Optimizing the offseason: Diamondbacks position player outlook

After a season marred with disappointment, the Arizona Diamondbacks still have reason to be optimistic heading into the 2013 season. Many of their key players are set to return, and they are poised to make a run at winning the NL West title. As with any team, they look forward to the offseason as a way to improve their on-field product. General Manager Kevin Towers and his brain trust have some work to do. Here’s a look at the field, position by position.

Catcher

Catcher Miguel Montero #26 of the Arizona Diamondbacks fields a ground ball out against the San Francisco Giants during the MLB game at Chase Field on April 8, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 7-6. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Miguel Montero recently signed a 5-year, $60 million extension, meaning he will be behind the plate for the foreseeable future. Montero has become one of baseball’s elite catchers, finishing the 2012 season with a slash line of .286/.391/.438 and threw out a career high 42% of would-be base stealers. Montero is a stalwart behind the plate, and will start around 135 games (barring injury) and bat in the middle of the lineup.

First Base
Historically the Dbacks have never had a fixture at first base, instead switching every year or two. Paul Goldschmidt could buck that trend. Goldschmidt has all the makings of a franchise player, and expectations are understandably high going into next season. In his first full season in the Show, he batted .286/.359/.490 with 20 home runs, 82 RBIs, and even stole 18 bases. His glove work is slightly above average, and his career trajectory is similar to that of another star first basemen, Joey Votto. Votto was a young first baseman who could get on base, and had a decent amount of home runs with a lot of doubles. If Goldschmidt can follow Votto’s path, the Dbacks will finally have their first baseman that lasts.

Second Base
To say that Aaron Hill exceeded expectations would be an understatement. He did have a 36 HR season in Toronto in 2009, but his production both before and after that season have led to the thought that that may have been an aberration. Nonetheless, the Dbacks have to be thrilled with what they’ve received since acquiring him in August of 2011. Last season he hit .302/.360/.522 with 26 HR, 85 RBIs, and 93 runs scored. He was the Dbacks’ most consistent player all season and hit for the cycle not once, but twice. His glove work was spectacular, making the toughest plays look easy. He could realistically expect to win the NL’s Silver Slugger for second base, and a Gold Glove would not be out of the question. The team may look into an extension for Hill, who is eligible to become a free agent after 2013.

Shortstop
Just this past weekend the Dbacks shored up their shortstop position by trading Chris Young to the Oakland Athletics in a package including Cliff Pennington. Pennington is a sure handed glove at short, and any offensive output from him should be considered a bonus. Pennington lost his shortstop job to Stephen Drew, ironically enough, and played second base down the stretch. He is still a fantastic defender, and will slot into either the 2-spot in the lineup, or more likely toward the bottom. Chris Owings has played well in the upper minor leagues, but is not ready for 2013, and Pennington will be an excellent stopgap until the organization decides that Owings’ time has come.

The Diamondbacks celebrate after a win. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Third Base
Third base is a position that could use some help as well, though not nearly as badly as shortstop. Unlike short, third base has incumbents that are capable of sustained success over the entire season. Chris Johnson and Ryan Wheeler played very close to a classic left/right handed platoon last season, and that could be what will happen, at least to start the season. Looming in the minors is Matt Davidson, who hit .261/.367/.469 with 23 homers and played solid, not spectacularly, at the hot corner defensively. Davidson is seen as the future of third base, and will likely start the 2013 campaign at Triple-A Reno and see time in the majors at some point. In the interim, neither Johnson nor Wheeler is arbitration eligible and therefore will be very cheap for next season. It seems as though going with the Johnson/Wheeler timeshare is the best option for 2013 until Davidson is either ready or needed.

Left Field
This is the most intriguing question mark for next season. Jason Kubel or Gerardo Parra? A classic question between clashing styles- Kubel the power hitter, Parra the defender. Kubel had a tremendous first half, but ended the season with a still respectable .253/.327/.506 with a team-high 30 HR and 90 RBIs. Parra meanwhile, hit .273/.335/.392. Parra is not a home run hitter by nature, so comparing slugging percentages is not fair to him, but he did post a better average and on-base percentage than his competitor. Though Kubel did lead the team with 14 outfield assists, it is Parra who clearly owns the better arm; runners simply don’t test him anymore. On a team that possesses many power hitters like Montero, Goldschmidt, Hill, and Justin Upton, Jason Kubel may be an expensive luxury (he makes $7.5 million to Parra’s sub-$1 million) that the Dbacks do not need. Add in Parra’s defensive upgrade, and Kubel may just see himself traded this winter.

Center Field
Chris Young has started every Opening Day in center field for the Dbacks since 2007. 2013 will have a different feel to it. Young was traded this weekend in a deal that brought Pennington and Heath Bell to the desert. His departure opens the door for Pacific Coast League MVP and Rookie of the Year Adam Eaton. Eaton tore apart the minor leagues, earning a late season callup and quickly becoming a fan favorite. He is the first prototypical leadoff hitter that the Dbacks have been looking for since Tony Womack left. Eaton is the fastest man on the team, and with more experience will come the quick first step and reads necessary to play center field at the big league level.

Adam Eaton #6 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates scoring a run with teammates Justin Upton #10 and Patrick Corbin #46 against the San Francisco Giants at Chase Field on September 16, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Right Field
If you would have asked in July, it seemed inevitable that Justin Upton would be traded. Now, it seems inconceivable that he will be. Upton is quite simply the franchise. He is the highest paid player, a two-time All-Star, has a section in right field known as “Uptown,” and is easily the most talented player on the team. The knock on Upton is his frustrating inconsistency. After an All-Star 2009 season, he regressed in 2010. He finished fourth in the MVP voting in 2011, only to see his power evaporate for most of 2012 (he did finish strong with 6 of his 17 HR in September). In all likelihood, Upton will be here next year as the starting right fielder, and there is no reason to believe he will not have a very good season. As a final thought, ponder this- as bad as his season seemed, he did hit .280/.355/.430 with 17 HR, 18 stolen bases, and a team-high 107 runs scored, good for second in the National League.

Projected Opening Day Lineup
Eaton CF
Parra LF
Upton RF
Montero C
Goldschmidt 1B
Hill 2B
Johnson/Wheeler 3B
Pennington SS
Pitcher