The SnakePit Interview: Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, Part 2

PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 22: (L-R) Special Assistant to the President & CEO Luis Gonzalez President & Chief Executive Officer Derrick Hall and Executive Vice President & General Manager Kevin Towers of the Arizona Diamondbacks attend the Major League Baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field on September 22 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Last time, we talked to Kevin Towers about his arrival in Arizona, rebuilding the bullpen and the turnaround the Diamondbacks experienced in 2011. But, wait! There's more... In this installment, we discuss topics including the post-season, this winter's moves by the organization, how he views the rest of the division and what to expect from spring-training at Salt River Fields this year...

AZSP: You mentioned Miranda there. Credit for the season has rightly gone to yourself and Gibson. But were there any "unsung heroes" behind the success?
KT
: Jerry DiPito, who's no longer here. Without some of Jerry's great moves the year before, ones that brought on Daniel Hudson, who was a big part of our rotation; part of drafting Wade Miley, who won a bunch of games for us. He gave us a depth in our system, not only though the draft, but some of the tremendous trades that he made at the deadline, that really set up our club very, very well. Jerry was just as big a part as a lot of us that are getting credit right now for turning this organization around and helping us win.

AZSP: What are your thoughts on the Division Series, especially in the light of subsequent events involving Ryan Braun?
KT: I thought it was two very evenly-matched clubs. We were both very good at home: they were one of the best teams in baseball at home, we were probably in the top five at home ourselves [Milwaukee's 57 home wins were #1 in the majors; our 51 came fifth] and that's the way the series went. We lost the first two, then came back and beat them up pretty good in the next two, and came a hit away of going to the NLCS.

Ryan Braun was certainly a thorn in our side: he was the one guy that we just could not get out, and always seemed to have the big hit when they needed it. Now, when we hear that there's certainly allegations about performance-enhancing drugs, it even makes it a bit more bitter and tough, but I guess we won't know the results of that for some time. To me, it was a tremendous series, a good series, very evenly-matched and could have gone either way. They ended up on the right side and we didn't, which is why it was so important for us to play right up until the end for that home-field advantage, which we knew would be very important in the Division Series.

AZSP: It seems that one main focus this off-season was on getting another experienced pitcher, rather than relying on the unproven if impressive prospects. What was the thought-process?
KT
: We didn't want to sit on our hands and stand pat. We knew that, even being on top of the division, we had to improve. A lot of things went right for us last year - for the most part, we stayed healthy, other than Stephen Drew. We knew that we had to act on what we already had in place, and fortunately we were able to bring back most everybody, other than maybe Micah [Owings], that we considered major contributors to the club. Then, add to the rotation, add to the bullpen, add to the outfield depth, with guys like Kubel and Saito and Cahill.

We wanted to get better, and I think we did get better. Add another 30+, 200 inning young starter with a controllable contract to our rotation; bring Joe Saunders back, another 200-inning, 30+ starter. Saito was a guy that has closing experience, bring stability to the back-end of our pen, gives us another weapon there, and Kubel is a left-handed bat that gives us more power balance in the right match-up for Kirk Gibson.

AZSP: Speaking of Kubel, he's clearly a different player than Parra, and his signing seemed a bit of a surprise, given Parra's breakout season. Can you give your perspective on the signing and what it means for Parra?
KT
: I think Gerardo's still going to play a lot, it just won't be specifically in left. He'll play more center, right. Be able to give CY a break here and there, give J-Up more of a break, rather than have those guys play 150-160 games. You can never have enough depth. Kubel's a guy that we think will be a better performer, not only in the NL but in our ballpark. I think Target Field probably hurt him some. But if you're adding another bat that you think is going to help you win 4-5 more ball-games, it's the right move to make. It gives us all the more depth, gives us the chance to rest some of our starters on occasion. It also gives Gibby the chance, if there's a tough right-hander in the lineup, a Lincecum or a Cain, he can play Parra in center and Kubel in left. With Miggy, and potentially with Drew, it gives us more of a balanced left-handed line-up.

AZSP: Reports suggested that we were originally going after Hiroki Kuroda, but we withdrew his offer and he then signed for the Yankees for less than we offered. With hindsight, should we have waited a little longer?
KT
: No. There was certainly no guarantees that he was going to come our way. We left an offer on the table for more than a month, and I thought that a month was long enough. The other players were starting to sign, and that was when we decided to change gears and go with the offense of Kubel rather than wait on a starting pitcher. I guess if you asked me if I would rather have Kuroda, or basically Joe Saunders back, with Kubel, for virtually the same price, I'd rather do what we ended up doing.

