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Diamondbacks Shed Salary to Spend Sagely?

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Now that they've found financial flexibility, what are they gonna do with it?

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After watching Arizona Diamondbacks interim barnacle scraper Jerry Dipoto press the eject button more often in the last two weeks than Gonzo during a Muppet Show marathon, the D-backs have $20 million in contracts they have to pay in 2011, plus about $20 million in arbitration cases/settlements they could pursue. This year's salary commitment settles out to $75.5 million, including the spiky-haired dead weight of Eric Byrnes. (All courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.)

All of this is very exciting for fans of Baxter's Leftovers, of course. As Interim Catapult Operator Dipoto told The Arizona Republic last weekend, "We wanted to be in a flexible position. We understand there is still a lot of work to be done. There are still holes to fill. The one thing that we've managed to do is we've maintained a core group of players that we believe have a lot of talent, and we're going to build around that."

Dipoto, the Moses of the Arizona desert, won't have to worry about scrounging for manna much longer or guiding the core group to the Playoff Land. As Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall's comforting words made clear: "We owe it to the organization to go through a process. I've also said all along I'm really pulling for Jerry, and Jerry would definitely be a part of that process and afterwards could come out with the job."

Powerful, powerful stuff. Hope you rented, Jerry.

As AZ Snakepit pointed out, it often takes teams 2-3 years to dig out of a hole the depth of the one in which the Diamondbacks organization now finds itself. However, those organizations haven't had a Colangelo-sized debt service to work off, as well.

However, since financial flexibility can't run in to pinch hit or eat innings, that money has to be invested in players, somehow, to pay off. What are the Diamondbacks' options?

Free Agency

Let's get this out of the way up front: the 2011 free agent market is a tangy recession-topped turd sandwich. Check it out for yourself.

Assuming the D-backs don't feel compelled to upgrade on the infield core players (except swapping Brandon Allen for Adam LaRoche) (and there were no takers for LaRoche? Really?) and only left field is open in the outfield, who's to hire that would improve left field enough for the team to matter in 2011? Jayson Werth is 32 next season and would have to shift Justin or himself to left. Brad Hawpe's possible, but he'll be badly exposed in Chase Field's expanses. And so on.

Besides, the Diamondbacks need pitching more than anything. There, you'll find Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, and a nasty case of the Ehs this offseason. Besides, if the Diamondbacks wanted high-quality pitching below market for the next few years, they'd still have Dan Haren. What's the point of paying anyone new more than Haren's money next season? Instead, the Diamondbacks might see if Ted Lilly enjoys the desert air for a few million a year and hope the subsequent giggling doesn't upset the new GM too much.

And may Satan smite the next GM to buy up three relief pitchers at sticker price. Lookin' at you, Hendry.

Oh, and if you're passionate about mediocrity, peek at the 2012 free agent class. Most of the decent players will be locked up by their current clubs in new deals or sliding out their MLBPA membership cards for AARP discount cards by the time this list is important.

First-Year Player Draft

If financial flexibility means signing the top draftable players in next summer's greatest television event ever, then great, but the Diamondbacks spent $8.5 million on the top 10 rounds in 2009 (fifth in MLB), so it's not like that wasn't happening already. And they ought to have a bit more draft money in 2011, what with never bothering to sign a first-round pick in 2010 and all.

The top spender in 2009 (the Washington Strasburgs) dropped less than $11 million on those first 10 rounds, so it's not like the missing $35m found under the couch moves the needle on incoming amateur talent dramatically.

Certainly, this is the place to rebuild from, but the Diamondbacks didn't seem to lack financial flexibility here before the housecleaning.

Paying Off New Spring Training Home

Hahahahhahahaha. No, just kidding. The other owners would lynch anyone that actually paid for their own facilities.

Lowering Ticket Prices

If the players don't make so much money, then ticket prices should drop, right? Supply and demand be damned; give that cash back to the fans!

Unfortunately, many of you have already staked your claim on that money by not showing up to the ballpark. Attendance is down 5% from this point last season despite the absolute gift to the Diamondbacks of three home games against the New York Yankees. The 2011 D-backs would consider themselves blessed if they could simply match the 2010 attendance number. (Or stem those losses at 5% this season. Attendance at Monday's Nationals game was theoretical.) (Attendance numerology extracted from Baseball Reference.)

And if any of you have been downgrading your usual seat selection to save, then you have no one to blame but yourself for 2011's poor showing. For shame!

Losing for Less Money

Between the debt service and the unlikelihood that the Diamondbacks will find the right combination of win-now players to vault 30+ games into contention, financial flexibility seems to be nothing more than a charming explanation for dropping from 25th in Opening Day salaries in 2010 to 27th when the Rangers and Padres spend their playoff dollars on next season's teams. (And, by the way, the $60 million D-backs salary commitment from this season was a 17% drop from 2008, which ranked 20th.)

Again, though, why spend $75m to get to 75 wins? Unfortunately, the test of this organization's financial flexibility will only come in 2012-2014 if they expand those muscles by spending more (and more wisely). Otherwise, it's not financial flexibility; it's financial flaccidity.

One babbler's guess: I see yet another endless GM search in the Valley, perhaps as an ongoing conspiracy between the local sports teams and the local chambers of commerce to increase tourism dollars by inviting every college graduate and/or former player to "interview" while staying in beautiful Scottsdale and hitting a few rounds of golf.

Then, I see the Diamondbacks blowing $13 million in 2010 salaries on four relievers, only to desperately want to trade them by June. I see a sweetheart deal with Webb, barring retirement. I see Austin Kearns (or less) donning the Sedona Red. And, yes, I see Livan Hernandez on the mound. Again. On purpose. Sorry.

So where do you see the Diamondbacks spending their newfound financial flexibility this offseason? Do you see yourself with newfound financial flexibility as you stay home to watch games instead?