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Seven Into Three Won't Go

The title of this article:
  a) Refers to the Diamondbacks 2010 outfield situation?
  b) Is a fairy-tale for mature audiences, starring Jenna Jameson as Snow White?
  c) Describes a math problem capable of baffling a typical Arizona high-school graduate?

The answer - much though you might want to think otherwise - is a). Arizona currently find themselves with a regular starting outfield consisting entirely of players who weren't even on the 25-man roster for Opening Day four months ago. But the performances they're returned have been more than credible to date, leaving the club with an interesting dilemma for next season. What do we do with this sudden surplus of apparently-talented outfielders?

There are seven names credible as contenders for the outfield grass at Chase next season. After the jump, let's take a look at the pros and cons associated with each, both on their performances this year, and where they might fit into the picture for the Diamondbacks in 2010. And no, this isn't just an excuse to use another picture of Mr. Dreamy...

Eric Byrnes. 2009 stats: .216/.260/.361 (OPS+ 57). 2010 salary: $11 million.
Currently on the disabled list with a broken hand, Byrnes has suffered a litany of injuries and poor performance since signing a contract extension in mid-2007. He missed 110 games last season with hamstring problems, and will probably see barely more than half the possible number this year. Perhaps more troubling, his performance when he has been on the roster has been hugely disappointing. Among players with 400+ PAs over the past two seasons, his OPS+ of 60 ranks him 311th out of 316 in the majors - and Byrnes has been paid $19m for it.

2010 prognosis. The team won't drop Byrnes until the last chance of him being a useful cog has evaporated. However, he'll be 34 by Opening Day, and the speed which was a key factor in his success during 2007 is not going to improve with the passage of time. Health concerns permitting, he'll start the season on the roster, probably as the fourth outfielder, but I'd be quite surprised if he sees out his contract as an active member of the Diamondbacks.

Conor Jackson. 2009 stats: .182/.264/.253 (OPS+ 34). 2010 salary: arbitration eligible (2009 salary $3.05m).
No-one played more games (414) for the Diamondbacks from 2006-2008, but this was not the season we wanted from CoJack, among the best hitters in the team last year. He struggled from the get-go, and was eventually diagnosed with a fungal lung disease, albeit only after it had developed into pneumonia. He's hoping to get back with the team for the last month, but that return is more likely to be a token gesture than anything, after having already missed three months.

2010 prognosis. He's likely going to see action this winter, either in the Arizona Fall League and/or one of the Carribbean or Latin American leagues, which should help establish whether he has fully recovered, and help shake off the rust from his prolonged absence. Probably still has the inside track on being the starting left-fielder for the regular season, the assumption being that his poor start this year was illness-related and not indicative of his true form. We'll need him to recover if Arizona is to compete.

Trent Oeltjen. 2009 stats: .414/.414/.862 (OPS+ 217). 2010 salary: league minimum
One of the great stories from this season, a career minor-leaguer who finally got a chance, and ripped it to shreds  - he's one of only 20 players since 1954 to have four multi-hit games in their first five appearances. That success has also given him a chance to show off his blistering speed on the basepaths, and he has performed very well with the glove in both left- and right-field. And did we mention his cute accent? And his dreamy smile? Tee-hee!

2010 prognosis. Let's face it - he spent eight years in the minors for a reason, and any power is an illusion his minor-league HR rate works out to six per 162-game season. However, he has batted .300 both his last couple of seasons, and his defense and speed might both be worth having on the bench. Still, odds are probably slim against him making the roster on Opening Day, though as coverage for injury and stashed away in Reno, you could do a good deal worse.

Gerardo Parra. 2009 stats: .298/.335/.436 (OPS+ 96). 2010 salary: league minimum
We thought we might see Parra replacing Byrnes in 2011, but he got the call-up from Double-A, and has responded strongly. While some more walks would be welcome - he has only 18 in 333 PA's - Parra has been mentioned as a potential Rookie of the Year, albeit not much outside Arizona. He hasn't broken under pressure either, driving in runs regularly; he's fourth on the team, despite having played only 76 games. His defense still remains somewhat suspect, but he has shown himself capable of covering a surprising amount of ground on occasion.

2010 prognosis. He'll still only be 22 come Opening Day, and seems to have the best shot of breaking through, not least because he can play all three outfield positions, a versatility which gives him a leg-up on a roster-spot. He may even end up being the regular starting center-fielder next season, though the decision on that is likely down as much to the performance of others as his own. Time is on his side, and if he's not present at the start of the season, I expect he will be by the end.

Alex Romero. 2009 stats; .301/.363/.410 (OPS+ 98). 2010 salary: league minimum
The perception of Romero last season was that he was all glove and no offense, as he batted .230 with an OPS+ of only 49. Now he's batting over .300, that's an idea undergoing some revision, though both the small sample-size (90 PAs) and a hefty .352 BABIP suggest he is over-achieving. Probably even lighter-hitting than Oeltjen, Romero has one HR in 112 major-league games, but his plate-discipline is improved this year, with a K:BB of 11:7, compared to 20:3 in 2008.

2010 prognosis. Alex will probably have to rely on more injuries to see much playing time with the Diamondbacks, having certainly been surpassed on the depth-chart by Parra, and possibly even Oeltjen, depending on how the rest of the season plays out. At age 26, he probably isn't going to get much better than he is now, and as 2010 will be his last option year, Romero seems destined to lurk on the fringes of the roster, racking up the frequent-flier miles as he travels between Phoenix and Reno.

Justin Upton. 2009 stats: .301/.374/.541 (OPS+ 132). 2010 salary: league minimum
It's weird how many Arizona fans haven't warmed to Upton's undeniably immense talents - Oeltjen has probably got more love in one week on the roster, and some people still think he should be traded. Is it racism? A perception Upton is a bit arrogant? His youth? Could be partly all three. Yet, on sheer performance alone, he has been everything we could have expected, and more. Few 21-year olds are capable of holding down a full-time position, yet alone producing at a well-above average rate.

2010 prognosis. "Starting in right-field...Justin Upton!" And in 2011-2013 too. Did you really expect anything else? I still tend to think it was probably a mistake to bring him up last season - his age 26 season is going to be a great deal better than his age 20 one was, but the former will now likely be lost to free-agency. And then... Well, how many players reach free-agency just before hitting the prime of their careers? Health permitting, $20 million per year is a good starting-point for the bidding.

Chris Young. 2009 stats: .194/.297/.359 (OPS+ 68). 2010 salary: $3.25 million
And then there's the thorny problem of Young, whose batting average hasn't been above .205 since the end of April, and who was mercifully put out of our misery this week, by being sent to Reno - even if he has still to arrive there [I imagine him currently sitting in a Flagstaff Greyhound terminal. Having been there, I can only sympathize]. His struggles have been very well documented just about everywhere - it doesn't seem mental [Young is no CQ] - but if it's mechanical, why hasn't it been fixed in four months?

2010 prognosis. What once seemed a lock is now much less certain, and he has a fight on his hands - mostly with Gerardo Parra - if he wants to become the starting center-fielder for the Diamondbacks once again.  It's a decision which will likely be made in spring training, with the position no longer his to lose. And the scary thing if he doesn't make it? He's signed for three more beyond next year, with $20.5 million committed to him for 2011-2013. Chris: you'd better get better...