D-backs lineup in flux heading to spring
Part one of a three-part series looking at club's offseason
This will be an important offseason for the Arizona Diamondbacks as they try to rebound from a last-place finish in the National League West. The club should have around $15 million to spend -- assuming it picks up Brandon Webb's $8.5 million extension -- and with a few weeks until the Hot Stove season officially starts, D-backs beat writer Steve Gilbert takes a look at where the D-backs stand and what areas they may look to shore up for 2010 as part of a three-part series. Today's focus: Lineup.
PHOENIX -- The past several seasons it seems you could predict the D-backs' starting lineup well before Spring Training.
Ask D-backs GM Josh Byrnes or manager A.J. Hinch about starters this year and you get a similar response from both.
"Playing time will be dictated by who is playing the best," Byrnes said. "I think if we have an opportunity this offseason where we feel we are upgrading at almost any position we'll take a look at it."
The D-backs seem to be inclined to spend their money on a starting pitcher, a veteran late-inning reliever and veteran bench player who can provide some leadership in the clubhouse. But with an offense that has been below league average the past three seasons, they may want to look at spending some of that money improving the offense.
Here's a position-by-position look at where they stand:
Miguel Montero made the most of his opportunity last year and certainly established himself as the starter heading into Spring Training, which means the club will probably look to move Chris Snyder.
The problem is that Snyder underwent back surgery in September and will likely need to show that he is fully recovered in order to be dealt -- which will not occur until Spring Training.
Ideally it would be a situation that clarifies itself during spring, but it could drag into the regular season. If Snyder is dealt, the team has ready backups in John Hester and Luke Carlin.
Third base and Shortstop
These two positions are combined because, of all the infield spots, they are the most settled.
Mark Reynolds is coming off a banner year offensively, even with another strikeout record under his belt, and showed a lot of improvement defensively.
At short, Stephen Drew had a bit of a disappointing season following his strong finish in 2008. There was a rumor that the D-backs would look to trade him this offseason and while they may indeed be willing to listen (as they probably would with any player not named Justin Upton), he almost certainly will be back in 2010.
Last offseason this was a hole that needed filling and Byrnes did a nice job adding Felipe Lopez, who was productive offensively before being dealt to the Brewers in July.
Ryan Roberts was impressive when he took over for Lopez and while there is some doubt as to whether he is an everyday player, he certainly established himself as someone who deserves some playing time. He would seem to be a good match with the switch-hitting Tony Abreu, who was the player to be named in the Jon Garland deal.
Both players, however, will need to earn their playing time.
The D-backs acquired Brandon Allen from the White Sox in exchange for reliever Tony Pena during the summer with the intention of having him be their first baseman of the future. They got an early preview when he was called up with more than a month to go in the regular season and will take an even longer look as he plays in the Arizona Fall League.
Allen still seems to be the first baseman of the future, the only question is whether that will be Opening Day 2010 or not. The answer, it seems, will come during Spring Training.
"He's got a lot of potential, he dominated at Triple-A, he showed us some things," Byrnes said of Allen. "I think, like with all these spots, he's a guy that put himself in position to be a candidate for the spot, but in order to lock the position down you have to outperform the others."
This could be the position the D-backs use for their veteran leader/bench player. It also could be a place where they look to improve the offense by adding a big bat while Allen continues to develop.
The one sure thing at this point is that Upton will be the starter in right. Upton took a huge step forward in his development last season and should be a force in Arizona's lineup once again in 2010.
After that, things are less clear.
If Conor Jackson is recovered from the Valley Fever bug that wiped out almost all of his 2009 season, he would be the front-runner in left. Jackson looked good in instructional league and is now playing in the Dominican Winter League.
"He's kind of the forgotten guy," Hinch said. "Everybody pointed to Webb as a reason why we struggled and it was a big blow to our team, but nobody really mentions that we were without Conor Jackson. That was part of the reason we lost our identity as an offense because he wasn't in the middle of it."
Chris Young has a "toehold" on the starting job in center according to Hinch, but Young certainly will have to earn his playing time after struggling for all but a few weeks of the 2009 season.
"He's important," Byrnes said. "When he plays well generally we play well."
The club got an extended look at Gerardo Parra last year and liked what it saw. If Jackson is healthy and Young is productive, Parra will likely be the team's fourth outfielder, but his very presence helps foster the kind of competition for playing time that Byrnes and Hinch are looking for.
The D-backs seem pretty set in the infield with the Roberts, Abreu, Rusty Ryal combination. Ryal showed some good pop in his bat and he will play the corners in the outfield in Venezuela this winter to make himself even more versatile.
What the team decides to do with Augie Ojeda, who is eligible for arbitration, remains to be seen. Ojeda said he would like to return, but whether or not there is a spot for him remains to be seen.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.