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Expecting to contend, D-backs open to upgrades

PHOENIX -- After winning the National League West in 2011, the D-backs saw themselves as contenders, if not the favorites, going into 2012.

It did not work out that way, as they finished a very average 81-81, but the D-backs still see their window for competing in the NL West as wide open.

With that in mind, general manager Kevin Towers will continue to look for ways to upgrade his roster when the Winter Meetings begin Monday in Nashville.

"On the good side, we don't have a lot of major voids," Towers said. "Going into the Winter Meetings, sometimes you don't have starting pitching, you don't have bullpen guys, you don't have a position player because you lost him to free agency. At least going into the Winter Meetings [this year], we're covered at every position, and if we had to start the season now we'd be in pretty good shape."

So far this offseason, Towers has acquired shortstop help in the form of Cliff Pennington, bullpen depth with Heath Bell and he added a much-needed lefty in the bullpen by dealing for Matt Reynolds.

That doesn't mean that Towers is done dealing. After all, he didn't get the nickname "Gunslinger" by being passive.

So while at the Meetings, that could change in a hurry if Towers is overwhelmed by an offer for outfielder Justin Upton. The 25-year-old is the premier player on the trade market, and dealing him would greatly shake up the Arizona roster.

Club needs

Shortstop: The D-backs acquired Pennington from the A's in October, and they would be OK if they had to go into the season with Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. However, Towers has made no secret of his desire to upgrade if possible.

Third base: That goes ditto for third base, where the D-backs have Chris Johnson returning. Johnson was acquired by the D-backs from the Astros last summer and, again, while they like him, they are also on the lookout for an upgrade.

Bench help: Towers likes to have a strong bench, and he prefers veterans in those roles. A left-handed bat off the bench, particularly one who can play first base, is something the team would like to add.

Starting pitcher: As it stands, the D-backs have Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley in the rotation, with a handful of younger pitchers -- led by Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin and Trevor Bauer -- competing for the final two spots. The D-backs would like to add a veteran hurler, if possible, whom they know they can count on for innings.

Who they can or need to trade

OF Justin Upton: Upton would draw the biggest return, and Towers has not been shy about saying that the slugger is available for the right price.

OF Jason Kubel: If the D-backs hang on to Upton, but want to ease their outfield logjam, they could deal either Kubel or Gerardo Parra. With the organization's emphasis on defense, and the fact that Parra makes a good deal less than Kubel, it could be that Kubel is the outfielder who is dealt.

Top prospects

Pitching is clearly the strength of the organization at the upper levels. Skaggs, Corbin and Bauer head the list, with David Holmberg and Chase Anderson coming fast. In the lower levels, Archie Bradley and Andrew Chaffin have drawn positive reviews from scouts. Position-player-wise, the team has outfielder Adam Eaton, shortstop Chris Owings and third baseman Matt Davidson at the upper levels, and last year's No. 1 Draft pick -- high school catcher Stryker Trahan -- was impressive in his initial taste of pro ball.

Rule 5 Draft

The D-backs have taken a player in the Rule 5 Draft in each of Towers' first two years at the helm and could look to do so again, particularly if there is a left-handed reliever who catches their eye.

Big contracts they might unload

The D-backs already took care of this when they sent outfielder Chris Young to the A's in October. If they were to move Upton, that would save them $38.5 million over the next three seasons.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Matt Albers, RHP Ian Kennedy, 3B Johnson, C Wil Nieves, RHP Brad Ziegler and OF Parra.

Payroll summation

The D-backs started 2012 with a payroll near $80 million and finished around $77 million. They figure to bump it up to the mid-to-high $80 million range, which could leave them with close to $10 million to spend. One reason for the increased financial flexibility is that the organization has finally finished paying off most of the deferred salaries incurred from the 2001 World Series champion team.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Trevor Bauer, Heath Bell, Willie Bloomquist, Trevor Cahill, Patrick Corbin, Chris Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Jason Kubel, John McDonald, Wade Miley, Gerardo Parra, Cliff Pennington, Matt Reynolds, Tyler Skaggs, Justin Upton