Just when one thought Diamondbacks’ general manager Kevin Towers closed the books on off-season transactions, Towers seems to pull the trigger on another deal.
That was the feeling after the Diamondbacks acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati earlier this month, and on the weekend before Christmas, Towers then turned around and signed free agent outfielder Cody Ross.
As the calendar approaches commencement of the new year, and the advent of spring training is a matter of weeks away, Towers’ off-season work appears complete. Areas of Towers’ concern were addressed, and on paper, the Diamondbacks look to be a better team than 2012. After recent deals, it’s hard to believe Towers would continue to tweak the roster.
To compete with defending National League West Division and World Series champions San Francisco Giants, the improving San Diego Padres and enigmatic but potentially powerful Los Angeles Dodgers, Towers sought to upgrade the left-side of the infield, add depth to the outfield, improve the bullpen, pick up a veteran starting pitcher and make sure catcher Miguel Montero can be spilled with adequate relief.
If these elements were on Towers’ radar screen after last season, the veteran GM appears to fulfill his criteria. Realizing the Diamondbacks precarious location among division rivals, Towers believed several deals had to result and the areas of concern had to be addressed. Otherwise, the D-backs would likely flounder and be hard-pressed to break even for the 2013 season.
Against the competition, the Dodgers were busy improving their starting rotation by signing free agent Zach Greinke and luring lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu from South Korea for a 6-year deal reportedly worth $37 million.
Defending champion Giants held on to potential free agents outfielder Andres Torres and infielder Marco Sutaro and signed relievers Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Alfeldt. Former closer Brian Wilson, who missed the entire 2012 season, is not on the Giants current 40 man roster.
Of the teams in the NL West Division, the Diamondbacks were the most active. As a result, the nature of competition for important roster spots should be acute, and the current 40 man roster is replete with duels to gain the attention of club officials.
Pundits will argue the core of the Arizona 25 man-roster appear to be set and those thinkers postulate starters and construct the bench. To likely combat this thinking, Towers appears to go out of his way to assure depth throughout the roster and will likely sit back and watch competition battles for roster spots this spring.
Of the starting pitching staff, one roster spot seems assured. That would be right-hander Daniel Hudson, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Hudson will start the season on the disabled list and is not expected in the rotation until at least the All-Star game.
Hudson assured reporters at the end of the last season he plans to be back by mid-June, but Towers and field manager Kirk Gibson believe that timetable is unrealistic.
Depending on his physical condition, Hudson could move into the starting rotation in time for the stretch run, and his spot will be a battle to consider.
The Diamondbacks like Josh Collmenter as the long reliever and that would leave the remaining fifth starter to battle among Chase Anderson, Charles Brewer, Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and Starling Peralto, whom the D-backs picked in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings.
Heading into spring training, the starting rotation will likely be populated by Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and newly signed free agent Brandon McCarthy. That could also change and would depend on McCarthy’s health, The 6-7, 29 year-old right-hander was hit in the face with a line drive off the bat of the Angels’ Erick Aybar in September while pitching for Oakland.
McCarthy suffered an epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion and a skull fracture from the hit, and underwent two hours of emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. He did not pitch again during the regular season or the postseason. In mid-November, McCarthy was cleared to resume baseball activities by Dr. Mickey Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
In an attempt to address the need for a veteran starter, Towers settled on McCarthy, who signed a two year deal. He received a signing bonus of $2.5 million, $4 million the first year and $9 million for 2014.
Towers has also set up competition for shortstop between Willie Bloomquist, who figures to spilt time between the infield and outfielder, Cliff Pennington, John McDonald and Gregorius. The third base job could be up for grabs between newly signed free agent Eric Chavez and Chris Johnson, obtained from Houston last July.
In the gardens, only Justin Upton appears to have an outfield slot locked up. Rumored to be moved in the off-season, Towers repeatedly said Upton would not be traded until the deal would substantially improve the Diamondbacks. Since no reasonable deal in Towers estimation arose, Upton will remain the D-backs’ right fielder.
After a disastrous second half of the season, Jason Kubel’s future with Arizona appears uncertain. Heading into spring training, Kubel remains the subject of trading rumors, and his slot in left field continues precarious at best.
Among those competing to what is expected to be three remaining outfield roster spots is Adam Eaton, free agent signee Eric Hinske, Gerardo Parra, A. J. Pollack, Keon Braxton, Kubel and Ross.
An equally competitive quest for spots in the bullpen could be hot. While closer J. J. Putz, and set-up relievers David Hernandez and Heath Bell appears secure, leftys Matt Reynolds and Tony Sipp were brought in to create depth among southpaws.
With five starters and these five in in the bullpen, two spots will be subject of competition. That is, if Gibson and Towers decide to carry 12 pitchers, then two openings would be up for grabs, Candidates here include Joe Paterson, Eric Smith and Brad Ziegler.
Ziegler is coming off a productive season and it’s possible the Diamondbacks could start the season with 11 pitchers, including Ziegler, and add depth to the bench. That would appear unlikely, but Towers and Gibson will likely remain creative regarding the eventual composition of the opening day roster.
A NEW HOME
Former Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox Wednesday.
Drew inked for the 2013 season for a reported $9.5 million.