Slowly, but seemingly on schedule, the Diamondbacks have pieces falling into place for the coming season.
Activity, over recent weeks, centered around signing those players in an effort to avoid arbitration. While several will not reach free agent status for the next few years, the Diamondbacks seemed to have the arbitration factor under control.
The latest into the fold was shortstop Stephen Drew, who signed a one year deal at a reported $3.4 million. That’s in addition the $4.185 given to closer Chad Qualls, and $2.15 mill dished out to middle reliever Aaron Heilman.
In signing free agents first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Kelly Johnson, management has locked in the core of position players. That complements the previous signings of catcher Miguel Montero, infielder Augie Ojeda, outfielder Conor Jackson, and pitcher Clay Zavada.
Despite 70-92 last season, and finishing 22 games behind NL West Division winner Dodgers, the Diamondbacks may be reaching a critical barometer. That’s a financial benchmark, and the reality of losing money.
When general manager Josh Byrnes recently signed LaRoche, the D-Backs guaranteed the first baseman $4.5 million for 2010, and moved the payroll to $79 million.
If the team continues to lose on the field and the country remains in the stranglehold of a nasty recession, the D-Backs bottom line could be affected. That would mean finishing in the red, and something the team would clearly like to avoid.
“If we don’t play well, we absolutely will have a loss,” Managing General partner Ken Kendrick recently told the Arizona Republic. “We’re not about making money. We’re about winning and trying to avoid significantly loses.”
The bottom line could get more precarious.
That’s because the D-Backs still have to deal with pitcher Edwin Jackson, whom they acquired in a winter trade with the Tigers. Jackson is asking for $6.25 million, and the Diamondbacks have offered $4.6 million.
If the sides cannot come to an agreement, the case will go the arbitration. In that case, the ruling will favor the player or the team and there is not compromise. The teams, however, can reach an agreement at any time.
While the betting line has the Diamondbacks making no more significant off-season moves, persistent questions linger. The need for a starting lefthander looms as is the health of ace Brandon Webb, the status of Qualls, who missed the final month of 2009 with a knee injury, and the need for a quality catcher to back up Montero.
The fun begins in a less than a month with the advent of spring training in Tucson.