by Jason Martinez
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ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
Despite an early exit from the 2011 playoffs, things couldn't have been any more promising for the Diamondbacks heading into last offseason. They went from worst to first in the NL West, had a core of very talented players in their lineup, and a couple frontline starting pitching prospects close to joining a big league rotation that was already pretty good. But this is baseball. Strange things happen. Injuries do occur. Players fail to live up to expectations.
The D'backs did have their share of injuries to key players (Daniel Hudson made 9 starts before Tommy John surgery, Stephen Drew was out until late June) and players underperforming (Chris Young, Justin Upton, Ryan Roberts), and their young pitchers weren't quite ready to make an impact. The result was a very average and frustrating 81-win season for a team that now goes into the 2012-13 offseason in search of a starting shortstop and veteran pitching depth. General Manager Kevin Towers is likely to make at least a couple trades, with at least one of his outfielders included.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
The expectation is that rookie Adam Eaton will be the starting center fielder in 2013 after an impressive 22 game audition in September. The 23 year-old is the prototypical leadoff hitter that the D'backs have lacked the past few years. If you notice my early lineup projection, however, he's not in it. At least not yet. Young is too talented and makes far too much money to sit on the bench.
Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, Upton and Young should all draw interest on the trade market so Towers will likely find the best deal to upgrade his team in another area and, at the same time, clear up the outfield picture. Upton regressed after a breakout 2011 season (.898 OPS in 2011 vs .785 OPS in 2012) but he's only 25 and will bring back the most in any trade. Young battled injuries in 2012 but still brings good center field defense and 20 HR-20 SB ability. Kubel hit 30 HR's in his first season with the D'backs. Parra is a Gold Glove defender who is under team control for another three seasons. Expect at least one from that group to open the 2013 season on a team other than the Diamondbacks.
You can go ahead and pencil in Miguel Montero, Paul Goldschmidt, and Aaron Hill into the lineup. Chris Johnson, who had an .824 OPS in 44 games after being acquired from the Astros, is expected to be the starting third baseman, and shortstop is certain to be filled by a player not currently with the organization. Their top two hitting prospects, Matt Davidson and Chris Owings, happen to be a third baseman and shortstop, but neither has played a game above Double-A and aren't likely to help much in 2013.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Ian Kennedy wasn't as good as he was in 2011, when he finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting. He was still good enough for 15 wins and 208.1 innings in 33 starts but had a 4.02 ERA. Losing Hudson, who gave the team 16 wins and 222 innings in 2011, also didn't help in the team's quest to defend their NL West title. The best-case scenario has Hudson returning in August but he could also miss the entire season. Trevor Cahill was good in his first season with the D'backs (3.78 ERA, 200 IP, 74 BB, 156 K) but, in retrospect, Towers probably wouldn't have traded Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook for him. It couldn't have been easy to watch that duo help lead the A's to the AL West title and versus the Tigers in an exciting ALDS.
One consolation is that lefty Wade Miley was much better than anyone could've expected. Projected by most to be a back-of-the-rotation/middle reliever, the 25 year-old was a NL All-Star during a 16-win season in which he posted a 3.33 ERA with 37 BB and 144 K in 194.2 innings. Even with some regression, Miley gives the team a reliable mid-rotation starter as they wait for young prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs to blossom into the top-of-the-rotation pitchers they're expected to be. Another impressive prospect, lefty Patrick Corbin, will also be in the mix for a rotation spot in Spring Training. Towers will likely acquire at least one veteran starter for depth.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Towers has already said that he is very likely to pick up the $6.5 million club option on closer J.J. Putz's contract. This keeps David Hernandez as the setup man for one more season before he finally get a shot to close in 2014. Sidearmer Brad Ziegler had a good year (2.49 ERA, 17 holds) and Matt Lindstrom, who has a $4 million club option for 2013, and Matt Albers were solid after coming over in mid-season deals. Finding a reliable lefty could be on the agenda for this offseason. Corbin, if not in the rotation, could be a candidate for the job while Mike Zagurski and Joe Paterson could be in the mix.
Acquiring relievers that have been undervalued has been Towers' specialty throughout his career. Typically, he'd be acquiring a guy like Cook and not trading him. Expect him to re-focus his attention on what he does best and bring in some lesser name pitchers who emerge as key components to his bullpen.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
2 Starting Pitcher
3 Lefty reliever
10/20/12 In a 3-player deal, Young was dealt to Oakland for shortstop Cliff Pennington and infield prospect Yordy Cabrera; Cabrera was sent to the Marlins for setup man Heath Bell
10/20/12 As expected, Putz had his $6.5M club option exercised.
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS