PHOENIX The Diamondbacks continued to rebuild with the past Tuesday, adding another newold face to the group that will attempt to defend its 2011 NL West championship.
With the re-signing of left-hander Joe Saunders to a one-year, 6 million contract, the D-backs restocked their rotation for a repeat run about six weeks after it appeared that Saunders time with the team was over.
Saunders, 12-13 with a 3.68 ERA last season, was not offered a contract at the early December deadline for arbitration-eligible players, making him a free agent. The D-backs had expressed an interest in having Saunders back, and after he was unable to find a multi-year deal in the marketplace, he rejoined the D-backs at a raise from 5.25 million he made last year.
Saunders inclusion gives the D-backs perhaps the deepest starting rotation in a division that prides itself on being pitching-heavy, a five-starter group that appears at least on a par with the San Francisco group headed by two-time NL Cy Young winter Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
Four of the D-backs five projected starters Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill and Saunders have thrown at least 200 innings in a season, with Kennedy (222), Hudson (222) and Saunders (212) all reaching career highs in 2011, when Kennedy finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting. Josh Collmenter, the other starter, had a career-high 154 13 innings in his rookie season after joining the rotation in May.
The D-backs have now re-signed six free agents from the 2011 team Saunders, Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist, Henry Blanco, Lyle Overbay and John McDonald. All were contributors to the D-backs 29-game turnaround to 94-68.
The newcomers are left fielder Jason Kubel, Cahill and setup men Takashi Saito and Craig Breslow.
The addition of Saunders takes any pressure off the D-backs to rush any of their top pitching prospects. Wade Miley, who made eight starts down the stretch last season, was penciled in as the No. 5 spot, but it was expected that Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Charles Brewer would be given an opportunity to step in.
Miley was the only one of that group who had pitched above the Class AA level, and now it appears the D-backs will be content to let their young pitchers take all the time they need. If any of the young cadre breaks out next season, the D-backs could move a veteran pitcher Saunders, for example to acquire a piece down the stretch. The D-backs traded Kelly Johnson for Hill and McDonald in August, a deal that helped take the D-backs over the top.
Saunders recovered from an 0-5 start last season to post solid numbers. He made 12 consecutive appearances of at least six innings, the second-longest streak on the team to Hudsons 13, and was credited with 20 quality starts, tied for 17th in the NL. His ERA and ratio of hitswalks per innings were the second-lowest of his career in his first full season in the NL.