Who Hits #1 and #4?

Conor, O-Dog, Drew, Tracy, Byrnes, Young, Quentin, and Montero/Snyder. There's your defense, but what will the lineup look like? Without a prototypical #1 or #4 hitter, the D'Backs may have to play mix and match in '07.

INSIDE PITCH
Compared with most of their division foes in the National League West, the Diamondbacks have been relatively quiet this offseason, having acquired only one front-line player -- starting pitcher Doug Davis -- by the conclusion of the winter meetings.
While management remained interested in upgrading the pitching staff, be it finding another reliable starter or bulking up the bullpen, manager Bob Melvin may have the most difficult task of anyone in the organization: designing the right batting order.
Arizona's position players are virtually set, with little to no shifting expected to occur between now and the start of spring training. But still, Melvin faces challenges as he contemplates just how to fill out his lineup.
"That's a tough one," he acknowledged. "We really don't have a prototypical leadoff guy, we really don't have a prototypical No. 4 guy. We've got lots of guys that we feel like are 2, 3, 5, 6 guys. ... If those are our biggest problems, then we can figure a way out to do something at least day-to-day on lineups. It doesn't have to be a set lineup every day."
No, but it helps. Players become creatures of habit, and many don't like moving around the batting order. Last season, even though the lineup was fairly consistent, a few players grumbled privately more than once about being shuttled back and forth. Their production and focus wavered.
But Melvin may well have to rely on matchups to get the most out of next year's roster, and that figures to involve multiple, ever-changing lineups. Especially at the leadoff spot, where there are at least four plausible options.
Center fielder Chris Young, who has both speed and some power, figures to be the top candidate heading into spring training. But if he doesn't get on base consistently, Melvin could easily turn to second baseman Orlando Hudson or perhaps, shortstop Stephen Drew. Outfielder Eric Byrnes, who takes over in left for Luis Gonzalez, also has experience at the top of the order.
Byrnes led the club last season with 25 stolen bases, but he also hit 26 homers and might be better suited to hitting further down in the lineup. Perhaps Byrnes, who is seeking a multiyear deal but may have to settle for a one-year contract, will fit in at the cleanup spot. He doesn't have the power of a traditional No. 4 hitter, but the Diamondbacks don't really have a true cleanup man.
General manager Josh Byrnes keeps insisting he hasn't been in the market to find a proven slugger. Like Melvin, he thinks the Diamondbacks have enough hitters capable of hitting 20 to 30 home runs that quick run production shouldn't be a major issue.
Third baseman Chad Tracy could get a look at the No. 4 spot, although he seems better suited as a No. 3 hitter. First baseman Conor Jackson, who has strong on-base percentage potential, projects nicely at the No. 3, 5 or 6 spots. But at No.4?
"(Power) is not something you push on a guy like that who's been a high on-base guy, a guy that uses the big part of the ballpark and the whole field," Melvin said. "That will come. He'll learn to look for pitches and know the opponent better, and then he can take a shot at hitting the ball out of the park."

NOTES, QUOTES
--Manager Bob Melvin indicated during the winter meetings that he may rely on a platoon system at catcher between Chris Snyder and rookie Miguel Montero. Last year's designated starter, Johnny Estrada, was traded to the Brewers in a six-player deal that brought LHP Doug Davis to Arizona.
"It depends how spring training goes," Melvin said of the catcher role. "Obviously, we wouldn't have made the deal with Estrada if we didn't feel Montero could handle himself in the big leagues. We feel a left-right tandem gives me the opportunity to not put too much pressure on a guy, either Snyder or Montero, so I'll be able to match up some and then play the hot hand a little bit."
--RHPs Micah Owings and Dustin Nippert garnered significant interest from several clubs in trade talks, but GM Josh Byrnes said the right deal never fell into place. However, the discussions made him feel secure about the two young hurlers who might be given the chance to win the final two spots in the starting rotation behind RHP Brandon Webb, LHP Doug Davis and RHP Livan Hernandez.
"It's interesting how often certain names come up in discussions, which is encouraging," Byrnes said. "The scenario where we keep them all and let them compete, at least we know that we are well regarded by several teams."
--1B Tony Clark was re-elected as one of two player representatives for the MLB Players Association. He and Mark Loretta will serve two-year terms as the union's top representation.
--LHP Mark Mulder still interests the Diamondbacks, although at the conclusion of the winter meetings, it appeared the chances of signing the free agent were fading. Arizona engaged in talks about acquiring free agent RHP Keith Foulke, and negotiations were expected to continue.
--GM Josh Byrnes on returning from the winter meetings empty-handed: "We like our club, we like the way it is right now. I guess we're close enough to feeling like if we get a break or get better, we can win this thing. So I think we're hopeful we can make an improvement during the offseason and get the necessary luck to win it in the summer months."
BY THE NUMBERS: 160 -- Home runs hit by the Diamondbacks in 2006, the fourth fewest in the National League. 39 -- Home runs lost from last year's season-ending roster with the departures this offseason of Luis Gonzalez (15 homers), Johnny Estrada (11), Damion Easley (9) and Craig Counsell (4).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I knew where I wanted to go. It was just a matter of the process you have to go through in this type of negotiation. But this is the ideal situation for me. It's close to home, I get an opportunity to play here in Arizona, and I'm in Los Angeles on a team that's doing what the Diamondbacks did in 1999, which is to go out, get some veteran players and try to win it all." -- LF Luis Gonzalez, who played the past eight seasons in Arizona, upon signing a one-year, $7.35 million deal as a free agent with the Dodgers.

 


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