Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers' "Moneyball" Strategy Isn't Madness

Kevin Towers poses the question that baseball fans have asked for months.

"What's the method to his madness?" the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager asks of himself before a recent spring training game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.

After the D-backs finished a perfectly mediocre season last year — 81 wins and 81 losses — Towers traded the team's marquee player, right fielder Justin Upton, and one of the top prospects in all of baseball, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. The trades and other moves Towers made during the off-season have sparked the fury of many fans and criticism from local and national media.

Kevin Towers watches his work in action.
Jamie Peachey
Kevin Towers watches his work
in action.
Martin Prado's overal stats are much superior to Justin Upton's.
Jamie Peachey
Martin Prado's overal stats are much superior to Justin Upton's.

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But that's not to say Towers has an answer to his own question.

Just as there's no exact science to playing baseball, there's no formula for being successful as a general manager.


See related story: "The Screwball Economics of Major League Baseball"

See a slideshow to accompany this story


The New York Yankees have had the league's highest payroll for more than a decade, and since 2001 — when the Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees in the World Series — the Bronx Bombers have just one World Series trophy to show for it.

Meanwhile, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's well-known "Moneyball" strategy, portrayed in the 2011 movie of that name — in which statistics play a prominent role in picking the optimal players for a low-payroll team — has yielded the Oakland A's zero World Series appearances under Beane, who's been GM there since 1998.

Twenty-eight other teams, including the Diamondbacks, and their general managers are dealing with innumerable circumstances and constraints while trying to put players on the field and fans in the seats.

Towers knows something about this gig. "K.T." has been a general manager in the majors since 1995, save one season, 2010, which he spent as a scout for the Yankees. From 1995 to 2009, he was GM of the San Diego Padres, a team that's been a division winner only five times in team history, with four of those under Towers.

He may not be doing anything revolutionary as he heads into his third season as the Diamondbacks' GM, but that's not to say he's not doing things differently.

Towers has added a new crop of unlikely players to the Diamondbacks — and he's banking that they will mean a marked improvement over last year's club.

But not one of the three new shortstops has proved himself worthy of a starting role in the big leagues. Three new D-backs, including reliever Heath Bell, are 35 years old.

And the number-one pick in the 2005 MLB Draft — and the only star on the Diamondbacks over the past few years — is a Diamondback no more.

Let's hope madness is the method.


Shortstop Didi Gregorius reminds Kevin Towers of a young Derek Jeter.

Towers was lampooned in mainstream sports media for making that comparison after acquiring Gregorius by trading away top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. How dare he compare the great Yankees shortstop to a guy with virtually no big-league experience and a. .265 batting average in the minors last year?

But that was Kevin Towers the scout speaking. And, yes, he meant it.

Towers does see similarities — their defensive actions, range, and ability to throw off the wrong foot — between Gregorius and the 18-year-old Jeter he scouted at Kalamazoo (Michigan) Central High School in the early '90s, toward the beginning of his scouting career.

"I'm not comparing Gregorius to where Jeter is now," Towers says at the Cactus League game. "If he ends up being half or three-quarters of Jeter, that would be outstanding."

There's more Towers the scout where that came from.

In the guy he says eventually will become his new leadoff hitter, outfielder Adam Eaton, Towers sees retired New York Mets leadoff man and three-time all-star Lenny Dykstra.

In pitching prospect Archie Bradley, he sees Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.

Some comparisons are a little tamer. In outfielder A.J. Pollock, it's Texas Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry.

"Sometimes you have to trust your intuition — your gut instincts — and put your neck out there in the noose [about] what you think the player's ultimately going to be," Towers says. "Sometimes you have to do it at an early age with somebody like Gregorius."

Towers explains that if Gregorius had turned in two or three productive years as a starting shortstop elsewhere, his price tag would've gone up — just as Jeter's did.

