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D-backs GM eyes changes after disappointing season

By Bob Baum

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 4:30 p.m. MDT

After the final baseball game of the season, Arizona Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero walks out of the dugout after playing against the Colorado Rockies ,Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Phoenix. The Rockies defeated the Diamondbacks 2-1.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks tumbled from their 2011 NL West title with a thud this season, and that means changes are in store for 2013.

General manager Kevin Towers said the top priority is upgrading the left side of the infield, particularly at shortstop, a position that is thin in the team's otherwise outstanding minor league system. He indicated that third base is another target.

He characterized the free agent market as "not real strong."

"So probably those moves to upgrade those positions more than likely will have to come via the trade," Towers said.

The Diamondbacks, he said, would like to "add another power arm" as a late-inning reliever along with setup man David Hernandez and closer J.J. Putz and "definitely" need a left-handed specialist. Towers said the team expects to pick up Putz's option for next season.

Towers also will be looking for a veteran pitcher to add to the team's young rotation, especially when right-hander Daniel Hudson is not expected to be back from Tommy John elbow surgery until August at the earliest, manager Kirk Gibson said.

Towers said it's highly unlikely the team will trade right fielder Justin Upton. But center fielder Chris Young could well have played his final game for Arizona, potentially losing his job to young Adam Eaton. Eaton is aggressive and extremely fast, and has shown a knack for drawing walks.

Towers effusively praised Eaton, who is recovering from a broken hand after being hit by a pitch last Saturday, as the bona fide leadoff batter the franchise has lacked since Tony Womack held the job for the 2001 world championship team.

"It's been something we've been looking for. It's very tough to find," Towers said. " ... He brings that swagger, that little bit of edge, cockiness. However you want to put it. That's the way he played in the minor leagues, too. He's an exciting player and he's only going to get better with time."

With A.J. Pollock also in the mix in the outfield, Young could be the odd man out. Arizona's center fielder for six seasons and a superb defender, Young is just a .239 career hitter. He came on strong to start this season, then was sidelined with a shoulder injury and never regained that fleeting form at the plate. He is due to make $8.5 million next season, the final year of his contract.

"I have no idea, not even the slightest clue, what's going to happen," Young said. "Players rarely know anything that's going to go on in the offseason, or what the offseason plan is. Only time will tell really."

Upton, who injured a thumb early in the season and struggled to regain his 2011 form until a late-season charge, got a vote of confidence from owner Ken Kendrick in a radio interview and a big voice of support from Gibson, who benched the slugger for three games earlier in the season. Not all of Upton's numbers were off. He raised his average to .280 with his late performance and his 107 runs tied Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen for second-most in the NL, one fewer than Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.

"I'm going to be optimistic about the situation," Upton said. "This is where I played my entire career. I enjoy playing here, so we'll see."

The Diamondbacks were the definition of an average team, finishing at 81-81. They never were more than five games below .500 or four games above it.

"We kept searching and searching and searching," catcher Miguel Montero said, "have a good series, a good game, and then it just kind of disappeared. We kept searching to get it back again. That's the difference in us going home early and some other teams are still playing."

While there were plenty of negatives, one undisputed positive was the play of Aaron Hill, whose season arguably was better than any other second baseman in the league. Hill batted .302 with 26 home runs, 44 doubles and 85 RBIs.

"Numbers-wise I don't think anybody matches up," Gibson said. "The numbers in themselves are an indicator of who you have, but the intangibles are really what I look for. I think that's where your impact comes in. ... I think you could call Aaron Hill relentless. He likes baseball. He enjoys the game. We're very, very excited about Aaron on our team."

Jason Kubel had a big early season in left field but tailed off badly at the plate in recent weeks. His average dipped to .253 but he still led the team in homers (30) and RBIs (90). First baseman Paul Goldschmidt (.286, 20 home runs, 82 RBIs) had a strong first full season, as did rookie left-hander Wade Miley (16-11, 3.33 ERA). Montero, who got a big new contract before the season began, batted .286 with 82 RBIs. Ian Kennedy, a 21-game winner in 2011, recovered from a slow start to finish 15-12.

But it didn't add up to the kind of long winning streaks the Diamondbacks needed to make a playoff run.

"We didn't execute like we did last year but people made adjustments to us," Gibson said. "So it's on us to make adjustments to them."

Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx

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