12/28/12 10:00 AM ET
Towers has numerous outfield options to explore
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
Expect general manager Kevin Towers to spend the holidays exploring them.
With the recent signing of free agent Cody Ross, the D-backs once again have a glut of outfielders. Ross joins Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton. Oh, and there's also A.J. Pollock in waiting at Triple-A Reno.
The Ross signing caught many off guard, given that Towers said right after the season that one of his top priorities this offseason was reducing his outfielder inventory. He took the first step in that process when he dealt Chris Young to the A's.
Since the Young deal, there have been plenty of rumors involving Upton. When the D-backs signed free-agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy and acquired their shortstop of the (near) future in Didi Gregorius, a blockbuster involving Upton became less likely.
Instead, the D-backs seemed more likely to deal Kubel, who signed a two-year contract with a mutual option prior to last season.
Kubel's deal was surprising at the time, given that Parra was coming off a season in which he hit .290 and won a Gold Glove. Kubel went on to hit 30 homers for the D-backs last year, but the organization appears to feel Parra is a better fit, so they began to talk to clubs about Kubel.
On a conference call to address the Ross signing, Towers said he is under no pressure to deal one of his outfielders.
"If we decided to stay status quo, I guess we could always option Adam Eaton, [Ross] could play center, Parra could play center and you'd have J-Up and Kubel on the corner," Towers said referring to sending Eaton to Triple-A. "I don't think it hurts to have depth and added depth."
As it stands right now, the D-backs would have a payroll in the $95 million range, but with most of the deferred contract money from the 2001 World Series team now off the books, ownership has given Towers the green light to keep anyone he wants.
Still, it seems almost certain that the D-backs will make a deal involving an outfielder.
"After making this move today, my phone pretty much blew up with clubs still looking at outfield needs," Towers said after the Ross signing. "I would imagine, as I always have, I'll keep my ears open."
While it also seems a safe bet that it would be Kubel and not Upton who's moved at this point, you just never know with Towers, who sports the well-earned nickname "Gunslinger," because he's never afraid to make a deal.
If Kubel is dealt, manager Kirk Gibson will still have plenty of options in the outfield when he fills out his lineup card each day.
Upton, of course, will start in right, but left and center will provide interesting possibilities.
Towers said that Ross is capable of playing center on an everyday basis, but he may be better suited in left, especially if Eaton proves he's ready for a starting job.
Eaton has just 103 plate appearances under his belt at the Major League level, but after dominating Triple-A, he has nothing left to prove in the Minors. Plus, with his speed and ability to get on base, he provides the team with its only traditional leadoff hitter.
That could once again leave Parra battling for at-bats in left and center. If Eaton were not ready, or if he struggled, Ross or Parra could play center, with the other playing left and Pollock serving as the fourth outfielder while Eaton gets consistent at-bats in Reno.
Injuries also could play a role. Last year, it appeared that the team had one too many outfielders heading into the season, but when Young went down in April with a shoulder injury, the team was thankful to have Parra on the bench to take over in center.
"We knew if we were able to land Cody, that we're a good ballclub with him without having to move any of the outfielders," Towers said. "Or if we chose at some point in time to move one of our outfielders, we've got some protection."
How Towers sorts out his options before the start of Spring Training will make it interesting to watch the D-backs over the next couple of months. After that, the focus will shift to how Gibson decides to utilize the outfielders he has left.