The Diamondbacks Season And Winter: Reading Between The Lines

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"We didn't play up to our own expectations. That's part of the game. You win on the field and we didn't play as well as the talent we had, gave us reason to think we could." -- Ken Kendrick

The end of the season has arrived, and over the past week, the front-office and executive staff of the Diamondbacks have been speaking, to give their thoughts on the season that passed, and what the winter might bring. Let's review their comments and see what they might mean.

The 2012 season

  • Kirk Gibson: "I think we had more potential and we can dissect it many different ways why we didn't win more games. Maybe overachieved a little bit last year, but I know we underachieved this year... I got to be better. I take responsibility and accountability for our under-performing, that is just the way I am."

  • Ken Kendrick: "I don't think when the team succeeds, it's because of the manager, and when the team doesn't do as well, it's because of the manager. We're all in this together, and I can take some responsibility. Everyone who wears the uniform can take some responsibility. I'm not down on our team or our organization in any way, but I think we all share in the disappointment that we didn't repeat."
  • Derrick Hall: "I think we all expected more, especially coming off of the NL West title. But we had some great individual years when you look at Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero, Jason Kubel, J.J. Putz, Brad Ziegler, David Hernandez and Wade Miley, to name a few. And our Minor League system is very strong. We had five teams make the playoffs and they brought home four different championships."
  • Kevin Towers: "Last year, there weren't as many expectations. We exceeded those, probably... We knew it was going to be tougher this year to be able to sustain what we did. It was all about how we would handle pressure and expectations... We won a lot of games late last year. This year we didn't. We just didn't play as good baseball -- our pitching, baserunning wasn't as good. But I don't think we're that far away from being a contender again."

There certainly were increased expectations, but I'm not sure the disappointing results was a failure to handle the pressure. The team's bats certainly failed them in those late and close situation, but whether that was bad hitting or bad luck depends on how much you believe in the concept of "clutchiness." Our ERA+ was 106 both this year and last, so I would be less inclined to blame the pitching. And hands up if you didn't see Gibson accepting full responsibility for the results coming. Nobody? Thought not.

On winter priorities

  • Ken Kendrick. "We see ourselves focused on [shortstop] as one of the primary objectives in the off-season... I know he's very focused on seeing if we can do something good in that area. We do have a really talented young guy, who's not probably major-league ready, in Chris Owings... We're hopeful for him, but Willie [Bloomquist] played outstanding for us and John McDonald is a great back-up guy. But Willie did have injuries, John can't play every day, so clearly that's a place that we want to look, see if there's a deal that we can make."
  • Kevin Towers: "I don't think you ever have enough pitching. Any pitching that comes our way would come via trades. I think we need a shortstop, with Stephen Drew gone...We're probably looking at the left side of our infield -- third and short -- if we're able to upgrade in those areas and adding veteran depth to our starting rotation so we don't have to go with a real young staff next year if we don't have to."
  • Derrick Hall: "We do have a logjam in the outfield, but it is a good problem to have and allows us to make some deals. We will definitely look to strengthen the left side of our infield, and it appears we will have to do so through trades. We always want to hold on to pitching, so will try to avoid moving starters, or any of our young talent."

Not too many surprises here, with shortstop and third base as the priorities around the diamond. Interesting to hear Towers talk about looking to add a veteran pitcher though. It makes some sense, with a rotation consisting of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and, at the moment, two from our largely unproven selection of prospects. Depth is definitely something that's good to have: I've said it before, and I'll said it again, but it's incredibly rare to need only five starters for a season. My concern would be funding that, but let's see what might be available.

Payroll

  • Kevin Towers: "We'll probably be somewhere in the mid-70s to mid-80s... But we have more than enough money to be able to contend next year. We'll look at the free-agent market, the international market. We took a trip to Japan to see what they have over there. I'd say the trade market right now, after an early look at it, is probably the avenue we'll take rather than the free-agent market."
  • Ken Kendrick: "It is certainly our belief that we will increase our payroll, and we'll do it in an appropriate way - we're not just going to spend money to spend money. It gives us some freedom to look at players and decision, be they free-agents or players who might be obtained in trades, that may be at some points over the last years, we really weren't able to consider."

Dan's analysis had our likely 25-man roster for next year, sitting at the bottom end of the range specified by Towers - albeit with the team likely needing to fund an everyday shortstop and a veteran pitcher. With maybe $10 million, tops, available, that is doable, but I'd imagine the team might be aiming for somewhere around $80 million, which would cut that amount in half. Ine suspects there might be action elsewhere on the diamond, to free up some additional wiggle-room. And the most likely candidate for this is...

