Here's the second part of our chat with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic and Jack Magruder from the East Valley Tribune. Today, the topics are starting pitching, trades and Juan Cruz's future: note that Nick's answers were submitted before the trade for Doug Davis, while Jack's arrived after. So it's not that Mr. Piecoro is ignoring it. :-)
4. Josh Byrnes has made it clear starting pitching is a priority, likely through trade rather than free-agency. What attributes should we be looking for, and which pitchers do you think are the most likely targets?
NP: I think the Diamondbacks are going to kick a lot of tires in free agency this off-season in search of value. I would have thought pitchers like Wade Miller and Kerry Wood (both of whom have re-signed with the Cubs) would have represented the types of players they might take a flier on. Maybe Randy Wolff? Certainly Mark Mulder is intriguing. Obviously, all of these guys are coming off injury, but that's just where Chris Carpenter was when the Cardinals snapped him up a few years ago.
I'd think that Byrnes would like to find pitchers who don't give up a bunch of home runs and who are apt to keep the ball on the ground. Cleveland's Jake Westbrook fits this description perfectly. Jason Jennings is another guy who keeps the ball in the ballpark and does a decent job keeping it on the ground. Not sure the Rockies would want to move him to a team in the division, that is, if they'd be willing to move him at all. Maybe there's some value in a guy like Jason Marquis; if you could get him for relatively cheap coming off a bad season, it might be worth the risk to see if he can work with Bryan Price to get that groundball/flyball ratio back to its 2003-2005 levels.
JM: They prize durability, and after acquiring Doug Davis they have three of the six pitchers in the NL - with Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez - who have gone over 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. I think free agent Mark Mulder is still a possibility, although it will take some creative deal-making if the D-Backs stick with their philosophy of not putting incentives in their contracts.
I understand it cost them several million when Randy Johnson racked up all those Cy Young awards, but I think incentives could be considered on a case-by-case basis, especially in the case of a player coming off an injury. Brandon Lyon had incentives in his deal when he came back from elbow surgery two years ago, but his contract is the last to contain that language. As far as trades, they are playing it pretty close to the vest. I get the feeling they would like to obtain another reliever, perhaps from their excess of young starting pitchers..
5. Johnny Estrada seems very likely to be dealt to another team during the off-season. Do you think there will be any other trades involving established players? If so, who?
NP: I can definitely see Jorge Julio being dealt, and I wouldn't be surprised if Juan Cruz were traded, too. Beyond that... It's hard to foresee anything else. I mean, I wouldn't be shocked if they traded an everyday player to get pitching. I wouldn't expect it to happen, but I have heard some speculation that Chad Tracy could be moved. Nothing to get worked up about, though - just some off-the-cuff speculation from some baseball people. Eric Byrnes would be another guy, a sell high possibility, but they seem to have a lot invested in him with the fans, and Josh Byrnes named him the '07 left fielder the day they told Gonzo he wouldn't return.
JM: I do not get the feeling any other established players will be traded in the offseason. They like their young nucleus going forward and I do not see them doing anything to disrupt that, although if the right deal (perhaps Dontrelle Willis) comes along ... The one thing about Josh Byrnes and his group is that they will consider anything.
6. Whereabout does Juan Cruz's future with the Diamondbacks lie? As a starter, a reliever, or possibly even a closer?
NP: I like Cruz best in the role he filled for the Braves as a late-inning guy. I wouldn't want him as a closer because there's too much risk there. Too many baserunners too often. But if you could bring him in the seventh inning and let him unload that fastball, I think he'd be good there. If he struggled with command, get him out of there and go to someone else. If he looks good, see if he can give you another inning. He's still being mentioned as someone who could be in the mix for a rotation spot next year, but I can see him playing elsewhere. What was the deal with that start against the Padres at the end of the season? To me, it looked like the Diamondbacks telling everyone: Look, this guy still has a live arm, he's not hurt, he might be able to help you next year. There were some scouts in town doing advance work on the Padres, so Cruz had an audience.
JM: Cruz had a couple of good starts last season, but more often built up his pitch count so high in the first five innings that Bob Melvin was forced to use two or three bullpen arms just to finish the game, which made it harder on the relievers as a group. If Cruz could throw more strikes and pitch a little more to contact, he has the stuff to be a quality starter. But if he is only going to get you five innings, his contribution is much less valuable. I think at this point he could be the kind of guy who could give you two innings - the sixth and seventh, or even seventh and eighth - in a close game. He could be a good setup man. I don't know if his control warrants use in a closing situation.