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The 2010 Interview with Josh Byrnes, Part Two

After the jump, you'll find the conclusion of my discussion last week with Josh Byrnes: if you missed the opening half, a) where the heck were you, and b) here's part one. In this chunk, we continue to look at the way our rotation might shape up, talk about what needs to be addressed as we head towards and go through spring training, and Josh tells us which of our divisional rivals he thinks will be the biggest threat to Arizona's chances of rebounding to the division title.

AZ SnakePit: The top three in our rotation seems fairly set: Webb, Haren and Jackson. How do you see things shaking out down the rest of the line? Do you think we have better depth than we did last year?

Josh Byrnes: As we sit here today, it could go either way. If Brandon Webb can return, close to previous form, then there's a good chance our first three spots - 95-100 starts - are very, very good. Now, how do we account for the next 60-plus? If Webb can return to form, then if it's a five-man competition, with Kennedy, Buckner, Mulvey and Rodrigo Lopez and Bryan Augenstein, it seems to fit very well. But if we lean too hard, and something goes wrong with the Haren-Webb-Jackson group, it's going to make it harder on us. It's the reality, certainly of last season - replacing a high-end starting pitcher is very hard to do.

But our depth is okay. I wouldn't say it's great. We still keep aware of any opportunities out there. Our sense, as we go into spring training, is to watch that group of five, see how they look, see how Webb looks. To the extent it becomes an area to address, I think our mind says we'd rather really fix it, than try to just patch it. Right now, those are the eight starters, going into camp - group of three, group of five. There's reason to believe that that should suffice, but we'll be ready to react if that's not enough.

AZ: Looing at the other NL West teams in 2010, it seems like a fairly-even division. Who would you say poses the biggest threat?

JB: I think, right now, the Rockies. Obviously, the Rockies and the Dodgers made the playoffs last year, and deserve the status associated with that, and I think the Rockies saw a little bit less attrition through the off-season. Bring Jeff Francis back and retaining Betancourt, and some of their young players will probably get more opportunities - Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Stewart. - so they're a pretty solid team. A team as good as they are, as deep as they are; their starting pitching was really solid. de la Rosa and Hammel stabilized it. I agree, it's a balanced division and a lot of teams can make the argument, "playoff worthy," "90 wins", whatever. But I think, right now, the Rockies probably have the fewest questions.

AZ: What remains to be addressed by the team going into spring training?

JB:  A couple of things. We've still got one contractual situation still, with Edwin Jackson. But spring training is a great time of year, you've got six or seven weeks. Sometimes it feels like you're just getting your body ready to play. We've talked a lot about using it to set the stage for the season. Let's get team fundamentals, philosophy, our culture established during that time, because whoever you are, asserting your identity on your opponent is part of winning and I think we've lost that. So we need to get down there and get to work, and have a spring training that's about establishing who we are. AJ and the coaches and the players are excited to re-establish ourselves.

AZ: You mentioned 'fundamentals'. How do you go about working on something like defense in spring training? Is it just a question of drills?

JB: I know AJ and the coaches have talked a lot about that, the actual day-to-day, re-organizing certain days and doing a little bit more game speed, and probably, something that takes a lot more time, coaches' BP, doing a little bit less of that. We talked to a number of people, including guys on our team who've been in different camps, about what's the best way. We need to get ready, and if you blow them out the first day of spring training, because we're going to emphasize defense and conditioning - well, you made your point, but you may have been a little self-defeating in doing it.

But being more solid defensively would be a big point of emphasis, and AJ and the coaches have spent a lot of time on how to rewrite the spring schedule a little bit, rather than just the normal routine that most teams go through. It'll probably be noticeable, that clearly it's an area of focus.

AZ: Is the Opening Day roster basically set in your mind?

