A 9.5 game lead in late June is usually a pretty comfortable cushion. Well, it's not when one of your divisional rivals goes on a historic tear in the second half of the season. While the Dodgers went 42-8 over a 50 game stretch, the D'Backs faltered and lost control of the NL West. This year, they're looking to get to the top of the totem pole and remain there through September.
- Miguel Montero, C: $50MM through 2017
- Aaron Hill, 2B: $35MM through 2016
- Martin Prado, 3B: $33MM through 2016
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: $32MM through 2018
- Trevor Cahill, SP: $19.7MM through 2015
- Cody Ross, OF: $17MM through 2015
- Heath Bell, RP: $9MM through 2014 ($4MM of salary will be paid for by Marlins)
- Brandon McCarthy, SP: $9MM through 2014
- J.J. Putz, RP: $7MM through 2014
- Cliff Pennington, INF: $2.75MM through 2014
- David Hernandez, RP: $2MM through 2014
- Matt Reynolds, RP: $550K through 2014
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)
- Brad Ziegler, RP (5.122): $5MM
- Gerardo Parra, OF (4.145): $4.2MM
- Joe Thatcher, RP (5.019): $2MM
- Tony Sipp, RP (4.138): $1.4MM
- Daniel Hudson, SP (3.117): $1.1MM
- Josh Collmenter, RP (2.000): $900K
What do the Diamondbacks need to address right from the top? General Manager Kevin Towers says he'd like to add a power-hitting corner outfielder to the lineup to help protect first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The funny thing is, Arizona had that type of player in guys like Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Jason Kubel (even though he was struggling in 2013) but they've all been shipped elsewhere. Gerardo Parra has right field locked down and Adam Eaton should be slotted in at either center field or left field. While there are already internal options like the defensively sharp A.J. Pollock and the currently injured Cody Ross, neither one offers the aforementioned pop that they're seeking. Don't expect the Diamondbacks to go after this year's elite power-hitting outfielders (i.e. Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson), but they'll have less pricey options to choose from as well. Possible fits might include Mike Morse and Corey Hart, even though there are question marks about their ability to play well in the outfield.
If they can't find the right bat at the right price in left or center field, they could get a little creative and move Martin Prado to left and put a bopper at the hot corner instead. The D'Backs won't find a strong crop of third basemen with pop on the open market, however. Looking at the trade block, it seems likely that the Padres will listen on Chase Headley this winter as he takes his final turn through arbitration, but it's hard to imagine that San Diego will be willing to move him within the division. Even if the D'Backs are willing to part with the type of young talent to pry Headley away, they'll have to find the cash to lock him up beyond 2014. Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez could make sense as a trade target.
There' are other ways that the Diamondbacks can take care of their corner outfield situation on the trade market. Even with free agent Willie Bloomquist likely out of the picture, Arizona has two young shortstops in Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings. If the D'Backs commit to one player over the other, they could parlay their mini-surplus into something useful elsewhere. The Pirates could come calling for an upgrade over Jordy Mercer, who wasn't consistently sharp at the plate. The Reds could get by with Zack Cozart at shortstop, but it also wouldn't hurt to find someone better. The Cardinals have Pete Kozma and the Mets could hope for a better effort from Ruben Tejada, but you can add those clubs to the mix as well.
Arizona is also working with a surplus of starters and could use that to fill some holes. Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Randall Delgado, Tyler Skaggs, and top prospect Archie Bradley are all in the fold. Of course, it'll take a heck of an offer to pry Bradley away from the D'Backs.
The bullpen was supposed to be a major bright spot for the Diamondbacks in 2013 but it didn't turn out that way. J.J. Putz was in place as the D'Backs' closer for much of the season but his injury troubles gave Brad Ziegler an opportunity to seize the gig after Heath Bell showed that he couldn't hold it down. There are plenty of quality pitchers already in Arizona, but they have to perform up to their abilities. Bell, who is now two years removed from his All-Star form, is under contract for one more season. David Hernandez had an up-and-down year – with the down resulting in a demotion to Triple-A – but the light turned on in the fall as hitters averaged a .405 OPS against him in September. There could be an opening for a southpaw or two, depending on what the club does with Joe Thatcher and Tony Sipp who are both eligible for arbtration. It doesn't appear that the bullpen will require a complete overhaul, but a few new faces might be a good idea. The D'Backs can look into hard-throwing free agents like Jesse Crain to help build a better bridge to Ziegler.
One of the Diamondbacks' lesser priorities this season will be to address the backup catcher situation. Wil Nieves gave Arizona better offense than expected in 2013 (.297/.320/.369 in 206 plate apperances), but he wasn't sharp defensively. If the Pirates don't retain John Buck, he could be a more stabilizing force behind the plate in support of Miguel Montero.
Ultimately, the D'Backs probably aren't headed for a major overhaul this winter, but they'll look at add a few key pieces to their talented roster. With a bit of good health and good luck, Arizona can keep the Dodgers out of their pool in 2014.