November 2010

D-backs acquire Zach Duke

PHOENIX — The D-backs added some depth to their starting rotation Wednesday as they acquired left-hander Zach Duke from the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named later.

Duke, 27, was designated for assignment by the Pirates last week when they decided they were not going to go through the salary arbitration process with him after he made $4.3 million while going 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA for Pittsburgh.

Duke went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts during his rookie season in 2005, but has not been able to get back to that level of performance in the years since.

In 2009, Duke did show flashes of his old form and finished with an 11-16 record and a 4.06 ERA in 32 starts.

Providing innings is usually not a problem for Duke, who tossed 215 1/3 innings in 2006, 185 in 2008 and 213 in 2009. Last season while making 29 starts he threw 159.

“We know that it’s not going to be easy to find a quality upgrade, and we know it’s going to be a challenge to find a guy who can pitch 180 innings,” Pirates GM Neil Huntington said when Duke was designated for assignment. “

Questions and Answers on Upton, other roster moves

Boy, you go on vacation for a week and when you get back you find the team you’re covering is talking about trading its franchise player. Seriously, though, I returned from a week away to find my in box overflowing with questions about the Justin Upton trade rumors as well as a couple of the moves the D-backs did make. Here’s a look at some of the more frequently asked questions:

How serious are the D-backs about trading Upton?

The D-backs are serious about listening to offers for Upton, but from what I understand they would have to be overwhelmed to make a deal. I don’t think it is to the point of say the Dan Haren trade talks of July where the team came to a decision that it was going to deal Haren and then went about finding what it felt like was the best deal out there. In this case, they are listening, but do not feel any pressure whatsoever to deal Upton and therefore would be more than happy to hang onto him if they are not knocked off their feet with an offer.

Why even discuss trading Upton?

If you didn’t realize it before, GM Kevin Towers has no fear when it comes to making moves. What, you thought they called him “The Gunslinger” because he liked Westerns? There may be some GMs who feel they have players who are “untouchable”. Towers feels like anyone on his roster is available — for a price. In the case of Upton, or shortstop Stephen Drew, that price is going to be extremely high. With that in mind, why not at least explore and see what is out there? Worst case you don’t get overwhelmed, you keep Upton and you move on.

Do the D-backs have less of an opinion of Upton than the rest of baseball does? Is that why they are considering trading him?

I’ve seen speculation that the D-backs may have questions about Upton’s makeup and I don’t believe that is the case. To me, the fact that they think they can go through these trade talks, hang onto him and not have it be a lingering issue speaks to the level of maturity they feel Upton has. I think what sometimes gets lost about Upton is that after three-plus years in the big leagues, he is still just 23 years old. He is an incredibly gifted athlete, who gets along with his teammates and has a tremendous desire to be great and he gets very angry when he doesn’t live up to his own expectations, which believe it or not are greater than even what others expect. Eventually he will learn to channel that anger better, but as it is now it’s not a problem or flaw because it is anger directed inward and not outward at his teammates or coaches.

What are their plans for Juan Miranda?

The D-backs acquired the first baseman from the Yankees last week in exchange for Minor League pitcher Scott Allen. From what I understand, he’s got excellent power and a good idea of how to execute an at-bat — in other words, pitch recognition, working the count etc. He’s someone that had been on the previous regime’s radar and is a player that Towers liked when he saw him while working as a consultant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman this past season. Miranda, who is out of Minor League options, will compete with Brandon Allen for playing time at first base this spring. A left-handed hitter, he may be more effective as a platoon player, but worst case he could be an effective player coming off the bench. The D-backs have talked for the last few years about having more competition for roster spots and Miranda pushes Allen and in turn that also pushes outfielder Gerardo Parra because Allen is a candidate to see playing time in left field as well. It would not surprise me to see the team still add a right-handed hitter that can play first base against lefties.

Who is Juan Jaime?

The D-backs claimed Jaime off waivers from the Nationals. A right-handed pitcher, Jaime missed the 2010 season after having Tommy John surgery in April. Prior to the injury the D-backs’ reports had him throwing 97-100 mph with a plus slider to go with it. Those kinds of arms are not easy to find so for the $20,000 waiver price the D-backs decided to invest a roster spot in him as he completes his rehab. He is expected to be back by midseason in 2011 and has two Minor League options left. Basically they are taking a flier on him and see what happens. They project him as a back end of the bullpen type pitcher when healthy. Again, this is the way Towers has gone about building bullpens over his career. He looks anywhere and everywhere to find them. Some of them will pan out, others won’t. It will be interesting to see what happens with Jaime.

D-backs close to signing Geoff Blum

PHOENIX — The D-backs are on the verge of taking their first step towards strengthening their bench.

Arizona is closing in on a deal with veteran free agent Geoff Blum on a two-year contract a baseball source confirmed Thursday. The deal could be announced as soon as Friday.

Blum hit .267 for the Astros last year, his 12th season in the big leagues. The switch-hitter played first, second, third and shortstop last year and has also played left and right fields in his career.

Of his 218 plate appearances last year, 44 of them came as a pinch-hitter. In those situations, Blum hit .333 with a .364 on-base percentage and a .405 slugging percentage.

Arizona GM Kevin Towers has stressed since taking over the reigns in September his preference for having veteran hitters coming off the bench.

“It’s hard for young guys to be effective pinch-hitters coming off the bench,” Towers said just before the close of the 2010 season. “If you don’t have that experience or those guys that are threats it makes it pretty easy on the opposing manager because he has no fear of anyone that is coming off the bench.”

The D-backs had young players like Rusty Ryal, Gerardo Parra and Brandon Allen coming off the bench at times last year.

Blum played for Towers when he was the general manager in San Diego from 2005-07.

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Some D-backs notes

A couple of small notes to get you caught up on the D-backs:

Over the weekend, the team outrighted pitchers Clay Zavada and Leo Rosales, which removed the pair from the 40-man roster.

Zavada did not make the team out of Spring Training last year and then underwent Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the rest of the season. The team will try and bring him back on a Minor League contract.

Rosales missed over three months in 2010 due to a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery. The right-hander compiled a 7.16 ERA this year.

In other news, the D-backs announced a couple of scouting hires today.

Bill Bryk and Todd Greene will join the staff as Major League scouts. In addition they will also likely be charged with keeping an eye on Arizona’s farm teams as well.

Bryk is a longtime associate of Towers and was the special assistant to the general manager/Major League scout in San Diego.

Greene, a former big league catcher, was most recently a Major League scout for the Mariners.