PHOENIX -- The 2012 season did not go the way the D-backs expected it to, but there is reason for optimism when looking at 2013.
Arizona returns an offensive core of Justin Upton, Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero and Jason Kubel. The pitching staff could be infused with youngsters like Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer, and the top three starters Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley are all under team control, as well.
The D-backs should not lack for motivation either after being stuck around the .500 mark for much of 2012, despite having what they felt was a better team than the one that won the division in 2011.
"It's nobody's fault but our own," manager Kirk Gibson said of the team's predicament toward the end of the season. "I sure as heck hope that they would be motivated, and if they're not, we'd better get rid of them."
Some of what the D-backs will need to improve on is obvious. They'll need more consistency from their starting rotation. So solid in 2011, the rotation was up and down in '12 and did not consistently pitch deep into games.
Baserunning will be a point of emphasis. The D-backs ran into far too many outs on the basepaths this season, and for someone like Gibson, who puts a lot of emphasis on the running game, it was a tough pill to swallow. You can bet there will be added drills done next spring.
"We were terrible on the bases," Gibson said. "Brutal. Gotta be much better there. That falls upon me to help correct that."
Another point of emphasis will be on doing the little things that help win close games. The D-backs were one of the best in that category in 2011, and one of the worst in '12.
"If you analyze where we were coming into last season, the things that we wanted to focus on, we got a little sloppy this year just in how to control a game and compete our way through and give ourselves a chance to win more games," Gibson said.
Catcher: The D-backs solidified this spot early in the 2012 season when they signed Montero to a five-year, $60 million extension. Montero was an ironman behind the plate once again, and playing time for his backup is hard to come by. Veteran Henry Blanco is a perfect fit for that role, and it is likely that both he and the team will exercise his $1.24 million player option.
First base: After a solid final two months in 2011, Goldschmidt showed he is the club's long-term solution at first with an outstanding '12 campaign. The D-backs have a lot of options when it comes to a backup, including veteran Mike Jacobs, who could provide a valuable left-handed bat off the bench, or a younger player such as Ryan Wheeler.
Second base: Hill has proven to be a key part of the lineup and is under contract for 2013. Hill settled nicely into the No. 2 spot in the batting order, and made history by hitting for the cycle twice this season. Look for the club to explore the possibility of signing him to a contract extension this offseason.
Shortstop: With Stephen Drew now gone, the D-backs have veterans John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist left. While they like both players, there are durability concerns that likely will lead the club to explore outside options. The Rangers' Elvis Andrus has been mentioned as a possibility. Jake Elmore provides Minor League depth and can play third, short and second.
Third base: Toward the end of the 2012 season, general manager Kevin Towers said that he thought the D-backs would look internally first for a third baseman in '13. Chris Johnson, who was acquired from the Astros prior to the Trade Deadline, is the frontrunner. The team also has Wheeler, who had a great Triple-A season before struggling a bit in limited playing time toward the end of the Major League season. The D-backs sent Double-A third baseman Matt Davidson to the Arizona Fall League to polish his skills.
Outfield: The are too many players for too few positions, and this is one area of the team that the D-backs are expected to deal at least one of their players. Chris Young seems the most likely candidate, but they will be selling low on him and may have to pick up some of the $10 million left on his contract in order to get a deal done. Young got off to a hot start in 2012, but a shoulder injury derailed his season and a leg injury hampered him from finishing strong.
The D-backs listened to offers for right fielder Upton at the Trade Deadline, and it's possible they could do so again this winter. He might be their only trading chip that could land a frontline starting shortstop. While left fielder Kubel seems to be a good bet to stay, if the club also keeps Upton then it could look to trade both Young and Gerardo Parra, especially if Arizona thinks that Adam Eaton is ready to step into a starting role after making his big league debut in center. Triple-A outfielder A.J. Pollock provides good depth.
Starting rotation: This was expected to be a strength in 2012, but inconsistency and injuries led to a different outcome. Kennedy, Cahill and Miley figure to return, but the club will not get Daniel Hudson back until around the All-Star break after he underwent Tommy John surgery.
The D-backs have a plethora of young pitchers to choose from with high upsides in Corbin, Skaggs and Bauer, and there's another wave of young arms behind them in the system. All three got a taste of the big leagues in 2012, and the D-backs will have to decide if they think they are ready to fill out the rotation. If not, the team could look to sign a veteran hurler to a one-year deal to bridge the gap.
Bullpen: Towers loves to tinker with his bullpens, so there figures to be some turnover. The biggest question is whether the D-backs pick up the option on closer J.J. Putz. If they don't, the closer's duties would fall to David Hernandez, who has pitched the past two years in a setup role. Hernandez would certainly be a cheaper option, but given that Putz's option is a reasonable $6.5 million with a $1 million buyout, it would seem to make sense to spend the $5 million to have him at the backend -- considering his track record and success in 2012.
The team holds an option on right-hander Matt Lindstrom for $4 million, and fellow right-hander Matt Albers could also be brought back along with Brad Ziegler. Once again, it looks like the D-backs could be in the market for a left-handed specialist, depending on what they decide to do with southpaw Mike Zagurski.