D-backs look to upgrade shaky relief corps

D-backs look to upgrade shaky relief corps

PHOENIX -- Kevin Towers spent the month of October reshaping the D-backs' front office and coaching staff.

Now, with free agents able to sign with any club, the new D-backs' GM will turn his attention to remaking a roster that has finished last in the National League West two years running.

Given the results the past two years, it seems like a project that could take some time. But Towers likes the talent he sees.

"I think it's a quick turnaround," Towers said. "I'm not a big believer in five-year plans, six-year plans. I want to win next year."

The D-backs have a core of players that they will build the 2011 team around in outfielders Chris Young and Justin Upton, along with shortstop Stephen Drew, second baseman Kelly Johnson and catcher Miguel Montero. In addition, the club boasts a starting rotation of Joe Saunders, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Barry Enright.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds could be in that group, or the team could choose to move him and his high strikeout total. The club whiffed a Major League-record 1,529 times in 2010, and moving Reynolds and his 211 strikeouts would be one way to achieve Towers' goal of cutting down on strikeouts, while adding more contact hitters.

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Don't look for the team to just give Reynolds away, though. The D-backs could wind up reducing the strikeout total by making moves at first base and left field. Plus, there is an expectation that Upton will strike out fewer times as he gains more experience.

The biggest thing Towers will work on improving is the bullpen, which had the third-worst ERA in Major League history at 5.74.

"The bullpen, to me, is paramount," Towers said. "I think we definitely need to stay focused on that."

Here's a look at the team as the Hot Stove season heats up:

Contract issues

Free agents: Kris Benson, RHP; Mike Hampton, LHP; Aaron Heilman, RHP; Adam LaRoche, 1B; Rodrigo Lopez, RHP; Brandon Webb, RHP

Eligible for arbitration: Blaine Boyer, RHP; D.J. Carrasco, RHP; Ryan Church, OF; Drew, SS; Johnson, 2B; Montero, C; Augie Ojeda, INF; Saunders, LHP

Non-tender possibilities: Boyer, Ojeda, Church, Carrasco

Areas of need

Closer/bullpen: Despite a strong finish by Juan Gutierrez, the team would like to acquire a couple of back-end-of-the-bullpen pitchers that will allow it to pitch Gutierrez in the seventh inning. Towers will explore every avenue to acquiring players -- including trades, free agency and non-tenders. He was adept in San Diego at finding relievers that others overlooked and he will try to do so again. Don't rule out the possibility of the team acquiring someone who in the past has been a starter, but who may be suited to pitch in the bullpen. That could include Minor League starters who would make good relievers. Towers looks for good strikeout-to-walk ratios, size and strength in the 'pen.

Bench: A veteran bench is important to Towers and that's one thing the D-backs do not currently have. Help in this area is likely to come via the free-agency route.

Starting pitching: The D-backs would like to add a veteran starter for some rotational depth. They will not be players, though, for big-ticket free agents and will instead look to see what starter might be left without a chair when the music stops in January.

Left field: The D-backs did not get a lot of production out of their left fielders in 2010. They do have some options in Gerardo Parra, Brandon Allen and Cole Gillespie, but they would like to upgrade if they can work it into their budget. This position is also tied into first base, given the overlap of Allen.

First base: With LaRoche departing, it leaves the D-backs with just Allen at the position and that's something they probably would not be comfortable with on a regular basis. Like with left field, this spot could be patched together with a mixture of Allen and whatever veteran(s) the team lands for the bench. The D-backs are not looking for a ton of production out of first base or left field given their financial limitations, but would like grinders who make contact.

2011 payroll

The D-backs have had a payroll in the mid-$70 million range in recent years, but that is likely to drop to somewhere between $60-65 million, a figure Towers says he is very comfortable with for right now. They will have Webb's $8.5 million and LaRoche's $6 million coming off the books, but that will be balanced by players like Reynolds ($500,000 to $5 million), Upton ($500,000 to $4.25 million) and Young ($3.25 million to $5 million) being due raises in their contracts, and Drew, Montero and Saunders being due increases via arbitration. Unless they move Reynolds, they are looking at somewhere close to $50 million in obligations. That would leave them with, at most, $15 million to spend.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.