D-backs aim to keep trending upward, acquire arms

La Russa, Hale, Stewart view boosting rotation as top priority

D-backs aim to keep trending upward, acquire arms

PHOENIX -- The D-backs are at a bit of a crossroads as an organization as the offseason begins.

Coming off a season in which they took a big step forward from 2014, the D-backs know there are still some moves that must be made if they are going to be playing at this time next year.

D-backs make strides as young talent emerges

The main goal for chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart over the next few months will undoubtedly be to add more pitching, particularly at least one starter that they know they can rely on as well as another back-end arm for the bullpen.

"I think that's the No. 1 goal for Dave and Tony right now -- to find a horse that we know when we throw him out there, win or lose, he's going to give us at least seven innings," D-backs manager Chip Hale said.

The D-backs have some attractive trade chips to offer, and they should have some financial flexibility as well after unloading several big contracts over the last two years.

Arizona, though, is not a big market team, so it has to be careful about making long-term, big-money commitments to players, which is what it will take to land some of this winter's top free agent pitchers like David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann.

If they choose to trade for pitching, the D-backs do have a surplus of young players both in the infield and outfield, as well as pitching depth in the organization that should appeal to other teams.

The D-backs have been down this road before, though, and they certainly remember the last couple of times a D-backs GM went all in when maybe more patience was required.

The first was in 2007 when the D-backs were coming off a surprise division championship despite being outscored on the season. The team traded a host of prospects -- including Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson -- in deals to acquire right-hander Dan Haren.

The move did not pay off as expected as the D-backs were beaten out for the division title by the Dodgers the next year, and the franchise struggled mightily in 2009 and 2010.

Then after another surprise division crown in 2011, the team traded a pair of young pitchers -- Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook -- in a deal for veteran Trevor Cahill. After that led to a .500 record in 2012, more young arms were dealt, and the team once again finished at .500 before bottoming out with the worst record in baseball in 2014.

The D-backs are a team on the rise, but how high they can go could be determined by what happens over the next few months.

Collmenter reflects on season

Arbitration-eligible: C Welington Castillo, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Josh Collmenter (team holds $1.285 million option for 2016), LHP Patrick Corbin, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Daniel Hudson, OF A.J. Pollock and LHP Matt Reynolds.

Free agents: RHP David Hernandez, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RHP Brad Ziegler (team holds $5.5 million option with $1 million buyout).

Rotation: Write Corbin's name in pen into the rotation, but after that everything else is up in the air. The D-backs liked what they saw at times from Robbie Ray, De La Rosa, Hellickson, Zack Godley and Chacin, but consistency was an issue. Right-hander Daniel Hudson, who was coming off two straight Tommy John surgeries, flashed dominating stuff as a setup man and could be given the chance to move back into the rotation. Depending on whether the team acquires a frontline starter in 2016, all of the above pitchers, along with prospects Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair could find themselves competing for spots in the rotation next spring.

Bullpen: The D-backs made a big push for Reds closer Aroldis Chapman at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and could pursue a trade for him again over the winter. Ziegler did another outstanding job in the closer's role in 2015 and will have a prominent role one way or another in 2016. Hudson could also serve as an effective setup man -- if not closer -- and lefty Andrew Chafin proved to be a solid option, though the team will have to manage his workload better. Randall Delgado seemed to find his niche as a middle-innings reliever and Silvino Bracho showed promise. The D-backs also have a host of young power arms in Enrique Burgos, Jake Barrett and Matt Stites. There's also right-hander Evan Marshall to consider, if he can continue his recovery. Marshall was critically injured after being struck in the head by a line drive while pitching for Triple-A Reno.

Goldschmidt's solo blast

Catcher: Once looked at as a weakness offensively, the position wound up being a strength as the team added Castillo and Saltalamacchia after the season began and got good production from both. Castillo will certainly be back and Opening Day starter Tuffy Gosewisch, who the pitchers love throwing to, will return as well. The D-backs would like to have Saltalamacchia back, but he might look for a team where he can play on an everyday basis. Prospect Peter O'Brien, if he decides to resume catching, could compete for a spot, while Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez will now get the time he needs in the Minors to further his development.

First base: This is one position where the D-backs have no real questions to answer with Paul Goldschmidt turning in another All-Star season in 2015. Hale indicated he would like to give Goldschmidt more rest next year, so look for the team to either pick up a veteran left-handed-hitting first baseman, or possibly use Aaron Hill there in a backup role.

Second base: This is where things get a little more up in the air for the D-backs, as they have a bunch of middle infielders from which to choose. Chris Owings manned second for most of 2015, and his struggles offensively could be linked to changing his mechanics at the plate after offseason shoulder surgery. Phil Gosselin figures to be at least a backup here and at third and occasionally at short. Hill also got some playing time at second, and with one year and $12 million left on his contract, he should be back once again battling for playing time.

Shortstop: Nick Ahmed may not have hit as much as the team hoped, but he provided Gold Glove-caliber defense that placed him among the leaders in the advanced metric of defensive runs saved. Hale, as well as upper management, loves Ahmed's approach to the game. Owings, a natural shortstop, could be an option here as well. While Gosselin can play short, the team would probably rather not have him be the primary backup here.

La Russa on Brito, next season

Third base: Like second base, there are a number of moving parts here for the D-backs. Jake Lamb was impressive in his first full big league season, but Brandon Drury also impressed during a September callup. It's possible that one of the two could be put in a package to acquire pitching, or that Drury could be moved to second base. Hill and Gosselin could also back up here.

Outfield: As the 2015 season wound to a close, Hale had to work to find time for all his outfielders. Center fielder Pollock was an All-Star for the first time, while left fielder David Peralta became a formidable threat at the plate and right fielder Ender Inciarte not only hit, but played outstanding defense. Then there was Yasmany Tomas, who the team signed out of Cuba to a six-year deal prior to the season. After struggling at third during the spring, Tomas seemed far more comfortable in the outfield and showed flashes of his potential at the plate. With a full offseason in the U.S. to improve his physical conditioning, he could take a big step forward in 2016. Prospect Socrates Brito -- the organization's position player of the year -- is also knocking on the door, while O'Brien could be an option if catching doesn't work out. The D-backs could look to package an outfielder in a deal for pitching.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.