The defending NL West Champs added a top young starter to their rotation, signed an outfield bat and spent aggressively on bench help.
Major League Signings
- Jason Kubel, OF: two years, $15MM.
- Aaron Hill, 2B: two years, $11MM.
- Joe Saunders, SP: one year, $6MM.
- Willie Bloomquist, UT: two years, $3.8MM.
- John McDonald, SS: two years, $3MM.
- Takashi Saito, RP: one year, $1.75MM.
- Henry Blanco, C: one year, $1.2MM.
- Lyle Overbay, 1B: one year, $1MM.
- Total spend: $42.75MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired SP Trevor Cahill and RP Craig Breslow from the Athletics for SP Jarrod Parker, OF Collin Cowgill and RP Ryan Cook.
- Claimed C Craig Tatum from the Orioles.
- Claimed SP Brett Lorin from the Pirates in Rule 5 draft.
The Diamondbacks improved by 29 wins and vaulted from last to first following their first offseason under Kevin Towers. This winter, the Diamondbacks raised payroll to unexpected heights, improving their pitching staff in the process.
Towers traded top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker and two others to the Athletics to obtain Trevor Cahill. The 24-year-old averaged 194 innings in his first three MLB seasons and is under team control through 2017. Operating with a modest payroll, the A's preferred Parker, who's just nine months younger than Cahill and under team control for the same period. But the Diamondbacks could afford Cahill's upcoming raises and were understandably drawn to the promising 24-year-old.
“While we were excited to add a guy like Cahill, we weren't going to mortgage the future for someone close to free agency," assistant GM Billy Ryan told MLBTR. "We weren't excited to give up Jarrod Parker. We think he's going to be a very good pitcher in the Major Leagues."
Faced with the possibility that Joe Saunders would earn $8.5-9MM in arbitration, the club non-tendered the left-hander. After spending a month on the open market, Saunders agreed to terms with the Diamondbacks on a one-year deal worth $6MM. His peripheral stats suggest he's a 4.50 ERA pitcher and that his 2011 mark of 3.69 isn't sustainable, but he can contribute 200 league average innings, so it's understandable that Towers asked to expand payroll to accommodate his salary.
Saunders, Cahill, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson each completed 200 innings last year, which gives manager Kirk Gibson a strong, durable projected front four. Josh Collmenter rounds out the rotation and top prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs could make an impact as starters later on this year.
The signing of Jason Kubel puzzled many since left fielder Gerardo Parra posted a .784 OPS in 2011, winning a Gold Glove. Kubel offers more power than Parra, but his defense is not highly-regarded and he's a lefty hitter, like Parra, so they aren't natural platoon partners. It makes sense for the Diamondbacks to consider trades for Parra, but they seem likely to keep him as a late-game defensive replacement and left-handed bat off of the bench.
If $11MM sounds like a lot for a player who has a .225/.285/.375 line in his past 1151 plate appearances, recall that Aaron Hill hit well after the Diamondbacks acquired him last summer and that free agent infielders Clint Barmes and Mark Ellis signed comparable deals. It's not a steal, but the D'Backs needed someone to play second base and they expect Hill's offense to rebound to an extent in 2012.
"We still think he can be a good offensive second baseman," Ryan said. "But he doesn't have to be the guy for us."
The Diamondbacks discussed a long-term extension with catcher Miguel Montero, who will be eligible for free agency after the season. The sides tabled talks late last month and it now appears that Montero will test the open market. Kennedy and Hudson are also candidates for long-term deals, and talks could continue into the spring.
After reconstructing his bullpen a year ago, Towers contented himself with two major additions this offseason. The Diamondbacks signed Takashi Saito, who remains effective at the age of 42, and traded for Craig Breslow, an affordable left-hander who has averaged 63 innings per season since 2008.
Towers addressed his bench proactively, signing Blanco, Overbay, McDonald and Bloomquist to Major League contracts relatively early in the offseason. While two-year deals for bench players like McDonald and Bloomquist reduce roster flexibility, shortstop depth is especially important for the Diamondbacks, as Stephen Drew continues recovering from last summer's ankle injury. Overbay's left-handed swing will provide Gibson with an option off of the bench and complement Goldschmidt as he enters his first full season in the Majors (we'll ignore Goldschmidt's reverse platoon splits based on the tiny sample size).
Some of the Diamondbacks' moves were confusing when they happened, but now that the roster is in place, it's clear that Towers improved this team. Last year's club won 94 games without comparable pitching depth or as many weapons on offense. Health permitting, the 2012 Diamondbacks figure to contend again.