Towers takes major steps to improve D-backs

Towers takes major steps to improve D-backs

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- New D-backs general manager Kevin Towers expected to be active during the Winter Meetings.

Boy, was he ever.

The sun had barely risen on the first day of the Meetings before word began circulating that the D-backs were close to dealing third baseman Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for right-handed relievers David Hernandez and Kameron Mickolio.

"I had a pretty good idea on the Baltimore deal, we'd been working on that for quite some time, so I kind of knew that might go down," Towers said.

And even before that deal was finalized, Towers was in the process of putting the finishing touches on a one-year contract with the versatile Melvin Mora, who will be part of the platoon at third base to replace Reynolds.

While announcing both of those moves later in the day, Towers vowed he would have a closer in the fold within the next 24 hours.

Not long after that, it was learned that the team was closing in on a two-year deal with free-agent closer J.J. Putz.

So after the first day of the meetings, Towers had accomplished his goal of retooling the disastrous bullpen while at the same time reducing the team's record strikeout total by jettisoning Reynolds.

Towers also re-signed left-hander Mike Hampton, who pitched in 10 games for the D-backs down the stretch last season, and picked up a situational lefty during the Rule 5 Draft.

That gave the GM confidence that his team had improved greatly over the one that had finished last the previous two seasons.

"I don't see us being at the bottom of the division next year if we had to field the club as it is right now," he said. "I don't."

Deals done: The D-backs traded Reynolds to the Orioles for right-handers Hernandez and Mickolio, signed right-hander Putz, signed infielder Mora and signed left-hander Hampton.

Rule 5 activity: Arizona selected lefty Joe Paterson in the Major League portion and did not lose any players.

Goals accomplished: Towers accomplished his goal of cutting down on the team's strikeout total by dealing Reynolds, and he continued his remaking of the bullpen. In Putz the team has its first real closer since Jose Valverde in 2007, and Hernandez gives them a potential setup man and eventual closer. By adding Hampton, Mickolio and Paterson, Towers continued to build depth and foster competition in the bullpen.

Unfinished business: The D-backs are on the lookout for a right-handed hitter who can play left field as well as a veteran backup catcher. They expect to find the left fielder through free agency, and the catcher will likely be Henry Blanco. They are in the process of finalizing a deal to sell the rights of Rusty Ryal to a Japanese League team.

GM's bottom line: "Our primary focus was to improve our 'pen. The proof will be in the pudding next year when the season starts, but on paper right now, we feel we're a much better bullpen than we were a week ago." --Towers

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