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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Billy Beane Returns To The Moneyball Basics…

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Just in time for the movie too.

Except he’s doing it without the winning and “genius”.

I guess it’s not as easy when the rest of the baseball has caught up with a junk bond trader masquerading as a venture capitalist; a lounge lizard clad in polyester rather than a high-rolling card-counter in the casino; when there’s no Steve Phillips to hoodwink; no scouts to bully; no fawning writers to treat every word as if it’s gospel; no unsophisticated bumpkin without statistical advisers telling him when Beane’s trying to run a scam.

Billy Beane made one trade for the Athletics before the deadline despite having a number of movable parts on a team that is going nowhere literally and figuratively.

That’s aside from, perhaps, a September field trip to the movies to see either Moneyball or The Smurfs—both are about as realistic as the other—and break the monotony of a 75-87 season.

The one trade Beane made and another he tried to make hearkened back to yesteryear when he was still putting forth the pretense of being “ahead” of everyone else.

He acquired Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto from the Diamondbacks for submarine righty Brad Ziegler.

Yay.

Allen has put up great numbers in the minors with power and on-base skills, but hasn’t gotten a legitimate chance to play in the majors. He’s an average at best defender and can run a little bit.

Norberto is a lefty who’s posted big strikeout numbers and has control problems.

This is following his attempt to peddle Rich Harden on the Red Sox for minor league first baseman Lars Anderson and a player to be named later. Naturally, Harden failed his physical and stayed with the A’s. Anderson is another slow-footed, formerly hyped prospect of a first baseman whose path is blocked for…well…forever with Adrian Gonzalez now entrenched at the position.

In short, Beane’s looking for his great white whale Jeremy Brown. Considering the attributes of Brown when his story was told in Moneyball, that’s a perfect metaphor as an underappreciated, overweight, one-dimensional player Beane can stick someplace and hope the ball doesn’t find him while he walks, walks, walks into everyone’s hearts and minds.

Allen might produce; he might not. Anderson could be something, somewhere. Norberto’s lefty, so he’ll always have a job.

None of this is relevant to the major point of Beane’s “genius”. He’s gone back to basics, but the basics are no longer the same. He’s counting cards, but he’s lost count and isn’t dealing with the same hand anymore.

The entire concept of that notion of “genius” was based on exposing inefficiencies in the market. That’s not creating anything; that’s not engaging in some profound “new” way of thinking; it’s a form of bottom-feeding to fill in a gap and it was a short-term boost that had to be adjusted as others caught onto the ruse.

Others smartened up and passed Beane; regardless of the continued attempts—based on an agenda—to play up his supposed brilliance, his results have been wanting and the excuses have been prevalent.

The “we have no money” lament was the genesis of Beane’s discovery of on-base percentage as an undervalued asset; you can’t use the same excuse for your success as you do for your failures—it doesn’t work that way.

You don’t hear the Rays—whose front office is truly brilliant—complaining about their lack of money until it sounds like whining. They accept and move on. And that’s what Beane should do. Possibly completely out of Oakland and onto pastures where he can be judged for what he is and not what was implied by Michael Lewis’s narrative skill and propensity to exaggerate to convenience his crafted ending.

Then maybe his staunchest defenders will see the truth.

After the movie financials are in of course.

It might happen.

But I doubt it.

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