PHOENIX — General manager Kevin Towers laid out the Diamondbacks’ offseason shopping list in pretty plain terms Thursday.
The D-backs are seeking, in about this order:
1. A shortstop.
2. A third baseman.
3. A power arm for the back of the bullpen.
4. A situational left-hander.
5. A starting pitcher.
“Priority No. 1 is probably the left side of our infield,” Towers said.
Because of a thin free-agent market, Towers expects to address most of those needs through trades.
Towers also seemed to alert any potential suitors to the cost for right fielder Justin Upton, indicating it would take a high-level position player and a pitcher, both presumably available to be plugged right in, for the D-backs to consider a move. Towers, like managing partner Ken Kendrick, said he expects Upton to return in 2013, although he also said he will field calls in case he gets Godfathered with a deal he cannot refuse.
Towers offered a glowing review of rookie center fielder Adam Eaton, making it seem even more likely that the D-backs will trade Chris Young. He again hinted strongly that closer J.J. Putz’s $6.5 million option will be accepted, and he said the backup catching position remains open because of concerns about Henry Blanco’s age if he were forced into an everyday role. Blanco is 41.
The D-backs have prioritized the shortstops in which they are interested, Towers said, and conversations will ramp up. If it takes Upton to swing a package for a top-tier shortstop, the D-backs will explore that, although Upton’s value may have fallen as his production numbers did this season when he played through a nagging bone bruise in his left thumb. Upton hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI this year.
“I would say if there was ever a time to cash in, it was probably last year. Nothing happened,” Towers said of an Upton deal. “And if it hasn’t happened in the last couple of years, it is probably highly unlikely it would happen again this winter.
“We still think there is great upside potential. I’m not going to lie. You take him out of your lineup, he is very hard to replace. Any deal, you’d probably have to have an offensive piece and a pitching piece. Those deals just don’t come around that often. I’d guess from the power standpoint and RBI standpoint, others like him a great deal but don’t perceive him the same way they did maybe a year ago, and no deal happened.
“As of right now, I imagine it’s a really good chance he is probably here.”
Texas remains a viable trade partner because of the organization’s infield depth, and Toronto and Boston have been interested in Upton in previous years. Arizona probably could get Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus for Upton, according to baseball sources, but the D-backs would need more. They probably could not get Andrus and third base prospect Mike Olt unless they added another piece.
Towers expects to move at least one of his outfielders, a task he called cleaning up a “good mess.”
“We have a lot of talented players. We have players who want to play, and especially your veteran players, they are only going to get better with at-bats. Having those guys coming off the bench kind of devalues them,” Towers said.
“I’m sure people are going to be giving us calls. Part of these meetings we’ve had at the end of the season was what are our options, what is our best ball club — offensively, defensively — when it comes to which player in our outfield we should talk to move.”
Eaton is definitely part of the future, said Towers, who all but gushed about the young center fielder’s play in September, when he was given a long look in the outfield and in the leadoff spot before missing the final four games with a broken bone in his left hand.
“What Adam brought was a legitimate table-setter at the top of your lineup. That is something we have been looking for that is very tough to find,” Towers said.
“He had several infield hits. He is a tremendous base runner. He brings that swagger, that little bit of an edge, that cockiness — however you want to put it. He’s an exciting player. I think he’s only going to get better with time. He’s the only guy in our system we feel can handle that role. It’s very, very big.
“If you have that type of guy on base above the league average, the pitchers approach your lineup differently. You are going to get more fastballs. You are going to give yourself more scoring opportunities. I don’t think they’ve had one here since (Tony) Womack, and when Womack was here, good things happened.”
The D-backs won three pennants and a World Series during Womack’s four and a half years as the leadoff man from 1999-2003.
Starting pitching is a lesser priority than the bullpen, Towers said, but the D-backs prize pitching and are considering adding a veteran to go with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley in the rotation. It would not only give their young starters more time to develop but also create more competition. The D-backs did the same thing last year, bringing back veteran free agent Joe Saunders late in the offseason.
Towers mentioned Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer and Josh Collmenter as possible candidates for the remaining rotation spot if the D-backs do add a starter. Daniel Hudson is not expected to rejoin the team until after the All-Star break following his Tommy John surgery in July, Towers said.
“We love our young pitching, but more and more, as we looked at it after these meetings, we might be looking for more of a veteran guy,” Towers said. “We want it to be competitive. We have a lot of young starters vying for positions. You throw another veteran in there, it even makes it more competitive.
“The free-agent market isn’t real strong. That’s why we took a trip in the middle of the year to Japan. That’s why we turned over every rock, whether it’s here or internationally.”
Chris Johnson, acquired from Houston on July 30, and rookie Ryan Wheeler platooned at third base for most of the final two months of the season. Johnson had some big days but also was inconsistent. He is eligible for arbitration, but it is not known if the D-backs will offer him a deal, making his future unclear.
Willie Bloomquist started at shortstop before Stephen Drew returned, but both were gone by the first week of August, Drew in a trade with Oakland and Bloomquist due to torn cartilage in his back. The D-backs see Bloomquist in more of a utility role next season.
The D-backs need depth at shortstop throughout the system behind prospect Chris Owings, who is still at least a year away, Towers said, adding that trading young pitching to acquire a piece at that position is an option. Towers said the D-backs could add two shortstops, one for the present and one for the future.