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.
2011 record: 94-68
Finish: First place, NL West
2011 final payroll: $65.6 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $75 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 9th
Hashtags: #busy, #utilityinfieldersarethenewblack, #typicaldrew, #flyguys, #huhhuhhesaidputz, #gibby, #bauerpauer, #smartpen, #wilymo, #dhall
Part of Kevin Towers' charm as a general manager is that he gives not a sliver of a damn what other teams do or think. A two-year contract for utilityman John McDonald? Sure. Another two-year contract for another utilityman, Willie Bloomquist. Naturally. One more two-year contract, and this one at $15 million, for mediocre-gloved Jason Kubel? What the hell, even if the Diamondbacks do have an outfield of Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra in left, the well above-average Chris Young in center and star Justin Upton in right.
Towers packed all of those – and the "huh?" that accompanied them – into an offseason in which handing Joe Saunders a $6 million deal felt reasonable, even if it, too, was ill-advised.
Nabbing Takashi Saito for $1.75 million could prove a bargain, and Towers' deal for starter Trevor Cahill gave the Diamondbacks three potential top-of-the-rotation starters 27 or younger, with two more on the way this season.
Giving up Jarrod Parker in the Cahill trade with Oakland was possible because of the D-backs' minor league pitching depth as well as Towers' attitude. He wants to win immediately, and if that means giving up six years of control on someone with Parker's immense potential, so be it. There is no time for regret when chasing a championship.
Love him, hate him, praise him, question him, Towers is … interesting. And while that's not a quality most seek in a GM – it falls somewhere between daring and dumb on the decision-making continuum – it has worked for Towers. He succeeded in San Diego. He won a division title his first season in Arizona.
Whether these Diamondbacks can do better than last year's first-round playoff exit will depend on the utilitymen and poor defensive outfielder and overpaid starter and everyone else in the web Towers weaves. He'll either be a genius or a goat. And the way the rest of the NL West looks, the former is likelier than the latter.
The last time the Diamondbacks finished in first, they started the next season 20-8 and looked like the best team in baseball. Soon thereafter the fickleness of teams coming off surprise division victories struck them hard. Arizona didn't even finish .500.
Whether these Diamondbacks are built of the same flimsy material as their 2008 counterparts or something more substantive depends more than anything on their pitching – Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Cahill and stud prospects Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley – than, say, the return of Stephen Drew (out after shattering an ankle) or the predilection for D-backs starters to give up fly balls (which Kubel may chase in amusing fashion).
It all starts with the three top starters, plus Josh Collmenter and Saunders for now, and moves onto what could be the most intelligent bullpen in the major leagues. Craig Breslow: Yale graduate. Brad Zielger: Missouri State graduate. J.J. Putz: went to Michigan. All three of the other Diamondbacks' American relievers matriculated, too. Even Saito went to Tohoku Fukushi University. Oh, and they can pitch fine as well. Especially effective in the playoffs was Bryan Shaw, whose delivery looks like Francisco Rodriguez's and who could make himself into a fine bridge to Putz alongside David Hernandez and Saito.
[ Fantasy: Five Pressing Questions for Arizona Diamondbacks ]
It moves on to the Diamondbacks' lineup, which has flaws more than it does holes. Good Paul Goldschmidt hits the ball longer than Wily Mo Pena. Bad Paul Goldschmidt misses by a foot. Good Stephen Drew stays healthy. Bad Stephen Drew remembers his last name and goes down. Good Justin Upton punishes sliders like he did last season. Bad Justin Upton reverts like he did in 2010, when his OPS dipped 100 points. The Diamondbacks will score enough. Just not a lot, and that's where it's incumbent on Kirk Gibson to properly compel them.
The narrative of Gibson is a fire-chewing loudmouth who reined himself and his team in to win a division in 2010. There is truth to that. There is also Kirk Gibson, who cannot possibly rein himself in because he's Kirk Freaking Gibson, a bad, bad man who, if he weren't busy managing, might be doing a TV ad for Detroit, where he grew up.
Put them together and it's a nice team made nicer by the NL West's lack of a surefire contender (although Jeremy Guthrie going to Colorado makes the Rockies' offseason that much more successful). Until the offense catches up with a rotation that tossed an ERA well under 4.00, further success could run into limitations.
The best reason to compare Trevor Bauer with Tim Lincecum isn't their deliveries, even if they share a similar whirling-dervish windup. Part of what makes Lincecum Lincecum is that not only are hitters sold on his greatness, he is, too. Lincecum pitches with a cockiness that borders on narcissism. Bauer, if possible, could be even more self-assured. He knows he is the goods, that his right arm can whip around 95-mph fastballs like it's nothing and snap off mean curveballs effortlessly. Bauer may have to wait his turn – Skaggs, who dominated his 10 starts at Double-A to finish last season, may get dibs on an injury replacement – but once it happens, Bauer won't be going anywhere for a while.
Diamondbacks in Haiku
Please read this story,
And tell me you're not gonna
Root for the D-backs
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