During a live web chat on Thursday, D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes addressed the club's need for starting pitching, said he is encouraged by the progress made by the rehab players and discussed the positions with depth where players could be competing for playing time.
Josh Byrnes: Good afternoon. We are in the midst of another busy offseason. I look forward to answering your questions.
jaysbacks: What do you think our weakness is that must be addressed first? From a trade to a free agent?
Byrnes: We always emphasize starting pitching. We are hopeful that Brandon Webb will return to health and accompany Dan Haren and Max Scherzer as the core of our rotation. Over the last several years, our offense and bullpen has been inconsistent. Some of that inconsistency is a function of age. Some of it is a function of luck/timing. To the extent some of it is our personnel and instruction, my staff and I need to pick the best players for our club and turn them over to A.J. Hinch and his coaching staff.
derbubba: Hi Josh, Arizona has been tagged with having one of the lower-rated farm systems in baseball. What approach will be taken in future drafts to rebuild our Minor League teams?
Byrnes: Talent does run in cycles. We knew that 2009 would be an important year to re-stock our farm system. We had eight of the first 95 selections in the Draft, and we made in-season trades that netted us five additional prospects. At this time, we feel that the depth of our 40-man roster is improved, and we have depth and potential impact players at the lower levels.
kshef11: How are we going to find the other two starting pitchers we need? Free agents, trades, or calling up players already within the organization?
Byrnes: Generally speaking, we have used trades more aggressively than free agency. As we all know, there are inherent risks in free agency, but we can still pick and choose the right fits for us. Even without Webb, we had three of the 34 pitchers in MLB with 200 innings and an ERA under 4.15 last year. Haren (trade), Doug Davis (trade) and Jon Garland (free agent) were those pitchers. We will continue to be aggressive, creative, and disciplined to maintain our rotation as a strength.
dbacks210: Will we sign a big-name player?
Byrnes: Most of our impact players will evolve (rather than arrive via an offseason splash). Of course, Haren and Webb are Cy Young-caliber pitchers, and Stephen Drew, Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds have all received MVP votes at young ages. We are always willing to take our shots (we did acquire Randy Johnson and Adam Dunn through trades), but we need to find the right player at the right time with age, ability and cost as considerations.
dmichell: How is Chad Qualls' recovery going?
Byrnes: Qualls, Webb and Chris Snyder have all worked hard with Ken Crenshaw and his staff this offseason, and all are making progress towards a full recovery. In addition, Conor Jackson participated in Instructional League and played for over a month in the Dominican Winter League. Having a healthier 2010 (as compared to 2009) is essential for us, and we are encouraged by the hard work shown by all of our rehab players.
DJ22: How about second base? Staying with what we have or aggressively seeking a full-time player for this position?
Byrnes: One of our primary goals last offseason was to fill the second position. With a combination of Felipe Lopez, Ryan Roberts, Augie Ojeda and Rusty Ryal, we had one of the more productive second base positions in the National League. Tony Abreu (who we acquired in the Jon Garland trade) will be in competition for the 2B spot. All of the competitors can play multiple positions. As a group, their skills complement one another well. We look forward to the competition in Spring Training.
baxterbeer: How does "disgruntled fan backlash" affect your trading/signing decisions? For example, Upton has a high trade value and has indicated he will become a free agent (and we have outfield depth), but he's a key component of the current team AND a fan favorite.
Byrnes: We obviously value and cherish the fan support we receive. At the same time, we have to make decisions independent of their immediate popularity. Many of the best decisions I have participated in over 17 years in baseball were incredibly unpopular at the time. That is the nature of the job. We need to have thick skin most of the time. We are always trying to win, to sustain success and to entertain our fans. As for Justin Upton, we control his rights through 2013. His emergence as an All-Star at age 21 was exciting. We feel that he already is a core player and will continue to improve as he adds experience.
derbubba: Hi Josh, any chance Aaron Heilman will be given a shot as a starting pitcher next season?
Byrnes: Good question. We have followed Heilman for several years and acquired him because he has proven to be a durable reliever capable of attacking LHH and RHH. It is always tempting to try a reliever in the rotation, and sometimes it works. In this case, we feel he will provide more value in the bullpen.
kshef11: Is the team still looking at acquiring a first baseman after the deal for Lyle Overbay didn't work out? Or is the plan to use Brandon Allen?
Byrnes: First base could be another position on our roster with depth and competition for playing time. Brandon Allen has already dominated Triple-A and gained important experience at the Major League level in September. Conor Jackson will return, and he can help at either first base or left field. We do need more production from first base and left field. With Jackson, Allen, Gerardo Parra, etc., we feel our production will get better. That being said, if we see a trade or signing that can help, we will pursue it.
andrewf2: Mr. Byrnes, what are you planning to do to make the D-backs a contender?
Byrnes: There has never been more parity in the game. This franchise has seven winning seasons, four divisional titles, and a World Championship. The close of the 2008 season and the entire 2009 season were extremely disappointing to us (and the fans). We did spend more days in first place in 2007 and 2008 than any other team in the NL. I do not think we are that far away. We need to make the right roster additions, stay healthy and play fundamentally sound baseball. We need to re-establish our confidence and energy on the field. I have a lot of faith in our ability to contend, and we are all working hard to have a much-improved 2010 season.
Byrnes: Thank you very much for all of the questions. I truly appreciate all of the support we receive. I look forward to another chat in the future. Best wishes.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.