Towers playing all angles in the D-backs outfield
Signing of Ross creates stockpile at position -- pending more moves
The Arizona Diamondbacks are a work in progress. That is, they could look dramatically different on Opening Day than they do today. At the moment, the pieces don't seem to fit.
And that's a good problem, or could be. All that seems clear at this point is that general manager Kevin Towers has had himself a terrific offseason. He has strengthened every area of his team, including a rotation that was already pretty good. He has also upgraded the bench and the bullpen and acquired a kid shortstop with dazzling defensive skills.
He'd done all those things -- pretty much crossed everything off his checklist -- before he signed free-agent outfielder Cody Ross to a three-year, $26-million contract.
If Towers had been a lot of other general managers, some of us would have wondered if he was off his rocker. After all, one of his offseason goals had been to thin out his glut of outfielders.
Instead, he has made the situation worse.
If the D-backs opened the regular season today, they'd have Jason Kubel, Justin Upton and Ross in the outfield.
Gerardo Parra? Back on the bench.
As for Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock, it appears both would open the season back at Triple-A, even though neither has anything to prove there.
When Towers traded veteran center fielder Chris Young to the A's two months ago, one of the things the trade seemed to do was open up a spot for Eaton, who batted .381 at Triple-A in 2012.
Instead, almost no one inside the industry is second-guessing Towers. He's held in too high regard for that. He has a track record, too, constructing playoff teams, seven of them in all, during his years with the Padres and D-backs.
Baseball people are intrigued. Does Towers finally plan to trade Upton after listening to offers for a couple of years? Or will he trade Kubel? Or perhaps one of the kids?
As a longtime observer -- and unabashed fan -- of Towers, I'm guessing the real answer has yet to be written. Rather than sign Ross with a specific plan, Towers saw an opportunity to strengthen his club and give himself options if another deal makes sense.
He's unlikely to ever be able to match the Dodgers dollar-for-dollar, so he has to figure out more creative ways to remain competitive.
Speaking of money, in case you're keeping track of the National League West payrolls, here's how the top three shake out at the moment:
Dodgers, $214 million.
Giants, $132 million.
D-backs, $95 million.
Unless the Texas Rangers blow Towers away with an offer for Upton, he could very well open the season with Kubel, Upton and Ross on the roster and Eaton and Pollock in the minors.
But as his needs develop, he'll have something as good as cash to swing a deal. He'll have inventory.
He'll have two highly regarded youngsters in Eaton and Pollock, and he'll have Upton and Kubel on the Major League team.
So if he needs, say, another starting pitcher, or if the Chris Johnson/Eric Chavez platoon doesn't work out at third, or if his team is depleted by injury at another spot, he'll be in position to upgrade.
I'm guessing he never intended to sign Ross, but as he analyzed his club and his payroll, he saw him as an affordable low-risk signing with a potential huge upside.
He'd already done plenty to improve his team, acquiring Heath Bell and Tony Sipp for the bullpen, Brandon McCarthy for the rotation and Chavez and Eric Hinske for the bench.
His biggest gamble was trading former No. 1 Draft pick Trevor Bauer, a potential No. 1 starter, in a three-team, nine-player deal that landed him 22-year-old shortstop Didi Gregorius.
Gregorius will have every opportunity to win the job in Spring Training, and given the rave reviews his defense has drawn, he needs only to hit a little to make the team.
At a time when the Giants and Dodgers are consensus picks to finish atop the National League West, the D-backs say they're focused only on themselves and believe they're going to be competitive with just about any team, even those that spend more money.
The D-backs seem to relish their underdog status. They also believe it would be a mistake to overlook them. Anyone who has studied their general manager's history knows that.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.