Hudson's expected departure leaves hole at second

The Diamondbacks blew a 4½-game lead with 28 games to play, failing to repeat their NL West title. They went 20-8 in April but faded the rest of the season and had an 8½-game dip in the standings compared to 2007.

They had the best one-two pitching punch in the division with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, and their young nucleus of position players remains promising, though more growth is expected from Chris Young, Justin Upton, Chris Snyder, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew and Mark Reynolds.

The Diamondbacks expected to hit a lot more in 2008 than 2007, when they got outscored despite winning the division. Their improvement was marginal. They scored 720 runs -- eight more than in 2007 -- but ranked 10th in the league, and they struck out more than any team in the majors except Florida, led by Reynolds' record 204 K's and Young's 165.

Primary needs

The Diamondbacks need a second baseman. Orlando Hudson, who missed the final seven weeks with a broken wrist, will test the free-agent market. Retaining David Eckstein to play second is an option. Mark Ellis, who lives in the Phoenix area, was crossed off the list when he re-signed with Oakland.

Another left-handed bat and a left-handed bullpen specialist would help.

Free agents

LHP Randy Johnson, 2B Hudson, OF Adam Dunn, INF Eckstein, RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Brandon Lyon

If Johnson, 45, wants to win his 300th game as a Diamondback (he's five away), he must take a huge pay cut from $16 million. Dunn was acquired in August, but he hit just eight of his 40 homers with Arizona and will ask for more than the Diamondbacks are willing to pay.

Trade bait

After trading a slew of prospects in recent years, the Diamondbacks are thinner on the farm and probably need to focus on trading big league talent.

Chad Tracy will make $4.75 million and could be dealt, though the Diamondbacks are thin on left-handed bats. It would be tough to move Eric Byrnes, who is owed $22 million over the next two years and missed most of the season with hamstring problems. Plus, he has a full no-trade clause.

Another trade candidate is backup catcher Miguel Montero.


Farm aid

Max Scherzer, who made seven starts this year, will be given a chance to join Webb, Haren and Doug Davis in the rotation. First baseman Josh Whitesell is knocking on the door after collecting 26 homers and 110 RBIs in the Pacific Coast League, and corner infielder Jamie D'Antona also was a PCL power threat.


Barring a trade, the Diamondbacks will have a logjam in the outfield -- four players for three spots. In Byrnes' absence, Jackson emerged as a better left fielder than first baseman. With Young in center and Upton in right, Byrnes may wind up as an expensive fourth outfielder.

An option would be moving Jackson back to first base, where he opened the season, then moving Tracy from first to third, where he has played most of his career, then moving Reynolds from third to second. Then again, it seems a lot easier if the Diamondbacks simply find another second baseman.

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.