JB: We'll see. Most guys on the position-player side are used to being in the big leagues on Opening Day. - Parra obviously came up in May. Then you get to Tony Abreu, Gillespie, Ryal, Brandon Allen - those types. We want to see what we've got there. Opening Day, I've always said, it's not as dramatic as everyone wants it to be. Last year on Opening Day, Mark Reynolds didn't start, Upton didn't start. So it's a day, but we really want to assess our group for the length of the season.

On the pitching side, we have a couple of guys out of options, and a Rule 5 selection, so the candidates for the end of the bullpen and the end of the rotation - I think that'll be interesting. But again: decent flexibility. Whoever makes it, whoever doesn't - the competition will remain. Players #26-40, I think are better than they have been in previous years.

AZ: If Webb has a rebound season, he may be too expensive for the club to re-sign. And if he doesn't, the club probably won't want to. Does it seem likely to you 2010 will be his last year with Arizona?

JB: It's not a topic I want to talk a whole lot about - I think it's going to be unending. I would think somewhere in the middle is the most likely outcome, but if he wins the Cy Young, there will be a huge demand for his services! So we'll see. He's had a great run here, it's not the only story: Derek Jeter will be a free-agent; Joe Mauer, we'll see how his deal goes. The choices Philadelphia made with respect to Halladay and Lee. These are big decisions for clubs. I think virtually every free-agent who has left here, has known we made a real offer. Oftentimes, before they see the market, they think it's low - sometimes when they see the market, they realize it was more than fair, and usually, when they realize that, it's too late. So we'll see. He is very important to the franchise, but I think for any club, other than the Yankees, retaining your own star-level players is not easy.

AZ: Webb's performance will be central to the team's success - or otherwise. Apart from that, what areas do you think are most critical to us being able to contend in the NL West?

JB: That's a big one, on an individual level. On a team level, it's probably the first time in the last few years where we've gone into spring training, and I've felt that we should score runs, as opposed to could score runs. Can we push it up to 770, 780, 800 runs scored? Do we have that kind of offense? Maybe. It'd certainly make it a little bit easier on the pitching. Again, the characteristics of winning games - I feel like, for a couple of years, we got into this rut where we win when our starting pitcher pitches well, we hit a home-run or two at the right time, and we don't mess up the game with our bullpen or a defensive miscue. We need a few more scripts available to us to win a game. Some of the defense, situational hitting, bullpen work, that helps you win an appropriate amount of the coin-flip types of games, I think we need to get better in those areas.

AZ: The payroll increased this year, particularly with the late addition of LaRoche. Is there any further flexibility in the budget to add a bat or an arm during the season, if the need arose?

JB: Ken Kendrick has been very helpful, very strategic in terms of how we deal with our payroll. There's always a relationship: spending leads to winning leads to revenue. Obviously, we're comfortable with where we are now, and Ken felt like he wanted to give us enough latitude to make that last move. I think if we're in-season, and are really competing, and a piece away, he has definitely been very encouraging for things we can do - not 'desperation spending', but to finish off a winner. In turn, if we're in the middle of the year in a pennant race, our ticket sales will help justify the added expense.

AZ: Does the signing of LaRoche change plans for using Conor Jackson? Will he be used exclusively in left-field, or still get some starts at first?

JB: LaRoche has generally been good for 600 plate-appearances the last few years, he's been a healthy player. I think it's valuable that Conor can do both. Gets more starts for guys named Parra or Roberts, conceivably, so it's important. Having depth is great: again, I give the Rockies a lot of credit, because they had depth, they had a lot of players whose playing-time was a bit compromised. But they bought in, and it was a real strength of theirs, that they managed the situation with the Ianetta/Torrealba situation; Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, and the rotation of that; Atkins and Stewart and Barmes. Having depth and having a real team dynamic is a very powerful thing. I think we have a lot of usable players, and for some of them, like Conor, being able to play a couple of spots will only help the team work better.

AZ: You mentioned the Ianetta/Torrealba situation. There'll be something similar in Arizona, with Montero and Snyder. How do you see those two shaping up for playing time?

