.
"He is a switch-hitter with an ability to impact the game with power, speed, and
Lopez, 28, is a .262 career hitter in his seven-year major league career and has shown occasional flashes of brilliance. He hit .291 with 34 doubles, 23 home runs and 85 RBI as the regular shortstop in Cincinnati in 2005 but had 2 1/2 years of lesser results in Washington before hitting .385 with four homers and 21 RBI in 43 games with St. Louis in the final two months of 2008.
The D-backs saw firsthand the damage Lopez can inflict. He went 16-for-31 in seven games against them in September, with four three-hit games and two two-hit games. He had two homers and five RBI in those games, and he drove in two runs when the Cardinals eliminated the D-backs from the NL West race in St. Louis on September 25.
"He's got good tools," a National League executive said of Lopez, who was Toronto's first-round draft choice (the eighth player taken overall) out of high school in 1998. "He still has some pop in his bat. He's not in Hudson's league defensively, but he can play defense."
Lopez has spent most of his career at shortstop, but played 101 games at second base for the Nationals and Cardinals last season.
--With the addition of 2B Felipe Lopez, the Diamondbacks have their 2009 starting lineup intact and appear to need only two position players, a proven pinch hitter and a final reserve either in the infield or outfield. A third catcher appears to be a luxury. Manager Bob Melvin likes to carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers.
--The D-backs targeted LHP Arthur Rhodes as a situational specialist, but lost him to Seattle on the final day of the winter meetings when Rhodes signed a two-year deal worth about $4 million there. The D-backs entered the meetings seeking a second baseman and a left-handed reliever, and they continue to have interest in LHP Joe Beimel and LHP Brian Shouse. They have three left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster: Doug Slaten, Wil Ledezma and Jon Coutlangus, though Ledezma is arbitration-eligible and may be non-tendered.
--1B Tony Clark's agent and the Diamondbacks have discussed a one-year contract, and both sides appear amenable to a return. "We've definitely been talking, and Tony has had several conversations with (general manager) Josh Byrnes," agent John Boggs said. "Tony would love to come back." Clark hit .249 with 17 home runs in 211 at-bats with the D-backs in 2007 but signed with San Diego last winter when the D-backs did not offer a contract. He returned to Arizona at the 2008 All-Star break.
--The D-backs selected catcher James Skelton, 23, from Detroit in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Skelton was a midseason Hi-A All-Star last season, when he hit a combined .303 with 10 doubles, five home runs, and 21 stolen bases while splitting time between Hi-A and Double-A. He profiles as a selective hitter, with 179 walks and 176 strikeouts in his five minor league seasons since being selected as a 14th-round draft pick in 2004. "We do know he can hit," D-backs player personnel director Jerry Dipoto said. "The catch/throw part of the game is a work in progress. This was a unique opportunity to get a guy who has plus offensive skills."
--RHP Brandon Webb's agent, Jonathan Maurer, met with D-backs officials at the winter meetings, although it was more of a touching-base session. At the winter meetings last year, the sides began discussions on a long-term extension that eventually resulted in a $54 million offer, but that offer was removed from the table in midseason. This year, with the economy slipping, there was no appetite for extension talks. Webb, 22-7 last season, was the runner-up in the NL Cy Young Award voting for the second consecutive year after winning it in 2006. He is to be paid $6.5 million in 2009 and has a 2010 club option that is worth $8.5 million.
--RHP Brandon Lyon's representatives met with St. Louis at the winter meetings, but there does not seem to be a fit. Lyon turned down an offer of salary arbitration from the D-backs that would have netted him about $4 million in 2009. His representatives also have talked to Cleveland, Minnesota and Philadelphia. "Some teams are knocking at our door about Brandon being a starting pitcher," agent Barry Meister said. "He's got a lot of weapons. He's a four-pitch pitcher. He could do that."
DIAMOND STAT: .516 -- 2B Felipe Lopez's batting average in seven games against the D-backs last September, when he went 16-for-31 with four three-hit games and two two-hit games as a member of the Cardinals.
QUOTABLE: "Cut and paste." -- D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes' response on the second and third day of the winter meetings, when asked to summarize his day.
The Diamondbacks will continue building around their starting pitching and a young nucleus of position players. Most of their key players are either under contract or under control, so there may not be much offseason movement.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The D-backs answered their biggest need by agreeing to a one-year contact with 2B Felipe Lopez at the winter meetings, although Lopez must pass a physical to make it official. He will replace two-time Gold Glover winner Orlando Hudson, who is on the free agent market. They still are looking for a left-handed bullpen arm and could move on an arm to replace free agent LHP Randy Johnson.
ARRIVALS: 2B Felipe Lopez (Free Agent), C James Skelton (Rule 5 selection from Tigers).
FREE AGENTS: 1B Tony Clark, 1B/OF Adam Dunn, 2B/SS David Eckstein, RHP Juan Cruz, 2B Orlando Hudson, LHP Randy Johnson, RHP Brandon Lyon.
The D-backs did not offer salary arbitration to Dunn and Johnson, Type A free agents, because they feared each would accept, blowing their 2009 budget, which stands at about $70 million-$72 million. They offered arbitration to Hudson (Type A), Cruz (Type A) and Lyon (Type B), meaning they could get as many as five draft picks as compensation if all three sign elsewhere.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: INF Chris Burke, C Robby Hammock, OF/1B Conor Jackson, LHP Wil Ledezma, RHP Chad Qualls, C Chris Snyder.
Jackson, Qualls, and Snyder will be retained, and if the D-backs follow their usual path, they will stop short of an arbitration hearing. The D-Backs are not likely to offer contracts to the others. IN LIMBO: OF Eric Byrnes is due $22 million over the next two seasons and has a complete no-trade clause, but the emergence of 1B/OF Conor Jackson as a capable left fielder in the second half of 2008 makes Byrnes expendable, if the D-backs can find a taker and if Byrnes is willing to move. 1B Chad Tracy ($4.75 million salary in 2009) could be a trading chip, although he hit well at the end of the season and is one of their few left-handed bats. C Miguel Montero, another left-handed hitter, is well-regarded in baseball circles, but is stuck behind Chris Snyder. The D-backs do not want to deal him, and they found a depressed market at the winter meetings, making a trade unlikely.
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