SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has set the bar high for the 2014 season. He’s looking for something to do in October.
Watching baseball’s postseason from afar hasn’t met Kendrick’s needs.
He is looking for Arizona to return to the playoffs—this year. Kendrick extended the contracts of manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers through 2015 earlier this spring, but some of the statements he made during a radio interview last November still linger.
“Frankly, it’s a performance business,” Kendrick said at the time. “People who are in the position of manager, general manager and players are rewarded for performance.”
That’s not news to Gibson and Towers. “I think we all expect to be World Series champions this year,” Gibson said. “That’s why we are here. That’s why we are preparing.”
Unlike his days with the Padres, where rebuilding was so often the focus, this offseason showed that Towers knows the future is now in the Valley of the Sun.
The memory of that 2011 National League West title has faded.
“We’ve been .500 the last two years,” Towers said. “What people forget is we led the division for more days than any other team last year.”
Yes, Arizona was in first place in the NL West for 81 days in 2013, eight more days than the Dodgers. The Dodgers, however, spent the final 71 days of the season atop the division and captured the title.
And that is what has driven Towers since the end of last season, and has been Gibson’s focus in getting the Diamondbacks ready this spring. Long known for finding ways to add prospects to his system, Towers played role reversal last winter, thanks in large part to what he considered organizational depth.
Arizona added left fielder Mark Trumbo from the Angels in a three-way offseason trade to provide lineup protection for Paul Goldschmidt, acquired reliever Addison Reed from the White Sox for third baseman Matt Davidson to fill out the back of the bullpen, and then signed free agent righthander Bronson Arroyo.
Towers felt he needed to add some parts to the roster to enhance Arizona’s opportunity to reach its goal. Trumbo is not an ideal left fielder, but he is a legitimate run producer for the middle of the lineup. He has hit 95 home runs and driven in 282 runs over the last three seasons. A year ago, Arizona cleanup hitters hit 17 home runs, tied for last in the NL with the Marlins.
Even with that, Goldschmidt flirted with the Triple Crown and hit .302, leading the NL with 36 homers and 123 RBIs.
Trumbo did not come cheap, however. In a three-way deal involving the Angels and White Sox, the Diamondbacks gave up center fielder Adam Eaton(^), who two years ago was such a hot commodity that he displaced veteran Chris Young(^), and lefthander Tyler Skaggs, whom Arizona had acquired from the Angels for Dan Haren in 2010. (Arizona also got outfielder Brandon Jacobs from the White Sox and righthander A.J. Schugel from the Angels.)
“We felt we had some areas of depth,” Towers said. “Because of the emergence of (center fielder A.J.) Pollock, we were able to move Eaton.”
Reed has 69 saves in the majors, including 40 last year with the White Sox. What’s more, J.J. Putz is a free agent after the season, while Reed is four seasons away from free agency. So for the late-inning protection and four years of control, Arizona parted with Davidson, the 35th player selected in the 2009 draft.
And then came the two-year, $23.5 million investment in Arroyo.
“We didn’t have that veteran in our rotation,” Towers said. “Arroyo has done the job. He’s been the guy. He’s a free spirit, a tremendous fit in our mix. We didn’t want to be rushing (top prospect Archie) Bradley.
“We want him here when he’s ready, not because he has to be pushed, so we had to create some rotation depth. We felt we did that and brought in leadership with Bronson.”
The Diamondbacks, after all, know where they want to go. Now, they have to spend the summer doing what’s necessary to get there.