5 Quality Free Agents the Arizona Diamondbacks Can Fit into Their Budget

Gil ImberAnalyst IINovember 7, 2012

5 Quality Free Agents the Arizona Diamondbacks Can Fit into Their Budget

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    As the 2012 offseason rolls toward the annual Baseball Winter Meetings—taking place December 3-6 in Nashville, Tennessee—Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers will consider which free agents the club might acquire to improve its 2013 odds.

    After experiencing a $75,417,833 opening day payroll in 2012—which remains largely unchanged since the team shelled out $73,516,666 in 2009—the Diamondbacks have not indicated a drastic departure from this consistent model.

    With $57,117,000 already guaranteed for 2013, the Diamondbacks will have nearly $20 million to work with, of which a fair amount may go to arbitration with the likes of Ian Kennedy, Gerardo Parra and/or others, which, according to predictions, could leave just $8 million on the table with which to pursue free agents—after all, the D-Backs already have upgraded to Heath Bell.

    So with such a relatively small budget to work with, here are five quality free agents the D-Backs may consider this offseason.

3B: Eric Chavez

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    In late October, MLB.com's Corey Brock indicated the team may specifically consider a starting pitcher, left-handed reliever and third baseman.

    If so, the Diamondbacks may consider former Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez, whose salary has declined from a high above $10 million to its 2012 level of just $900,000.

    Yet, as his salary fell due to a tremendous amount of games missed from 2008 through 2011, Chavez attempted a comeback, recording a .281 batting average and .845 OPS in 113 games for New York in 2012.

    Indeed, Chavez's .845 OPS is comparable to the .860 mark he put up in 2002 that earned a Silver Slugger Award.

    Chavez also would bring a big-time glove to the Diamondbacks' hot corner as the former Athletic won six consecutive Gold Glove Awards in Oakland.

SS: Jason Bartlett

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    President & CEO Derrick Hall has indicated the Diamondbacks will look to improve upon the shortstop and/or third base positions, and if the club severs ties with Stephen Drew entirely, it will be time to reinforce the left infield.

    One such option may be former Padres shortstop Jason Bartlett. With a $5.5 million commitment for San Diego in 2012, he could fit into Arizona's 2013 free agency budget.

    Bartlett has been on the 60-day disabled list since May 2012 with a right knee injury, giving San Diego ample reason to release the left-side infielder.

    For Arizona, Bartlett is a gamble that may prove high risk-high reward, as Bartlett has not recovered an OPS above .700 since the 2009 season, succumbing to the injury bug on several occasions since that time.

    Nonetheless, Bartlett was a 2009 All-Star with Tampa Bay and, if healthy, can play in the arena of 130-140 games per season, which would be more than enough for Arizona, with the likes of John McDonald, the newly acquired Cliff Pennington and Willie Bloomquist as potential backups.

LF/CF/RF: Reed Johnson

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    In the wake of Chris Young's departure, the Diamondbacks presently have slated youngster Adam Eaton as the team's starting center fielder.

    To fill the void as Eaton continues to develop—and especially if Arizona moves Justin Upton via trade—the team may consider offering a short-term deal to Reed Johnson, a career .284 hitter who topped .300 in 2011 and hit .290 in 2012.

    As a utility outfielder, Johnson has spent time in each outfield position, favoring right field in 2011 and left in 2012. In 2009, Johnson was the dedicated back-up center fielder for the Chicago Cubs.

    With a 2012 salary of $1.15 million, Johnson is certainly affordable and has already shown his propensity for shared playing time in the outfield. At the age of 36, Johnson certainly would be no long term solution, though with Eaton, Gerardo Parra and the team's future stars still marinating, Johnson doesn't need to be.

    And given Arizona's "abundance of players" in the outfield, he won't.

SP/RP: Dallas Braden and Rich Harden

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    It is always risky to delve into the realm of players who have not actually appeared in a major or minor league contest for over one year. Quality might return, improve or simply be lost forever.

    Fortunately for Arizona, popular trading partner Oakland has recently discarded two such candidates.

    Starting pitcher Rich Harden missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Harden is a career 59-38 pitcher with a 3.76 ERA, 949 strikeouts in 928.1 IP and a 1.30 WHIP. His 167 strikeouts in 2004 placed eighth in the American League, while his batting average against of .242 in 2004 placed sixth in the League.

    Meanwhile, lefty Dallas Braden missed 2012 due to two arm surgeries following an abbreviated 2011 in which Braden pitched just three games, with a 3.00 ERA and 1-1 record. Braden threw a league-high two shutouts in 2010 and, if he can return to form, he could prove to be the innings-eating pitcher the Diamondbacks are looking for.

    To assist in rehabilitation, either pitcher might find themselves moving to the bullpen full-time, à la former NL Cy Young Award winner and legendary Dodgers closer Eric Gagne.