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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

D-backs not settling for anything less

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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- D-backs owner Ken Kendrick has set the bar high for the 2014 season. He's looking for something to do next 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 there are still those lingering statements he made during a radio interview last November.

"Frankly, it's a performance business," Kendrick said at the time. "People that are in the position of manager, general manager and players are rewarded for performance."

That's not news for Gibson and Towers. There are few people in sports more competitive than those two.

"I think we all expect to be World Series champions this year," said Gibson, an All-American wide receiver at Michigan State before signing with the Detroit Tigers as a first-round Draft pick in 1978. "That's why we are here. That's why we are preparing."

The emphasis is on the "we" not "I."

"It's more of an accomplishment of doing something together than me winning," Gibson said. "A lot has to go right. You have to be strong. You are trying to go to the Promised Land."

Towers wants to make sure the D-backs have the necessary parts to make that trip. And unlike his days in San Diego, where rebuilding was so often the focus, this past winter alone showed 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 Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, however, spent the final 71 days of the season atop the division in capturing the title.

And that is what has driven Towers since the end of last season, and that's been the focus of Gibson in getting the D-backs 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 Mark Trumbo in an offseason trade with the Angels to provide lineup protection for Paul Goldschmidt, acquired reliever Addison Reed from the White Sox to fill out the back of the bullpen and then signed free-agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo, whose track record (at least 199 innings and 32 starts each of the last nine years) makes the D-backs optimistic he can work through a bulging disc that was diagnosed on Wednesday.

"I mean, this guy had Valley Fever and pneumonia last year, and found a way to start the season with the Reds," Towers said. "There's ways we could cover it. I think we had him kind of penciled in near the top of our rotation when we came back from Australia, and if we had to push him back and move somebody forward, we could probably do it."

It's all part of a challenge the D-backs welcome. They aren't undaunted by the free-spending ways of the Dodgers. They aren't going to panic about an early spring injury.

"We want to win the division," Towers said. "We're not in a rebuilding mode. I don't think our fan base would embrace that. I don't think our ownership does. They want to win every year. And I know Gibby and I want to win every year."

And there were parts that Towers felt needed to be added to enhance Arizona's opportunity to reach its goal.

Trumbo is not the ideal left fielder, but he is a legitimate run-production threat for the middle of the lineup. He has hit 95 home runs and driven in 282 runs the last three seasons. A year ago, the D-backs' cleanup hitters hit 17 home runs, tied for last in the NL with the Marlins, and drove in only 85 runs, ranking 11th in the NL.

Even with that, Goldschmidt, who hit third in 143 of his starts, flirted for a while with a Triple Crown and finished hitting .302, leading the NL with 36 home runs and 123 RBIs.

It's not like Trumbo came cheap. Arizona gave up center fielder Adam Eaton, who two years ago was such a hot commodity that he displaced Chris Young in the D-backs' lineup, and left-hander Tyler Skaggs, the 40th player taken in the 2009 Draft, who the D-backs originally acquired from the Angels for veteran pitcher Dan Haren.

"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 removed from free agency. So for the late-inning protection and four years of control over Reed's future, Arizona parted with third-base prospect Matt Davidson, the 35th player selected in the 2009 Draft and a participant in the Futures Game last summer.

"We liked Davidson, but we like Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury more in the long run," Towers said. "In our pecking order, he was No. 3."

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 D-backs, after all, know where they want to go. Now, they have to spend the summer doing what's necessary to get there.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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