J.J. Putz is the key for Arizona

Updated: January 31, 2011, 1:03 PM ET
By Buster Olney

Kevin Towers knows all about bullpen reconstruction. Two years ago, when he was general manager of the San Diego Padres, he watched a few games in spring training and realized that the corps of relievers lined up behind closer Heath Bell was going to be a disaster.

So in the middle of spring training -- like a college student cramming just before a final exam -- Towers hit the road, traveling to watch relievers with other teams, looking for arms that had a chance to help. On March 23, Towers plucked Luke Gregerson from St. Louis to be the player to be named in the Khalil Greene trade. He added Edward Mujica in a deal with the Cleveland Indians on April 1. And with just a couple of moves the San Diego setup and middle relief corps had better structure, and better results; the Padres finished seventh among 30 teams in bullpen ERA this year.

Since taking over as the Arizona GM in September, Towers has had more time to attempt a makeover of the Diamondbacks bullpen, but then again, the challenge is much greater. Arizona had a historically awful bullpen in 2010 -- its ERA of 5.74 was a run worse than any other team in baseball, and the D-backs' relievers had almost as many losses (32) as saves (35).

Towers believes there has been progress -- with the relievers, with the starters, with the entire pitching staff. "How do you usually handicap the NL West every year?" Towers asked rhetorically the other day. "Usually, the team that wins is the team that has the best pitching. I think our pitching is better than last year. The question is, how can we stack up against San Francisco, the Rockies, the other teams? I don't know."

The rotation was improved in the second half of last season, after Daniel Hudson came aboard in the Edwin Jackson trade, and Towers wanted to create some competition for the incumbents, adding Aaron Heilman and Armando Galarraga. "Seven guys vying for five spots," he said.