Arizona general manager Kevin Towers is well aware of what's going on at Dodger Stadium. When a team starts spending money that makes the New York Yankees look like a piker, it's hard to ignore. "I don't think anybody in baseball can keep up with what the Dodgers are doing," said Towers.
Not that Towers is intimidated by having to compete with the Dodgers in the National League West. "We've got to rely on [director of player development] Mike Bell and [scouting director] Ray Montgomery to supply us the players so we can compete with large-market clubs that can go out and bid on free agents," said Towers. "You see in baseball and other sports that the team that wins is not always the one who spent the most. "And don't forget, we have the Giants, who have won the World Series two of the last three years, to compete with as well." Towers has made a living with a small-market team that has more than held its own with the big spenders. Before becoming the general manager of Arizona in September 2010, Towers was general manager in San Diego from 1996-2009. The Padres advanced to the postseason six times during his tenure, the most of an NL West team in that stretch. Colorado made it twice, and the Dodgers, Giants and Arizona four times each. In Towers' first full season in Arizona, 2011, the D-backs won the NL West, the blip between the Giants' two world championships. With respect for what the Giants have done and what the Dodgers are capable of doing, Towers has his sights on another trip to October in 2013. And with a nine-player, three-team deal finalized Tuesday that brought the D-backs shortstop phenom Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati and left-handed reliever Tony Sipp and first-base prospect Lars Anderson from Cleveland, Towers checked off the final items on his offseason shopping list. He improved his bench with the desired left-handed corner infield bats of free agents Eric Hinske and Eric Chavez, found a promising shortstop in Gregorius, beefed up the left-handed side of the bullpen with Sipp and the addition of Matt Reynolds from Colorado, and used free agency for the addition of Brandon McCarthy to strengthen the rotation. To get Gregorius, Sipp and Anderson, Towers had to send right-hander Trevor Bauer, and right-handed middle relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw to Cleveland. Cleveland then sent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and utility infielder Jason Donald to Cincinnati Both Cincinnati and Cleveland felt good about what happened. The Indians shored up the bullpen with Albers and Shaw, added rotation depth with Bauer, and added player control ability in their outfield by acquiring center fielder Drew Stubbs, who has three years before he can test free agency, from the Reds while giving up Choo, who with agent Scott Boras is expected to test free agency next spring, and Donald. The Reds, meanwhile, added a versatile infielder in Donald, found a much-needed leadoff hitter in Choo, and picked up future salary relief. A year from now, the Reds are counting on the arrival of super prospect Billy Hamilton to take on the center field/leadoff jobs by next year. He will be at the minimum salary, not the benefactor of arbitration (like Stubbs) or free agency (like Choo). Neither team, however, felt any better than Arizona. Having dumped Stephen Drew in the midst of last season, Towers' No. 1 priority in the offseason was a shortstop who could be projected into a multiyear answer to the middle-infield question in Arizona. Gregorius, who split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, could get a bit more seasoning at Triple-A in 2013 if he doesn't beat out Willie Bloomquist and Cliff Pennington in the spring, but by Opening Day 2014, if not sooner, the job figures to belong to Gregorius. "We came into the offseason hoping we could add a shortstop we would have control over for an extended period of time," said Towers. "When you look at what is going on in the free-agent market, and when you look at the shortstops who could be available next year, it was obvious the best thing for us was to trade an asset for a young player that we can control for six years." And what made it all work so well is that the asset the D-backs gave up was Bauer, expendable because of the pitching depth Arizona feels it has. The asset was not outfielder Justin Upton, who after being one of baseball's most mentioned player in offseason trade rumors, is now getting as close a guarantee of being in Arizona on Opening Day as Towers will give any player. "I'm always open to listen about players," Towers said when asked if this assured Upton of being on the D-backs' Opening Day roster. "But all our areas have been addressed. We are a better ballclub with Justin in our outfield." And when there's a big spender like the Dodgers lurking in the NL West, the best thing a team can do is look for ways to be better.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.