Youth travails hold back Diamondbacks

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues at No. 20 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

2009 record: 70-92
Finish: Fifth place, NL West
2009 final payroll: $73.8 million
Estimated 2010 opening day payroll: $79 million

OFFSEASON ACTION
 
Only a couple of years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were young and they were talented and they were in the NLCS. They’re still young, mostly.

They’re also sorting through how they got from those 90 wins to these 92 losses, whether youth is all it’s cracked up to be, and when exactly they’ll stop paying Eric Byrnes(notes).

Handed a last-place season, GM Josh Byrnes did engage in one of the more interesting trades of the winter. That he was widely perceived to have gotten the worst of it – the Yankees got Curtis Granderson(notes), the Tigers got Max Scherzer(notes), Daniel Schlereth(notes), Austin Jackson(notes) and Phil Coke(notes), the Diamondbacks got Edwin Jackson(notes) and Ian Kennedy(notes) – doesn’t mean he did. Not yet.

Everybody does love Scherzer and Schlereth, or at least their potential, and you would understand if Byrnes had heard just about enough about potential. This is, after all, the roster of Chris Young and Stephen Drew(notes) and Chad Tracy(notes), among others. Except he’s back on that same bus with Jackson and Kennedy. Jackson, 26, has put together two good halves – the first of 2008 and the first of 2009. Kennedy has been hurt or ineffective or both at the big league level, for whatever that’s worth. He is just 25 and 3½ years out of USC, so the book’s not nearly closed yet.

Byrnes did get a break when Adam LaRoche(notes) was offered $17 million over two seasons by the Giants and turned it down, turns out, to play for the Diamondbacks for about half that.

The good news is the team is still young and talented. Whatever that means anymore.

REALITY CHECK

This is probably it for Brandon Webb(notes) in Arizona.

If all goes as expected, the sinkerballer will again pitch with a clean and healthy shoulder (he had surgery over the summer), and will again be among the better pitchers in the game, and will go into free agency with at least one Cy Young Award, two runners-up, and a reputation for throwing the heaviest ball in the league. The D’backs can’t afford him then.

Reynolds had 200 strikeouts again but also 44 home runs.
Eric Davis/US Presswire

And if the club finds itself sinking again, Byrnes almost certainly would consider adding Webb’s name to list of recent Cy Young winners to change teams mid-season.

Until then, however, the D’backs are counting on Webb to head a rotation of Dan Haren(notes), Jackson, Kennedy and, presumably, either Billy Buckner(notes) or Kevin Mulvey(notes). It could be the second-best rotation in the division, behind San Francisco’s. It also could get a little sideways, because that’s a big potential cluster.

Meantime, on offense, the Diamondbacks were limited because of their tendency to strike out. A lot. Mark Reynolds(notes), at 26, has the only two 200-strikeout seasons in history, the club led the majors in strikeouts, and just added LaRoche, who whiffed 140 times last season. On the other hand, Justin Upton(notes) will soon be a star, Reynolds is a stud, Young is a good kid who’ll get better, Gerardo Parra(notes) had an eye-opening rookie season, and, yeah, that’s a lot of potential.

NEXT: New York Mets

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 21, 2010