Leading a small-market team – you know, the type with the a payroll that could barely cover one player on the Yankees roster – to four play-off appearances in 14 years (including the 1998 World Series) would normally be a celebrated accomplishment. I’d be willing to bet Pirates fans would sell their souls (or their Barry Bonds rookie cards) for such a run. However, Kevin Towers, with the Padres ownership falling apart, was given his walking papers. In 2009, Jeff Moorad took over as CEO of the club, and began the long process to take over ownership as well. His first move? Fire the General Manager that saw the club to its most prosperous period.
This piece is not an indictment of Jeff Moorad, nor is it a second-guessing of moves made two years ago. It is simply an examination of Towers and his highly underrated talents. There’s never been a question about Towers’ reputation in baseball. “Well respected,” “a friend,” and “talented” are often the terms used to describe Towers. However, no matter what level of success he achieved through player development, trades, and free agency, Towers is rarely on anyone’s short list of best GM’s in the game. He’ll always be considered one of the better GM’s, but has never been linked to any high-profile vacancies.
And that’s just fine with the Diamondbacks. Hired mid-season in 2010, Kevin Towers began re-shaping an organization that had little identity outside “that team that beat the Yankees.” What it seems the Diamondbacks are realizing in Towers is his unique ability to understand a clubhouse’s dynamics along with player evaluation skills that allow him the buy low and sell high with the best of them. Now, they have rewarded his talents. The Diamondbacks extended Towers’ contract through the 2014 season with a mutual option for potentially two more years.
Towers began the quick re-building and turnaround of the Diamondbacks almost instantly. And he didn’t quit. He ridded the team of fan favorites like Mark Reynolds and Kelly Johnson. He introduced new favorites like Ryan Roberts (the Tat Man), and Paul Goldschmidt (the Double-A Bomber – Nickname courtesy of The 5.5 Hole). He also backed the beloved Kirk Gibson as manager, and changed Gibson’s title from interim-manager to just manager. Towers brought new life to the Arizona pitching staff, including the addition of J.J. Putz to the bullpen. But even before re-tooling a Diamondbacks team that had the worst bullpen in baseball, Towers was working wonders with San Diego.
On December 16, 1997, Kevin Towers sent three prospects to the Florida Marlins for a dominant pitcher named Kevin Brown. This was part of a win-now philosophy rarely employed by Padres teams. And it worked. Kevin Brown went 18-7 with 257 strikeouts, and he helped the Padres win the National League pennant.
On December 20, 2005 Towers pulled off another huge pitching acquisition (although it would be over-shadowed by some guy named Adrian Gonzalez. More on that in a bit). The Padres were hoping to repeat as the Division Champs in 2006, so Towers went searching for starting pitching help. The Rangers were in need of pitching help of their own. Towers sent an injury-prone Adam Eaton, a decent Akinori Otsuka, and a prospect to Texas. In return he got Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young. Excluding his shortened 2010 season, Young averaged an ERA+ of 103.5. Pretty solid considering Adam Eaton averaged an ERA+ of 72.83 and Akinori Otsuka was out of the game after the 2007 season.
Beyond the pitching moves, which Towers became known for, he brokered some pretty huge position player deals. Now we can talk about Adrian Gonzalez. In what will likely go down as the greatest trade in Kevin Towers’ career, former first-round pick Adrian Gonzalez came to the Padres in the Eaton and Otsuka deal. Gonzalez didn’t get much of a chance in Texas with Teixeira at first and batted just .227 during his rare time in the 2005 season. However, once reaching the Padres, he averaged a triple-slash of .288/.374/.514. He smacked 131 home runs in five season and made the All-Star team in 3 of his 5 season in San Diego.
Before Gonzalez, Kevin Towers brought in many role players such as Mike Cameron, Greg Vaughn, Steve Finley, and Woody Williams. Obviously none of these players are of the caliber mentioned above, but considering the payroll Towers was working with in San Diego, his contributions as a whole were impressive.
So with another Division Crown under his belt, a team that should see little competition next season from anyone save for the Giant, and the added desire to move deeper into the play-offs it’s no surprise the Diamondbacks extended Towers’ contract. Perhaps an extended run of postseason success will raise Towers’ stature across baseball, but for now I’m sure he is happy quietly weaving success on the west.