The Arizona Diamondbacks may have been baseball's best story in 2011, unexpectedly rising to the top of the National League West after finishing at the bottom in 2010.
Not surprisingly, they enjoyed the view. What might be surprising, however, is how aggressive they're willing to be to stay there.
On Friday, Arizona GM Kevin Towers showed some of that aggression by adding a new arm to his already impressive crop of young pitchers, acquiring Trevor Cahill from the Oakland A's. Also coming back from the A's will be veteran left-handed reliever Craig Breslow — who, as our own Dave Brown tells us, learned of the trade via Twitter — with top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker, outfielder Collin Cowgill and right-hander Ryan Cook all headed to Oakland.
It's a significant trade and one that I believe will work out very well for both sides assuming Parker can come all the way back from 2009 Tommy John surgery. But I really like the approach Towers is taking in the NL West. Despite their success last season, the division still appeared to be wide open with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies all retooling with the belief Arizona was destined to take a step back.
Not so fast, Towers says. In one swift move, he has loudly and clearly stated his team is not only not going away, but they will again be the team to beat in 2012 and possibly beyond.
"We see a window after winning the NL West. We're in a go-for-it mode to stay on top of the division," Towers said. "We feel we've got a young starter to go along with Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and Ian Kennedy. Hopefully, we can keep this rotation together for a long time. We've got four starters we feel are as good as anybody in the NL West. With Trevor in the fold we feel our rotation is that much better."
I echo Towers' optimism.
Cahill, who turns only 24 in March, already has three successful big league seasons (96 starts) under his belt. In 2010, he won 18 games for Oakland and made an all-star appearance. He's also topped 178 innings in each season, going over 200 for the first time in 2011. And while he may not strike out a ton of batters, his sinker produces the high groundball rate necessary to succeed at Chase Field and such road parks as Coors Field.
Add it all up — age, durability, workhorse mentality, success at the big league level, quality sinker — and it's impossible to not like the aggressive play Towers made here.
Well, unless you're nervous about the contract. If you recall, Cahill signed a 5-year, $30 million extension with Oakland back in April. According to the terms of that deal, Cahill is still due roughly $28 million over the next four years, with a $13 million club option in 2016 and $13.5 million club option in 2017.
The contract has a heavy backload, but looking at where the market was set for C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle here in 2011, $12-$13 million could be a relative bargain should Cahill continue blossoming in his prime years. If Arizona isn't willing to pay him (which they likely won't be) as his price escalates, he could get them a return equal or better to what they gave up. If he falters or gets hurt and they can't unload him... well, that's just a gamble you have to take sometimes when the timing is right.
If you ask me, the timing is definitely right for Arizona.