GENERAL MANAGERJosh Byrnes didn't land the biggest off-season pitching prize (Johan Santana)or even the second best (Erik Bedard). Instead, he settled for the bronze,obtaining Dan Haren from the A's in an eight-player deal that brought neitherthe payroll hit of Santana (six years, $137.5 million) nor the toll inprospects of the Bedard deal (notably centerfielder Adam Jones and pitcherChris Tillman). In return for the 27-year-old Haren, an innings-eater stillthree seasons removed from free agency, Byrnes surrendered six minor leaguerswho were blocked by the team's glut of young talent. (Leftfielder Eric Byrnesis the only regular older than 30.)
Josh Byrnes'smore daring move, though, came a matter of hours after he closed the Haren dealon Dec. 14, when he dealt closer Jose Valverde to the Astros for reliever ChadQualls, utilityman Chris Burke and minor league righthander Juan Gutierrez. Themargin for error is particularly thin in baseball's most competitive division,top-to-bottom, and Valverde's dominance (47 saves) was an important factor inthe Diamondbacks' major-league-best 32--20 record in one-run games lastseason.
Yet as good asValverde was, the setup trio of Juan Cruz, Brandon Lyon and Tony Pe√±a was noless valuable to a club whose inability to score runs made tight games anear-nightly occurrence. Lyon will be the new closer and, as a sinkerballer whopitches to contact, an unconventional one. Last year, however, opponents hitonly .210 against him with runners on base, and he's almost equally efficientagainst righties and lefties. "I go at hitters and throw strikes," saysLyon, 28, the one remaining piece from the trade that sent Curt Schilling tothe Red Sox in 2003.
Cruz, Pe√±a andQualls will work in front of Lyon—a model similar to the one the Indianssuccessfully employed last year, when flamethrowers Jensen Lewis, RafaelBetancourt and Rafael Perez cleaned up big messes in the sixth, seventh andeighth innings before soft-tossing Joe Borowski took over in the ninth."They all could close," says manager Bob Melvin of his setup trio.
March 30, 2008
Innings onethrough six are in even better hands. In each of his three years with Oakland,Haren won at least 14 games, made 34 starts and pitched more than 217 innings."I wanted to go to a team that was winning now," he says. "We havea chance to win, not only this year but for several years."
Forty-four-year-old Randy Johnson might be the game's best No. 5 starter—if hecan find his groove after having back surgery each of the last two years. Asevidence that the five-time Cy Young winner can still pitch at a high level,Byrnes points to a six-start stretch last season in which the Big Unit was 4--0with a 2.02 ERA and struck out 51 batters in 35 2/3 innings.
But will theDiamondbacks score enough runs to support this deep staff? Arizona wasoutscored by 20 runs last year despite playing in a hitter-friendly park. Afterhis team ranked last in the NL with a .321 on-base percentage, Melvinemphasized plate discipline in spring training. "We're going to have to dothe small things," says centerfielder Chris Young, who hit 32 homers fromthe leadoff spot but had a sub-.300 OBP. "We're going to have to stealbases, get the bunts down. Our pitchers are keeping us in the game, sooffensively we need to get a few runs late to win a ball game."
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER BOBMELVIN FOURTH SEASON WITH ARIZONA
|RH||Chad Qualls (New acquisition)||174||6||5||8.5||1.32||3.05|
New acquisitionB-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 62)
a modest proposal...
The Diamondbacks'lineup lists heavily to the right side; only shortstop Stephen Drew andswitch-hitting second baseman Orlando Hudson take any cuts from the left.Catcher Miguel Montero will help that balance when he returns from a fracturedright-index-finger injury that will keep him on the disabled list beyondOpening Day. The return of Chad Tracy (left), though, would be a huge lift. Hisseason was cut short by microfracture surgery on his right knee in lateSeptember, and his rehab will likely keep him on the DL for the start of theseason. The 27-year-old infielder is a career .308 hitter against righthanderswith a .371 OBP and .508 slugging percentage, and should share time with MarkReynolds at third base and Conor Jackson at first. Tracy provides high OBP andlefty power, two things that Arizona will need to exceed last year's paltry 712runs scored.
Stolen bases lastyear by Eric Byrnes, the first outfielder to reach 20 home runs and 50 stealsin the same season since Rickey Henderson did it in 1993. Don't expect a repeatperformance from journeyman Byrnes, 32. In fact, only four players inhistory—Henderson (four times), Joe Morgan and Cesar Cede√±o (three apiece) andEric Davis (twice)—had more than one 20--50 season.
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DEC. 17, 2001
RANDY JOHNSON,lefthanded, serious and reserved, seemed the polar opposite of the extrovertedrighty. Even simply standing side by side they resemble the number 10—the6'10" Johnson, long and lean, and the 6'4" Curt Schilling, with therounded chassis of an old DeSoto. "It's not a body," Schilling says."It's a cruel family joke." What happened between them, though, was animmediate mortise-and-tenon fit. Each strengthened the other.
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