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Team Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks
2007 W-L:  90-72
2007 Pythag W-L: 79-83
2007 Payroll: ~52 mil
2008 Payroll: ~58 mil

Coming: Dan Haren, Chad Qualls, Chris Burke Billy Buckner, Connor Robertson, Juan Gutierrez

Going: Alberto Callaspo, Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Chris Carter, Carlos Quentin, Aaron Cunningham, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Valverde

Sliding In:

The Diamondbacks were extremely lucky last year and probably shouldn't have won 90 games and I'd like to think that motivated general manager Josh Byrnes to go hog wild this off-season and add a few new pieces including Dan Haren to the fold.

After sweeping the Cubs the Backs were on the receiving end of the broom against their division rival and National League World Series representative, the Colorado Rockies who at the time were hotter than the desert in the summertime.

Last year it was Conor Jackson, Eric Byrnes, Orlando Hudson, and a ton of free hacking youngsters including fellow outfielders Chris B. Young and Justin Upton.

Behind the plate Chris Snyder is the starter with Miguel Montero and Robbie Hammock competing for the backup spot, edge to Montero in age and likelihood to make a meaningful contribution to the team.

On the infield the Backs will roll out Jackson (.284/.368/.467), Hudson (.294/.376/.441) and some combination of Chris Burke, Stephen Drew, Chad Tracy, Mark Reynolds, and Auggie Ojeda which should be an above average infield offensively and fine defensively.

Drew will get the start at shortstop, despite his rookie struggles there's enough upside to stand by him for at least another year. Burke was acquired in the Valverde trade, and he's likely the first backup in center with the occasional start at second thrown in. Tracy and Reynolds will fight it out for the hot corner starting gig, but don't be shocked if Tracy is dealt - there were some whispers during the winter meetings of a three way deal with him being the one on the way out. Ojeda is a nice back-up and will probably stick around as the backup middle infielder.

As previously mention Eric Byrnes mans left, Chris B. Young center, and the young phenom Justin Upton right field. Jeff Salazar, Tracy, and Burke will act as reserves if needed, but assuming Young and Upton progress as they should the outfield should be slightly above average with the potential to be amongst the best by 2010.

Byrnes is a good bet to steal more than 40 bases and get on base enough to score over 100 runs, a lot was made of his contract, but 3/30 isn't too bad considering he's an above average hitter and the deal should expire right before Byrnes becomes completely useless.

Young finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting despite having a nearly non-existent batting average, if he could get a few more hits his on-base percentage would look a lot better - obviously - but the power he showed is a breathe of fresh air for the 23 year old. Any time a pro player can hit six more homers than his age you know he's got a chance to be special, factor in that he's a center fielder and in his first full pro season and is it beyond reasonable expectations to have him pegged for at least one 40 homerun year somewhere in his career?

Finally we reach Justin Upton who played in his first game and hit his first homerun before turning 20 last year. His initial debut wasn't as impressive as his older brother's, but, unlike Melvin, Justin will begin his 20 year old season in the pros and as a starter, and like so many of his teammates if Upton progresses this year the D-Backs should be scoring a ton of runs, the question is, can their pitching staff prevent the opposition from scoring more?

Starting Rotation:
Any team with Dan Haren and Brandon Webb has the makings of a very good rotation, and luckily for the Diamondbacks they have the backend to make it worth their two young studs' time. Micah Owings, Doug Davis, and Randy Johnson should provide Arizona with the chance at having five starters with ERA+ over 100. The Backs

Webb is a perennial Cy Young candidate - all he does is get groundballs and go six plus innings on a routine basis. It doesn't hurt matters that Webb struck out a career high 194 last year or that he'll be making all of 5.5 million this season, despite five seasons of well above average performances.  I expect his strikeout rate to return to his career norm around 170 otherwise there's nothing fluky or undesirable here; Webb is the textbook example of steady.

Joining Webb at the top of the rotation is the aforementioned Haren. Following three solid seasons in Oakland - although none quite like last year - he was moved to Arizona for a plethora of prospects in a sell high maneuver. I'm not sure what happened in the second half, but after a first half where he threw 129 innings, and only gave up 97 hits and a 2.3 ERA he ballooned to a 4.15 ERA for the second half and in 93 innings gave up 117 hits, okay apparently I do know what happened: an extremely lucky first half caught up with him.

Micah Owings will pitch in between playing first base; apparently he's decent at it, he was much better at home and in the second half, and his WHIP suggests his ERA will only drop. Doug Davis has walked more than his career average for three consecutive years; he also allowed 21 homeruns last year, not a good combination for any pitcher.  Anytime Randy Johnson is your fifth starter it's an intriguing situation, the Unit only made 10 starts last year, but was solid in doing so even at 43.

When injury or bad performance strikes new acquisition Billy Buckner would be the first in line to take the rubber, he was acquired from the Royals for Alberto Callaspo, and last year made five starts, although he allowed too many baserunners (50) in his small amount of work (34 innings), that's definitely got to change. Edgar Gonzalez would likely step in for a spot start or 12 like last year, although he faired better as a starter Gonzalez wasn't great in either role. Yusmeiro Petit will likely get a few starts as well - particularly if Gonzalez gets off to a good start in his relief role - despite his minor league success he's yet to translate it to the big league level.

Teams don't usually trade closers who save 47 games, are completely dominant, and have two years before free agency, but then again Byrnes has proven he doesn't take the conventional route to building a team. 26 year old Tony Pena will open the year as the Arizona closer after an impressive 2007 where he threw 85 innings, allowed 63 hits, walked 31, and struck 63 batters out. The first time he fails someone will say he doesn't "have it" to close out games, but don't be surprised if Pena excels and makes fans forget about Jose Valverde.

The reliever acquired in return for Valverde, Chad Qualls, will likely set up the 8th for Pena, and since 2004 Qualls has been one of the more dependable and solid relievers in the National League. Last year with the Houston Astros was arguably his best, particularly the second half where he posted a 1.86 ERA.

Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz, and Doug Slaten are the only locks for the bullpen with a number of combatants for the other two spots. Lyon has found a home in Arizona, remember when he started off as a starter with the Blue Jays? Cruz is a free agent after this year but has seemingly found a niche for himself after bouncing around as a starter and reliever between the Cubs, Braves, and Athletics, in such crazy markets he could find himself making pretty good coin next year. Slaten is a tall lefty who is a bit more effective against his abnormal kind, but doesn't fit the traditional LOOGY mold.

Amongst those in contention for a spot: Buckner, Gonzalez, Emiliano Fruto, Juan Gutierrez, Brandon Medders, Dustin Nippert, Jailen Peguero, Bill Murphy, and don't be surprised if Max Scherzer doesn't find himself into the bullpen before the season closes.

The Hook

I wouldn't expect the Backs to repeat as division champs, but then again this is the same team that did disprove us saberheads as morons last year, so with some progress with the bats and repeat performances by their bullpen it's very possible we'll see them in the playoffs. If they can get there not many can match that 1-2-3 punch or the potential in the lineup.