DENVER—The day Jeff Moorad took control of the Padres, general manager Kevin Towers was unofficially given notice that his days were numbered.
It was Moorad, after all, who was in charge of the Diamondbacks when they hired Josh Byrnes as GM. Towers also interviewed for that job. The message he was given was that he was making more money in San Diego than Moorad and the folks in Phoenix felt a GM should be making. In their eyes, his credentials weren’t as significant as his salary.
From the mumbo-jumbo that accompanied Towers’ official firing in San Diego—the day after the long overdue dismissal of J.P. Riccardi as GM in Toronto—it seems that the bottom line in the decision remains the bottom line on the books.
While the move in Toronto was a definite sign that Riccardi’s smarter-than-the-rest-of-the-world mentality finally wore thin in light of his mediocre results, what came through loud and clear in San Diego is that a track record isn’t as important as fitting into the organization’s new cookie-cutter design.
Win some, which is what happened for Toronto fans on the final weekend of the regular season.
Lose some, which is what happened for San Diego fans at the same time.
Didn’t Get The Job Done
Riccardi arrived in Toronto eight years ago, boasting about his ability to survive with a mid-market budget and challenge the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox.
He said he was going to rebuild the Jays’ scouting and player development departments, which in itself should have been a warning sign because he was taking over a farm system that for more than two decades ranked among the most productive in the game.
He left with a legacy of failure, having turned to consistently whining that the Jays couldn’t afford to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees—ignoring that Tampa Bay, with the lowest payroll in the American League, not only had competed with the big guys but had won the AL East in 2008 and advanced to the World Series.
He had complete control and couldn’t get the job done.
“He came in with a lot of promise,” Paul Godfrey, the former Blue Jays president who hired Riccardi, told Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. “I think in the first few years we followed the plan.”
In February 2005, Rogers Communications bought the Blue Jays and vowed to spend $210 million over the following three years. The initial impact was the Jays payroll jumped from $45 million to $71 million in 2006.
The results, however, went down, and the team found itself the victim of Riccardi’s poor decisions, which included a five-year, $47 million deal for B.J. Ryan; seven-year, $126 million extension for Vernon Wells; two-year, $18 million package for Frank Thomas; and seven-year, $69.835 million deal for Alex Rios, to mention a few.
“J.P. was under pressure and continually talked winning in five years,” Godfrey said.
Eight years and four managers after his arrival, what Riccardi delivered was four winning seasons, one second-place finish, four third-place finishes, two fourth-place finishes and one last-place finish. He created a paranoia that included having aides lobby newspaper publishers to fire writers who questioned his decision-making ability.
“In the last few years he became extremely thin-skinned,” Godfrey said. “At first, he met expectations, got the team by with limited payroll. As the payroll went up—other than the Boston collapse when we finished second in 2006—he didn’t do any better with more money, than he did with less.”
Builder, And Rebuilder
Towers, by contrast, constantly was bobbing and weaving, building and rebuilding a franchise truly limited by finances. He limited the down time that Padres fans suffered through during his 14-year tenure as the GM of a team he originally joined as a pitcher drafted out of Brigham Young in 1982.
With Towers in charge, the Padres won National League West titles in 1996, ’98, 2005 and ’06. They came up a victory short of the 2007 wild card, dropping a 163rd tiebreaker game with the Rockies.
They also struggled, losing 99 games in 2008 and then struggling early in 2009, but rebounding with a youth movement at midseason. A team that opened the season 38-62 regrouped with a roster that included 12 homegrown players and went 37-25 in the final two months.
The farm system has struggled, but in truth this year was the first time Towers and his scouting director, Bill Gayton, actually had control of the draft.
All of this was done with constant outside interference.
Owner John Moores has finally been removed from the meddling that led to block the team from using the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft on Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver, who were the choices of the scouting department. The Padres instead selected Matt Bush, who has become the worst No. 1 overall pick ever.
With Moorad’s arrival leading to the departure last spring of Sandy Alderson, it also meant that Alderson aides Grady Fuson and Paul DePodesta became limited in their ability to override the suggestions of Gayton and his scouting department.
So what’s behind the firing of Towers?
“It’s more due to where we want to be in the future,” Moorad said. “That’s the focus. It’s about who we want to be going forward, as opposed to every move and transaction that’s occurred in the past.”
Sounds an awful lot like double talk. But then that’s the best way to handle a situation that defies a logical explanation.