DENVER—Five years later, the Diamondbacks got it right. They hired Kevin Towers to be their general manager.
"Occasionally in life, one gets a do-over," Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick said. "In the case of Kevin we're getting a do-over. And I'm thrilled about it."
Too bad they had to waste so much time and talent.
The Diamondbacks took the cheaper route five years ago. Then-president Jeff Moorad wanted an inexperienced general manager he felt he could control, and persuaded his partners to pass on Towers, who at the time was the Padres GM, and hire the less-expensive, less-experienced Josh Byrnes.
Moorad has since put together an ownership group in San Diego, where he fired Towers and brought in another first-time GM (Jed Hoyer) he felt he could control. When it came time to clean up the mess in Arizona, Towers was available.
The Diamondbacks gave strong consideration to Jerry DiPoto, the former assistant to Byrnes, who took over the GM job on an interim basis and made impressive moves in the short time he was on the job. He started cleaning up a bloated major league payroll and bringing young talent back into an organization which had gutted its base of prospects. DiPoto, who was Byrnes' No. 1 confidant, used the interim job as an audition as he tried to establish his own identity.
Eager To Start Working
In the end, however, Kendrick, team president Derrick Hall and the other Arizona decision-makers wanted a fresh start in their front office. With Towers' easygoing nature and the way DiPoto went about his job, the team convinced DiPoto to remain with the organization and oversee scouting and player development.
Arizona's management, however, didn't feel it could gamble on potential this time. It was more expensive to bring in Towers, but with five years to look back on, the Diamondbacks realized the cheaper route cost the franchise dearly the last time.
"Jerry is going to be a general manager," Hall said. "He has proven that he is ready for it. In our current situation, we felt that Kevin Towers is the right man for the position, to turn things around right now. We have confidence in Kevin, his track record, his mid-size market success. The fact he can create and build a roster, in my opinion, arguably better than anyone."
Towers' resume shows 14 years as a general manager in San Diego, during which time the Padres won four National League West titles. In those 14 years he hired two managers, and both have been big-time successes: Bruce Bochy, who was forced out by Padres ownership four years ago, and then Bud Black.
And what was easily his most impressive building job is one that won't even show up on his resume: the 2010 Padres, a consensus pick to finish last in the NL West that came within a game of winning the division.
After the Padres moved into Petco Park in 2004, Towers revamped his roster construction, building around speed and pitching.
The Padres pitching staff included only one arm—starting pitcher Jon Garland—who wasn't put in place by Towers, who thrived despite a franchise that lives in the lower echelons of major league payrolls. The Padres ranked 29th this year, nearly 40 percent less than Arizona's when the season opened.
Now comes Towers' new challenge.
"I think there's a lot of good core players here to build around," Towers said. "I've watched the ballclub over the past month—probably the last two weeks more intensely when there was a chance this may happen—and I like a lot of things that are happening on the field.
"I think it's a quick turnaround. I'm not a big believer in five-year plans, six-year plans. I want to win next year. I know these guys want to win next year. I know how badly they want to get back to bringing a championship ballclub to fans here and the Phoenix community. Proof will be in the pudding. Talk is talk."
The pudding will require a major infusion of arms, particularly for a bullpen that is the worst in the big leagues. The Padres are a testament to his ability to assemble arms on a budget, and he plans the same approach in Arizona.
"I've always said that my analogy of a baseball game is like a dining experience," he said. "You can have a great meal with tremendous ambience and great company, but if you have to wait 40 minutes for a check, you ain't going to remember anything good about that dinner. Baseball games are no different. You can have a great pitching performance, but if you blow the game, your fans, players, front office, coaching staff—everybody's going to be unhappy."
And after a year as a special assistant for the Yankees, Towers is recharged, ready to take on the challenge of being a GM again.
"I want to be here, feeling that pain again," Towers said.
Hall smiled. "You will," he said.