PHOENIX – Instead of dealing from an excess of outfielders in their latest move Saturday, the Diamondbacks added one more, agreeing to terms with 2010 NLCS MVP Cody Ross on a three-year deal believed to be worth $26 million. It is a move that brings energy and proven production to a team one year removed from winning the NL West.
“We thought it was perfect fit,” general manager Kevin Towers said.
Of course, the D-backs are not likely to stop there. As with the Brandon McCarthy free-agent signing a week ago, the addition of Ross seems simply a precursor to another trade, one likely involving either Jason Kubel or, in a larger package, Justin Upton.
The D-backs are “working on several deals,” a source with knowledge of their thinking said after the Ross agreement was reached Saturday morning, although nothing appears imminent. The D-backs let the McCarthy addition percolate for four days before completing the three-team deal with Cleveland and Cincinnati that brought shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius and left-hander Tony Sipp on Dec. 18.
So the D-backs are back to where they were before the winter meetings, only more so. They have six outfielders — Upton, Kubel, Ross, Gerardo Parra, Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock — and the major league roster is not big enough for all of them.
At the same time, the D-backs are in an even stronger position in trade talks going forward. Eaton and Pollock have minor league options remaining, which would make it possible for the D-backs to retain all six, and managing partner Ken Kendrick has said the D-backs’ payroll can stay at about $95 million, where it is if no other trades are made.
So the D-backs can pick and choose. Nothing must be done, which puts the onus on the other side. Towers said his phone “blew up” after word of the Ross signing spread to teams that are still in the market for an outfielder, and it still seems a long shot that the D-backs will enter spring training without making another move.
“I’ll keep my ears open,” Towers said. “We’re in a situation, thankfully, where we aren’t leveraged where we have to move one. If someone presents with the right deal, then we may consider moving one of our outfielders.”
Kubel seems the most likely to go, as valuable a component as he was last year. He had a career-high 30 home runs and led the D-backs with 90 RBIs in 2012 after signing a two-year, $15 million deal in the offseason, although he tailed off offensively in the final month. While he led the D-backs in outfield assists while playing almost exclusively in left field, he might be a target for an American League team that also could use him as a DH. Parra won a Gold Glove in left field in 2011, the first year the awards were done by position, and has better range.
The D-backs spoke to Baltimore about Kubel at the winter meetings, a source with knowledge of the talks said, with an eye toward getting young pitching in return, but that was before the D-backs signed McCarthy to add a fourth veteran to the rotation, an offseason goal. Seattle also has been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Kubel, although the Mariners just acquired first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales and have catcher/DH Jesus Montero. The White Sox also appear to be in the market.
Texas could be a suitor for Kubel or Upton, whose numbers went down last season while he played with a nagging thumb injury for the majority of the year. The Rangers have not done much this offseason but never have been known to sit on their wallet. They lost out on the bidding for top free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke to the Dodgers and then lost free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to the division-rival Angels a week later. The Rangers seemed to believe they would be allowed to react to the Angels’ final offer, but that did not happen.
Texas has added offense in free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, but that hardly makes up for the loss of Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Mitch Moreland (90 total home runs) from a team that blew a big lead in the AL West down the stretch last season and was eliminated from the postseason in a one-game playoff.
The Rangers are said to covet Upton, who has three years and $38.9 million remaining on his very affordable deal, and Upton could be had in the right package. That package probably would have to include one of the Rangers’ young shortstops, starter Elvis Andrus or prospect Jurickson Profar. Profar, considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, would be the D-backs’ preference. Kubel also would be a fit for the Rangers, whose starting outfield at this point is David Murphy, Craig Gentry and Nelson Cruz. There also is a hole at DH now that 2012 regulars Napoli and Young have left.
D-backs managing partner Ken Kendrick had a hand in Ross’ addition, asking Towers last week if there were a free agent that might fit the 2013 roster. The two scanned the available talent and independently identified Ross. Kendrick, president/CEO Derrick Hall, Towers and Luis Gonzalez met Ross and his wife, Summer, for lunch on Tuesday, and the deal did not take long to finalize. Ross, who lives in Scottsdale, told the D-backs he would not shop the offer, perhaps the reason the deal happened so quickly and seemed to catch the baseball world off-guard.
Ross, who turns 32 on Sunday, is coming off one of his most productive seasons after totaling 22 home runs and 81 RBIs to go along with a .267 average in Boston in 2011, his only season with the Red Sox. Reports out of Boston said the Red Sox were willing to offer a two-year deal for Ross’s return but would not go to three. Ross’ deal with the D-backs includes a team option for 2016 worth $1 million.
“I’ve always wanted to play for the Diamondbacks. I just never thought it was a fit,” Ross said. “We’re still jumping up and down. I’m confident this team is going to be really good.”
Added Towers: “He’s always been a proven winner. He’s a guy who delivers it seems like when the game is on the line. A clutch performer. One thing that our club missed a little last year was some energy, and I think he certainly brings energy to the ball club. He’s able to play all three outfield positions well.”
Ross gives the D-backs another proven center fielder to go along with Eaton. Ross played center field for most of the early portion of his career in Florida, although he’s spent most of the last two seasons at corner outfield spots. A right-handed hitter, he provides a counter to the three left-handed bats on the roster now — Kubel, Parra and Eaton. The D-backs prefer Parra at a corner spot, and Parra appears less likely to move than Kubel because of his speed, range and controllability. Parra is entering his first year of arbitration this winter.
“I want to play whatever position ‘Gibby’ (manager Kirk Gibson) wants me to play,” Ross said. “I’ve always been that way my whole career. If they thought the outfield going to be too crowded, they wouldn’t have come after me.”
It remains to be seen how Towers will sort through it all. One thing is certain: He will manage.