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D-backs ready to ride out thin free-agent market

After .500 season, Arizona looks mostly within for improvement next year

PHOENIX -- In some places and in some situations, a .500 record is perfectly acceptable.

For the D-backs, a second straight 81-win season in 2013 was anything but.

"I wasn't hired to play .500 baseball in Arizona," general manager Kevin Towers said. "At this point in my career, it's not much fun."

Most of the D-backs' roster is under contract or club control for next year, so on the surface it appears that during the offseason it will receive tweaking rather than an overhaul. But with Towers, who is an aggressive and creative GM, one can never be sure.

The D-backs will have a little money to spend -- their payroll is likely to touch $100 million -- but not enough to make a big splash in the free-agent market.

Even if they did have more money to spend, it does not sound like they would given what is available this year.

"We're going to look at free agents, but I think this is one of the weaker free-agent markets I've seen in some time, so that might lead us towards looking at trade partners more," Towers said. "I think there's some clubs we might match up pretty well with, considering they've got depth in areas we have needs and we have depth in areas where they have needs."

Third baseman Eric Chavez, shortstop Willie Bloomquist and catcher Wil Nieves are the team's only free agents.

It is likely the D-backs will at least talk to Chavez about coming back because the team could certainly use his power from the left side, but Bloomquist and Nieves could be headed out.

The D-backs already have a glut of shortstops, with veteran Cliff Pennington signed for next year and prospects Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings under club control, so Bloomquist will probably have to find work elsewhere.

Whether Nieves returns depends on what other options present themselves on the free-agent market and whether the D-backs feel Tuffy Gosewisch can handle the role.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Josh Collmenter, RHP Daniel Hudson, OF Gerardo Parra, LHP Tony Sipp, LHP Joe Thatcher, RHP Brad Ziegler

Free agents: INF/OF Bloomquist, INF Chavez, C Nieves

Areas of need

Power bat: The D-backs say they are happy with the way last year's Justin Upton trade has worked out thus far, but his departure did leave them a little short in the power department. Towers said he would like to add a power bat, preferably a left-handed one, either as a corner outfielder or third baseman. This is a need that will likely be filled through the trade market.

Left-handed reliever: The D-backs thought they had this area filled last year with the acquisitions of Matt Reynolds and Sipp. Reynolds was effective but sustained an elbow injury and had to have Tommy John surgery, while Sipp struggled and will most likely be non-tendered.

Rotation: The D-backs appear set in the rotation with young pitchers Tyler Skaggs, David Holmberg and Archie Bradley (rated the organization's top prospect by set to push the returners from last year, but Towers has hinted that the D-backs could look at adding a top-of-the-rotation starter. It would seem far more likely they would so that through a trade -- for someone like Tampa Bay's David Price -- but it seems a longshot either way.

Bullpen help: Towers said the bullpen pitched better than its blown saves total would indicate, but he is a notorious tinkerer when it comes to the 'pen. Again, the D-backs have internal options coming up in the system like Matt Stites and Jake Barrett, but Towers is always in the market for relievers.

2014 payroll: The D-backs' payroll last year was close to $90 million, and just retaining the team's players will probably push it to around $95 million. When all is said and done, the D-backs will probably end up with a payroll of more than $100 million for the first time since 2002. In order to add a significant salary this offseason, though, the team would likely have to clear some room by trading away some salary.

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