Kevin Towers: On Both Sides

There is something I have always known. It is a truth that is to me, so unquestionable in every regard, and yet somehow still seems blurry for many. I feel like Darwin in the Galapagos: alone with my discovery, knowing much of the world will continue on as before, in spite of it.

Kevin Towers is Two Very Different General Managers

I have been saying it since I was 13; a bitter Padres fan, disappointed by an awful season, following a brutal World Series loss at the hands of the unstoppable 1998 Yankees. Kevin Towers has always had one great skill, which is to evaluate pitchers. This makes him one of the most proficient executives in the game, when it comes to building a bullpen from nothing. He did it many times in San Diego. The problem is, that an entire bullpen is likely worth about as much as one average position player in terms of WAR.

Towers has always been employed by ownership groups weary of signing huge free-agents, which makes drafting well all the more imperative. Unfortunately this is an area of incompetence. He is incapable of picking diamonds from the rough, and while proudly referring to his scouting pedigree, if you read between the lines, even he seems to admit that his greatest weakness is evaluating position players.

For the last two months he has been broadcasting this deficiency in high definition, while also showing that his ability to handle the task of managing a pitching staff is untarnished.

I’m not going to grade each move, because I don’t think that makes any sense, but here is the rundown.

Traded Chris Young for Heath Bell and Cliff Pennington.
Heath Bell got too much money from Miami (3yrs/$27MM). Closers are easy to come by, their impact on the game is minor, and Heath Bell isn’t a very good one. But with Towers only taking on $8MM of the remaining $21MM on Bell’s stupid contract, it’s a safe move. He could be a solid setup man, but nothing more.

As for the rest of the trade, Young had become expendable with Adam Eaton looking very polished in his debut. But the fact that the Diamondbacks returned no talent in the form of cost controlled prospects ranks this as the first of three trades in which Towers sold a talented player for fifty cents on the dollar. Meanwhile the A’s have again stolen a useful piece for another underdog campaign.

Pennington is a good defender, but awful with the bat (65 wRC+ in 2012), and will serve as a utility infielder with Didi Gregorius likely getting the shot as the everyday man.

Signed Cody Ross 3yrs/$26MM
A decent corner outfielder with pop, yes. And he is likely to find Chase Field very hosbitable. But for a club who, at the time had four starting-caliber outfielders and a built-in fifth in young, cheap A.J. Pollock, spending dough for Ross is bizarre. Even given the club’s desire to deal Justin Upton or Jason Kubel. An outfield of Kubel, Eaton and Parra, or Parra, Eaton and Upton is a fine one. It’s not that bringing in Ross hurts the club, but putting money into positions of strength, rather than weakness could. Unless the D-Backs deal Kubel, I’m not seeing the rationale here.

Signed Brandon McCarthy 2yrs/$15.5MM
Going into the offseason, the market for starting pitchers had the potential for three great bargains. Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and Dan Haren. Of course there are risks associated with all three, but the arm with the most favorable dollars to worries ratio is certainly McCarthy, 29. Towers diagnosed the situation perfectly, bringing in McCarthy, a pitcher tailored for success in Arizona, to make up for the loss of Daniel Hudson until July or August. Concerns over his head injury are an overreaction. A history of shoulder issues is the reason for the discount.

Traded Trevor Bauer and two others for Didi Gregorius, Lars Anderson, and Tony Sipp.
I don’t think Trevor Bauer stands much of a chance of living up to the hype. I just don’t see a way that his command improves as much as it needs to for him to be even a number 2 in the big leagues. But I think there are clubs who still think he can be a top of the rotation pitcher. The problem with this deal is that Towers sent him to one of the clubs that doesn’t.

The Reds and Indians sent a paltry package to Arizona, including a surplus shortstop in Didi Gregorius. His bat was below average at AAA, he rarely steals a base, and he is only above average defensively. He can hold down the position, but will not be impressive in any facet of the game. How Towers could not manage to snag a surplus shortstop from a talented mix of four players, spanning the minors in Cleveland’s organization is beyond me. The deal netted Cincinnati Shin-Soo Choo.

