The 72-hour window of negotiation has apparently opened, but that's about it as far as Johnson goes. So, instead, here's the final installment of the Baseball Round Table: this was held over from last Thursday in the forlorn hope that everything would have been decided by now. However, I'll post it today, in the expectation that tomorrow and Friday, we should actually have genuine news - rather than these endless reports from un-named officials - to discuss. Time will tell whether I'm being wildly optimistic there...
7. Many fans were surprised by Melvin's contract extension. What did you think of it, and what do you feel are his strengths and weaknesses as a manager?
Nick Piecoro: I wasn't surprised. Every indication we were getting was that Byrnes and Melvin enjoyed a good working relationship. Melvin seems to see the game similarly to Byrnes in a lot of ways. Strengths are probably preparation and communication. You rarely see him caught by surprise during a game and his players seem to appreciate his willingness to keep them in the loop on things, like when they'll get a day off. This is an easy snipe at Melvin, because you can do it with just about every manager ever, but I haven't always agreed with when he's gone to the bullpen/which reliever he's gone to. He rode Lyon a little too much in '05, I didn't like him going to Julio four straight days in July, and there were a few games when I thought he was too late with the hook for the starting pitcher. But there were instances, too, when he made a move I didn't like that worked out, so ... I've also heard some people say he needs to be harder on his players. I don't know if there's a right or a wrong answer there. Everyone's either too soft or too hard if they don't win.
Jack Magruder: I was not among those who were surprised. Melvin and Josh Byrnes work well together, because both are very analytical and good talent evaluators. Melvin does a good job of giving his players the best chance to succeed, often drawing his lineup based on the best matchups available. It will be interesting to see how he uses Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero this season to get the best out of both, like he did with Snyder and Johnny Estrada last year. I know the D-Backs play in the National League, but I would like to see them bunt less except when the pitcher is at the plate.
8. Only the Gonzo Farewell Weekend saved attendance from reaching a franchise record low this year. How would you go about reversing the trend?
NP: Anyone who has lived in Phoenix for any length of time knows the answer is to win. I'm not saying this is an awful sports/baseball town. It's just not a really good one. They'll come out if there's some buzz. When you look at the Diamondbacks' record the past few years compared to the attendance, I don't think it's completely alarming. I think if they can get back over .500, the attendance will rebound, and as a result, the payroll will increase. But until then, get used to these $60 million payroll figures.
JM: I'd try to win more games. Seriously, there is always a nucleus of devoted, loyal fans who will ride with a team through the rough times. But the bandwagon fans - and there are enough of those to make the difference between a mediocre year and a good year at the gate - need to see victories. They want to vicariously associate with a winner.
9. All being well, Arizona should soon begin to contend for the division. Who do you see being our biggest rivals over the next few years?
NP: The Dodgers are probably the scariest if you're a Diamondbacks fan. Not only do they have a nice nucleus of young talent (Ethier, Martin, Loney, Kemp), but they've also got the financial resources to retain their own players and be aggressive in the free agent market. Their attendance figures have been incredible the past few seasons, driving up their revenues. The Rockies would be right there if not for their payroll limitations.
JM: If by soon, you mean 2008 or 2009, I'm with you. By then, we could see the reincarnation of the good Cleveland teams of the early and mid-1990s that built with youth and got good when the players ripened. Los Angeles will always be a rival because they will have the most money to spend, so they can throw money at holes rather than try to fill from within. San Diego general manager Kevin Towers and San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean consistently make good baseball decisions, although their payrolls are closer to the D-Backs' than the Dodgers so they cannot afford as many injuries or off-years. Colorado seems to be getting things together around a young nucleus of starting pitching. I think the division will remain competitive for years.
10. Based on his high profile thus far in the off season (on ESPN and Fox Sports), and especially the highlighting of his future presence with the club following the announcement of Gonzo's farewell, are the Diamondbacks playing a dangerous game of Arbitration/Free Agency Roulette with Eric Byrnes?
NP: Really depends on how much he wants. I don't think it's a fait accompli that Eric Byrnes signs a multi-year deal. I think it's a possibility. There's even a possibility they go to arbitration. He's a somewhat unique example of a guy who was pretty crummy one season, was non-tendered, then had a career year. While I don't think his core offensive statistics are all that great considering his age and position, I do think he's an above average defender and an excellent base stealer. (Don't be surprised to see him running more often next season.) I do agree, though, that it wasn't the wisest move by Josh Byrnes to come out and name Eric Byrnes the starter for '07 back in September. Now, that doesn't mean that J. Byrnes can't change his mind, but I don't know what purpose it really served.
JM: The D-Backs' seem to like cost certainty, and playing things year-by-year enables as far as contracts go enables them to do that more effectively. Sometimes locking players into long-term deals does not work (see Russ Ortiz). That being said, Eric Byrnes was a superior player last year - one of three players in the NL with 25 homers and 25 stolen bases, I believe - and would like to be here for the long run. I don't blame the D-Backs for going one year at a time, however; it gives them time to evaluate their landscape every year. The team has the contract hammer for the first six years, before the player gets it once he makes it to free agency. The D-Backs are working that to their advantage.