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D'backs may be defined by Reynolds trade

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

2010 record: 65-97
Finish: Fifth place, NL West
2010 final payroll: $70.5 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $55 million

Offseason action

Not one of the 20 pitchers who threw for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008 remains on the team's roster. It's a remarkable feat, really, that a team so quickly and thoroughly purged itself of a group with an adjusted ERA nearly 20 percent better than the league average.

To track the Diamondbacks' downfall, then, necessitates only a look at its pitching because much of its offensive core remains in place, and the team looks nothing like the group that won 20 of its first 26 games in '08. And after taking over in September, new general manager Kevin Towers set about flipping Arizona's staff once again, particularly a bullpen that reached odious levels last season.

The Diamondbacks' relievers had a 5.74 ERA, more than a full run worse than the team ranked 29th. So the two-year deal handed to J.J. Putz(notes), even after a rough August and September, made sense. Likewise did Towers' targeting David Hernandez(notes) and Kam Mickolio(notes) when he dealt Mark Reynolds(notes) to Baltimore.

That deal will define Towers' early tenure in Arizona more than any. He said he wanted to get rid of strikeouts, and he did. Only two years ago, of course, was Reynolds hitting 44 home runs. With his walk rate increasing to 13.9 percent last season and horrible luck on balls in play, Reynolds is a candidate for a big bounceback season, and to see him do so in Baltimore with only two relievers to show for it isn't exactly a dream trade.

Then again, Hernandez and Mickolio come equipped with big arms, and Towers' ability to build a bullpen was evident in San Diego long before Petco Park turned every Padres reliever into Mariano Rivera(notes). His other moves were merely filler: Xavier Nady(notes) in left field, Zach Duke(notes) into the No. 5 spot (for now), Geoff Blum(notes) and Henry Blanco(notes) keeping the bench warm. Care to see where the Diamondbacks now troll during free agency? Melvin Mora(notes), $2 million, starter at third.

Gone are the days of $100 million payrolls in Arizona, of lavish free-agent spending. The Diamondbacks can't buy their way into contention anymore. This thing is going to take some time. It's been a long three years, and it's only getting longer.

Reality check

When Towers was taking offers on Justin Upton(notes) early in the offseason, he was merely doing his due diligence. There ought be no such thing as an untouchable for a team with 189 losses the last two seasons, even someone with the potential of Upton.

That, after all, epitomizes the Diamondbacks' reality: abundant potential gone unrealized. From Upton to Stephen Drew(notes) to Chris Young to Miguel Montero(notes) – and those are merely the ones left, with Reynolds, Conor Jackson(notes) and Carlos Quentin(notes) dearly departed – unfulfilled expectations are every bit as responsible as pitching meltdowns for the Diamondbacks' fall from the 2007 NLCS to last place. This was, at one juncture, a team so loaded with talent it felt comfortable letting Dan Uggla(notes) go via the Rule 5 draft.

And while there isn't exactly an offensive vacuum in Arizona, it's nearing the witching hour for the youth to mature. Young found himself last year, though that swing still runs a marathon before entering the zone. Drew is a lot like his brother J.D., actually – valued highly by sabermetricians, treated with skepticism by scouts. Montero simply needs to stay healthy. Upton's dip in power and increased strikeout level is acceptable only because he turned 23 in August.

With those four and Kelly Johnson(notes), the up-the-middle potential – damn that P word! – defensively and offensively for the Diamondbacks is significant. Their rotation, on the other hand, is full of finished products. Joe Saunders(notes) is among the more meager No. 1-on-paper starters in baseball. Daniel Hudson(notes) showed ace stuff last year and should take that mantel after going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts following the Edwin Jackson(notes) deal. Ian Kennedy(notes) is the is-what-he-is epitome. For a sign of excitement, simply wait until June, when the Diamondbacks likely will have grown tired of Barry Enright(notes) or Duke and can summon Jarrod Parker, their top prospect whose recovery from Tommy John surgery has gone well.

It's far from the rotation of three years ago, when the Diamondbacks trotted out Brandon Webb(notes) and Dan Haren(notes), and visions of dynasty seemed far from premature. Then Webb got hurt, prompting Arizona to start over and trade Haren. Visions are foggy for good reason.

So maybe come the middle of the season, Towers starts listening to offers on Upton again. One source interested in dealing for Upton said he believes the door is far from shut, and come June or July, with the Diamondbacks again flailing, gone could be another piece of a puzzle that simply never fit.

Diamondbacks in haiku

Montero, Mora
Miranda, Gutierrez
Gonna arrest 'em?

Next: San Diego Padres