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Filling the gaps on the 2011 Diamondbacks

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There's a good chunk of certainty about the regular players for the Arizona Diamondbacks next season. We look largely set going up the diamond, with Miguel Montero at catcher, Stephen Drew plus Kelly Johnson on the middle infield, and Chris Young in center. Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton will be at third and right respectively - cue incoherent frothing from the AZCentral contingent. The Hydra constitutes much of our rotation, too.

However, that still leaves a number of open spots. While it's something we'll talk much more about in the off-season, after the jump, we take a look at the remaining spots and what might be done with regard to them.

FIRST-BASE
Internal candidate: Adam LaRoche.
Leading free agents: Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Carlos Pena

LaRoche set a record for RBI by an Arizona first-baseman, and his 23 homers to date are the most since 2005, when Tony Clark had 26, and combined with Chad Tracy for forty there. However, outside of the power, his OPS of 106@ is middling, for a spot that usually is productive - Adam currently ranks 19th of 27 among 1B who have 100+ games played. He's also one of four players in the majors with over 150 K's and less than fifty walks. Defensively, he's good at digging balls in the dirt, but there's questions about his range. All told, Baseball-Reference.com rates him exactly at league average, and Fangraphs at +1.0, so he seems overall about neutral with the glove.

Adam is a free-agent at the end of the year, unless he and the Diamondbacks exercise the mutual option - it's for $7.5 million, with a $1.5 million team buyout. That seems a bit expensive for someone whose overall value is currently 1.4 WAR (Fangraphs) or 0.9 WAR (BR), which may be why there have been talks about an extension for LaRoche instead. Both sides currently seem amenable to that, though I doubt anything will be signed until the position of permanent GM has been decided. We should also note that LaRoche will turn 31 in the off-season - Arizona has been hurt by giving extensions to players in their thirties before...

However, the same would be true for almost any free-agent available in the off-season, with Jorge Cantu about the only other option that is still younger. We are probably not looking for a long term solution - with any luck, by 2013, the likes of Paul Goldschmidt will be just about ready to take over. I wouldn't be averse to something like two years, $10 million for LaRoche to bridge the gap at first until the next wave of prospects are major-league ready.

LEFT-FIELD
Internal candidates: Brandon Allen, Gerardo Parra, Ryan Church
Leading free-agents: Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Manny Ramirez

This has probably been the Diamondbacks' weakest position overall, since Luis Gonzalez became a below-average hitter in the NL. Gonzo was the last player there with an OPS of 110 or better, back in 2005; recently, it has mostly been Parra, with OPS+'s of 85 and 79 in the past two seasons. Particularly this year, Parra's defense has been good: over all outfield positions, he's +16 runs at BR and +13.6 at Fangraphs, stopping his overall value from being below replacement level. He still struggles against left-handers, with a career-line of .242/.276/.275, an unaccaptable OPS of .541, though has done better this year, albeit in barely fifty plate-appearances.

It may be why left-hander Allen has been seeing playing-time in left, a position he hadn't played since high school. This wouldn't necessarily prohibit Allen from playing first-base [we've seen "split" 1B/OF before in Arizona, in Tracy and Conor Jackson], though if LaRoche, another left-hander, is the regular 1B, there would seem to be less opportunity for that. The question is, will Allen's inexperience at the position outweigh any offensive contribution? That's why I'm a little surprised he has started less than half the games since getting called up: I'd try to give him as much experience as possible there, in these largely meaningless contests. But then, I'm not an "interim" anything...

I'd better mention Church, or xmet will kick my ass. :-) He will be in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and earned $1.5 million last season. He has been decent off the bench for Arizona, but his overall OPS+ has been in decline every season since 2006. In the light of this, and given that Church turns 32 next month, it'd be a brave man who'd predict a renaissance in 2011.

