Diamondbacks Off Season Priorities: Steady As She Goes?

PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 22: (L-R) President & Chief Executive Officer Derrick Hall Executive Vice President & General Manager Kevin Towers and Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick of the Arizona Diamondbacks attend the Major League Baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field on September 22 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Diamondbacks enter the 2011-12 winter as reigning champions of the National League West, as position they've only enjoyed once since 2002. With most of the starters, both around the diamond and in the rotation, set to come back next year, it appears there's not much to do for Kevin Towers and his crew. Is that quite the case? Let's take a look at the 25 spots on the roster and see what we have, and where the team might be looking to upgrade.

Starters

Second-base is the obvious question-mark, with the team declining Aaron Hill's $8 million option. However, the general view seems to be that Hill likes it here and will be re-signed in Arizona, at a lower rate. However, there may be some negotiation required over the term, with Towers apparently "not necessarily" prepared to sign Hill to a multi-year contract. "I don’t want to get too crazy about six weeks (of production). There’s a reason [Toronto] moved him." Harsh, but probably fair, given that Hill has posted only a 77 OPS+ since the start of 2010. While there's no obvious immediate replacement in the farm system, overpaying still wouldn't be a good thing.

There's another area of some doubt on the other side of the middle infield, where we await Drew's return from his ankle injury. Will he be 100% fit, and able to play one of the most demanding defensive positions in the game? That's something we likely won't know for sure until we see him in action next spring training; I hope the team's contingency plan does not involve Bloomquist as an everyday starter again. 3B might also see the team kicking a few tires. While Roberts' overall numbers (108 OPS+) were good, that was largely powered by a blistering start: after mid-May, RyRo hit .239, though his power kept the OPS thereafter above league-average for the position.

The outfield should require little tweaking, thanks to the rise of Gerardo Parra, who did a "reverse Roberts", by catching fire after a slow start - Parra batted .302 from May 17 on, as he became comfortable with his role as an everyday starter. A previous area of weakness, his issues against left-handed pitchers, seemed to be addressed, with Gerardo batting .277, and delivering an OPS almost identical to that facing RHP. His Gold Glove-level defense (whether rewarded with a Gold Glove or not) gives Arizona their first winter without an apparent issue in left-field since the days of...Eric Byrnes. Ok. Moving rapidly on...

Starting pitching

  1. Ian Kennedy
  2. Daniel Hudson
  3. Joe Saunders
  4. Josh Collmenter

The blank at the end is not an indication of an area that needs to be addresses, more uncertainly about which of the possible contenders for the #5 spot will fill it. Possible contenders include Jarrod Parker, Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Tyler Skaggs, Wade Miley and Barry Enright, so it's more an embarrassment of riches than a problem. This does assume Saunders is tendered, but that seems very likely - at the very least, he'll provide a pair of suspenders in case our pants-load of young pitching prospects looks likely to fall down to our ankles for some reason.

Bench

This is probably the area with the most scope, as only half the spots appear locked down at time of writing. That said, Towers stuck with Burroughs after his first 42 games resulted in a .435 OPS, so one imagines he'll be back in 2012 [there'll be more about him on Friday, as he's the next upcoming Diamondbacks report-card]. Cowgill didn't exactly lock down a spot, batting .239 in 100 PAs, and one wonders if the Pocket Rocket, Adam Eaton, might make a push for the roster early in spring training, or at least, be near the front of the line in Reno. He hit .318 at High-A and Double-A, and is doing well in the AFL as well.

The other need would be a first-baseman, probably a left-handed hitting one, to spell Goldie there. It's a role that Overbay filled at the end of the season, and did well there, with a .286 average and .840 OPS in 49 PAs. However, Lyle hasn't had an OPS that high for an entire season since 2006 (his overall figure this year, even after that late surge, was only .670), and he'll be 35 by the time pitchers and catchers report. See Towers' comments above about "six weeks of production," and approach with the appropriate caution.

Bullpenj

The front of the bullpen appears particularly locked-down, following the stellar performances of Putz and Hernandez during 2011. However, the worst ERA of the first six-named in the last campaign was Owings' 3.57, and even he went 8-0, so we've got to re-sign him. :-) I think one interesting thing next year might be how Shaw progresses, and what happens as the season proceeds. Random speculation: might we trade Putz, even if we're in contention? AZ have what appear a ready-made replacement in Hernandez, with Shaw as the set-up guy, and if Putz has another 40-save season, he'd be too expensive to re-sign for 2013. Or do we take the type A pick after he signs elsewhere?

Depth

One things to remember is that no team will get through the season with 25 players. The fewest in semi-recent history was the 1976 Reds, who used 29, and it's usually a lot more. This year, the numbers in the National League ranged from 42 (Cubs, Reds and Phillies) to 55 (Rockies), so you're basically looking at close to an entire "shadow roster", with twenty or more players who will see playing time, beyond the 25-man core. That's significant. For instance, if you cross off the 13 position players with most at-bats and 12 pitchers with most innings for Arizona, the "shadow roster" behind them combined for 716 plate appearances and 210.1 IP.

This year, those names included the likes of Wily Mo Pena, Cody Ransom and Russell Branyan on the hitting front, with Alberto Castillo and Yhency Brazoban on the mound, and we can expect Towers to conduct a sweep through the pool of low-end free agents, to be stashed away in Reno for whenever the need arises. Odds are there won't be any particular gems much above replacement-level, but one never knows.

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