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D-backs ready to deal at Winter Meetings

Arizona willing to increase payroll if trade for impact player can be had

PHOENIX -- When he makes his second trip of the offseason to Florida next week for the annual Winter Meetings, general manager Kevin Towers will have a pretty good idea about which teams are good matches for his when it comes to making trades.

That's due in large part to his visit last month for the General Managers Meetings.

"I met with quite a few clubs when I was in Orlando and have got a few things percolating right now," Towers said.

Just how much the D-backs want to shake up a team that has compiled back-to-back 81-81 seasons could become more clear during the Meetings, which begin Monday and conclude Thursday morning with the Rule 5 Draft.

The D-backs got an early jump on things Tuesday, when they sent veteran reliever Heath Bell to the Rays in a three-way deal with Tampa Bay and Cincinnati that netted Minor League pitcher Justin Choate, a player to be named and $5.5 million in salary relief.

It is always dangerous to predict too much about the Winter Meetings, but one thing seems fairly certain: Trade talks will take up far more of Towers' time than meetings with free agents.

"Probably been much more aggressive on the trade front than the free-agent front," he said. "I've spoken a little to our own free agents, but from the looks of where this free-agent market is right now and where it's headed, it's not a place where I want to do a lot of business."

Indeed, baseball seems flush with cash at the moment, and some teams have been quick to spend it early in the offseason.

The D-backs' payroll this year started in the low $90 million range and next year projects to top $100 million for the first time since 2002, the year after Arizona won the World Series.

"I've seen that previously reported," managing general partner Ken Kendrick said in October of the possibility of a $100 million-plus payroll. "And while I think we don't know what it will be, I would not be against us spending that kind of money if we found the right players to help the team do better."

The D-backs got some payroll flexibility last season when they finally finished paying off the deferred salaries of the players from that 2001 World Series team. It was no insignificant amount, either, with about $244 million in deferred salaries having been paid out over the years.

That plus the savings on Bell does not mean the D-backs will be big players in the free-agent market, but it gives them the flexibility to add salary through a trade.

The D-backs are going to need it given that their two primary needs are the same as many teams: starting pitching, a power bat for the outfield and some bench help.

"I feel like I gained enough information that I have a pretty good idea who people like from us and what's available out there right now in areas that are needs for us," Towers said.

The D-backs like their internal options when it comes to pitching depth, so if they do acquire a starter, they are not going to go for a back-end-type guy.

The Rays' David Price is on the trading block, as is the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija. Both fit what the D-backs are looking for, and both will be pricy both in terms of the package it would take to acquire them as well as the contracts they will get. Price and Samardzija are eligible for salary arbitration this year and become free agents after the 2015 season.

"Preferably top of the rotation, there's just not a lot of those guys out there," Towers said. "It has to be a guy that we feel is an upgrade over what we've currently got. I think we've got pitching depth and young arms; it would be nice to have somebody that's proven with a little more of a track record to lead the way. But everybody is kind of looking for those type of guys, so it may end up being a difficult get."

Ditto for a power bat.

The team likely will keep Martin Prado at third base, which leaves an outfield of Adam Eaton, A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra. It's uncertain when outfielder Cody Ross will be ready to play after fracturing and dislocating his hip last summer. The team hopes he'll be back early in the season, but it's an injury not seen before in baseball, so any timetable is speculation at this point.

The Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, as well as the Angels' Mark Trumbo, are also a couple of names to watch when it comes to Arizona's search for an outfielder.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks