D-Backs Scavenge for Second Base Bargains

The Arizona Diamondbacks are courting low-priced second basemen in an attempt to fill the void left by the impending departure of free agent Orlando Hudson, and they seem to be considering a platoon.

General manager Josh Byrnes offered a one-year contract with a team option to Ramon Vazquez, but Vazquez's agent said his client is seeking a multiyear deal. The sides are expected to speak again.  Byrnes also has had preliminary conversations with the agent for Damion Easley, who spent 2006 with the D-backs. Agent Paul Cohen said no contract offer had been made, and that five teams have expressed some level of interest.

The D-backs also have spoken to the agent for free agent Mark Loretta and with St. Louis about a possible trade for Adam Kennedy, but at this point, both players seem to be out of their financial reach. Loretta made $2,275,000 last season; Kennedy is due $4 million in 2009, the final year of his contract.  Orlando Hudson made $6.25 million last season, and could demand eight figures per year in a multiyear deal.

Vazquez, 32, he hit .290 with 40 RBIs in 300 at-bats in Texas last season, playing mostly third base, but he came up as a middle infielder and can play there. He hits left-handed.

"If the right deal comes along, we're going to jump at it," agent Melvin Roman said.

Vazquez was San Diego's starting second baseman in 2002 and starting shortstop in 2003 before falling into a reserve role in 2004. He hit .274 with 21 doubles, two home runs and 32 RBIs in 2002, when he started 104 games. He hit .261 with three homers and 30 RBIs in 107 starts in 2003.

Easley, 39, hit .233 with nine homers and 28 RBI in 189 at-bats for Arizona in 2006, mostly as a right-handed-hitting backup to left-handed-hitting Chad Tracy, Craig Counsell, and Stephen Drew.
The Tigers' staring second baseman from 1997-2002, Easley has been a reserve ever since and had two of his best years in that role with the Mets in 2007-08, combining to hit .273 with 16 homers, 16 doubles and 70 RBIs in 509 at-bats.

Arizona is "definitely a possibility," agent Paul Cohen said. "It is something he'd definitely be interested in. He feels he can play a lot, but he understands that wherever he is, he likely will be in a super utility role and as a platoon player at second base."

SNAKE BYTES

--INF Damion Easley has drawn interest from the D-backs as a possible platoon candidate at second base and "super sub," and the sides have had preliminary talks. Easley, who lives in suburban Phoenix, hit .233 with nine homers and 28 RBIs in 189 at-bats with the D-backs in 2006 before spending the past two seasons with the Mets. He hit .273 with 16 doubles, 16 homers and 70 RBIs in 509 at-bats in 2007-08.

--INF Jaime D'Antona was granted his release to sign with the Yakult Swallows of Japan's Central League, who paid the D-backs about $200,000. D'Antona, 26, hit .176 in 17 at-bats in his first taste of the major leagues after having his contract purchased last July 22, but he did not appear to fit into Arizona's future plans due to defensive concerns. He was second in the Pacific Coast League with a .365 batting average last season for Class AAA Tucson, where he also had 35 doubles, 21 home runs and 79 RBIs. He participated in the Futures Game and won the Class AAA home run derby.

--Free agent 1B Tony Clark and rookie 1B Josh Whitesell appear to be the top candidates for the spot as the top left-handed pinch hitter off the bench (Clark is a switch-hitter) and reserve first baseman, although it appeared that no offer had been made to Clark by Thanksgiving. Whitesell is under team control. Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy are the top two first basemen, although Jackson looked comfortable playing left field the second half of 2008 and Tracy had been used at third base in the past before a knee injury curtailed his mobility in 2007.

--OF Eric Byrnes is among the many D-backs who are working out at the team's facility in Phoenix in the offseason. Byrnes is attempting to return from a debilitating hamstring injury that limited him early and cost him the second half of the season. Doctors found a small spot where the muscle had been pulled away from the bone, but Byrnes opted for a stringent rehab program instead of surgery.

--Minor league OF Evan Frey, 22, was the most impressive of the D-backs' position players in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .288 with 11 RBI to help the Phoenix Desert Dogs reach the title game.  His three RBI in that title game came in consecutive innings.  For the fall season, Frey had three triples, one short of the league high, and seven stolen bases, tied for sixth in the league. 

DIAMOND STAT: 900 -- Victories by the D-backs in their first 11 seasons, second most among new teams in the expansion era. Kansas City had the most, 920.

QUOTABLE: "He held his own in the Fall League by keeping the same game plan at the plate. That showed maturity as a player." -- Diamondbacks director of player development A.J. Hinch, on OF Evan Frey's progress in the Arizona Fall League.


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