The 2011 Diamondbacks And The Towers Of Credit

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The Diamondbacks turnaround and success under first-year GM Kevin Towers has cemented his supposed brilliance. A brilliance that became more pronounced while he wasn’t a GM and had his name bandied about as a “perfect” choice for any number of GM jobs. Like a backup quarterback in football, Towers could do no wrong as long as he wasn’t specifically doing anything. It’s a safe place to be.

After being fired by the Padres, Towers was an assistant to Brian Cashman with the Yankees for the 2010 season; as various jobs opened up, he was a candidate for all of them. He was hired by the Diamondbacks and took steps to improve the club’s woeful strikeout rate by trading Mark Reynolds and in the process acquired a valuable bullpen arm in David Hernandez.

Among other moves Towers made like signing J.J. Putz at a reduced rate and retaining manager Kirk Gibson, there’s little he’s had to do with this current club—a club that’s in first place, streaking with 7 straight wins and has opened some daylight between themselves and the reeling Giants. They now lead the NL West by 5 games.

But does Towers deserve all the credit he’s getting?

Much of the foundation of this club was already in place and it’s been there for awhile. The two prior regimes acquired many of the players on the team now.

Joe Garagiola Jr. was a highly underrated GM who won a World Series, dealt with a micromanaging organizational gadfly, Buck Showalter; and an empty uniform, Bob Brenly.

Garagiola’s replacement, Josh Byrnes, contributed as did interim GM Jerry DiPoto. In fact, DiPoto warrants accolades more than Towers; he’s still with the Diamondbacks as an assistant and is a top GM candidate himself.

Garagiola acquisitions:

Stephen Drew, SS—1st round draft choice, 2004.

Justin Upton, OF—1st round draft choice, 2005.

Miguel Montero, C—amateur free agent from Venezuela, 2001.

Gerardo Parra, OF—amateur free agent from Venezuela, 2004.

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Byrnes acquisitions:

Chris Young, CF—acquired from the White Sox for Javier Vazquez in December 2005.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—acquired in a 3-way trade with Edwin Jackson for Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer.

Ryan Roberts, INF, OF—signed as a minor league free agent in November, 2008.

Josh Collmenter, RHP—15th round draft choice, 2007.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B—8th round draft choice, 2009.

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DiPoto acquisitions:

Joe Saunders, LHP—acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade in July 2010.

Daniel Hudson, RHP—acquired from the White Sox in the Edwin Jackson trade in July 2010.

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Towers acquisitions:

J.J. Putz, RHP—signed as a free agent for 2-years, $10 million.

Zach Duke, LHP—signed as a free agent for 1-year at $4.25 million with a club option for 2012.

Henry Blanco, C—signed as a free agent for 1-year at $1.25 million with a mutual option 2012.

Willie Bloomquist, INF—signed as a free agent for 1-year, $900,000 with a mutual option for 2012.

Brad Ziegler, RHP—acquired from the Oakland Athletics for Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto in July 2011.

Then there’s the deal of Kelly Johnson to the Blue Jays for Aaron Hill and John McDonald; its results remain to be seen.

There are certain things that Towers is good at. He builds excellent bullpens on the cheap; he loads his bench with versatile, leader-type players; and he can clear salary. But to suggest that the Diamondbacks are a product of Towers is the same fractured logic that led to him being so widely feted during the time that he wasn’t even a GM.

The one superiorly smart thing he did was to retain Gibson as his manager. Gibson lobbied hard for the job and said that his team was not going to be a pleasant opponent; they’d take people out on the bases; pitch inside; and retaliate when needed. And they have.

This Diamondbacks team is more than the sum of their parts; they play very, very hard and on the edge—like their manager did. He brought the football mentality to baseball when he was a player, took everything seriously and was more interested in winning over personal achievement; that’s how this Diamondbacks group plays.

Did Towers see that in Gibson? Was he enamored of the intensity that Gibson was going to instill? Or was it more of a, “he’s here and he’s not going to cost a lot of money” for a team that wasn’t expected to come this far, this fast?

Maybe.

Towers is a good GM.

In public perception Towers is responsible for the rise of the Diamondbacks; how much he’s owed in reality is limited because a large portion of this club was in place on his arrival and is succeeding as a matter of circumstance rather than grand design on the part of the GM.

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MLB Waiver Deals 8.23.2011

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Rockies claim Wandy Rodriguez.

It was something of a surprise that the Rockies claimed Rodriguez with his contract and their payroll constraints.

There are several factors surrounding Rodriguez that make his movement simultaneously iffy and possible.

The Rockies argument to the Astros will be that they’re giving them payroll relief to adhere to pending new owner Jim Crane’s payroll reduction demands and therefore shouldn’t be asked to give up anything significant for Rodriguez. The Astros can turn around and point out that Rodriguez is a good, durable pitcher who’s worth the money he’s getting.

I like Rodriguez a lot and always have, but if I’m the Astros, I consider the big picture and desire to start fresh with a lower payroll and let Rodriguez go for whatever the Rockies are willing to give…within reason. A couple of good-moderate prospects with upside or some attribute like a power fastball or speed on the bases would do it for me.

I think a deal is somehow going to get done. The Astros need to clear that payroll will supersede any reluctance to take limited return for Rodriguez.

Blue Jays trade Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson.

This is a worthwhile trade for both clubs.

Hill is signed through 2014 with team options in 2012 ($8 million), 2013 ($8 million), and 2014 ($10 million). He’s been offensively inept for two years running after a breakout 2009; he’s a good fielding second baseman.

McDonald is a useful utility glove who doesn’t hit; he’s versatile defensively and a feisty player.

I’m not the biggest Kelly Johnson fan. He was good with the Braves to start his career, had injury problems and slumped and they non-tendered him; the Diamondbacks picked him up and he was very good in 2010; this season, he’s hit for pop with poor on base/batting average production. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays doing this if they didn’t intend to try and keep him.

I’ll guess Johnson will be offered arbitration by the Blue Jays and accept it to try and increase his value for another shot at free agency after 2012. This benefits the Blue Jays because they have their eye on a playoff run next season—and they’re going to make a serious one.

If I were the Diamondbacks, I would be extremely concerned about Hill’s precipitous decline at the plate; but he’s signed for a similar amount of money that they’d wind up paying Johnson if he were offered arbitration and accepted it; you’re not going to get a talent like Hill for a pending free agent like Johnson when he’s hitting.

It makes sense in all aspects.

Rockies acquire Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Didn’t the Rockies do this before the season when they got the same player as Kouzmanoff in Jose Lopez?

It didn’t work then; given Kouzmanoff’s consistent disappointment, I don’t see this working any better than Lopez did.

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Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.