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Contractual Obligations...

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Been chewing over this article in the Tribune in which Jack Magruder says: "Eric Byrnes and Orlando Hudson appear to be in the team's building process for the long haul. The D-Backs plan to discuss multi-year contracts with both players when negotiations begin in earnest, general manager Josh Byrnes said." Mind you, that all JB is quoted as saying is "Absolutely. We're open to it. Both had good years for us." That seems a bit more like journalistic leading of the witness towards the conclusion - the way it reads feels some distance from Byrnes and Hudson necessarily being "in the team's building process for the long haul."

Both are under contract for 2007, but there are a number of warning lights - in particular with regard to Byrnes, though both men had career years, surpassing expected offensive production. That's never the best of times to be negotiating long-term contracts, because the players concerned will have higher demands. Mind you, signing one after a player has slumped is questionable too, because you never know if they'll bounce back the following season: if not, you're stuck with an albatross. But at least, they'll be a relatively cheap albatross. If the wheels fall off the Byrnes bandwagon, and he's not a 25/25 guy next year...well, we saw what happened with Tony Clark in 2006. We ended up with a fairly expensive, untradeable, ineffective bench player.

I don't think Byrnes will quite go that far, but I think a drop-off to more mediocre levels is definitely possible. As noted before, Eric had one great month (.364 with 8 HR in May), but from August on, hit only .233, and was striking out more than five times for every walk. This is in sharp contrast to Hudson, who started off slowly, before coming on very strongly towards the end of the season: this seems a natural result, following a period of adjustment to a new park, and indeed, league. Defensively, too, Hudson improved, to the extent that the Tribune today reports that he is "considered the NL favorite" to win a Gold Glove. You'd have been laughed out of the park if you'd suggested that back in May, when he was booting balls with horrendous frequency.

We also have to take into account Byrnes' move from the defensively-challenging position of CF, where any offensive production is generally a bonus, to the gentle pastures in left-field. There, you're covering less territory, but are expected to deliver a great deal more with the bat. This is a huge difference: basically, even using his 2006, personal-best figures at the plate, Byrnes would be a below-average left-fielder in terms of production, but comes out as decent in center. However, Chris Young has, understandably, been anointed the Diamondbacks' center-fielder for the rest of the decade. Or, at least, until Justin Upton gets here.

Note, however, that signing a long-term contract would not necessarily prevent the Diamondbacks from trading Byrnes. Indeed, it might increase his value at the trade deadline, if the gaining club knew they'd have him for the next season and a half, rather than him being a three-month rental. If Byrnes repeats his previous tendencies - blowing it up in the first half, slumping in the second - this could be the best approach. But it's hard to see how his trade value would be any higher than it is now, after a career season in CF.

Let's take a look at that a bit closer. Currently, he's a 25-HR hitting center-fielder, which is more than all but five players in the majors last year: Jones + Beltran (41), Wells (32), Hunter (28) and Sizemore (28). But in left-field, 26 homers is ho-hum, the exact median in fact, and about 90% of players also had more (sometimes a lot more) walks than the 34 Byrnes managed. Overall, his .795 OPS - interestingly, exactly the same as Gonzo's - would rank only 15th among 21 qualifiers at left-field. That compares to 10th of 18 in center-field. We could end up just replacing one fan-beloved but underachieving left-fielder with another, if we're not careful. Eric taking a few more walks would be a significant help.

Hence the new poll - congratulations, incidentally, to Stephen Drew who has duly been crowned AZ SnakePit Rookie of the Year, beating Conor Jackson 52%-32%, though I was pleased to see everyone got some votes. Do you think signing Byrnes and/or Hudson to long-term contracts is a good idea? Comments, as always, will also be welcome...