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Fourth starter among D-backs' needs

Fourth starter among D-backs' needs

PHOENIX -- Josh Byrnes has some money to spend, but the D-backs general manager also has plenty of holes to fill as the free-agent season gets under way Thursday at 10:01 p.m. MST.

After winning the National League West in 2007 and leading the division for most of 2008, the D-backs bottomed out -- literally -- in 2009 as they finished last with a 70-92 record.

The D-backs have already taken one big step toward strengthening themselves for 2010 when they picked up the $8.5 million option on pitcher Brandon Webb's contract a couple of weeks ago. The right-hander was able to make just one start last year due to shoulder problems, and his absence certainly contributed to Arizona's struggles.

The good news is that Webb's rehab seems to be going well and he will be in a D-backs uniform. The bad news is the money spent picking up his option leaves Byrnes with a little more than $10 million to spend.

"We don't have an enormous war chest," D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick said earlier this week. "But we will be spending more money on the Major League team this coming year than we did last year."

The D-backs' payroll will increase to north of $75 million next year, up from the approximately $73 million that it was this past season.

"We definitely have more than $10 million to spend in the market," Kendrick said. "There are other moves that we may make that could change the money landscape that have yet to be determined."

In other words, the D-backs could have more money to play with if they are able to move Chris Snyder's contract or part of outfielder Eric Byrnes' deal.

With the available money, Josh Byrnes will be looking to add a fourth starter, a setup man and possibly a veteran that can play multiple positions.

"We'll see what happens," Byrnes said. "We're open to whatever will help strengthen our club."

There are plenty of bullpen arms on the market, such as Rafael Betancourt and Brandon Lyon, and it seems the chances are more likely that a reliever will come via free agency than a trade.

As for the starter, the D-backs have talked with several teams about acquiring one, but to this point have not been able to find a match. The free-agent market is thin on starters with the same cast of characters from last year out there again, including Brad Penny, Jon Garland and Randy Wolf.

It would not be a surprise to see the D-backs do this year what they did last offseason and prioritize which starters they like best, make what they feel is a fair offer and if it is not accepted, simply move down the list.

Last year, Wolf was their top target and they wound up signing Garland in January. This year, they may end up waiting things out to see if there is a bargain to be had again. The pool of options could swell in early December when teams have to decide whether to tender arbitration-eligible players a contract.

"I think the free-agency class is probably not as strong overall as it has been in some years, so we're competing for fewer players," Kendrick said. "We have some flexibility to make some moves."

Adding a versatile veteran is further down on the priority list and could in part be influenced by how utility infielder Rusty Ryal looks while playing the outfield this winter in the Dominican Republic. If he takes to the corner outfield positions, that could lessen the need to add someone.

The D-backs thought they had a deal with the Blue Jays to send Snyder north of the border for veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay, but the Blue Jays pulled out over concerns about the health of Snyder's surgically repaired back. That move would have accomplished two of the D-backs' offseason missions in one fell swoop.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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