The outfield log-jam

  • Ken Kendrick: "We have six outfield players that have ability to play at the major-league level... We don't have to do anything, but six is too many. And that's where you turn the page from me to Kevin Towers."
  • Kevin Towers: "We've got a plethora of outfielders. Young outfielders, veteran outfielders, I would say we'd have to move one of our outfielders to be able to fill some of those other needs. We like A.J. Pollock a lot. We like Adam Eaton. We have some other guys pushing upwards."

Not much of a shock here. Kendrick is right: depth is one thing, but six outfielders are a surplus, and with the team having some (more or less glaring) needs elsewhere, a trade is the logical thing to do. What's interesting to note is that we have just about every kind of outfielder available. Looking for a slugging monolith? Step right up! In need of someone whose value is in their defense? Aisle G. Want a speedy slap-hitter? Got you sorted. Of course, who we want to trade, and what kind of return we are offered, will likely play into the decision. And while no-one is technically off the table...

Trading Justin Upton

  • Ken Kendrick: "I'm a big Justin guy and I think Justin, even in a down year, has made real, significant contributions to this team... But here's a guy that even in a down year scored more runs than anyone else in the National League. He makes our team go. I would think it's highly likely we'll see Justin Upton in a Diamondback uniform next year."
  • Kevin Towers: "I would say if there was ever a time to cash in it was probably last year. Nothing happened. No deal presented itself. [Upton is] a player we all admire. It's a guy we know, someone we've had history with. He's still young, and we still think there's great upside potential."

Not trading Justin Upton

  • Ken Kendrick: "We look at every single player and what he has brought to the table, and where we think he can contribute in the future, and what the weaknesses that we have are. And it's Kevin's nature, and I support this very much, is that you just flat don't say "No" ever to any opportunity. Are we going to go out and shop Justin Upton? I think not."
  • Kevin Towers: "It's always been my method of madness to be open-minded on everybody. Not just Justin, but anybody on our club. My job as a general manager is to not fall in love with players, to always be looking to improve the club in the present and into the future. It's probably going to be very difficult to move him... As of now, he's very much a part of this club. He's signed for the next three years. He's a very good player who we think is only going to get better."

There's not really anything new on either side of this debate. We always surmised that Towers doesn't know the meaning of "untradeable," and that's the way it should be. There's no need to trade Upton, and it certainly seems that the Diamondbacks don't even want to trade Upton, and aren't going to sell low. Towers added: "You take [Upton] out of your lineup, he's very hard to replace. Any deal you would get back you'd have to get an offensive piece and a pitching piece. Those deals just don't come around that often." I would be quite surprised in Upton is not starting in right-field for us come April next year.

On Trevor Bauer

  • Ken Kendrick: "He is the employee. And in an employer-employee situation, it is incumbent on the employee to make adjustments to satisfy the needs of his employer. And I hope and trust that that will occur... We all need to grow up and mature and learn from our elders, and hopefully Trevor will recognize the need to do that to become an outstanding major-league player. The talent is there, I think there's no doubt about that."
  • Kevin Towers: "He had a tremendous year... He went from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues. I think his experience in the big leagues will be good for him. Hopefully he's learned from it. He needs some rest and some time off and he's going to be competing for one of our spots in the rotation next year. He's got to win a job. If Bauer is the best pitcher at the end of March, he'll be in the rotation. If not, he'll probably be back in Triple-A."

Ooh. Kendrick continues not to hold back on expressing himself with regard to players on the team, in a way that you don't seem to see very often from other owners. Is it fair comment? Even if it is, are these the kind of things an owner should be saying? That's an interesting topic. It's his money, certainly; but there's also a reason owners hire people to run the team. It's clear that nothing will be handed to Bauer on a plate. If he wants a starting job, he will have earn it. Again, that's the way it should be, and I doubt Bauer would want it any other way.

Concerning competing with the Yankees West

  • Ken Kendrick: "Money isn't always the answer in baseball, and you can point to team after team after team... Going forward, time will tell whether they've made wise investments. [We] build from very intelligent drafting and good development and have a lot of depth. The one thing I'm really excited about for our team, in my time being on active duty...we have more depth organizationally than we've ever had and a lot of young talent... We have a lot to look forward to."
  • Kevin Towers: "We're going to have to make better decisions. We're going to have to beat our opponents no matter what they spend. We're going to have to make wiser decisions, be more frugal. Draft better, develop better. That's how you stay up with the big boys, the guys who have the deep pockets and spend. But the NL West has gotten stronger. It's going to get better... It seems like it's a different division winner each and every year. Anything can happen."

That's very much the case. Spending money does not equal success - indeed, three of the top four teams in 2012 salary, the Phillies, Red Sox and Angels, couldn't make even the expanded post-season, despite spending more than half a billion dollars between them. Spend smarter, not harder. Of course, that's a lot easier said than done, but it's good to know the team are fully aware of what they need to do, going forward.

Sources

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