D-backs GM Kevin Towers, calling the NL West “wide open,” made a bold move to obtain right-hander Trevor Cahill this month and still could add right-hander Hiroki Kuroda or re-sign lefty Joe Saunders in free agency.
The Reds’ opportunity in the NL Central looks just as enticing. But so far, the Reds have yet to fulfill their goals of acquiring at least one starting pitcher, preferably a top-of-the-rotation type, and finding a new closer.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have lost first baseman Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa. The Brewers are going to lose first baseman Prince Fielder and possibly left fielder Ryan Braun to a drug suspension for the first 50 games.
The Cubs, Pirates and Astros are in various states of reconstruction. And the Reds, while coming off a disappointing, injury-marred, 79-win season, are only one year removed from a division title.
“We have to keep being aggressive and try to improve,” Reds GM Walt Jocketty said Wednesday. “What we thought we had to do for 2012 was really address our pitching. That’s what we’ve been busy trying to do, but without success so far.”
It’s only mid-December. Opening Day is 3 1/2 months away. A number of quality starting pitchers — Gio Gonzalez, Wade Davis and John Danks in the AL; Matt Garza, Jair Jurrjens and Wandy Rodriguez in the NL — remain available in trade.
The Reds can dangle two especially attractive prospects, first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal, and they’ve got other chips as well. Jocketty, while acknowledging that other teams like his players, added, “They just want too many of ’em.”
No question, trading for pitching isn’t easy. But Towers just did it, and his perspective on the Diamondbacks’ competitive position is similar to what the Reds’ view should be of their own chances.
All of the Diamondbacks’ starting pitchers are under long-term control. More are coming. But shortstop Stephen Drew could be entering his final season with the team, while center fielder Chris Young is under club control through 2014 and right fielder Justin Upton through ’15.
“We looked at our division and looked at our ballclub and felt this was the right time to go for it,” Towers said. “If we could win this division two or three years in a row, we could hopefully increase revenues and maybe some good things can happen down the road.
“I’m not knocking the rest of the division. I’m just looking at where we are. There are no guarantees. But when you’re a small-market or mid-market club, like I was (as GM) in San Diego, the question is, ‘When do you strike?’”
Cincinnati, like Arizona, is a small- to mid-market club. The Reds had a higher Opening Day payroll than the D-Backs last season, $76 million to $54 million. But if anything, the Reds’ window of opportunity might be even smaller.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, is under contract for only two more seasons. The team stands little chance of keeping Votto long term, but owner Bob Castellini doesn’t want to trade his best player, even though he will earn $17 million in ’13.
Initially, Castellini’s position appeared self-defeating; why not move Votto before it’s too late? But now the Central is weaker, and most of the high-revenue teams are set at first base. Better the Reds should go for it while they still can.
Of course, as Jocketty points out, the landscape in the division is fluid; the other contenders in the Central are trying to improve, too.
The Cardinals are pursuing free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran and expect right-hander Adam Wainwright to return from Tommy John surgery. The Brewers signed free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez and third baseman Aramis Ramirez — and their rotation, like the Cardinals’, is better than the Reds’.
“There’s an opportunity,” Jocketty said. “But we feel that if we did nothing, we’d still have a club capable of contending and competing in our division all year. We felt that way last year. We just had some things that didn’t go well for us.
“We need to correct some of those things, get the pitching straightened out, keep guys healthy. And if we are able to make additions, it will make us that much better.”
Other GMs say Jocketty is deliberate in trade discussions, but he has shown an aggressive streak in the past. At the moment, he said, the prices on starting pitchers are simply too high. Cahill and Royals lefty Jonathan Sanchez are the only starters who have been traded this offseason.
Jocketty’s patience, meanwhile, could work to the Reds’ benefit in the closer market. Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero and Brad Lidge are still available in free agency, and the Athletics intend to trade Andrew Bailey. The Reds almost certainly will land one of those closers, perhaps bringing back Cordero at a discounted rate.
Indeed, the Reds’ needs are not yet urgent; if Jocketty can pull off a trade for a young, controllable starter such as Gonzalez or Davis and sign a veteran free agent such as lefty Joe Saunders, the club’s rotation will look that much more intriguing.
Just follow Towers’ blueprint.
The Diamondbacks are going for it. The Reds need to go for it, too.