Team Player Dipoto Sticks With Diamondbacks
PHOENIX—When the Diamondbacks hired Kevin Towers as their general manager in September, Jerry Dipoto could have been upset. As the interim general manager for three months, he had pulled off four major trades that not only added top prospects to a needy system but also lopped about $48.6 million from the payroll going forward.
But as anyone who knows Dipoto would tell you, that is not him.
Dipoto's response? He congratulated Diamondbacks president/CEO Derrick Hall on a terrific hire. Then he did the same to Towers.
"I won't lie to you. I enjoyed the job. I very much would have liked to have had it," Dipoto said. "At the same time, I just want to be a team player. I will do what needs to be done to make sure that the Diamondbacks are in a good position to be as successful as possible."
Dipoto is still doing it. At a morning breakfast that turned into a four-hour conversation at the Camelback Inn the day after Towers' hiring was announced Sept. 22, Towers and Dipoto found they had so much in common that Towers proposed—and Dipoto shortly thereafter accepted—the newly created position of vice president of scouting and player development. Dipoto basically serves as Towers' right-hand man, a role occupied by Ted Simmons and later Grady Fuson during Towers' 13 years as the general manager in San Diego.
It is funny how the collaboration developed. Towers, a special assistant with the Yankees at the time, was so impressed with the Diamondbacks' moves at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline last season that he believed Dipoto had made himself the favorite to become the permanent replacement for general manager Josh Byrnes. Under Byrnes, the Diamondbacks won the National League West in 2007 but had struggled recently, in part because of the loss of Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to a shoulder injury.
"To be quite honest, I said to myself 'I'm probably not going to get this job,' " Towers said. "Those were great moves. He was able to bring in good, young, controllable talent and was able to move salary and set this ballclub up for the future. A lot of stuff Jerry did at the deadline opened my eyes."
Stacking The System
Dipoto, promoted July 1, opened a lot of eyes in the baseball world with trades that sent Dan Haren to the Angels, Edwin Jackson to the White Sox, Chris Snyder and Pedro Ciriaco to the Pirates and Chad Qualls to the Rays.
The Diamondbacks' return haul included emerging major league starter Daniel Hudson and prospect David Holmberg from the White Sox, and veteran starter Joe Saunders and pitching prospects Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin from the Angels. Hudson was 7-1 1.69 in 11 starts for Arizona and is the favorite to be the 2011 Opening Day starter. Skaggs ranks as the No. 2 prospect in the organization behind Jarrod Parker; Corbin ranks No. 9.
While stacking the system with young pitching, Dipoto saved Arizona about $30 million alone in the Haren deal. Haren is guaranteed $29 million over the next three years, and more if the Angels pick up his 2013 option.
It was all part of the plan initiated by Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick, and the execution was flawless. It was similar to the manner in which Towers traded big-money righthander Jake Peavy to the White Sox at the 2009 trading deadline for four pitchers, including rotation replacement Clayton Richard, who helped the Padres to within one game of the NL West title last year. The Diamondbacks had to do something—they had dropped to fifth place in the NL West and had holes at the middle levels of their farm system.
"I think most of us who have been around here for the last four or five years, we've seen very good things happen and we've seen a lot of trail-off in the last two years," said Dipoto, who joined the organization with Byrnes in 2006 and was the player personnel director from 2009 until his promotion last summer. "We knew changes had to be made, and at some point the best way to start those changes is by pushing the ball down the hill and letting it start rolling.
"We can look back at 2006, '07 and '08 and understand that we made the choice to pursue a championship at the major league level with a young (position-player) core and an experienced and fairly expensive major league pitching staff. At some point there was going to be an imbalance, and I think last year we ran into the imbalance. We made trades that put the organization in a position to begin moving forward again. Now we just have to be patient and wait for it to develop the way we believe it will."
Dipoto, 42, is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and fighting. He had 49 saves and spent parts of two seasons as the primary closer in Colorado in an eight-year career before being forced to retire because of a spine injury in spring training of 2001. He was clinically dead for about 20 seconds in 1998, when his body reacted negatively to medicine given to dissolve a blood clot in his right wrist during what was supposed to be a routine surgery following his best season, when he went 3-4, 3.53 with 19 saves for the Rockies.
Towers had received recommendations from Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd before his revelatory conversation with Dipoto last September. Since then, Dipoto, with Towers, has overseen the hires of scouting director Ray Montgomery and farm director Mike Bell while moving Mike Berger to director of professional scouting and promoting Carlos Gomez to director of international scouting. The Diamondbacks also added Mark Weidemaier as major league advance scout, filling a position that had been vacant for several years.
"I always thought it was important to have one guy as the head of scouting and player development," Towers said. "That way the right hand and the left hand know what's going on. There's no confusion. It takes a person who has some conviction and some vision and somebody who is a good leader, organized, and is able to delegate, and Jerry has all of those qualities."
Dipoto's No. 1 priority, at least early, will be to oversee a 2011 draft in which the Diamondbacks have the third and seventh picks, the latter after failing to sign 2010 first-round pick Barret Loux when a physical showed evidence of shoulder and elbow instability. It will give Arizona a chance to add to a good 2010 draft class that included later signs Blake Perry, Tyler Green and Ty Linton, and comes on the heels of a 2009 group that includes Matt Davidson, Chris Owings, Marc Krauss, A.J. Pollock and Bobby Borchering.
"He's been a savior. It's nice to have a good baseball mind that I could lean on as we had to make tough decisions, not only on personnel, but on player moves through the winter," Towers said. "To be quite honest, I'm surprised he's not a GM. He could certainly handle the GM's role. He's very organized. He's very thorough. He has tremendous people skills. He's a great evaluator. I'm happy he's still a Diamondback."