D-backs Bullpen Poised to Rebound?

With the acquisition of veteran right-handers Aaron Heilman and Bob Howry, the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen may be able to rebound from its inconsistent 2009 performance.

The Diamondbacks entered the offseason determined to upgrade their bullpen.  With the addition of Bob Howry on December 28, they believe they completed the mission.

In Howry and fellow veteran right-hander Aaron Heilman, acquired in a trade from the Cubs earlier in the winter, the D-backs have a pair of experienced setup men, something the bullpen lacked in 2009. The front office opted not to re-sign free agents Brandon Lyon and Juan Cruz last winter to keep expenses down.

The relief cost-cutting actually began after the 2007 season, when arbitration-eligible closer Jose Valverde was traded to Houston for Chad Qualls, Juan Gutierrez, and Chris Burke. Valverde had a franchise-record 48 saves in 2007, and Lyon and Cruz were the top setup men in one of the best bullpens in the majors that year.

While Qualls (24 saves) and Gutierrez (nine saves) were effective last season, the younger D-backs bullpen had a 4.61 ERA in 2009, tied for the second highest in the NL.

Howry went 2-6 with a 3.39 ERA in his one season with San Francisco in 2009, when he made 63 appearances but lost his setup role late in the season and was used in the sixth and seventh innings. Howry will make $2 million this season, and the D-backs hold a $3 million option for 2011 with a $250,000 buyout.

"Right now, it's about opportunity, and that's what I'm looking for," Howry said on a conference call with reporters. "I feel like if I go out there and pitch the way I know I can and am capable of, then I'll be pitching in those back-end innings where I like it."

Howry, 36, was raised in the Phoenix area, attended Deer Valley High School, and lives in suburban Peoria. He has 731 appearances, including 66 saves, in a 12-year major league career.

"A chance to play at home is a great thing," Howry said. "When I look at the team itself, they've got some pretty good starting pitching, they've got some good young players. They had a need for a little help in the bullpen and thought it would probably be a good fit for me."

SNAKE BYTES

--Newcomers RHP Bob Howry and RHP Aaron Heilman have combined to make 732 appearances in the past five seasons, 376 by Howry and 356 by Heilman. Howry has 97 holds over that period in one season with Cleveland, three with the Chicago Cubs, and one with San Francisco. Heilman has 79. Heilman spent 2009 with the Cubs, who needed a replacement after Howry signed a free agent deal with the Giants.

--Free agent 2B Kelly Johnson signed a one-year, $2.35 million contract with the Diamondbacks after he passed a physical exam on December 30, and he will enter spring training as the starter at second base. Johnson hit .228 with eight homers and 29 RBI with Atlanta last season, when he was bothered by a wrist injury and lost his starting job. Johnson averaged 14 homers and 68 RBI as the Braves' starter in 2007-08.  He played for $2,825,000 last year.

--INF Augie Ojeda and 2B Tony Abreu are the players most affected by the signing of 2B Kelly Johnson. Ojeda is the D-backs' best defender at second base and third base and is above average at shortstop. he diminutive infielder recently signed a one-year, $825,000 contract after a season in which he set career highs in most offensive categories. He had a career-high 264 at-bats while serving as the principal backup at second and short.  Ojeda has drawn interest from other teams, however, so he now becomes a likely trading chip as the D-backs attempt to recoup some of the money spent on Johnson. If Ojeda goes, Abreu could serve as the principal backup at second and shortstop. Abreu has options remaining, so he could also begin the season in the minors.

--OF Justin Upton is expanding his role in the community and will help raise money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in the Phoenix area. He met boxing legend Ali at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility. Upton and Angels OF Torii Hunter hosted offseason a golf tournament in which the proceeds were earmarked for a character-building youth program.

--With the offseason departures of OF Trent Oeltjen and OF Alex Romero leaving a hole at the Class AAA level, the D-backs signed former Boston 1B/OF Jeff Bailey, 31, to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to spring training. Bailey hit .228 with six homers in 136 major league at-bats in parts of three seasons with the Red Sox. He has 164 minor league home runs, 72 in the last four seasons, all at Class AAA Pawtucket.

DIAMOND STAT: 75.2 -- Average number of appearances per year RHP Bob Howry has made in the past five seasons.

QUOTABLE: "It was almost like not pitching a full year." -- RHP Bob Howry, who made 63 appearances for San Francisco in 2009

ROSTER REPORT

The Diamondbacks concluded almost all of their offseason makeover by signing free agent RHP Bob Howry to a $2 million 2010 contract on December 29 and free agent 2B Kelly Johnson to $2.35 million deal on December 30. Howry, a Phoenix-area resident, will join RHP Aaron Heilman as a veteran setup man behind a rotation that now includes RHP Edwin Jackson and RHP Ian Kennedy, acquired in a three-team deal at the winter meetings. The D-backs accepted the $8.5 million option on RHP Brandon Webb. Johnson and newcomer Tony Abreu, the player to be named in the Jon Garland trade, will contend for the second base job, with Johnson the leader entering spring training.

ARRIVALS: RHP Edwin Jackson (trade with Tigers), RHP Ian Kennedy (trade with Yankees), 2B Tony Abreu (trade with Dodgers), RHP Aaron Heilman (trade with Cubs), RHP Bobby Howry (free agent from Giants), 2B Kelly Johnson (free agent from Braves).

DEPARTURES:
RHP Max Scherzer (traded to Tigers), LHP Daniel Schlereth (traded to Tigers), 1B Josh Whitesell (non-tendered, signed minor league deal with Nationals).

FREE AGENTS: LHP Doug Davis, LHP Scott Schoeneweis, 3B/1B Chad Tracy.

The D-backs did not offer arbitration to any of their three free agents and will therefore not receive any extra draft pick compensation this year.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE:
SS Stephen Drew, RHP Aaron Heilman, OF/1B Conor Jackson, RHP Edwin Jackson, C Miguel Montero, RHP Chad Qualls.

The D-backs have never gone to arbitration in general manager Josh Byrnes' four years, preferring to settle at the midway point if figures are exchanged. Drew, Jackson, Montero and Qualls certainly will be back. Ojeda is their best defender and has been re-signed, but the addition of Abreu thickens the middle-infield cast. Jackson's case will be interesting, as he missed almost five months with "valley fever" following a 2008 season in which he hit .300.

IN LIMBO:
OF Eric Byrnes has fallen to fourth outfielder, even fifth if Conor Jackson regains his health, and he will be shopped again, although he is owed $11 million in the final year of his contract in 2010 and has a no-trade clause. C Chris Snyder signed a contract extension that will pay him $3.5 million in 2010 and $4.5 million in 2011, and the D-backs already took a shot at moving that money when they discussed a trade with Toronto for 1B Lyle Overbay. Clubs no doubt will want to see Snyder healthy in spring training before a deal could be made.

MEDICAL WATCH:

RHP Brandon Webb (right shoulder cleanup surgery in August 2009) played catch the second week in November, the first time he had thrown a ball since his operation. Both he and the D-backs expect him to be full-go for spring training.

OF/1B Conor Jackson (valley fever) played well with Escogido of the Dominican winter league, showing no signs of the fatigue that marked his earlier attempts to get back on the field.

RHP Chad Qualls (left knee surgery in September 2009) is expected to be ready for spring training.

C Chris Snyder (microdiscectomy in September 2009) is expected to be 100 percent when spring training begins.

RHP Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery in October 2009) has begun the rehabilitation process, but he will miss the 2010 season. Parker, 20, is the D-backs' best prospect.

OF Gerardo Parra (left quad strain) was hurt playing in Venezuela in December, but he should be ready for spring training.


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