Towers signed right-hander J.J. Putz to a two-year, $10 million contract to take over as closer in a bullpen that was the major reason the D-Backs stumbled to last place in the NL West for the second straight year. They blew 24 saves and had a 5.74 ERA, the sixth-highest relief ERA since 1953.
Putz had 36- and 40-save seasons with Seattle in 2006-07 before undergoing elbow surgery in June of 2009, but then was very effective as a setup man with the White Sox last season, going 7-5 with three saves and a 2.83 ERA. He will make $4 million in 2011 and $4.5 million in 2012; the club holds a $6.5 million option that includes a $1.5 million buyout for 2013.
Bringing J.J. in is obvious; he's had experience as a closer," said manager Kirk Gibson. "He's got the kind of stuff - a big, tall guy with downward angle who throws the ball hard. He's got a good split and it's very effective. He's certainly capable."
Right-handers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio, obtained from Baltimore for Reynolds, are expected to be used as setup men alongside two holdovers, right-handers Juan Gutierrez and Sam Demel. Both Hernandez and Mickolio have fastballs in the mid-90s and should provide an immediate upgrade. Hernandez, converted to relief last season, went 7-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 33 appearances out of the bullpen, striking out 45 while walking only 13 in 37 innings. He was 8-8, 4.31 overall. Mickolio, who has limited major league experience, had 18 strikeouts in 12 innings for Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League this year.
Veteran left-hander Mike Hampton was re-signed to a minor league deal and left-hander Joe Paterson was selected in the Rule 5 draft, and both are given excellent shots at making the team. Hampton's deal was announced a few hours after the December 9th Rule 5 draft; had he signed before the draft, he would have been eligible to be selected. Patterson was the third overall pick in the draft whose funky sidearm approach makes him a prototype lefty-on-lefty specialist
The additions may have pushed Esmerling Vasquez, who was third on the D-backs with 57 appearances last year, out of the mix.
"Vazquez didn't have very good command last year, let's be honest about it," said Gibson. "He's going to have to earn a spot on the team in my mind."
The D-Backs signed free agent third baseman Melvin Mora to a one-year, $2.4 million deal mere minutes after trading Reynolds and could field a platoon at third with Mora and previously signed infielder Geoff Blum. Towers also said that both Mora and Blum could play other positions, including left field, in favorable matchup situations.
The D-Backs lost 57 home runs and 383 strikeouts with the departure of Mark Reynolds and free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. They appear likely to give first baseman Juan Miranda, whom they previously acquired from the Yankees, a chance to start after their attempt to lure free agent first baseman Paul Konerko, who lives in the Phoenix area, with a three-year, $30 million offer failed. Miranda was blocked in New York behind first baseman Mark Teixeira.
They also lost pitcher Cesar Valdez, who was finally sent to Pittsburgh to complete the deal that brought veteran southpaw Zach Duke to the D-backs two weeks ago. Duke signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal that includes a $5.5 million team option with a $500,000 buyout for 2012. Duke has incentives this season that will increase the value of his option -- if he pitches 175 innings, the option is worth $6 million, 190 innings would be worth $6.5 million and 205 innings would fetch $7 million.
"Our primary focus was to improve our 'pen. The proof will be in the pudding next year when the season starts, but on paper right now we feel we're a much better bullpen than we were a week ago," concluded Towers.
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