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Arizona Diamondbacks – back-end of bullpen remains a high priority

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Jake Barrett (Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports)
Jake Barrett (Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Mike Hazen, general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said the market for relievers could last into January

If Mike Hazen, general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks stays true to his word, do not expect movement soon on a principal priority.

That would be improving the bullpen, and directly to the point, the need to upgrade the back end of the bullpen.

The Diamondbacks closed the 2016 season with only one of three relievers designated to hold, protect and save leads last season. By late July, then-general manager Dave Stewart traded closer Brad Ziegler to Boston and seventh inning specialist Tyler Clippard was dealt to the New York Yankees. Set-up reliever Daniel Hudson then bounced around between seventh, eight and even closer roles.

Last week, Hazen swept clean the back-end of the pen by not extending contract to Hudson. Now, all three are gone and Hazen starts with a clean slate.

Speaking with reporters during the current winter meetings in suburban Washington, D. C., Hazen said the trade market could heat up before the free agent market opens for relievers. In fact, he said, there still could be activity well into January on the reliever front.

“There are times where you have to run your bullpen pretty hard,” Hazen said after day one of the meetings. “We need to make sure we can withstand that through the course of the season. A target of multiple guys is something we’ll looking at,  but don’t have a firm number. We have many good internal options and guys who fit into a lot of roles.”

One name taken off the table Monday was free agent right-hander Mark Melancon, who signed a reported four-year, $62 million deal to close for the San Francisco Giants.

Many times, Hazen pointed out, players can grow into roles, but given the Diamondbacks recent track record, Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo do not seem to have the patience for players to develop right now.

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At the same time, and though Hazen did not name names, he did reference Jake Barrett and Enrique Burgos as two pitchers who could flourish if given a reasonable chance.

“We’re not closing our eyes to any situation,” Hazen said. “For players, opportunities are opportunities. We don’t have a lot of commitments in the bullpen right now. You want to trust younger guys in those roles. On the flip side, guys can grow into roles.”

While the bullpen occupies central attention, Hazen said he would like to acquire another left-handed bat or two. In that way, he pointed out, that option would give Lovullo flexibility in late-inning switches and depth on the bench.

Admitting “we lost some offense with (Welington) Castillo,” Hazen also entertained the possibility of going with three catchers. Signing Jeff Mathis Monday to a two-year deal, the 33-year-old veteran, along with Oscar Hernandez and Chris Herrmann, could give the Diamondbacks a strong and flexible catching corp.

If Lovullo chose, he could divide the 162 games three-ways, not run one catcher into the ground, and have Herrmann’s flexibility as a left-handed hitter play the outfield and first base.

While identifying the potential market for relievers as lasting long-term in this off-season, Hazen almost seemed apologetic at the end of his media session.

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“We’ll try and get you guys some news in the next couple of days,” he said. “You never know.”

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