Rule of Thumb: Trading a high ceiling starting pitcher just to help another club get an outfielder is a poor tactic for competing with the juggernauts in your division (SF and LA).

Traded Justin Upton and Chris Johnson for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.
Towers was able recognize a good trade package for Upton when offered one, agreeing to send him to the Mariners for Nick Franklin and Taijuan Walker, both very good prospects, Walker being elite. But Upton blocked the trade; Seattle being one of four teams on his no-trade list. The talent involved in the M’s package was more a reflection of Seattle’s desperation than any skill on the part of Towers. Just this offseason The Mariners essentially traded John Jaso for Michael Morse, signed Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, and traded Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales, giving them six DHs (including Jesus Montero). The M’s are arguably still bat starved, but now can claim to have six of the game’s worst defenders as well. But back to Towers…

After signing Cody Ross while already in possession of Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, Upton, and Adam Eaton, Towers had to unload an outfielder. With zero leverage, he eventually parted with his extremely talented 24 year old superstar and an average third baseman (Johnson), for one year of Martin Prado, a third competitor for the fifth spot in the rotation (Delgado), a shortstop who stands a decent chance of never making the big leagues (Ahmed), a minor league reliever (Zeke Spruill) and a non-prospect first baseman (Drury). With Upton’s name being dragged around in shit every 3 days, it was only a matter of time before they had to give him away for free.

Now rumors are circulating that there will be two complementary moves as a result of this deal.

Signing Prado to a 4-year extension.
This is the stranger part of the Upton trade. With 22-year old Matt Davidson mashing at AA last season and destined for AAA Reno in 2013, my original thought was “why in the hell would you sign Martin Prado to an extension?” But there are two possible reasons. Maybe Towers is thinking of keeping Prado on as an outfielder after Davidson debuts, declining Kubel’s mutual option for 2014. Or perhaps the club will not resign Aaron Hill, when his contract expires after 2013. Prado has been a comfortably above average defender at 2B, 3B and in LF over his career. He is also one year younger than Aaron Hill.

Still, better to acquire a cost controlled young player than a guy you have to extend just to make a deal come close to being worth it, and to avoid giving up a draft pick.

Dealing Ahmed for Rick Porcello.
This obviously would not be a one-for-one swap, in fact I will be somewhat surprised if this comes together at all. But if Skaggs, Corbin or Delgado are involved in the deal, I guess I also wouldn’t be shocked if they agree on something. If I’m Dave Dombrowski, I’m trying for Skaggs. On the surface, shipping one of those cost-controlled arms might seem unintelligent, but when you have a solid surplus, it starts making some sense. Porcello’s ground ball rate, FIP, K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 are all trending in the right direction, he’s only 24 and he has been very durable.

The Prescription

You see? Kevin Towers has a plan, and he is trying to execute it, but he just can’t fight his nature. Some of the moves on the pitching side are savvy, and could really pay off, but any value they create is undercut by the clueless valuations of the position players traded away as well as the position players brought in. To summarize, Kevin Towers traded Chris Young, Trevor Bauer and Justin Upton for a utility infielder, a declining reliever with a bad body, a below average shortstop, a lefty specialist, a sixth starter, Martin Prado, a handful of boring prospects, and a couple of guys who have no business thinking of playing in the major leagues. At this point in Towers’ career, where we are seeing the same mistakes occurring again and again, it’s time he is required to have a strong assistant GM tasked with evaluating position players both inside and outside the organization. That is, if the Diamondbacks don’t bag him after the season, when the Snakes finish 4th.

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About ra_rowe

A long suffering Padres fan who grew up in San Diego, and moved to Pasadena, Rowe works as a Junior Product Manager and writes poetry in addition to knowing everything about baseball.

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