JB: I think it's fairly similar, because I think both our guys are capable #1 catchers. They've both proven that, and Snyder looks great. Got through the back surgery, and I watched him hit and go through his catching drills this morning, and he feels great. It's been one of our strengths, the offense we've got from our catchers, so hopefully it will continue to be a decided strength. It'll probably affect both of their playing time, but I think both guys understand the realities of the situation. We had trade discussions; we explored that as something that would make sense and potentially benefit the player. It didn't work out, so for Snydes, who's coming back after 2009, watching Montero take his job and play so well, he understands we still think of him as a #1 caliber catcher, we just don't get to start two catchers on any given day.

AZ: In the bullpen, Qualls seems likely to be the closer, but beyond that, there appear to be a number of candidates for the seventh and eighth innings.

JB: It's funny how our bullpen has been the last few years. It's been less of a match-up type bullpen than most, a lot of our right-handers have been three or more out guys. We had five righties who were all pretty good, when we had Lyon, Qualls, Peña, Rauch, Cruz. We could never get it right with that group. We have a lot of guys who have proven track records of durability. Depending on who it is, maybe a strength on one side of the plate or the other, we'll have to see. It's the hardest part of your team to forecast. You look at any post-season team, how their bullpen turned out, it's almost always different than you would have said in February.

We've got more candidates, we've got more depth - we'll see how their skill sets complement one another. One silver lining of '09 was that a lot of the younger guys got a lot of exposure and experience. Certainly, Juan Gutierrez, we go into spring training with the expectation that he can get important outs for us. Where they are in the game - we'll see.

AZ: Are you confident that Chris Young is going to be able to turn his offensive woes around?

JB: Yeah, he finished '09 strong, he has a great minor-league track record, he has shown it in flashes in the big leagues, he's still hitting lefties at a very high level. How he finished last year was very encouraging. He accepted the Triple-A time very well, played well, played with a smile on his face and then came up and had a very good September. He's worked very hard this off-season, his commitment to excelling has never been an issue. He works very hard and wants to be a very, very good player. He has a similar skill-set to Mike Cameron or Franklin Gutierrez and is about where they are at the same age, when they both started taking a step forward. The holes in his offensive game have been apparent. I think he can improve upon them, and when the whole package is put together- the on-base, the power, the defense, impacting the game on the bases, the durability - he is a very good player. But he needs to have not so many at-bats that just aren't competitive, which was a large part of the '09 season.

AZ: Any thoughts for 2010 and what we, as fans, should be expecting from it?

JB: I think it has to be better! We went through a bit of a Murphy's Law in '09. And I think I said it last year - we're realistic, but we're pretty optimistic and we're very competitive in these jobs. It's fun when we're winning, but I think at this time of year, I know there's a great sense of optimism internally, and I hope our fans share that. I do think the players feel that, and getting the fans excited and believing that we can accomplish something, helps us a great deal. Believe me: we'll show up in Tucson expecting to win. We realize we're not the only team who feels that way, but to your earlier question, you don't win by accident.  We're going down there with the intention of winning.

AZ: Finally, you've been in the GM seat for a number of years. What do you feel is the most important lesson you've learned in that time?

JB: There's still a discipline associated with the job. It's easy to get caught up in the momentum of something. It's ironic, our largest commitment extended to any player was the Dan Haren extension - our second largest was Eric Byrnes. In these jobs, we have to manage risk - the length of deals, dollars. It's hard, if a guy's playing well; we went through it a little bit with Brandon Webb, but having the discipline to be patient, and manage risk are essential. Because as we saw with Byrnes, when something doesn't work out, especially on our payroll, it really, really hurts what we're trying to do. We have to maintain that discipline as we make our decisions.

[Thanks to Josh Byrnes, for his time and in-depth answers, and thanks also to the others in the Diamondbacks front-office who helped to put this together, in particular Shaun Rachau.]