LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Dodgers' post-clinch pool party on the D-backs' turf was only a symbolic splash representing the larger lapping that had occurred in the season's second half.
Bless their gritty little hearts, the D-backs could not keep up with a Dodgers club overloaded with resources. And the sting of the D-backs' second-place standing not only erased any sense of certainty regarding the statuses of Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson beyond the coming year (their 2015 contract options were not exercised) but also emboldened Arizona's offseason outlook as the club prepares for a 2014 season that features an Aussie opening against those very Dodgers.
"We owe those guys" is how managing general partner Ken Kendrick termed it recently to MLB.com, and the push for payback is assisted this offseason with a deep prospect pool (a different pool, mind you, than the one that rests at Chase Field) and a rumored willingness to push the payroll past the $100 million mark for the first time in franchise history.
So aggressiveness was expected from a spurned D-backs club, and aggressiveness arrived Tuesday, when Towers bid boldly on a power-hitting corner outfielder (the very kind of commodity he gave up a year ago in the Justin Upton trade) named Mark Trumbo.
It's a risky move, to say the least, but one that could net the D-backs an additional 40 homers while simultaneously providing more lineup protection for would-be MVP Paul Goldschmidt.
These are good things, no doubt.
"Two of the probably better right-handed power bats in the National League," Towers said of that Goldschmidt-Trumbo pairing. "We're excited to see how it all works."
Still, the trade received its fair share of scrutiny within the halls of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, and not without merit.
The D-backs, after all, surrendered a potential middle-of-the-rotation arm in left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the Angels and an outfielder with speed and leadoff upside in Adam Eaton to the White Sox as part of the three-team deal, and they're getting back a player whose power comes at the expense of his on-base percentage and whose defense might offset a certain chunk of his production.
Trumbo is a true student of the game with a great work ethic, three more years of contractual control attached to him and a tool that is highly coveted given the general power outage that exists in an increasingly pitching-oriented league. But even if you can look past the strikeout totals that accompany his 95 swats since the start of 2011, you do have to wonder if an NL team already set at first base was the most reasonable landing spot for him.
The D-backs, though, saw a need for offensive improvement in an outfield that had the sixth-lowest OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), .717, of any in the NL last season. They don't have to squint too hard to see Trumbo taking advantage of Chase Field's dimensions and reputation as a hitter's haven.
More than anything else, they saw a need to make a splash of their own, especially after they were spurned by Carlos Beltran last week. They were in on the Shin-Soo Choo market as recently as Monday night, but it can safely be argued that seven years and more than $100 million for Choo (not to mention surrendering a compensation Draft pick to the Reds) would have been an even bolder outfield option than the one Towers ultimately agreed to.
Even before he landed Trumbo, Towers had talked here about the value of "sending a message to your own players that you're serious about competing."
The D-backs seems serious enough to make another significant signing or swap to augment their Patrick Corbin-led rotation. And they still have trading chips in hand, though there's no question the absence of Eaton and Skaggs, as well as last week's loss of David Holmberg as part of the cash-saving Heath Bell trade, lessen the bounty available.
In Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings, Towers believes he has two Major League-ready shortstops, with Cliff Pennington as insurance and Nick Ahmed in the pipeline. This is a glut that should continue to be explored in a market always hungry for up-the-middle assistance.
Archie Bradley is considered untouchable -- or, at least, about as untouchable as a prospect can be when his GM is a fearless gunslinger such as Towers -- but it remains to be seen if the same protocol applies to Braden Shipley or Andrew Chafin. Third baseman Matt Davidson is another prized piece.
Towers said the Trumbo trade makes a free-agent signing of an arm a preferred avenue over another trade, but he's been known to shift strategies if the right deal arrives. Without moving Bradley, David Price is not a realistic possibility, but that doesn't mean another impact arm such as Jeff Samardzija is completely out of the question.
"We're going to spend the next 48 hours continuing to meet with agents, [looking into] some free-agent pitching out there, as well as a couple of clubs talking about acquiring pitching," Towers said. "So in the perfect world, probably the free-agent route makes more sense just because you don't want to empty the cupboard on a farm system that we think is strong. But if it's the right player, we'll consider trading once again."
It's an interesting juncture at which the D-backs stand, because a club in a market such as theirs must always be careful not to leverage the future. Their payroll was in the $56 million range just three seasons ago, so the thought of venturing into nine figures is an aggressive one, indeed.
But with the Trumbo trade, the approach Towers and Co. have been articulating was made clear. The D-backs are conceding nothing in the NL West. They want to duel with the Dodgers, and they're not afraid of using their resources to support a season in which Towers and Gibson have their jobs on the line.
Revenge would be sweet. But as the Trumbo trade proved, it's pretty pricey, too.