LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The D-backs may not come away from these Winter Meetings with a starting pitcher after all.
One day after sounding confident that he would acquire a front-line starter, D-backs GM Kevin Towers on Wednesday sounded less optimistic of doing so before he heads back to the desert Thursday afternoon.
"Like to," Towers said when asked about getting a pitcher. "Still possible, yeah."
But now it's a matter of whether it is worth the cost either in terms of dollars for a free agent or prospects in a trade scenario.
The name the D-backs have most been linked to on the free-agent market is right-hander Matt Garza and there's good reason for that -- he's their top target.
The complicating factor is Garza is at the top of a number of team's list, because he is one of the free agents who do not have Draft compensation attached to them. In other words, the team that signs Garza would not have to surrender its No. 1 pick in next year's Draft like it would for inking say Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
"I think there's a lot of people looking for pitching and he's probably the most attractive just because there's no Draft compensation tied to him," Tower said of Garza.
With teams flush with money and on the hunt for pitching the prices are high and there is another hurdle for the D-backs to climb.
While Arizona has money to spend, Towers is uncomfortable giving a free-agent pitcher more than a three-year contract and the front-line starters they are looking at are all but certain to command deals perhaps as long as five years.
"Longer contracts for pitchers always I thought were pretty risky," Towers said. "It seems like most of the free-agent pitching out there are looking for longer term than we're probably interested in. It depends on the individual, too. Some guys are a little older or there's more risk attached to them, some have had health issues in the past, others haven't. I'd say anything beyond three to me could be risky."
So no five-year offers from the D-backs?
"No and probably not four, which may eliminate us," Towers said.
Towers also pointed out that Garza's agent, Nez Belelo, returned to his offices in California on Wednesday, so it was unlikely that Garza would sign before the end of the Meetings.
There is one pitcher the D-backs would be willing to go five years for and that is Masahiro Tanaka. At this point, though, it is not certain whether the Japanese right-hander will be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
If he is, expect the D-backs to bid the maximum $20 million and then try to convince Tanaka to sign with them for less money than big-money teams like the Yankees might be offering.
As for the trade route, the D-backs have already traded a pair of pitching prospects -- left-handers Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg -- and center fielder Adam Eaton this winter and do not want to deplete their system much further.
Top pitching prospect Archie Bradley is virtually untouchable and is almost without question the first name a team like the Rays would demand in a deal for ace David Price.
That leaves the D-backs with a decision to make.
"Tonight if we wanted to, we could go out and get one of the better pitchers out there available for trade," Towers said. "It's just do we want to do it or not? Is this something we want to do and kind of deplete our system or do we just keep our guys and give our young guys an opportunity to go out and compete?"
Right now Arizona's rotation consists of Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Randall Delgado.
The team is fairly certain of what it will get from Corbin and Miley, but the D-backs wonder if McCarthy can stay healthy, if Cahill can rediscover his form from a couple of years ago and if Delgado can refine a breaking ball to go with his fastball-change combo.
Of course, Bradley could solve their desire for a front-line starter by winning a job in the rotation and pitching like Corbin did last year.
"There's no doubt in my mind we're going to have a tough decision at the end of Spring Training to keep Archie or not," Towers said. "I think he will showcase his abilities very, very well this spring and make it tough on us."
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.Less