Exercising Kevin Towers's Option: Yay or Nay?

Is Kevin Towers smiling because of what he has accomplished or because of what he has inherited?

Recent rumors have surfaced that Derrick Hall is not only interested in exercising Towers's two-year team option but expects him to "be with the Diamondbacks for a long time." For a few us, that means ulcers. For others, it means something extremely positive. To the untrained eye or the casual fair-weather fan Kevin Towers has looked like a demigod. He overhauled the third worst team in baseball and morphed them into a playoff contender in his first year. How could you not be happy with a GM who is garnering Executive of the Year buzz?

There is another side to the argument, however, and it's one that's composed of a lot of mental and physical aching from many fans. More astute and hardcore followers of the D-backs can easily pinpoint the poor trades and the money wasted on flat out awful signings in the offseason. A lot of talk has been floating around on the accusation that Towers is, in a way, cashing in on Josh Byrnes's and to a lesser extent Jerry DiPoto's foundation. Is it a fair assessment?

Read on to review both sides of the argument...

Kevin Towers was hired last season to a two-year contract with two two-year club options for 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. He was chosen over the highly regarded Jerry DiPoto who served as interim GM last season from June to October. DiPoto acquired Dan Hudson and Joe Saunders, two key players that are helping the team right now, while also stacking the farm with prospects Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin, Matt Gorgen, and David Holmberg. The move to go with Towers was as clear as day; the D-backs wanted an experienced guy who they thought could help revamp the league's worst bullpen.

Towers headed to the Winter Meetings with his main goal to improve the bullpen. That would soon be the story, but not before some less than popular acquisitions were made. His very first signing as GM of the Diamondbacks was picking up aging Geoff Blum to a two-year contract worth $2.7MM. To this day, nearly a year later, I still haven't figured out why Blum got a multiyear contract. Towers promptly followed up that signing by trading away prospect Scottie Allen for the unproven first baseman Juan Miranda. At the time, Scottie Allen was regarded as the 8th best prospect in the D-backs system according to our farm guru Dan Strittmater. At this point, Towers was 0-2 at making a good first impression.

Here's a list of the rest of Towers's offseason moves (note: only moves that resulted in major league playing time or involved a significant amount of money are included):

- Justin Upton is hesitantly put on the block. An influx of trade rumors begins
- Acquired Zach Duke for Cesar Valdez. Duke would later be signed for $4.25MM
- Signed Wily Mo Pena to a Minor League deal worth $675K
- Signed Melvin Mora to a one-year deal worth $2MM
- Traded Mark Reynolds for Kam Mickolio and David Hernandez
- Signed J.J. Putz to a two-year $10MM deal
- Signed Xavier Nady to a one-year deal worth $1.75MM
- Signed Henry Blanco to a one-year deal worth $1MM
- Signed Willie Bloomquist to a one-year deal worth $1.05MM
- Bought out Stephen Drew's remaining arbitration years with a two-year extension worth $13.75MM
- Signed Aaron Heilman to a one-year deal worth $2MM
- Signed Cody Ransom to a Minor League deal
- Signed Micah Owings to a Minor League deal
- Acquired Armando Galarraga for prospects Kevin Eichhorn and Ryan Robowski. Galarraga was signed for $2.3MM
- Selected Joe Paterson in the Rule 5 draft
- Signed Russel Branyan to a Minor League deal

 

That adds up to a total offseason investment of $24.3MM. (excluding Drew's extension)

It resembled nothing that would strike me as a comeback season. Adding J.J. Putz, extending Stephen Drew, and adding David Hernandez were certainly plus moves, but there was no way anyone could convince me that we would have a winning season because of it. Meanwhile, we lost 70+ home runs from the hot corners and replaced them with an aging Melvin Mora and a prospect only Kevin Towers was familiar with. Three prospects were traded away, including a third round pick in Kevin Eichhorn and a highly regarded teen in Scottie Allen. So, fast forward to the current date, how have these moves fared?