STARTING PITCHING
Internal candidate: Joe Saunders, Jarrod Parker
Leading free-agents: Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland

Given that after the trade, interim GM Jerry DiPoto described Saunders as "a guy who quite frankly has been one of the winners in Major League Baseball," we haven't seen much actual winning out of the Colonel. In ten starts, he has just two W's, with a 4.88 ERA over that time. Fangraphs has him at 0.3 WAR, and that's better than BR, which values Joe at -0.7 WAR. It's certainly going to be difficult to decide whether to non-tender him this winter. He's in his second year of arbitration, so I'd expect $4-5 million is the going rate. It would be nice to have a veteran on the 2011 staff - but Rodrigo Lopez has had a similar ERA+ this year (85 vs. 88), at a fraction of the cost.

The club is taking a conservative approach with Jarrod Parker's rehab from Tommy John surgery last October. It was a surprise he wasn't listed on the AFL roster, and he seemed none too pleased about it. That certainly makes it seem unlikely he'll be part of the team for Opening Day, though whether he starts the year in Double-A or Triple-A is uncertain. That said, assuming his recovery goes to plan, and he pitches as well as his standing as our top prospect justifies, he seems likely to be a factor later in the season: there seems unlikely to be a rush to start his service-time clock next year.

And then there's Webb... Looking at the results of our recent poll, 20% of voters said we should "forget about him", while 51% offered a base salary of $2 million and 24% said $5 million. On the subject of incentives, 16% said $2m, 24% said $4m, and 40% topped it out at $6m. Almost no-one - and I've a feeling the few who did were not so-friendly visiting fans! - agreed with his agent that the conversation should be starting around the $8 million mark. I can't say that's too much of a surprise. If we don't re-sign him, we may end up looking for a free-agent replacement for Saunders; a veteran left-hander, though no-one leaps out off the list as especially possible.

RELIEF PITCHING
Internal candidates: more or less the entire bullpen
Leading free agents: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Brian Fuentes

We'd almost forgotten the bullpen: from the start of August until our arrival in Pittsburgh, they'd quietly put together a very-respectable 3.87 ERA, over 114 innings of work. But against the Pirates, they went 0-2, blowing a pair of D-backs leads and allowing eight runs in 8.1 innings of work. So the question needs to be posed again for the 2011 relief corps: who will survive, and what will be left of them? We don't have a single reliever at this point with 20 innings pitched for Arizona and even a 100 ERA+, but I would say there are a few arms in the 'pen we should likely look to hold onto for next year.

DJ Carrasco has been solid since coming to the D-backs, while Sam Demel is young enough (24) that he can be expected to improve. Juan Gutierrez's overall numbers are unimpressive, but that's mostly because of a really-horrific start: since June 9, he has a 2.45 ERA over 33 innings. He's still getting minimum-salary, so I'd keep him as well. Blaine Boyer will be arbitration-eligible, and I'm not sure what happened on June 9, but like Gutierrez, he has improved a lot since that date (ERA before: 7.90; after: 3.20). Esmerling Vasquez actually has the best season ERA of anyone with 20 IP, but needs to stop walking people.

The main question-marks are the closer's spot and a left-hander. Gutierrez has been occupying the spot of late, and hasn't blown one since taking over in mid-August. But in his September chat, Derrick Hall said, "We would like to beef up the back-end of the bullpen by trading for a closer or signing one in the off-season." I'm cautious about this: while the relief corps has obviously been a disaster this year, closers get overpaid. I don't think we necessarily need someone with 30-plus saves; I think the same money would probably be better spent, on getting two relievers who just get outs.

A left-hander in particular would be welcome, with Jordan Norberto's control issues (twenty walks in 18.1 innings) suggesting he's not yet ready for prime-time, and Zach Kroenke's numbers even worse (14 batters faced, five outs). Mike Hampton has been impressive since coming up, retiring every batter faced: however, we're only talking seven of them, so I'm reluctant to commit. However, if he can be had cheaply - and hey, he's earned $125 million in his career already - I'd not be averse to a longer audition. Over his career, his splits don't show much difference between LHB and RHB, though 2009 (the last year with meaningful numbers) did. He seems a possibility.