Going into this week the Arizona Diamondbacks had only one player eligible for salary arbitration that was not signed. The player was newly anointed left fielder Eric Byrnes. Byrnes came to the Diamondbacks last season after brief stints in Colorado and Baltimore. Many said the Diamondbacks were taking a risk as Byrnes stock was definitely on the slide. General Manager Josh Byrnes thought the risk was worth it and offered a one year contract to Eric. The Diamondbacks were rewarded with consistent hitting, highlight reel fielding, and a fiery attitude that was infectious in the clubhouse. Eric Byrnes was clearly the best and most consistent player on the Diamondbacks last season. He filled the gap in centerfield and provided needed experience around an ever increasing younger team. With the departure of Luis Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the promotion of Chris Young from Tucson to Arizona to play centerfield, Eric Byrnes was asked to move to left. His attitude was very team focused as he agreed to play whatever position would best help. With such a positive influence both on and off the field, many wondered whether the Diamondbacks would sign Byrnes to a long term deal. Eric himself has commented this off-season that he would like to become a permanent fixture in Arizona. But with arbitration looming on the horizon, the Diamondbacks just could not seem to come to an agreement on contract parameters. When arbitration figures were announced, Byrnes was asking for just over $5 million for the 2007 season while the Diamondbacks offered $4.25 million. With such a relatively small difference in numbers, it was assumed that the sides would come to an agreement. That hadn’t happened though, at least not until today.
The Diamondbacks announced this morning that they had come to an agreement with Eric Byrnes on a one year deal worth approximately $4.575 million. My earlier proposition continued to hold up in this instance. I have long stated that if a team and player are less than $1 million off in arbitration numbers then the player will sign for one year. If the difference is larger than $2.5 million then a longer term contract will be the result. My theory is that neither the team nor the player wish to lose a large amount but when the numbers are close there is no incentive or discount to doing a longer term package. With Eric Byrnes signed, the Diamondbacks will enter Spring Training without an arbitration case looming over their heads. Byrnes is still interested in signing for beyond this season but that process will most likely play out over the course of the season. The Diamondbacks have several young outfield prospects coming through the minor league system so they are logically hesitant to tie up all three outfield spots long term. Chris Young and Carlos Quentin are both in their early 20’s meaning neither are going anywhere soon leaving just one spot available for the likes of Scott Hairston, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Gonzalez, and 2005 overall first pick Justin Upton. These players being one or two years away from being Major League ready, the Diamondbacks will closely monitor their progress before offering beyond a yearly contract to Byrnes. At the end of the 2007 season Byrnes can become a free agent. At that point there will most likely be discussions between his representatives and the Diamondbacks to gauge each other’s interest. Until then we can look forward to 162 regular season games with Pig Pen flying and diving around left field bringing the fans to their feet.