Those moves alone have netted the Diamondbacks a grand total of:

bWAR fWAR
0.6 2.9

 

Uhh... Yikes. Money not well spent. The small silver lining in all of this is that none of the prospects traded away have really amounted to much. Scottie Allen has been completely unproductive while Eichhorn has only been moderately decent as a 21-year-old in A ball. Ryan Robowski had a solid enough year in Class A to earn a promotion but has hit a wall in AA. Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds has been the exact same player that he was for us a year ago. He's hit 30+ home runs and is on pace for 200+ strike outs again. His 0.4 WAR isn't worth the $5MM that he was owed for this season and it's looking more and more likely that the remaining $18.5MM on his contract is going to be an overpayment.

Let's review:

 

Positives Negatives
Towers may have saved the team from sinking themselves in an undesirable contract with Mark Reynolds while swapping him for the extremely reliable David Hernandez. The future salary relief gained could very well be used on an extension for a Stephen Drew or a Miguel Montero. Additionally, the J.J. Putz signing has proved to be a huge win. Putz's WAR may not reflect it, but we can all agree the comfort zone in the 9th inning has been a breath of fresh air. He's also been fairly healthy for the majority of the season, not to mention his chemistry with the team seems to have been a huge gain as well. Also, Joe Paterson was an insanely good pick out of the Rule 5 draft.
Just about everything else from the failed trades to the botched experiment with Armando Galaragga. Towers toyed with the idea of using cheap veterans to compliment the younger core players but it never really panned out. Four of his signings were DFA'd within a few months and others like Nady, Ransom, and Duke were never able to cut it. Geoff Blum continues to be less of an asset and more of a wasted roster spot while Wily Mo Pena only provided us with a few nice home runs and cool spitting into his helmet antics. Willie Bloomquist proved to be an important acquisition due to the Drew injury but even he still has more downside than upside. It wasn't a horrible idea, though, as the team was expected to be in reconstruction mode rather than contention. Still, that's a lot of wasted money

 

It didn't take long before the D-backs were 15-22 and the season looked like it was heading in a similar direction to last year's. Then things started happening. Justin Upton and Miguel Montero turned into the All-Star's we've been expecting while Gerardo Parra, Ryan Roberts, Stephen Drew, and Kelly Johnson each pitched in with quality numbers.

Towers signed Sean Burroughs to a Minor League deal for some added depth and subsequently called him up after he was demolishing the ball in Reno. Burroughs was just one of many former players that had rekindled their relationship with Towers. He was also one of a few players who hadn't played in the big league since 2008, along with Wily Mo Pena and Yhency Brazoban, who also were signed to Minor League deals and subsequently called up to the team.

Heading into the trade deadline the D-backs were in the thick of the playoff race and were a buyer instead of seller for the first time in years. With a bullpen that had bounced around with guys like Esmerling Vasquez, Mickolio, Zach Kroenke, Sam Demel, Heilman, Brazoban, and Alberto Castillo, Towers decided to add some extra insurance in the form of Brad Ziegler. Ziegler has been a huge benefit to the team since the acquisition. The Diamondbacks gave away Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto but it was mostly viewed as a "pretty okay" trade as each of them had lost their spots in the organization to better players.

Towers wanted a little more depth in his rotation so he picked up veteran Jason Marquis from the Nationals for prospect Zach Walters. Marquis was less than impressive in his few starts before going on the DL while Walters was a 21-year-old SS who was likely blocked by more talented players like Chris Owings. Not a terrible idea but it was hampered by an injury.

The final major move Towers made came as a waiver trade with Toronto. Kelly Johnson was traded for Aaron Hill and the handy SS John McDonald. A couple of weeks ago I looked at how the trade was faring for both teams.

Those moves (Hill, McDonald, Marquis, and Ziegler) have netted the Diamondbacks a grand total of:

bWAR fWAR
0.3 1.0

 

Yeah, that's nearly half the WAR value that Towers's offseason moves netted him. I'm not sure if that's more encouraging or discouraging. Overall, Kevin Towers was brought in with the thought that he was the master at fixing a bullpen and he did just that. The 5.74 ERA in 2010 turned into a 3.67 ERA in 2011.

He may be using a ton of pieces left behind from the Byrnes era but he's utilizing every piece of the organization to make it happen. He's made respectful decisions like calling up Paul Goldschmidt and Bryan Shaw and he's made some pretty keen observations like calling up Josh Collmenter to replace Barry Enright. A few fans will surely focus on some of the horrendous moves he made in the offseason while others will take note of some of the brighter moves he made throughout the season. What's your take?

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