D-backs set their sights on pitching

D-backs target pitching upgrade at meetings

PHOENIX -- When he traveled to the Winter Meetings last year, Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes had been on the job for a little more than a month, and there was a long list of things he wanted to do to reshape his team.

This year's Winter Meetings, which begin on Monday in Orlando, will be different.

The D-backs' everyday lineup is pretty much set, and after acquiring left-hander Doug Davis from the Brewers last week, they feel that they've improved their rotation.

"I think we're in a stronger position -- both with the competitive nature of the club and our resources to improve it," Byrnes said. "We're not out plugging holes, we're looking to upgrade if we can, which will be a challenge."

The fact that he likes where his team is at doesn't mean Byrnes will be ducking out of the meetings to spend time at the Magic Kingdom, but it does give him the opportunity to be selective in pursuing deals and free agents.

Given the track records of Davis, National League Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez, Arizona could get 200-plus innings out of all of them, which would be a big improvement over last year when only Webb provided consistent innings from April through September.

"If three starting pitchers can pitch nearly half our innings, it makes it easier on the other pitchers to do their jobs," Byrnes said. "We have a chance to have that happen. I think we're getting to the point where over the course of 162 games, we're going to be a tough team to score on."

If Spring Training started today, the final two spots in the rotation would come down to a competition between young pitchers like Edgar Gonzalez, Enrique Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert, Ross Ohlendorf, Micah Owings, Dana Eveland and Evan MacLane, among others, and a veteran like Juan Cruz.

Between now and then, Byrnes will continue to try and find ways to bolster that group.

"I think we've really, for a year now, tried to find ways to improve our pitching," he said. "Whether it's the rotation or the bullpen, we're in a position of looking to upgrade where we can."

Expect Byrnes to meet with the representatives for free-agent pitchers Mark Mulder and Tomo Ohka in Orlando, but it's the talks with other teams that would likely be where most of the action is for the D-backs.

With about $10 million to spend, the free-agent market, particularly on the pitching side, has looked to be prohibitive for Arizona. Plus, since taking the job, Byrnes has shown a desire to trade for players still on the upswing or in the final year of contracts, rather than tying up big money via free agency in a player that may have already reached his peak.

For a reminder, Byrnes need only look at the fact that the D-backs will be paying former pitcher Russ Ortiz nearly $8 million a year for the next two years thanks to the four-year deal they inked with him during the Winter Meetings in 2004.

"I've said all along that we have a better opportunity to improve through trades rather than free agency, but we'll look at both," Byrnes said.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.