"You take risks when they're at the prospect level . . . calculated risks," he says. "I'm sure after Jeter's fourth or fifth year, there was no way you were ever going to get your hands on him."

To take this risk on Gregorius, the Diamondbacks shipped Bauer to the Cleveland Indians as part of a three-team deal.

In 2012, MLB.com ranked Bauer as the number-five overall prospect and the number-two pitching prospect. Gregorius didn't make the list of 100 top prospects.

However, in Bauer's brief stint as a big-leaguer, he proved quite the problem child.

Bauer's extremely long and unorthodox warmup routine includes throwing the ball from foul pole to foul pole. He spent his spare time making terrible rap music, including one song released after Bauer was dealt to Cleveland that contained an apparent insult of D-backs catcher Miguel Montero. The veteran Montero had dared to do his job and call pitches for the rookie.

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15 comments
dogbiter
dogbiter

After two games, the jury is out on Towers...

danxranx
danxranx

Sometimes man you jsut have to roll with ti.


www.Gone-Anon.tk

Dogbiter
Dogbiter

Towers better produce, what with him sending Upton packing! He'll be an ex-GM if he doesn't. Personally, I think his brand of Billyball (Kevball) will work. Predicting that the D-backs will go deep into the playoffs this year.  

RandyHill
RandyHill

Wow, what a misleading white wash of Kevin Towers tenure. KT won in 2011 with a team built almost entirely of players DiPoto and Byrnes acquired. He's been destroying tat team ever since.The stellar outfield defense has been replaced w/a DH in left who is one of the worst defenders in baseball. Justin Upton had the best range in right field and has been one of the most valuable right fielders in all of baseball despite the lack of a cherry picked OPS number, and we replaced him with an aging journeyman that we overpaid. And Adam Eaton was drafted by Josh Byrnes, just like Goldschmidt.And just like Jarrod Parker, who fulfilled predictions last year to become one of the best starters in baseball, for Oakland after Beane robbed Towers blind, giving him the less talented, far more expensive Cahill, and also picking up a great reliever and useful outfielder for throwing n another expensive, less valuable veteran reliever. Gee I wonder why Towers needs pitching? He gives up quality pitchers in almost every trade.And then KT finally makes a good pick in Trever Bauer and blows it while you misrepresent the story.. Bauer told every team not to draft him if his routine bothered them cause he wasn't changing it, but KT still took him. And the team said nice things about his "quirks" as Trevor dominated every level of the minors and shot into the majors. The kid had a few bad starts as young pitchers often do (see Kennedy, Ian in his Yankee stint) and suddenly KT and Kendrick couldn't wait to stick the knive in. They knew all of this before drafting him, ran him and his value down publicly and were forced to trade Bauer for an INJURED shortstop prospect who has never been able to hit for average, power, or get on base vs. MINOR LEAGUE PITCHERS at the same age where Jeter was coming off a near MVP season leading the Yankees to a World championship.

And no one questions a major league catcher so dense or self centered that either isn't even aware or doesnt care that his teams top pitching prospect relies on a very specific and widely reported pitching style and attempts to force him to change everything that's worked for the kid in the first inning of his first MLB start? Where is the manager? Where is KT?

If Trevor Bauer is this years Jarrod Parker just maybe fans will start to realize how hard it is to get top young talent and how much KT has squandered for older, more expensive,

RandyHill
RandyHill

Wow, what a misleading white wash of Kevin Towers tenure. KT won in 2011 with a team built almost entirely of players DiPoto and Byrnes acquired. He's been destroying tat team ever since.

The stellar outfield defense has been replaced w/a DH in left who is one of the worst defenders in baseball. Justin Upton had the best range in right field and has been one of the most valuable right fielders in all of baseball despite the lack of a cherry picked OPS number, and we replaced him with an aging journeyman that we overpaid. And Adam Eaton was drafted by Josh Byrnes, just like Goldschmidt.

