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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.