PHOENIX -- With the General Managers Meetings opening Wednesday in Indian Wells, Calif., the D-backs have already been proactive about improving their team after an 81-81 season. General manager Kevin Towers hit the market running and on Oct. 20 traded center fielder Chris Young to the A's for shortstop Cliff Pennington and obtained reliever Heath Bell from the Marlins to strengthen an already deep Arizona bullpen. A new television broadcast team of Steve Berthiaume and former D-backs skipper Bob Brenly was introduced at Chase Field on Monday. Ken Kendrick, the team's long-time managing general partner, told MLB.com that it's only the start of something big as the D-backs prepare for their 16th season in the National League West.
"Kevin is already over in the Palm Desert getting ready for the General Managers Meetings and trying to strengthen the pitching," said Kendrick, who sat down after a media conference to address some key issues immediately facing the franchise and the team on the field. MLB.com: After winning the World Series for the second time in three years, the Giants are obviously your greatest foes in the division. Kendrick: I think they are the team to beat. This blueprint was well-stated: starting pitching and a strong bullpen. When you look at our club, that's the direction we're already focusing on. In the offseason we've already made a couple of moves that hopefully will make our bullpen a stronger one. When you look across the board, we have other needs, but the Giants are deservedly the team to beat. MLB.com: If you look at this year's Giants team as compared to 2010, nine or 10 of the players on the roster came out of the system. Is that something the D-backs are trying to replicate? Kendrick: Our focus is on that. While our results on the Major League level this past season weren't what we hoped for, as far as an organization we clearly have as much depth as any club. Hopefully our younger guys will mature and become top-flight Major Leaguers. That's what we're counting on. MLB.com: Looking at your team, what would you like to add to it to make it better before the season starts next year? Kendrick: The left side of our infield is an area we can improve -- shortstop, third base. There are some thoughts about decisions in those areas. We're also going to look for someone with more experience on the starting pitching side. Other than that I think we have a lot of talent. MLB.com: You have four shortstops and four top relievers right now. Kendrick: We do and when you say it that way, it tells you that you have some chips that you can use in deals that might be out there. But you have to go find those deals. MLB.com: Just for that reason, do you expect there to be a lot more changes before you get to Spring Training? Kendrick: We're just in the first week of free agency. There's a lot of water that still has to go under the bridge and it starts right now. MLB.com: Is third base an area of concern? Kendrick: Maybe the other way to look at it is at the positions we are stronger: in our outfield, on the other side of the infield, catching, certainly, with an All-Star-caliber catcher. But sure, in the third base/shortstop area we could perhaps be stronger. MLB.com: You also have a lot of arms, young pitchers coming up through the system, [and] many of them pitched in the Majors this season. You have Daniel Hudson coming back from Tommy John surgery at some point. So are you talking about a veteran stop-gap starter? Kendrick: I don't know that we would think in the stop-gap terms. If we're going to do anything with starting pitching, it would probably be for somebody at the top of the rotation. And that's easier said than done. MLB.com: You were critical of some players -- Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, in particular -- and the team during the season. Was that an emotional response to the underperformance of the team after a season in 2011 when the D-backs won 94 games and the division title? Kendrick: Well, I'm a fan as well as being involved in ownership. When the team is not going well, I think all fans become frustrated. I expressed some disappointment that some of our players were not performing from the level we had seen from them at earlier times. I didn't say anything that they probably weren't feeling themselves. You're sort of reflective of the players' frustration as a fan. MLB.com: If you had it do over again, is there anything you would have left unsaid? Kendrick: No. I'm a pretty straight-forward guy. The fact that I'm in ownership doesn't mean that I have to hold back and can't say anything about what I see should be going better with the team. MLB.com: Now that the $10 million option on his contract is out of the way, what about Drew, is he a possibility at coming back to fill the need you defined at shortstop? Kendrick: I think what you learn in sports -- in my role, at least -- is that you never say never about anything. But it's pretty unlikely that Stephen would be a D-back going forward. MLB.com: You and Towers also said at the end of the season that it's highly unlikely now that Upton would be traded. Kendrick: Yes, but I've also said -- and I think Kevin has said it better than I -- that no player is an untouchable and that we would always be responsive to legitimate offers. But I think the odds highly favor Justin being our right fielder at the start of next season. MLB.com: What about spending? Do you have a little bit more money this year? Kendrick: In the last few years our payroll has inched up. Fortunately we're out from under that mountain of debt we piled up going back some years ago. That puts us in a very different position to begin to spend money, but we're not going to spend it to spend it. We're going to spend because we see players who can make us better. MLB.com: How do you feel about the club's status financially in the division? The Giants are going to keep doing what they're doing. The Dodgers, with their new ownership, are going to continue to spend money. And the Padres, under new ownership now, have money to spend. Kendrick: We thrive on competition. I remind you that we go back to the Giants being world champions in 2010, and if I remember it right, we won the division the next year. Maybe we're in a cycle that could repeat itself. It would be nice for us. But it is a more competitive division. There was a time going back many years when people called us the NL Worst instead of the NL West. In 2005, the Padres won the division with 82 wins. Now we're far from that. It's not likely anymore that we're going to be in the playoffs with 82 or 85 wins. Your target is to win 90 games and if you do so, with these two new Wild Card slots you're likely to be in the playoffs. MLB.com: When does your local television contract with FOX Sports Arizona expire? Kendrick: After the 2015 season. We have a new national deal that kicks in with the 2014 season. Those are new revenue opportunities and our hallmark as an ownership group is that every dollar of revenue goes back into the team. That gives us some opportunities you alluded to earlier to increase payroll. MLB.com: When do you have an opening to negotiate your own television contract? Kendrick: We can do that currently. Right now, we're looking at our options. MLB.com: Where is the club at monetarily in that deal? Kendrick: We're making in the mid-30s (million dollars) a year. MLB.com: Considering all the (television) money that has been thrown around out west to teams like the Rangers, Angels and Padres, how high above that do you expect it to go? Kendrick: Without being specific because it's something you can't predict -- it takes two to make a deal -- I would like to use the phrase "much, much higher." MLB.com: So I would imagine you must be bullish on the future of the D-backs. Kendrick: I'm not alone on this: I'm very bullish on the economics of baseball. I'm even more bullish on the potential economics here.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.