Sarah's Take: D-backs will be in NL West mix

Sarah's Take: D-backs will be in NL West mix
After winning the National League West in 2011, many people thought the Arizona Diamondbacks had a good chance of repeating in '12. However, this past season was forgettable for the D-backs.

This offseason, the D-backs have been the busiest team in the division, trying to find players to help them compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. While the Dodgers make headlines when they sign a player to an enormous contract, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers has analyzed his team's needs and tried to obtain players while working within a budget.

The D-backs had 20 blown saves in 2012. If they could have reduced that number by even a little, they probably would have contended for a playoff berth. Hence, they participated in the Miami Marlins' fire sale. Arizona obtained Heath Bell, who a reliable closer for the San Diego Padres before signing a lucrative deal with the Marlins prior to last season.

Despite having a disastrous 2012 in Miami, many still consider Bell one of the best closers in the game. When he played for San Diego, Bell intimidated the opposing teams. Since opponents often didn't believe they could beat Bell in the ninth inning, they usually didn't. Bell is slated to pitch in a setup role with the D-backs, as J.J. Putz will return as their closer.

Not blowing leads late in games will help to restore the morale of the D-backs. Many baseball fans believe the hardest defeats for a team to take are when it is blown out of the water. This isn't true. Teams can forget those games and chalk them up as a bad day. However, when they have a lead in the late innings and can't hold it, those losses linger much longer. Minimizing the possibility of late-inning losses will help to boost morale and confidence. Confident teams go to the postseason.

The D-backs also bolstered their bench. Having a young team, they need a veteran presence somewhere. Signing Eric Chavez, who spent the past two years backing up Alex Rodriguez for the New York Yankees, will give Arizona a quality reserve third baseman and pinch-hitter. Also, getting Eric Hinske to be a reserve first baseman and pinch-hitter helps give Arizona the strongest bench in the NL West. This should enable the D-backs to score runs in the late innings.

The D-backs also signed Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million contract. The hard-nosed outfielder will be a favorite of manager Kirk Gibson because Ross plays the game similarly to the way Gibson did. Ross had a good 2012 season with the Boston Red Sox, who were a poor team with internal strife.

Although Ross didn't become an everyday player until he was 27, he showed glimpses of brilliance before that. He has performed well in big games, earning him the NL Championship Series MVP Award in 2010 while playing for the San Francisco Giants.

Signing Ross might enable the D-backs to trade Justin Upton. Although Upton came to the Majors in 2007 as a talented 19-year-old, he hasn't progressed the way that the D-backs had hoped. A subject of frustration and continued trade speculation, Upton probably would fulfill his potential in a different environment.

While the D-backs have made several changes to fill perceived shortcomings, they still have a young team coming into its own. The players still need to decrease their strikeouts before the D-backs will have a consistently potent offense. Their young starting rotation needs to pitch well consistently and get into at least the sixth inning to give Arizona a chance of winning.

If Chris Young, the D-backs' center fielder, hadn't injured his shoulder in April and never regained his hitting stroke, Arizona might have represented a serious challenge to the San Francisco Giants for the division title. On paper, the D-backs look like the third-best team in the highly competitive NL West. If the Dodgers falter under their humongous expectations and the Giants experience injuries that they can't rebound from, the D-backs could sneak into the lead of the West Division. But it probably will take a few more years before the D-backs will be a perennial powerhouse in baseball, going to the playoffs every year. However, they have a terrific farm system.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.