PHOENIX — Alert the staff at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Do not be alarmed if the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” pops up at the most unusual times this week. That just means gunslinger Kevin Towers is doing what comes naturally.
Towers, the Diamondbacks’ general manager, has done some of his best work at baseball’s annual winter meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando, Fla., and he is poised to make another splash this year. The Diamondbacks’ stated shopping list includes a No. 1 or No. 2 starting pitcher and a corner outfield bat, preferably one with some pop.
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Getting both would be a coup, but that is the goal, and after discussions at the general managers meetings, the D-backs “have a few things percolating right now,” Towers said.
Make no mistake: While Towers is in his element here, the meetings are only a means to an end. His favorite time of year? Hardly.
“My favorite time of the year is postseason play,” said Towers, adding that most would like to be in Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington’s shoes, with a considerably shortened offseason because of a trip to the World Series.
Armed with a host of core players under contract and an extra $25 million or so from Major League Baseball’s new FOX television contract, the D-backs will shoot high. They made a strong under-the-radar play for free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, who agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with the New York Yankees on Friday. The D-backs’ offer was in the same range, a source said.
The D-backs appear to be out of the running for Rays left-hander David Price, not because they do not like him but because the cost could include Archie Bradley and they believe they have their own version of Price in high-ceiling Bradley, whose fastball hits the high 90s and who has six years of control as opposed to Price’s two. If the Rays insist on Bradley, a deal will not happen. Seattle youngster and former first-round draft pick Taijuan Walker could be used as bait if the Mariners want to add Price and his contract to the $240 million they spent on Robinson Cano on Thursday.
For rotation help, the D-backs could turn to the Chicago area. Both the White Sox and Cubs appear to be in a rebuilding phase, and White Sox left-hander Chris Sale or Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija would fit the D-backs’ stated rotation needs. Sale has a reasonable $30.65 million remaining on his contract through 2017, with two options after that, and Samardzija has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.
Cubs free-agent outfielder Nate Schierholtz could also be a target after hitting a career-high 21 home runs last season, his first with more than 400 at-bats.
The Diamondbacks already “kicked the tires” on Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a source said, an indication of their commitment to add a power bat to support Paul Goldschmidt. A hitter appears more likely to come via trade than free agency, although both avenues are in play after the D-backs cleared another $6 million in salary by trading Heath Bell to Tampa Bay earlier this week. The Diamondbacks have about $71 million committed to 11 players under contract for 2014, a figure that does include expected raises to arbitration-eligible players Gerardo Parra and Brad Ziegler.
The D-backs’ payroll could reach nine figures next season, so Towers has plenty of wiggle room this week. One free agent the D-backs will not pursue is outfielder Nelson Cruz, a source said, because of his involvement with PEDs. Cruz was suspended 50 games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, and he (and other perpetrators) will not be courted, the source said. Power hitter Mike Morse is among the free-agent outfielders available, but he was suspended for a PED violation in 2005.
The D-backs have excesses at shortstop, in the outfield and in the rotation, and they also could part with top third-base prospect Matt Davidson in the right package. If they were to land a corner outfielder, they would be set at third base with Martin Prado, who is under contract for three more seasons.
“Probably been much more aggressive on the trade front than the free-agent front,” Towers said of early talks following the general managers’ meetings. “From the looks of where this free-agent market is right now and where it’s headed, it’s not a place where I want to do a lot of business. I know we have attractive trade pieces for a pitcher or a bat, if it is a trade. I’d say we’d have some prospects that are ready to take over” at the major league level.
The Angels are said to be open to trading first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo, who has averaged 31.7 homers a year over the last three seasons, and the teams seem to match up well. The Angels’ winter priority is starting pitching, where the D-backs are deep. The Diamondbacks could slot Trumbo in left field, with Cody Ross’ return uncertain after his serious hip fracture in early August. Ross hopes to be back in spring training, but a more prudent plan might be to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Even if Ross and Trumbo were on the roster, the D-backs could make that work, as Ross, Parra, A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton all have played center field.
The Diamondbacks have depth in starting pitching, with Bradley joining the five returnees and top prospect Tyler Skaggs on the horizon, and could move a veteran such as Trevor Cahill or Brandon McCarthy. Whereas they had a need at shortstop this time a year ago, they have an excess there this time with Didi Gregorius, Cliff Pennington and Chris Owings on the roster and Nick Ahmed moving forward through the system. If Bradley is untouchable, Owings is close after his MVP season with Class AAA Reno in 2013.
Something will get done, because what Towers wants, he usually gets. He rebuilt the bullpen at the 2010 meetings, adding closer J.J. Putz and setup man David Hernandez, who were integral to the D-backs’ run to the 2011 NL West title. And the Justin Upton trade last winter netted Prado and Randall Delgado for the major league roster and added organizational depth in Ahmed and others.
It has happened before. While the general manager in San Diego, Towers got Adrian Gonzalez from Texas before the 2006 season and Kevin Brown from Florida before the 1998 season. Both Padres teams made the playoffs the following year, and the 1998 team reached the World Series.
That is what this week is all about.
NOTES: The Diamondbacks have an offer on the table to Eric Chavez, who has drawn interest from “multiple teams,” a source said, including the Yankees. He appears to be in no rush to make a decision. … Tuffy Gosewisch is the only catcher on the roster behind Miguel Montero. The D-backs were impressed with Gosewisch in his short stay last season but could look to add depth at that position. … The D-backs’ 40-man roster is at 37 after they traded Heath Bell and David Holmberg and non-tendered Daniel Hudson, giving them room to add players in the Rule 5 draft Thursday.