PHOENIX -- If there was one thing that defined the Arizona Diamondbacks the past few seasons it's been the club's starting pitching.
Whether that is once again the case in 2010 will depend on a couple of factors.
The first is the health of ace Brandon Webb. The right-hander did not make a start after Opening Day last year due to shoulder issues. His absence certainly contributed to the team's descent into the National League West's basement and it goes without saying that if he is unable to contribute next year it would once again be a big blow.
"I don't think the value we place on starting pitching has changed," D-backs GM Josh Byrnes said. "It certainly dictates a lot about how your club is going to be."
The D-backs have within five days of the conclusion of the World Series to decide whether to exercise Webb's $8.5 million option or give him a $2 million buyout instead. They've already told him that they are all but certain to bring him back.
Assuming that is the case and Webb is the Webb of 2003-08, the front end of the D-backs rotation looks good with Dan Haren and Max Scherzer.
Haren was virtually untouchable in the first half of this past season and pitched well down the stretch as well, aided by the incorporation of a cut fastball into his repertoire that seem to be getting better with each season.
Scherzer, meanwhile, quieted whispers about his durability by making 30 starts and throwing 170 1/3 innings in 2009. The right-hander still has work to do in terms of pitch efficiency and on his secondary stuff, but he seems to be developing into the pitcher the D-backs felt he would be when they selected him in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
The departure of Jon Garland and the loss of Doug Davis to free agency leaves the D-backs with two spots to fill in the rotation. They will scour the free-agent market as well as explore possible trades to acquire at least one starter.
"I think we'll explore both," Byrnes said.
If they go the free-agent route, the D-backs are likely to follow the same blueprint they did last offseason when they identified a handful of pitchers they liked and worked down their list making offers. When a pitcher declined, they simply moved on to the next figuring that the pitchers in the group were all pretty similar.
The net result last year was Garland, who after turning down the team's initial offer, finally signed a deal later in the process. While the D-backs received some criticism for letting Randy Johnson go and spending more money on Garland than they were willing to pay Johnson, the move paid dividends as Garland outpitched the Big Unit.
In addition, the D-backs were able to get a player they liked in infielder Tony Abreu from the Dodgers for Garland just prior to the Sept. 1 Trade Deadline.
Some of the same cast of characters -- such as Garland, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf -- will be out there again and Byrnes said there are some trade possibilities as well.
Adding one starter leaves one spot to be filled internally from a group that includes Billy Buckner, Kevin Mulvey, Yusmeiro Petit, Bryan Augenstine and Cesar Valdez.
Buckner pitched the best of the group down the stretch. Petit had his moments while filling in the rotation and is valuable as a spot starter/swing man out of the bullpen.
The bottom line is the D-backs will be in pretty good shape if they have to fill one spot from among the above group, but filling two spots from that mix could spell trouble.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.