Recently MLB Trade Rumors had the privilege of asking a few questions of Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes. Byrnes has been at the helm since October of '05, making it to the NLCS in '07.
MLB Trade Rumors: Many players signed for less money or fewer years than expected this winter. Do you anticipate an even more drastic decline in free agent spending around the game for the non-superstar players in the 2009-10 offseason?
Josh Byrnes: In spite of the economic conditions, the industry spent over $1 billion on free agents this off-season and 17 of 30 clubs increased their payrolls. Given the abnormally small rate of inflation (and a good class of free agents), it felt like a very tight squeeze. Certain players probably signed for a lot less than what they have been offered in the months/years preceding their final decision. In a tight economic setting, the stars seem to do better than the good (but not irreplaceable) players.
MLBTR: You were criticized by some for not offering arbitration to Adam Dunn in December, but it turned out to be the right move. How were you able to predict where the market was headed?
Byrnes: Obviously, we considered that particular decision very carefully. It was difficult – especially because the premise of the August trade was based upon draft pick compensation. As we moved toward December 1st, we weighed the risk and reward of offering Dunn arbitration, and we decided that the risk was too great.
MLBTR: Do you have the payroll flexibility to make another Dunn-like acquisition this summer, if the need arises?
Byrnes: We’ll see. Ownership has been very supportive of any responsible expenditure that can help us compete. These are challenging economic times, and we will have to monitor our competitive state and our revenues.
MLBTR: You've talked about the danger of having players with their meters running regarding playing time incentives, and expressed a preference for health-based incentives if any. Do you think health-based incentives carry a similar risk, with a player perhaps unwilling to disclose an injury or go on the DL because it would affect his paycheck?
Byrnes: The non-disclosure of an injury could happen (I suppose), but that is pretty self-defeating for the player. Our fundamental rejection of bonuses centers on two main points: (1) we want to know what our team costs, and (2) we do not want provisions in contracts to be a daily source of angst in our clubhouse.
MLBTR: What is your stance on player opt-outs in free agent contracts? Would you ever allow that?
Byrnes: As a rule of thumb, I would be hesitant to put an opt-out into a contract. We do have a Mutual Option in our Jon Garland contract. To the extent we are able to negotiate Club Options (the reverse of the opt-out concept), we usually provide extra guaranteed money in the form of a buyout to potentially compensate the player for our right to make a choice.
MLBTR: Is there any concern about the team's strikeout total last year, or do you view strikeouts as pretty much the same as other outs?
Byrnes: To some extent, strikeouts are like other outs. But on a young team with many RHH, it can be indicative of our needed growth. Ideally, we want hitters who are tough outs and who are dangerous. If enough walks and homers accompany the strikeouts, the tradeoff can work. Our young hitters have faced some elite pitching in our division over the last two seasons. Now, we need to start applying those lessons.
MLBTR: How do you decide how many innings you'll allow a guy like Max Scherzer to throw, since he's never topped 109 in a season? If he's healthy and the team is in a pennant race would you be comfortable taking him to 200 innings?
Byrnes: Including the Arizona Fall League and instructional league, Scherzer threw around 140 innings last year. We will try to moderate his innings throughout the season and shoot for a range closer to 170 innings.
MLBTR: Have the D'Backs built something similar to the Diamondview database you worked with in Cleveland?
Byrnes: We have not. The Indians actually developed their product after my departure (we had just started to integrate IT into Baseball Ops as I was leaving). With the volume of information at our disposal and the necessary speed of business, we are constantly trying to ramp up our technical tools. The progression from concept to implementation is not an easy one.