PHOENIX — It did not take long for the Diamondbacks to create some buzz at the winter meetings. They were linked to power outfield bats Domonic Brown, Mark Trumbo and Shin-Soo Choo on Day 1 meetings Monday in Orlando, Fla., in part because they have so much to offer in return.
The D-backs’ depth both on the mound and among position players makes them an inviting trade partner to several teams, and a commitment to increasing their payroll to near-record levels puts them squarely in the middle of the free-agent market for perhaps the first time since the winter of Randy Johnson/Steve Finley/Todd Stottlemyre.
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The D-backs expect to fill one of their major needs — a power bat and a No. 1 or No. 2 starter — via trade and the other via free agency, president/CEO Derrick Hall said Monday evening on KTAR 620 AM, although Hall added that he would not put it past general manager Kevin Towers to make more than one trade.
“There are definitely some possibilities out there, because we have so much depth,” Hall said. “You look at center field, shortstop, the pitching depth in the minor leagues. I think that’s why me match up so well. That is probably why we are the most popular team here.”
As far as doing business, Hall added: “We really have to keep up with the Joneses. We have committed to a payroll that is highest in our team history.”
The Diamondbacks spent about $102 million on player salaries in 2002 after winning the World Series in 2001, the only time the have reached nine figures. That record is about to fall.
The D-backs, Hall said, would likely make a play for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka if he is posted by his team, Rakuten, because of changes in the posting system for Japanese free agents. The new system proposed by Major League Baseball caps the posting fee at $20 million. Rakuten was the only Japanese League team to oppose the new plan, as they likely saw the opportunity for a larger windfall; the Rangers had to pay $51.7 million to secure Yu Darvish’s rights in 2011.
Meanwhile, the three corner outfield names that came up Monday:
— Brown, 26, had the best year of his young career in Philadelphia last season, when he hit 27 home runs and drove in 87 runs. He also is the most affordable of the three inasmuch as he is not arbitration-eligible until 2015 and would not become a free agent until 2018. The question with Brown is whether last season was a true indicator or an outlier after two stop-and-start seasons.
— Trumbo has the biggest bat. He has 95 homers and 284 RBIs as a starter the last three seasons, playing first base, third base, left field and DH. He has played most of his first three seasons at first base, although with Albert Pujols expected to return in 2014, Trumbo would be back in left field, where he played 66 games in 2012. He is arbitration-eligible for the first time this season so would be under control for three years. Yahoo’s Tim Brown reported that the Angels were talking about a Trevor Cahill/Tyler Skaggs package. Coincidentally, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was the D-backs’ interim general manager at the time they acquired Tyler Skaggs in the 2010 Dan Haren deal with the Angels. The D-backs insisted on Skaggs at the time to make the deal happen.
— Choo would be the most expensive. A free agent represented by Scott Boras, Choo is said to be seeking a seven-year deal worth about $125 million. He has batted leadoff in Cincinnati and Cleveland and has posted an OPS of .883 or higher in three of the last five years because he draws a lot of walks. He has been a 20-20 man in three of the last five years.
Of the trade talk, manager Kirk Gibson told KTAR, “It’s active. I have not heard anything that might come to fruition.”
The D-backs talked to the Athletics about Yoenis Cespedes and made a three-year offer to Carlos Beltran late last week, and they seem determined to add a big bat to add to Paul Goldschmidt.
“It makes sense, Gibson said. “‘Goldy’ has really established himself as our first baseman and middle-of-the-order guy. It makes a lot of sense to get some protection behind him. We went from relying on the home run to having not enough balls hit in the gap and out of the ballpark. We are trying to even that up.”
“We have talked a lot about starting pitchers. I would choose starting pitcher over the hitter if we could get one of the two.”
The free-agent pitching market does not entice the D-backs greatly, Hall said, but he also cautioned against giving up too much in a trade, saying, “We have done that before.”