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August 2, 2010

On the Beat

An ex-reliever's toughest save

by John Perrotto

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Jerry Dipoto knows all about stepping into sticky situations. He spent eight seasons as a relief pitcher in the major leagues from 1993-2000, appearing in 390 games for the Indians, Mets, and Rockies.

However, it is hard to imagine that Dipoto ever walked into a more difficult situation than he is currently facing as interim GM with the Diamondbacks. Owner Ken Kendrick promoted Dipoto from vice president of player personnel on July 1 when GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch were fired and asked him to help turn around a franchise that has been going south ever since winning the National League West title in 2007.

Dipoto was also given the job with no guarantee that he would have a chance to keep it beyond this season and tasked with a three-pronged charge by Kendrick and club president Derrick Hall: shake a up a stagnant roster, get rid of some big contracts to give the Diamondbacks financial flexibility, and restock a farm system left thin in the upper levels because of trades in recent years.

Dipoto has made four trades in the last two weeks that have reshaped the Diamondbacks' roster, which obviously needed changes as they are 39-66 and last in the NL West after finishing in the division basement last season.

First, Dipoto traded right-hander Dan Haren to the Angels for left-hander Joe Saunders, right-hander Rafael Rodriguez, and two minor-league pitchers. He then dealt right-hander Edwin Jackson to the White Sox for rookie right-hander Daniel Hudson and two minor-league pitchers, then shipped beleaguered closer Chad Qualls to the Rays for minor-leaguers to be named. Finally, he dealt backup catcher Chris Snyder, minor-league shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, and $3 million to the Pirates for reliever D.J. Carrasco, infielder Bobby Crosby, and outfielder Ryan Church.

"We're trying to create as much flexibility as we can and change the structure of the way our team is built," Dipoto said. "To shift pieces on our roster in a way so when we go into the offseason, we will be able to continue to address the holes we have as a club. We are a last-place team, and have been for two years. This is an opportunity for us to address our short-term and long-term goals, which is to put a quality major-league team on the field."

The Diamondbacks have certainly gained flexibility. Haren is scheduled to make $12.75 million both next season and in 2012. Jackson has an $8.35 million salary. Snyder is signed through next season and has $8.2 million guaranteed on his contract, though the Diamondbacks had to kick $3 million into the trade to get the Pirates take it.

That leaves the Diamondbacks with just three players under contract next season at a combined $14.25 million, as third baseman Mark Reynolds and center fielder Chris Young will have $5 million salaries and right fielder Justin Upton will make $4.25 million. The Diamondbacks also figure to keep Saunders, and he will likely make around $6 million through the arbitration process. The Diamondbacks hold a $7.5 million option on first baseman Adam LaRoche for 2011 but will almost certainly buy it out for $1.5 million.

As far as the on-the-field product, though, the three trades in effect swapped out Haren and Jackson at the top of the rotation and replaced them with Saunders and Hudson. Haren produced 16.6 WARP in his 2 ½ seasons with the Diamondbacks, but Jackson contributed just 1.2 wins above replacement in his lone season with Arizona. Conversely, Saunders had 12.0 WARP in all or parts of six seasons with the Angels. Hudson was rated as the White Sox' top prospect and a four-star prospect by Kevin Goldstein coming into this season, then backed that up with a 4.12 ERALF at Triple-A Charlotte.

With the Diamondbacks in sell mode, there is speculation they will continue to be active up until the August 31 deadline for acquiring players who are eligible to be placed on post-season rosters, if they can get some of their players through waivers. LaRoche, second baseman Kelly Johnson, and reliever Aaron Heilman have all been mentioned in trade rumors, and the three players acquired from the Pirates could possibly be spare parts for contenders.

Yet DiPoto says his work may be done until the offseason. That is, of course, if DiPoto is retained after the season, as the Diamondbacks are said to be very interested in Dodgers assistant general manager of scouting Logan White and Yankees vice president/amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, who heads the club's Tampa operation.

"These guys have a good deal of value," Dipoto said of his veterans. "For the most part, we chose the guys we wanted to build with. Obviously we've got some pending free agents and you never know what's going to happen in those circumstances, but there's a reason why we're sitting here today with them on our club. Largely it's because we feel like they are a benefit to us as we try to build a winning environment."

---

It turned out that the Rangers won this year's trade deadline 22 days early when they acquired left-hander Cliff Lee from the Mariners on July 9 for first baseman Justin Smoak and three minor-leaguers. However, the Rangers added to their July haul in the final days before the deadline by trading minor-leaguers to the Marlins for corner infielder Jorge Cantu and Nationals middle infielder Cristian Guzman.

Cantu and Guzman give the Rangers two players who can cover all four infield spots. Last season, the Rangers got caught short in their unsuccessful September bid to overtake the Angels in the American League West when third baseman Michael Young suffered a groin injury. Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler is currently on the disabled list.

"I feel good about what we've done over the last couple of weeks," GM Jon Daniels said. "I wanted to give (manager Ron Washington) a deep and versatile club as possible. I think we've done that."

The moves have only made the Rangers' chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since 1999 that much better, as they also added veteran catcher Bengie Molina in a July 1 trade with the Giants. The Rangers hold a commanding eight-game lead over the Angels in the AL West.

The amazing part of Daniels' work is that he added significant talent to the roster while adding only about $2 million to the payroll, the $8 million the Mariners included in the Lee trade helping offset much of the cost of the other acquisitions. The financial end matters to the Rangers because their ownership situation is in flux as Tom Hicks' attempt to sell the club drags on.

The 18-month saga that has landed in bankruptcy court has taken another bizarre turn as Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, may not only be a potential bidder for the Rangers at this week's auction, but has also become one of the team's creditors. The Dallas Morning News reported that Cuban has been buying up outstanding Rangers and Hicks Sports Group debt.

