D-backs reach end of long, winding road; what now?

BY foxsports • September 29, 2013

PHOENIX -- The Diamondbacks just concluded the longest season in major league history, and it certainly must have felt that way at times. They played 1,538 innings, one more than the 1964 Yankees, but not one of them was played with the 25-man roster they counted on entering the season. That group spent a combined 100 weeks on the disabled list, a contributing factor in the D-backs' second straight 81-81 finish. It was not supposed to end this way. The January mega-trade that sent Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to the Braves in a package for Martin Prado was made to add chemistry and give the team more offensive diversity, and in one measure, it did. The Diamondbacks' 3-2 victory over the Nationals on Sunday was their major league-best 34th one-run victory of the season. They also led the majors with 33 wins in their final at-bat and tied for the lead with 13 walkoff victories. Grit wins. At the same time, the changes were not reflected in the record. And while anyone suggesting that the Upton trade was the reason is oversimplifying things, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said again Sunday that he will be shopping for more offense at third base or at a corner outfield spot this winter. Towers also said that he believes the starting rotation does not need a tweak and that the 2014 closer already is in the organization, whether it is bullpen savior Brad Ziegler, former closer J.J. Putz, setup man David Hernandez or minor leaguers Matt Stites or Jake Barrett.  "They are ready to tweak this roster," D-backs president/CEO Derrick Hill said of his front office in a radio interview Sunday. Whatever happens, it may not match a topsy-turvy 2013 season in which the D-backs were nine games above .500 in June and led the division for through July 22 but had to win the final game of the season to break even. "It was a bizarre year," Willie Bloomquist said.  "There was more of a gray cloud around here last year. This year, we never got going. We just had a lot of injuries, and I'm not using that as an excuse. We never really played together at one time." Bloomquist, Adam Eaton and Cody Ross suffered injuries in spring training, and Eaton's was especially problematic. The plans was to put Eaton at the top of the lineup and play a more up-tempo game, but he wasn't healthy until July, and by then the D-backs already had an identity. "This (offseason) is more challenging than last year, because we never really got to see our lineup all year long because guys missed significant time," Towers said. At the same time, Towers does want more pop.
"I think there is a need for a little more power in the lineup," he said. "Does that come via our organization? Maybe it's Matt Davidson. He performed very well at the end of the season. Pitching-wise, you can never have enough pitching. I think we have to take a strong look at our bullpen. We can make our bullpen better.  "Wholesale changes? I like this group of players we have here. I think their expectations were higher. We just never really got to see that offseason plan come together because of the injuries." There were bright spots. First-time All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin had breakout years. Goldschmidt merits heavy MVP consideration after tying for the NL lead with 36 home runs and leading the league with 125 RBIs (the latter race was not even close). Corbin won 14 games after winning a competition for the No. 5 starting spot in spring training and was the clear-cut ace of the staff before trailing off late in the year. And the D-backs finished with the highest-ranked defense in the National League. Prado had a career-high 82 RBIs, Gerardo Parra had a career-high 43 doubles and Eric Chavez had a very productive season with 44 RBIs in 228 at-bats. At the same time, Miguel Montero had a down year and injuries kept Eaton out for 14 weeks, starter Brandon McCarthy out for 10 weeks, Trevor Cahill out for seven weeks and offensive contributors Aaron Hill and Ross out for nine weeks apiece. The bullpen had blown 29 saves, although most of those came in the first half and the bullpen as a whole had a respectable season.  The D-backs had two five-game winning streaks but never could generate a charge like they did in early 2011, when they won 17 of 19 to make a statement early. Chavez had a veteran's perspective. "When you looked at the team this year, you counted on certain things, and those things weren't accomplished," he said. "People might want to blame the manager or the GM. I think this team was in place if everybody did what they were supposed to. Nobody foresaw the Dodgers doing what they did. Not even they did. We had depth. We have guys who have been there and done it before. When it came to it, we had too many guys underperform." Coaching changes seem a foregone conclusion. Two new coaches were added last offseason, and there could be at least that many this time. Towers and manager Kirk Gibson will talk about roster competition, the free-agent market and potential trade partners Monday, Towers said, before addressing the coaching situation later in the week. Alan Trammell has been Gibson's bench coach for two years, but a different voice may be needed there. The Diamondbacks have a glut of shortstops in Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings, Cliff Pennington and Bloomquist, and Owings drew a lot of interest at the trade deadline, Towers said. At the same time, the D-backs may want another full year of evaluation on both Gregorius and Owings to plot their future. They also have a glut of outfielders, but the uncertainty surrounding Ross' return probably will prevent them from trading an outfielder unless they get another in return, Towers said. That is for the future. Sunday was a day of disappointment for high goals not reached. "We didn't live up to expectations that we had," Goldschmidt said.  "We just didn't play well enough consistently. We showed at times what we could do as a team. The thing that guys wouldn't like looking back on: We had the players here. We just didn't play up to our ability."
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