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Born Free...

The following Diamondbacks are eligible for free-agency:

  • Miguel Batista (age 35)
  • Craig Counsell (36)
  • Damion Easley (36)
  • Luis Gonzalez (39) [already declared]
  • Jason Grimsley (39)
  • Terry Mulholland (43)

It's a short list, even including the "not in a million years" name of Grimsley, included here only because he's technically a free agent, who last played for AZ. It contains nobody who will be significantly missed, except perhaps Miguel Batista, and I don't expect any of them to re-sign with the Diamondbacks. Again, Batista is the only one I have any interest in taking back, and in a seller's market for starting pitching, he'll get better offers from elsewhere. But it seems true to say that free agency has little or no potential to hurt our team significantly this year. That's not necessarily the case for all our rivals in the NL West...

Colorado Rockies. Things are looking pretty stable in Denver too, with Vinny Castilla their sole position player eligible - he only played 15 games after signing in August. Like us, they have one starting pitcher eligible, in Byung-Hung Kim, though he may be re-signed. Part of me wouldn't mind us taking a flyer on Kim, but his ERA+ was 86, and he hasn't even been league average since the year we traded him to Boston. While the $1.25m he got paid this season makes him pretty cheap, I'll pass. The Rockies will have some reconstruction to do in their bullpen though, with Ray King, Tom Martin and Joe Table all potential free-agents.

Los Angeles Dodgers. Two big holes need to be filled in LA: Kenny Lofton, who hit over .300 playing CF, and perhaps even more crucial, they need to decide what to do about Nomar Garciaparra. He certainly proved himself back to full strength with a 20 HR, .303 season, and will likely get a number of long-term offers, even after missing a quarter of the season. Starters Greg Maddux and Aaron Sele are eligible to file, but the biggest question-mark on the pitching side is likely Eric Gagne. Will he come back from injury, and how effective will he be? Which team will roll the dice there?

San Diego Padres. Significant changes could be in the pipeline at Petco, with three everyday players who could become free agents: as well as catcher Mike Piazza, Mike Cameron (CF) and Dave Roberts (LF) may be leaving. They could also be hurting at third-base, where Castilla started most games. He has gone, as noted in the Rockies section, and Mark Bellhorn, Geoff Blum, Russell Branyan and Todd Walker, who all played 140+ innings there, are also eligible to depart. The front of their rotation looks set as Peavy, Young, Hensley, but at the back end, potential candidates Woody Williams and Chan Ho Park made 45 starts between them, and reliever Alan Embree can become a free-agent.

San Francisco Giants. Alphabetical order conveniently saves the best for last, where no less than eleven of the Giants' current 25-man roster are free agents. In what could be a disaster in the making, we're not talking minor members either: they include team leaders in RBI (Pedro Feliz), HR (Barry Bonds and Ray Durham), and ERA, IP + K (Jason Schmidt). It seems almost certain Bonds will file, and I expect Schmidt will be equally keen to test the water, as one of the best - read, "highest-priced" - pitchers available. But that's only the tip of the iceberg, since between them, the eligible seven position players appeared in 785 games, while the four pitchers threw 444.1 innings for the Giants. New manager Bruce Bochy could be playing a radically different hand come Opening Day 2007.

At Ben's suggestion, I'm gonna kick off a little prediction contest, in which you can see if you can spot the eventual destination of some of the top (or Arizona!) free agents. Expect that to crop up in the diaries section tomorrow; no prizes, just the respect and admiration of your peers here. :-)

Arizona announced that the new hitting coach will be Kevin Seitzer, a 12-year player who finished second in the 1986 Rookie of the Year balloting, behind some guy called McGwire. ;-) Interestingly, he has no experience of coaching in either the minor or major leagues (that sound you hear is Mark Grace gnashing his teeth!), but is running a private baseball academy with former team-mate, Mike McFarlane. To help Mr. Seltzer, here's a list of some important things he needs to work on:

  • End Tracy's strikeout tendencies. 2004: 8.02 AB/K. 2005: 6.45 AB/K. 2006: 4.63. His AB/BB numbers have remained fairly steady (10.69 in 2004, up to 14.37 last year, but back to 11.06 in 2006). If our new hitting coach can reverse the trend and send Tracy back to the levels of production seen in 2005, a shrine to Seltzer will need to be built. Of course, Tracy's defensive issues will remain, but if he hits .300 with 25 HR again, will anyone notice?

  • Help the young guys handle breaking balls. Quentin, Drew and Young all appeared to have problems dealing with any kind of pitch that showed movement. And this led to them seeing a steady flow of them - Quentin, in particular, hardly saw any fast-balls after smacking four homers in his first sixteen at-bats. It may just be a lack of experience of quality breaking pitches in the minors, but overcoming this will be a huge factor in deciding whether they have RotY-caliber seasons, or merely "okay" ones.

  • Assisting Chris Snyder even out his splits. With Estrada likely gone, Snyder will become the de facto #1 catcher, getting the majority of starts. It's hard to be sure what this'll mean. His overall career splits:
    Right: .222/.304/.343 = .646 OPS
    Left: .253/.351/.414 = .765 OPS
    skew towards lefties, but over 2006, Snyder hit righties 48 points better (.294 vs. .246), and that's largely what accounted for his boost in overall stats. Seltzer should look to see if this was a statistical quirk - Snyder only had 3 ABs vs. LHP in July - or a genuine tend.

  • Keep an eye on Eric, looking for Byrnes-out. Before the All-Star break, Byrnes hit .292; after, only .243, and a mere .226 in September. He also had just ten walks in 288 at-bats following the break. Interestingly, Byrnes didn't find much comfort at hitter-friendly Chase Field either, batting .248, compared to .285 away from Phoenix - and those home stats collapsed late on too (.212 at Chase from August on); Seltzer should look into why. Byrnes'll also be coping with a different, albeit perhaps less-taxing, defensive position, so may need some careful handling next season. If he's still around, of course...

Finally, looks like everyone will be moving up the ladder in the minor-league managerial list. Bill Plummer, late of Double-A Tennessee, will take over the reins in Tucson from Chip Hale, while Brent Butler rises from Class A Lancaster to Mobile, who are replacing Tennessee as our Double-A affiliate next season.