Kevin Towers AP

2013 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Big Question: Will Kevin Towers’ odd offseason pay dividends?

After winning 94 games and the National League West in 2011, the Diamondbacks took a step back last year with an 81-81 record and a third-place finish. General manager Kevin Towers then embarked on an interesting offseason in which he unloaded outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young and talented young right-hander Trevor Bauer in a series of controversial moves. However, now that the dust has settled on all the wheeling and dealing, Kirk Gibson’s grit-infused roster isn’t demonstrably better on paper than they were a year ago. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that Towers undersold on his assets.

To be fair, I think that the starting rotation has the potential to be pretty solid. Ian Kennedy isn’t an ace, but he has a 3.55 ERA in three seasons with Arizona and has made at least 32 starts in all of them. Trevor Cahill’s strikeout rate has jumped in each of the last three seasons while his ground ball tendencies are well suited for Chase Field. Wade Miley is coming off a second-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting while offseason addition Brandon McCarthy quietly owns a 3.29 ERA over the past two seasons. The fifth spot in the rotation will come down to either right-hander Randall Delgado, who came over from the Braves in the Upton deal, or left-hander Patrick Corbin. While not outstanding, the starting pitching should be good enough to keep them in the hunt.

I liked Arizona’s lineup a lot more on Thursday than I do right now. 24-year-old rookie Adam Eaton was poised to replace Young in center field and bat leadoff, but he’s now expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. Cody Ross joined Arizona on a three-year, $26 million contract over the winter, but he’s dealing with a nagging calf injury and could miss the start of the season. This means we could be looking at an outfield of Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock on Opening Day. Upton and Young could be missed in that outfield, at least in the early going.

This isn’t to say that the Diamondbacks won’t get anything out of their lineup. There are still plenty of exciting pieces here. Miguel Montero is one of the best hitting catchers in the National League and is getting better and better behind the plate. Aaron Hill’s resurgent 2012 season didn’t get much attention even though he hit for the cycle twice. Paul Goldschmidt was impressive during his first full season in the big leagues. Martin Prado, the big get in the Upton deal, should hit for average and hold down the hot corner.

I could certainly see the Diamondbacks being a playoff team if things break right now, but another .500 season (or worse) is possible, too. Perhaps Miley and/or Goldschmidt regress during their second full seasons in the majors. Maybe McCarthy’s shoulder is an area of concern all season. Heck, Eaton’s elbow injury could turn out to be more than a two-month thing. None of these scenarios would surprise me. Towers made some bold moves over the winter to build a roster in Gibson’s image and he could take a lot of flak if things don’t work out.

What else is going on?

• The Diamondbacks entered the offseason with shortstop as an area of need and it’s still a question mark today. Cliff Pennington came over from the Athletics in the Chris Young deal and projects to start and bat eighth, but he’s a .249/.313/.356 hitter in the majors. 23-year-old Didi Gregorious was acquired in the three-team trade that sent Bauer to Cleveland, but he’s currently working his way back from a slight strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and likely won’t be ready to play in games until mid-April.

• J.J. Putz has been rock solid since joining the Diamondbacks in 2011, compiling a 2.48 ERA while going 77-for-86 in save opportunities. The 36-year-old hasn’t thrown more than 60 innings in a season since 2007, but the Diamondbacks have the proper depth to give him rest when needed. David Hernandez would likely be first in line for save chances in the event of an injury, as he has compiled a dominant 2.94 ERA and 11.4 K/9 since coming over from the Orioles in the Mark Reynolds trade. He’s probably one of the most underappreciated relievers in the game today. Towers acquired Heath Bell from the Marlins over the winter — and will pay $13 million of the $21 million left on his contract — but he’s a major wild card coming off a 5.09 ERA last session.

• The Diamondbacks and Goldschmidt are reportedly in talks about an extension. There’s no rush to get something done, as he isn’t arbitration-eligible for the first time until after 2014 and remains under team control through 2017, but the Diamondbacks clearly see him as a long-term building block at first base. With 83 homers over 315 games in the minors and 28 over his first 193 major league games, the 25-year-old has the sort of middle-of-the-order power potential to fill the void left by Upton.

• Two interesting reinforcements for the rotation could be on the way soon. Tyler Skaggs struggled in his first taste of the majors last season and was optioned to Triple-A Reno last week, but he’s one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game and owns a 2.98 ERA over four seasons in the minors. Daniel Hudson had Tommy John surgery last July and should be ready to rejoin the starting rotation at some point during the second half.

Prediction: Third place, NL West

Indians sign Brandon Guyer to a two-year extension

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Brandon Guyer #6 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates Rajai Davis #20 two-run home run during the eighth inning to tie the game 6-6 against the Chicago Cubs in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Indians and outfielder Brandon Guyer avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract with a club option for 2019.

The Indians acquired Guyer from the Rays at last year’s trade deadline. After coming to Cleveland he posted a line of .333/.438/.469 in 38 games. He’s a .262/.349/.402 hitter over 344 games in five seasons in the bigs. He has led the league in being hit by pitches for the past two seasons, getting plunked 24 times in 2015 and 31 times in 2016. He went 6-for-18 with four walks and two HBPs in the playoffs for Cleveland. The man will work to get on base, my friends. And he can play all three outfield positions.

Nice signing.

Sarasota County to build the Braves a new spring training facility

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The Braves have trained at Walt Disney World for several years. The lease is up, however, and they’ve been on the hunt for a new facility for some time. Disney is just too geographically remote from most of the Grapefruit League facilities so they’ve looked on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for some time.

Their search appears to be over, however, as they have reached an agreement to move to Sarasota:

The Atlanta Braves formally plan to move the team’s spring training home to North Port in 2019, the team and Sarasota County announced Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement set the stage for final negotiations this spring on a contract to bring the Major League Baseball team to a new complex in the West Villages district just south of West Villages Parkway and U.S. 41, near the State College of Florida campus in North Port.

It’ll be a $75-$80 million complex on 70 acres. The story says it’s envisioned to anchor a “town center” commercial and residential district. If anyone has ever been to a spring training facility, however, one knows how ridiculous such an idea is. There is nothing more geographically un-centered and dispersed than a spring training facility. It’s a sea of open fields which private citizens generally cannot access and large parking lots. These facilities typically require major arteries, not quaint town streets, for reasonable access. The best any facilities do to integrate with surrounding communities can be seen in Fort Myers with the Twins and in Surprise, Arizona with the Rangers and Royals, where the facilities are part of larger community parks and recreation centers. That’s OK, and certainly better than nothing, but they’re not the anchors of the vibrant live/work/shop developments like the Braves and Sarasota are describing here.

But of course everyone involved has to say that, because selling such facilities as the engine of pie-in-the-sky development is a key part of making the large expenditure of public funds seem more palatable. And yes, there will be a big expenditure of public funds here: the Braves will be getting $56 million in taxpayer subsidies for the new place, some from the state, some from the county. The amount from the county, by the way, is calculated to fall just below the threshold required for a public vote on the expenditure. The Braves have always been blessed with the ability to avoid public votes for their corporate welfare, of course.

One wonders how many other wealthy private businesses owned by multinational corporations get tens of millions in tax dollars to build employee training centers. Not many, I’m sure. The Braves always seem to luck out in this regard, however.