Free agency should not affect the Diamondbacks very much this winter: outside of a couple of late-season replacements in Cirillo and Wickman, the only two players eligible are starting pitcher Livan Hernandez and first-baseman/pinch-hitter Tony Clark. Hernandez v2.0 will not be resigned. We'll likely miss the length of his performances [giving us six innings or more three-quarters of the time], if not their quality. He walked people at a career-high rate, and opposing hitters batted .308 off him. Yet, somehow Livan won eleven games: in the past 25 seasons, only five pitchers have more victories, while allowing hits at such a high rate. Still, 19 quality starts will guarantee Hernandez a decent pay-day...just somewhere else.
Tony Clark, on the other hand, presents more of a problem. The case in favor would start with his phenomenal home-run production, 17 in only 221 at-bats. Among players with less than 250 at-bats, only two had more than a dozen long-balls[Betemit 14 in 240 and Bradley 13 in 209]. Credit must also be given to Tony's clubhouse presence, which basically everyone says is a unique, stabilizing influence. And he's also sure-handed, having made only two errors in 452.2 innings at first-base last year: That .996 fielding percentage was fourth-best in the NL, among the 25 players with more than 200 innings there. Conor Jackson was 22nd, so Clark would seem to have value as a late-inning defensive replacement too.
Against this, are a number of counter-points. Firstly, Jackson's defense might not be as obviously inferior as the above implies. By other measurements, he comes out almost as good as, or even slightly better, than Clark:
- Range Factor: Jackson 8th, 9.41; Clark 11th, 9.23
- Zone Rating: Jackson 16th, .830, Clark 14th, .832
This would tend to imply that Jackson gets to more balls than Clark, but makes less of the everyday plays. Another year of experience under Jackson's belt may well reduce the gap further. There is also the issue of the corner-infield log-jam: as well as these two, we have Tracy and Reynolds jockeying for playing time. Dropping Clark would perhaps allow Reynolds and Jackson to play full-time on the corners, with Tracy spelling both of them as appropriate.
And there's no denying Clark has his limitations. Since 2005, he has just 56 at-bats against left-handed pitching, batting .179. That apparent inability to hit lefties [small sample size caveat applicable, of course] severely limits his value off the bench, as an opposing manager can always counter with a southpaw. He also was a great deal better at home than on the road: In both 2005 and 2007 [he had very limited time in 2006], his OPS on the road was over two hundred points worse than at Chase. Only three of his seventeen homers came away from the friendly confines.
Complicating matters significantly is the potential for other trades. Conor Jackson would seem to be the most likely candidate to be gone by Opening Day, though personally, I think this would be a mistake. As noted elsewhere, Jackson improved significantly as the season goes on, and I think he has the best chance of any Diamondbacks to bat .300 next season, and could pass 20 home-runs. A Doug Davis-like trade, perhaps swapping Jackson and a couple of relievers for a starter we can sign for a long-term contract, would seem the most likely way forward there, though I think, unlike Estrada, we would not be selling high on Jackson. We may be able to get some clue as to the chances of this based on what happens with Clark. If Clark stays, it seems to increase the odds of Jackson being trade; if he goes, we'll probably be keeping Jackson.
Nice overview by Steve Gilbert on the issues involved here, including the length of the deal, the possibility of performance bonuses, etc. However, he also reports today, that there is interest from several teams, some offering rather more playing-time than he'd likely get from Arizona. Of course, this is coming from his agent, so one has to take any such data with a large pinch of salt. I think we can discount Clark getting that Byrnesian-sized, $30m deal.