D-backs seek answers from within for 2014
Major roster moves unlikely, but Towers could look to add power hitter
PHOENIX -- The 2013 season did not end the way the D-backs hoped.
They were eliminated by the rival Dodgers at home and then had to watch the victors celebrate in the Chase Field pool, adding insult to injury.
That bitter taste makes it easy to forget that the D-backs did hold onto first place in the division for 67 days.
So while the year was not a disaster, the D-backs know that they have to figure out how to get better if they are to overcome the Dodgers and find themselves back in the postseason in 2014.
The roster likely will not change substantially, with most key contributors under contract or club control for the next few years, so the organization will have to determine how to get more out of its current cast of players.
D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said that he feels there are three main areas in which his team can improve: allowing fewer home runs and wild pitches and hitting into fewer double plays.
That and better health, he thinks, should lead to increased wins in 2014, a season that will begin with two games against the Dodgers in Sydney, Australia, on March 22-23.
"A lot of wild pitches, that hurt us," Towers said. "Leading the league in wild pitches and double plays and giving up homers. I think it's pretty easy to look at some of the areas. If we cut our wild pitches in half, cut the home runs in half, cut the double plays and stay healthy, we're going to win a lot more games. You're going to have injuries but just not losing guys for two months at a time."
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson would add another item to that list: hitting better with runners in scoring position.
"It's got to be addressed; we've got to be better at it," Gibson said during the last week of the season after watching his team go 2-for-12 in those situations in a loss. "There are going to be times you don't get it, but you're looking for good approaches."
Towers is not nicknamed "The Gunslinger" because he is timid, so expect him to explore all available avenues for improving his team.
Towers would like to add a power-hitting corner outfielder to the lineup, and how he does that will be interesting to watch this winter. The D-backs do have depth in the Minor Leagues in starting pitching and they could have a young shortstop to deal depending on which direction they decide to go there.
"I think they need a middle-of-the-lineup hitter to protect [Paul Goldschmidt] in front or behind him," veteran third baseman Eric Chavez said. "But there's a lot good pieces here. It's a good time to be in this organization."
Arbitration-eligible: RHP Josh Collmenter, RHP Daniel Hudson, OF Gerardo Parra, LHP Matt Reynolds, LHP Tony Sipp, LHP Joe Thatcher, RHP Brad Ziegler.
Free agents: INF/OF Willie Bloomquist, INF Chavez, C Wil Nieves.
Catcher: The D-backs are counting on a bounce-back season for Miguel Montero. The veteran got off to a slow start at the plate, and although he did hit better as the year went along, it was still a disappointing season for him. Who will back up Montero remains to be seen. Nieves turned in a solid season at the plate, but the team was not happy with his blocking ability behind it.
First base: This is a position that figures to be manned by Goldschmidt for the foreseeable future after he signed a five-year extension this past spring and then turned in an MVP-type season. Goldschmidt started nearly every game and has proved to be quite durable.
Second base: Aaron Hill has been rejuvenated since coming to the D-backs during the 2011 season, and his three-year $35 million contract extension begins in 2014. A fracture in his left hand kept him on the shelf for an extended period of time in 2013, leaving a large hole in the offense.
Shortstop: The D-backs have a surplus of shortstops and will have to decide during the offseason what direction they want to go. Veteran Bloomquist is a free agent and will likely play somewhere else in 2014. The D-backs have two young players at the position in Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings, and Towers has indicated he would be comfortable having them split time at the position in 2014 if that is the way things end up working out. Veteran Cliff Pennington is under contract for 2014, and the team loves his defense and leadership in the clubhouse.
Third base: Martin Prado played well at the hot corner in his first year with the team and he likely will be there again next year. Of course, if the D-backs decide to add a power bat to the lineup and it happens to be a third baseman, then they could always move Prado to left field, where he also saw time in 2013. Veteran Eric Chavez is a free agent and it would make sense for the club to bring him back once again in a backup role.
Outfield: There are plenty of decisions for the team to make at this spot. Gerardo Parra figures to be the everyday right fielder, but what about the other two spots? It's hard to believe that one would not go to Adam Eaton, who brings a speed dynamic to the lineup. A.J. Pollock showed he was an elite defender in center and also flashed promise at the plate, and if he's not a starter, he would be a very valuable fourth outfielder. Of course, one of the current cast could be used as trade bait for a power corner outfielder. It remains to be seen when -- and possibly if -- Cody Ross comes back after suffering a dislocated and fractured hip in 2013.
Rotation: Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy would appear to be front-runners for rotation spots heading into the offseason. Given the inconsistency of the rotation in 2013, the D-backs figure to make each pitcher earn his spot during Spring Training. Archie Bradley, the team's top prospect, will get a chance to compete for a spot, as will left-handed prospects Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg. And don't forget about Randall Delgado, who pitched well after joining the rotation during the season, as well as right-handers Charles Brewer and Zeke Spruill.
Bullpen: Towers is regarded as a master at building bullpens, and you can expect him to do some more tinkering after all the blown saves in 2013. J.J. Putz will come to Spring Training determined to win his closer's job back from Brad Ziegler, and the way David Hernandez threw to finish the season makes him a closer candidate as well. In addition, Heath Bell is under contract for another season. Will Harris did a nice job after being claimed on waivers and figures to be back. The team must decide what to do with arbitration-eligible lefties Thatcher and Sipp. Lefty Eury De La Rosa flashed promise and could push for a spot as a specialist. Southpaw Reynolds will miss the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, while starter Hudson could find himself in the bullpen later in the season as he tries to work his way back from his second Tommy John surgery. Two prospects to keep in mind are right-handers Jake Barrett and Matt Stites, both of whom Towers praised toward the end of the 2013 season.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.