And just like Jarrod Parker, who fulfilled predictions last year to become one of the best starters in baseball, for Oakland after Beane robbed Towers blind, giving him the less talented, far more expensive Cahill, and also picking up a great reliever and useful outfielder for throwing n another expensive, less valuable veteran reliever. Gee I wonder why Towers needs pitching? He gives up quality pitchers in almost every trade.

And then KT finally makes a good pick in Trever Bauer and blows it while you misrepresent the story.. Bauer told every team not to draft him if his routine bothered them cause he wasn't changing it, but KT still took him. And the team said nice things about his "quirks" as Trevor dominated every level of the minors and shot into the majors. The kid had a few bad starts as young pitchers often do (see Kennedy, Ian in his Yankee stint) and suddenly KTs boys can't stick the knive in fast enough

TomDaunt09
TomDaunt09

Brilliant story! Hope Towers deliver. If he doesn't, the Upton deal will haunt him right out of town. 

Dustin Mitchell
Dustin Mitchell

Upton with his close to .300 avg..6 hrs and 20 rbis in the spring?? No not at all.. Maybe we can trade goldy for some more RP since Kevin can never have a big enough bullpen

Walt Creed
Walt Creed

Nope, Bauer showed nothing but attitude and Upton was way overrated, I think Towers knows what he is doing..

JohnQ.Public
JohnQ.Public

I like the work that KT has done.  While I like and respect J-Up, there are times when for whatever reason a player gets stuck in a rut and can't get out.  Look at Aron Hill - he hit .205 and .225 for Toronto in 2010 and 2011 but hit .315 after coming over to the D-Backs for the remainder of the 2011 season and .302 in 2012.  It seems like J-Up was stuck in a rut and a change of scenery may have been required.  I don't see the J-Up trade as anything but creating the opportunity for J-Up to escape his rut and the D-Backs not to have to suffer through it any further.  Love Eaton as a player and disappoitned to see him injured.  Would love to see Parra reduce his base-running mistakes and make as big an offensive contribution as he does on defense.  I'm excited for this team.  But it all comes down to pitching - it always does - and we'll have to see how deep the 5 starters can go and still keep us in games and how effective the new arms in the bullpen can be.  Then with Hernandez as the set-up in the 8th and Putz as the closer in the 9th we're good to go.  I will say this, I would put KT's baseball knowledge and intentional development of this team up against the Dodgers just throwing money at the team any day.

Dogbiter
Dogbiter

You're hanging this on Bauer being a first-class prospect?! Please! That's just stupid. He didn't just have bad starts, he had terrible ones. He's going to be one of those pitchers who is working in a used-car lot soon. 

RandyHill
RandyHill

@Walt Creed If Towers knows what he is doing why'd he waste the #3 pick in the draft and $4.5M on Bauer, after Bauer told every team he wasn't changing his attitude or his approach to the game? Bauer is still rated one of the top 18 prospects in baseball, so why'd Towers dump him for an injured prospect who has never ranked higher than 63 and has consistently been a terrible hitter and barely average  defensive shortstop  in the minors for 5 years?

RandyHill
RandyHill

@Dogbiter Bauer was such as highly thought of prospect by Towers that he wasted the #3 pick and $4.5M on him.  Bauer is still rated the #14 best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and #17 by MLB.com, while Didi is 63 and 80th. 

You may think 4 bad starts by a 21 year old tells the tale on his career hopes, but the rest of baseball thinks his dominating 160 innings of 3.00 ERA in the minors says he's the real deal, esp. since half those innings were in Reno, the AAA version of Coors field, with a 2.85 ERA.

But if you & Towers are right, why didn't Towers trade him last season before bringing him up from AAA? BA had him rated the #3 prospect and we could have gotten a huge return. The truth is that Towers is clueless and didn't realize the backlash he'd get from Kendrick, Montero and Gibson when Bauer came up, so Towers bailed on a hugely valuable trade chip and dumped him for an injured shortstop of dubious ability and potential.

 
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