Kevin Towers is building an NL West title defender to his exacting specifications.
Towers added to his arsenal of arms by signing free agent reliever Takashi Saito four days later, giving the D-backs a bullpen that matches - and perhaps exceeds - some of his best bullpens in San Diego, where he won four NL West titles in 13 years.
The bullpen improvement was the biggest single on-field factor in the D-backs' rise to the top of the division last year, and the additions of Breslow and Saito only appear to make the group stronger. Closer J.J. Putz, a free agent signee last winter, had a career-high 45 saves as the D-backs went 94-68 last season. Right-handed setup man David Hernandez had 11 saves and 23 holds.
Right-handers Bryan Shaw and Brad Ziegler also return, as does left-handed specialist Joe Paterson, who limited lefties to a .205 batting average and was one of three NL relievers to have two scoreless streaks of at least 15 consecutive games, joining Atlanta southpaws Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty.
Breslow adds a second lefty to the seven-man bullpen, and Saito has experience in just about every relief role in his six major league seasons, the first three with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He set a Dodgers rookie record with 24 saves in 2006 and made the NL All-Star team in 2007. He has 84 saves, 39 with the Dodgers in 2007.
"Takashi brings a great veteran presence to our bullpen and strengthens an area where we already feel very good about our options," Towers said in a prepared statement. "He has closed, been a setup man and is versatile enough to fill any role."
Saito, 41 in February, signed for $1.75 million, the same salary he had with Milwaukee in 2011. He made three scoreless appearances against the D-backs in the 2011 NLDS, earning a victory and a hold.
--LHP Joe Saunders was not tendered a contract by the December 12 deadline to submit an offer to arbitration-eligible players after the sides could not reach agreement on a multi-year contract that was first proposed at the winter meetings. The D-backs still might have some interest in Saunders, although only on their terms, as they look for a fifth starter. The D-backs also have a stated interest in free agent RHP Hiroki Kuroda, although he might be too pricey after playing for nearly $12 million last season.
--RHP Takashi Saito signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract that appears to finalize the D-backs' seven-man bullpen for 2012. Saito, a free agent, will be used in a setup role with RHP David Hernandez, but he also has 84 career saves in six major league seasons. Saito fits the profile of what GM Kevin Towers wants: He throws strikes and keeps the ball down. He has 389 strikeouts and 103 walks in 326 innings, and his ratio of walks/hits per inning is 1.03, which is quite good. RHP J.J. Putz was the only D-back with a lower ratio last season.
--RHP Micah Owings, a hard-worker whom manager Kirk Gibson once labeled a "good luck charm," was not offered a contract at the December 12 deadline for tendering players with arbitration eligibility. Owings went 8-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 33 games, four starts. He was purchased to make an emergency start in May but spent most of the rest of the season in the bullpen.
--SS/3B Cody Ransom, whose home run off Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw propelled the D-backs to a 4-3 victory August 7, signed a minor league contract to return this season. Ransom, a Valley native and resident, hit .152 with a homer and four RBI in 12 games after being purchased July 21 following SS Stephen Drew's season-ending fractured ankle the night before. Ransom hit .317/.405/.629 with 27 homers and 92 RBI in 101 games at Class AAA Reno last season.
--1B Lyle Overbay agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract to return to the D-backs as a reserve and mentor to 1B Paul Goldschmidt after testing the market before the winter meetings. Overbay hit .286 with a home run and 10 RBI and two game-winning hits after being signed as a free agent last August 13. "He did a nice job. He's a good defender and a professional hitter," GM Kevin Towers said. "He understands his role. It would be very similar to the one he had last year, playing against a tough right-hander starter or giving Paul a day off."
DIAMOND STAT: .199 -- Batting average RHP Takashi Saito has allowed opposing hitters in his career.
QUOTABLE: "Obviously, these are two different organizations going in two different directions. I'm excited to be on the receiving end of this one. They have a pretty good thing going, and I think we're going to fit in pretty smoothly and help build on what they did last year." -- LHP Craig Breslow, after being acquired from Oakland on December 9.
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