10 questions D-backs face in 2014
Arizona retools roster after second straight season with .500 record
PHOENIX -- It's a new year, and the D-backs are hoping this one turns out differently than the past two.
Arizona finished with back-to-back 81-81 seasons, and general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson, both entering the final year of their contracts, are determined to find a way to get over the hump.
Towers has again made significant changes to the roster, adding a power bat in Mark Trumbo and an arm for the back end of the bullpen in Addison Reed.
And if you know anything about Towers, you realize he might still have a few moves up his sleeve. Remember that it was last January that he pulled off the blockbuster Justin Upton trade with the Braves.
For now, though, here are 10 questions -- in no particular order -- that the D-backs face in 2014:
1. How will the early start to the season affect the team?
The D-backs will be the first team to open Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report to Salt River Fields on Feb. 5. The early report date is necessary because the D-backs have a pair of regular-season games against the Dodgers in Australia on March 22-23. They then return to Phoenix for another week of exhibition games. That means Gibson will need to find a way to break up the monotony of Spring Training and figure out how to get his team ready to play under unique circumstances.
2. What will Trumbo's impact be?
The D-backs felt the offense lacked punch last season, so Towers dealt outfielder Adam Eaton and left-hander Tyler Skaggs in a three-team trade to nab Trumbo, who is expected to provide some protection for Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup. Though some may doubt Trumbo's ability to play left field on an everyday basis, the D-backs are confident that working with new outfield instructor Dave McKay will make Trumbo, at worst, an average defender.
3. Is Patrick Corbin ready to be the ace?
Last year, Corbin reported to Spring Training hoping to win the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He wound up winning the final slot, but the left-hander pitched like the club's ace. This year, the expectation coming into camp is that he will be the team's ace, and whether or not he lives up to the billing could be crucial to their division-title hopes.
4. Can Goldschmidt repeat his near MVP performance from 2013?
It is a lot to live up to. Goldschmidt signed a contract extension last spring and went out and showed that the deal might prove to be a bargain for the D-backs. Despite not having consistent production around him, Goldschmidt managed to lead the NL in home runs and RBIs while finishing second in the league MVP race and winning a Gold Glove Award.
5. How soon will outfielder Cody Ross be able to contribute?
Ross suffered a fracture and dislocation of his right hip last year, and it is believed to be the first injury of its kind and severity in the big leagues. That makes putting a timetable on his return very difficult. While the team hopes it will be sometime in April, no one really knows for sure.
6. Who will be the closer?
Heading into Spring Training the past three years, this was not a question. It was J.J. Putz's job. Last season, though, injuries caused Putz to struggle, and the team turned to submariner Brad Ziegler at the All-Star break, and he did an excellent job of closing during the second half. Towers then recently acquired Reed, who closed for the White Sox during the past two seasons, and said there will be a competition for the job this spring.
7. What production will the D-backs get out of starters Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy?
Both pitchers struggled with injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness last season as the rotation, as a whole, underperformed. The D-backs need both, or at least one, of the pitchers to have bounce-back seasons and deliver consistent innings.
8. When will Archie Bradley make his big league debut?
One of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, Bradley was asked about a lot by opposing general managers in trade talks, but the D-backs were not about to part with him. The organization sees a future top-of-the-rotation starter, the only question is when that will be. Bradley, 21, will be invited to big league camp this spring and is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation.
9. Will Miguel Montero be a force again at the plate?
The biggest key to the offense could be whether Montero is able to regain the form he showed in 2011 and 2012. Last season, Montero was unable to recover from a slow start at the plate and was bothered by back issues.
10. Who wins the shortstop battle?
Last spring, it appeared that Didi Gregorius was the team's shortstop of the future, but he tailed off at the plate in the second half while Chris Owings impressed during his September callup. That seems to have swung the pendulum a bit in Owings' favor. The two are expected to compete for the starting job this spring, with veteran Cliff Pennington serving as the backup.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.