Hot Stove Daily: Arizona Diamondbacks

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series begins with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

2007 record: 90-72

Finish: First place National League West, lost to Colorado in NLCS

2007 Opening-day payroll: $52 million

Free agents: Tony Clark, 1B; Jeff Cirillo, IF; Livan Hernandez, SP; Bob Wickman, RP

WISH LIST

Wild spending won the Diamondbacks the World Series in 2001. It also saddled them with enormous debt, enough that the idea of them doing anything other than perusing the free-agent bargain bin is laughable.

It's fortunate, then, that the Diamondbacks have such a strong – and deep – core. Because tops on their offseason shopping ledger is a starting pitcher to replace Hernandez. Maybe Cleveland's Cliff Lee or Los Angeles' Ervin Santana through trade. Whomever they pursue, with outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez to dangle, the Diamondbacks are dealing in a position of strength.

If teams don't like Gonzalez – he's a top-talent, questionable-effort guy – there's Carlos Quentin (who doesn't fit with the Eric Byrnes-Chris Young-Justin Upton outfield), a take-your-pick of Conor Jackson or Chad Tracy (with Jackson younger, more affordable and healthier) and perhaps even closer Jose Valverde, who hits his second year of arbitration and could get a raise to $6 million.

With a weak free-agent class, the trade market should flourish. And few teams in baseball can compete with what Arizona can offer.

REALITY CHECK

Arizona fans – all three of you – should thank Mike Rizzo, the erstwhile scouting director who procured nearly all of the Diamondbacks' young talent, because without his on-the-cheap gems, they would look a lot more like the 111-loss team of three years ago than the contender they are.


Johnson
The Diamondbacks claim their payroll will jump to $75 million this season, and they can afford their luxuries – and their mistakes – because of cost-effective talent. Brandon Webb is a steal at $5.5 million. Randy Johnson, on the other hand, might cost them $10 million and not throw a pitch.

Some of the biggest questions will come in the arbitration room. In addition to Valverde's looming case, second baseman Orlando Hudson and reliever Juan Cruz are both sixth-year arbitration eligible, which means they are entitled to salaries commensurate with similar-performing peers. In Hudson's case, that means more than $6 million and in Cruz's perhaps $3 million.

It's a Catch-22 for the Diamondbacks, really, because as much as they want to contend, as much as they want to grow, payroll restrictions severely limit them from keeping around the veterans to help them do so.

They'd like to bring Clark back as a part-time first baseman and full-time shaman/spiritual adviser. And yet they know: Even marginal talent has its cost, and it's a price they might not be willing to swallow.

Arod meter

A-ROD METER

No chance in
a balmy Phoenix day.


NEXT: Atlanta Braves analysis