That may have been why Cuban's attorney adamantly objected after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge D. Michael Lynn was ready to accept an enhanced bid for the Rangers by the partnership of minor-league baseball operator Chuck Greenberg Rangers club president and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the group that is Major League Baseball's preferred bidder. The group increased their offer for the Rangers and dropped the possibility of side land deals with Hicks. The restructured bid seemed to meet the approval of court-appointed Chief Restructuring Officer William Snyder, who endorsed the plan.

Thus, the auction will proceed as planned on Wednesday. The Greenberg-Ryan group and Cuban are expected to be two of four bidders along with Houston businessman Jim Crane and the FOX network. There has also been speculation that Cuban and Crane will consolidate their efforts.

After lenders and Cuban objected to the recommendation, Judge Lynn ruled the auction will be held, despite preferring to approve what he called a "substantially enhanced" bid that would have enabled Greenberg and Ryan to purchase the team. Lynn said he ultimately has to try to satisfy the lenders because "it is their money."

---

Not every team got what it wanted at the trading deadline despite the flurry of deals that occurred Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The Giants and Rays both were unable to acquire the power bat they were seeking and the Twins, Padres, and Rangers would still like to add one more starting pitcher.

However, it seems certain that a number of players will clear waivers, which would enable them to be traded in August.

Among the starting pitchers who could be back on the market are Royals right-handers Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies, Cubs right-hander Carlos Silva, Orioles right-handers Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood, and Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez. The group of relievers who could be available includes Mariners right-handers David Aardsma and Brandon League, Rockies left-hander Joe Beimel, and Blue Jays left-hander Scott Downs and right-handers Jason Frasor and Kevin Gregg.

Johnson and LaRoche are among the hitters who are expected to clear waivers along with such others as Mariners first baseman Russell Branyan, Brewers outfielder Jim Edmonds, Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, Nationals infielder Adam Kennedy, and Orioles outfielder Luke Scott.

---

Scouts' take on various major-leaguers:

Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista: "I'm glad the Blue Jays kept him. He's really added a whole new dimension to that club with his power surge. Maybe it's a one-year fluke, but he's been fun to watch and he's livened up that club."

Mets right-hander R.A. Dickey: "He throws the fastest knuckleball I've ever seen and it really gives the hitters fits. Maybe they'll eventually catch on to him, but he has better command of the knuckler than in other seasons."

Marlins third baseman Wes Helms: "The Marlins have to resist the temptation to play him every day at third base now that they've traded Jorge Cantu. He'll get exposed if he plays every day. He's a good bench player but you can't stretch him past that because he's prone to slumps and he's not good defensively."

Brewers reliever Trevor Hoffman: "He has been throwing the ball better since the All-Star break. His fastball has more velocity and that sets up his changeup. He is not the old Trevor Hoffman, but it also isn't painful to watch him anymore because he was throwing the equivalent of batting practice in the first half of the season."

Diamondbacks right-hander Ian Kennedy: "He really seems more comfortable now than he did when he was pitching with the Yankees. He has much greater mound presence and he's become very consistent. He looks like the type of pitcher who is going to turn into a 200-inning guy."

Reds right-hander Mike Leake: "He is holding up well for a little guy who has never pitched professionally before. His stuff is still good and the Reds are handling him smart by giving him extra rest when they can."

Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum: "He has always been fussy about anyone messing with his mechanics, but he's really throwing the ball well now that he's bringing his hands up over his head in his windup. He looks like he's ready to pitch like a Cy Young winner again down the stretch."

Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm: "I can see why a lot of contenders tried to trade for him at the deadline. He's not going to dazzle you with stuff, but he's one of the smartest pitchers around and he gives you a good, professional outing just about every time he takes the mound."

Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez: "He's come back from the broken finger looking good and that's a big plus. The guy is a force when he's right."

Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton: "I'm stunned he's still in Baltimore. He could help so many contenders and his talents are being wasted playing for a team going nowhere."

Athletics right-hander Michael Wuertz: "He's probably going to get some chances to close with Andrew Bailey out, and that's going to be good for his career. For me, he has been a closer trapped in a set-up role for far too long."

---

Interesting stories from newspapers across the United States:

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune picks the trade deadline winners and losers.

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times thinks the Dodgers and Angles made nice deadline deals but are still dead in the water.

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe writes that the Red Sox' lack of deadline excitement left him unmoved.

Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle writes that native Texan Lance Berkman emerged as a shining star for the Astros and their fans.

Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the Phillies' philosophy in trading for Roy Oswalt was a little late.

Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News writes that the Phillies would have been wise to keep Cliff Lee.

Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun writes that the Orioles' timing in hiring Buck Showalter was curious.

Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times writes that the Angels have lost their swagger.

---

Three series to watch with probable pitching matchups and all times Eastern:

Twins (59-46) at Rays (65-39), Monday-Thursday, August 2-5
Carl Pavano vs. Jeremy Hellickson, 7:10; Brian Duensing vs. Jeff Niemann, 7:10; Scott Baker vs. David Price, 7:10 p.m.; Kevin Slowey vs. Wade Davis, 12:10 p.m.

Padres (61-42) at Dodgers (54-51), Monday-Thursday August 2-5
Clayton Richard vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 10:10 p.m.; Mat Latos vs. Ted Lilly, 10:10 p.m..; Wade LeBlanc vs. Vicente Padilla, 10:10 p.m.;  Kevin Correia vs. Chad Billingsley, 10:10 p.m.

Giants (61-45) at Rockies (55-50), Tuesday-Wednesday, August 3-4
Jonathan Sanchez vs. Aaron Cook, 8:40 p.m.; Madison Bumgarner vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 3:10 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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