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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Monday, July 9, 2007
The Return of Luis Gonzalez

Right about the time the D'backs were blowing a heart-breaker yesterday in Cincinnati, their future was on display in San Francisco during the Futures Game. The annual match-up, played the Sunday before the All Star Game, involves the top prospects in A and AA minor league ball; in other words the stars of tomorrow.

The MVP of the game was a prospect in the Dodgers organization but the real story was the coming-out party of D'backs AA outfielder Justin Upton, the #1 draft pick of the 2005 draft. Upton is a 5-tool player in the words of an observer from yesterday's game, " Wow. I’m not sure that Justin Upton needs any more time in the minor leagues." He is projected to make the club by 2008, perhaps as soon as next month.

The problem the D'backs face is the same as they did in 2006. Last year, fan favorite Luis Gonzalez was in the final year of his contract and the team had to decide whether to re-sign him or go with young phenom Carlos Quentin for the next year. Judging Gonzo by his age, his salary (even on a reduced contract he would make 10x Quentin's pay in 2007), and his lousy defense the team went with Quentin and cut Ghim loose.

Now Gonzo is having a fine year and Quentin is back in AAA but the D'backs face the same decision with 2007 fan favorite Eric Byrnes who becomes eligible for free agency after this season. Byrnes , who is having an All Star-caliber season, is 31 and will be looking to make a killing on his contract; I'm thinking around 5 to 6 years at about $10 million per. The problems with signing Byrnes are:

1) His is 31, considered at his prime or just past it. Not only would you be paying him at the peak of his production, it is likely that he would significantly underperform the last few years of his contract (see Jay Bell and Matt Williams)

2) While he is on his way to a great season, this would mark the first time he has put together back-to-back quality seasons. Taking a look at his stats you see he has had only 2 previous quality seasons prior to this year. Hardly the track record you want before giving away the bank to a 31-year old ball player.

3) He's in the way

The third point is the killer. Not only do the D'backs have Upton waiting down on the farm to come up but they have another outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez, who was the star of last year's Futures Game. While it's tricky to project prospects, both Gonzalez and Upton are blue chippers whose production would likely exceed that of Byrnes by their 2nd or 3rd year of their career with the added bonus that they would cost a fraction of the salary. However for either of them to play, somebody from the current outfield has to go.... Chris Young? With his talent and moxie, not a chance. Carlos Quentin? Maybe especially if he doesn't get untracked but everything about his minor league career and 2006 season scream solid ball player. That leaves....

.... Eric Byrnes.

If you want an opposite opinion, read Bickley's column from the other week which makes the emotional case for retaining a fan favorite. However with a team that is still paying 1/3 of its payroll in deferred salary to fan favorites from the 2001 team and with a rich history of paying large contracts to players at the tail-end of their careers who didn't perform to their new salaries (Gonzo, Williams, Bell) there is only one prudent choice.

Let the kid play.