One of biggest questions facing the Diamondbacks as they begin defense of their NL West title is how many of their peak performers can do it again.
About one-third of the D-backs' roster had what could be considered a career year in 2011, including right fielder Justin Upton, right-hander Ian Kennedy and catcher Miguel Montero. Upton finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting while piling up 75 extra-base hits and stealing 20 bases and made his second All-Star team. Kennedy's 21-4 record led the NL in winning percentage, and he was fourth in the NL Cy Young race. Montero was among the catching leaders in almost every offensive category while making his first All-Star team.
The D-backs' 29-game improvement also was triggered by strong seasons by veterans J.J. Putz, third baseman Ryan Roberts and outfielder Gerardo Parra. Putz had a career-high 45 saves after being signed as a free agent the previous winter, the major reason the D-backs were a major league-best 84-0 in games they led after eight innings. In his first season as a starter, Roberts was one home run and two stolen bases short of a 20-20 season while driving in 59 runs, and Parra won a Gold Glove after winning the left-field job in May.
Skeptics might say Upton's 75 extra-base hits and Kennedy's 21 victories would be difficult to duplicate. At the same time, each player comes with the pedigree of being a first-round draft pick. It might be just as easy to believe that given their age (Upton is 24 and Kennedy is 27), their mean performance has not been established.
D-backs general manager Kevin Towers added free agent left fielder Jason Kubel, traded for #3 starter Trevor Cahill, and re-signed veteran innings-eater Joe Saunders in an attempt to go further than the first round of the playoffs in 2012.
"To win a division, you have to have guys who have big years for you or unexpected seasons, and sometimes they end up drifting back to the norm," Towers said. "Trying to add to that talent gives you a better opportunity if one of those guys drifts back to the norm, and you might have somebody else who ends up having a big, big year."
--LHP Craig Breslow agreed to a $1.795 million contract with the D-backs to avoid arbitration. Breslow, acquired in the trade with Oakland that also landed RHP starter Trevor Cahill, filled a stated D-backs need as a second left-hander in the bullpen. Situational LHP Joe Paterson was the only lefty they had for most of 2011.
--With Breslow's signing, general manager Kevin Towers avoided an arbitration hearing with all four of his eligible players, his desired result. He previously settled with C Miguel Montero ($5.9 million), 3B Ryan Roberts ($2.0125 million), and RHP Brad Ziegler ($1.795 million). Ziegler and Breslow, teammates in Oakland last year, will make the same amount.
--SS Stephen Drew (fractured right ankle, ligament damage) is working out in the Phoenix area but is not expected to report to spring training when the pitchers and catchers report February 20. Major League Baseball permits injured position players to report early if they so choose.
--The Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation recently gave a $100,000 grant to Kitchen on the Street, a non-profit organization that fights children's hunger in the Phoenix area. The money will be used to purchase and create a mobile kitchen, the D-backs said.
DIAMOND STAT: $11,502,500 -- Amount the D-backs spent while settling their four possible arbitration cases.
QUOTABLE: "In my career I've been pretty successful at getting both lefties and right-handed hitters out. Hopefully, I'm a guy that will be counted on to face more than one hitter and I can throw an inning or multiple innings at a time." -- LHP Craig Breslow.
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