AZSP: To get both Saunders and Kubel, the team budget did go above what was originally expect. How did that come about?
KT
: We went to ownership when we had an opportunity to sign Kubel, and we thought we were done then. Eventually, Joe [Saunders] came back with where we valued him at. We went back to ownership once again and said, "We're this much better with Joe." Our chance to get another veteran left-handed starter in the rotation makes Joe a terrific #4 and Collmenter a very good #5, and it allows guys like Skaggs, Bauer, Corbin, Brewer and Miley more time to develop in the minor-leagues. It was more of a commitment by ownership, I guess in trusting my evaluations, that we'd be that much better with those players and to extend ourselves, to give us a better chance to win. And, hopefully, if we do win, then we carry over what we had going last year, that the revenues will grow with added attendance and another quality team on the field that has a chance to win each and every night.

AZSP: Even with that additional payroll, it's a good deal short of teams like the Giants, who I think have a $140 million payroll. Can you talk about what you see as the keys to remaining competitive on a smaller budget.
KT
: We're probably end up close to $80 million, around $79 million. So we'll probably be fourth in payroll in the division - San Diego will be below us, but Colorado, San Francisco and LA will definitely be in front of us. To me, the key is that once players become too expensive, you're going to have to have players who can step in and fill that void, which Goldschmidt and Collmenter did for us last year.

You have to have the good, young players in the pipeline, at least two or three coming every year to balance that payroll out. Eventually it becomes an endgame, but it's difficult. We're never going to be the Giants in the way of revenues; we're probably never going to be the Dodgers, because their market size is different. But that doesn't mean you can't compete on an annual basis. You just have to be a little more efficient, fish in a few different ponds, and hopefully you draft well and develop well, so have those good young players to fill that void when players move on.

AZSP: It doesn't seem like the rest of the NL West made any major moves this season, so who do you see as the biggest threat to a repeat title for the Diamondbacks?
KT
: I don't think you can ever count the Giants out. There's a team that won the World Series two years ago. They don't have Beltran, but they added Pagan, Melky Cabrera, have a tremendous pitching staff, great bullpen. Colorado has done a few things, bringing Cuddyer and Scutaro on board, gives them a little bit more experience. Bit of a young rotation, although they've got Guthrie now - I think they'll be a better ballclub than they were last year. Everyone picked them to win the division: I think think they're better than they were, so they'll be tough. And LA probably played as well as anybody in the second half of last season with a lot of your players [they went 41-28 after the break, having gone 41-51 in the first half]. You've got Kemp and Kershaw, those are two wrecking machines: if he's on the mound and the other guy's at the plate, those two guys could beat your club.

I'm not into making predictions, who's the team to beat. I just like to end up on top, and we'll stay humble. We know that the division has gotten better as a whole, and it's been tough to repeat - it's only happened a few times where a team has won back-to-back years, and it's never happened where a team has won three times in a row.

AZSP: You're heading towards your second ST, now with a full season under your belt. How is it different this time around?
KT
: I've got a little better idea of the players and who they are. Last year was a learning experience for me, because I only had about ten days at the end of 2010, and not even an opportunity to see anybody in the minor leagues. Last year, I had a chance to visit each of our affiliates, got to spend a spring training on the back-fields, get to know our coaching staff, our scouts and evaluators.

This year, I've got a good feel for our minor-league system, I've got to know our scouting people, not just on the pro side, but the amateur. Not that it's going to be an easier spring training, but I think that with an entire year under my belt, I've got a better feel for the entire organization, versus coming in and trying to learn players, learn coaches, learn scouts, lean the front-office, learn the media, learn our fanbase. It was a lot.

AZSP: A lot of fans are looking forward to seeing our pitchers, like Bradley, Skaggs, etc. in spring. Are there other prospects you'd like to point out as being particularly worth-watching?
KT
: I think Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock are very, very close. Both those guys, we think, have the chance to be regulars here in the very near future, and if there was an injury to one of our outfielders, we think either one of them could settle in and actually contribute quite well. Ryan Wheeler, Matthew Davidson: two guys that are corner players, we think are kinda on the fast track.

And as I mentioned, the pitching, with Brewer, Bradley, Corbin, Skaggs, Miley, Bauer, Holmberg. Those are all guys that we think have a chance to be either middle of the rotation or top of the rotation type pitchers. The areas that we probably lack depth are middle-infield with (Chris) Owings and (David) Nick, probably the only two legitimate prospects that we have, and catching-wise, we're fairly thin. Those are hopefully areas that we address through the international signings come July 2nd and in the draft.

AZSP: The 25-man roster looks fairly set, so what will your focus be on in spring training?
KT
: Really, I think there's not going to be a lot of jobs that are open. Spring training, it'll be giving some of those young pitchers a chance to pitch in A-games, get exposure to our big-league staff. Competing for one of the spots, because at some point in time we'll probably need a few of them during the season - you never get through a season with just 25 players. For me, it's just keeping our guys healthy. Hopefully Stephen's healthy, we get through the spring, work on the areas where we need work, and keep our guys healthy so when the season starts, we're not having to dig down into our depth in our system. Spring training for us, it's areas that Kirk and I have identified and plan on addressing, areas that we thought were weaknesses last year, that we can improve upon.

[Many thanks to Kevin for taking the time to talk to us, and also Josh Rawitch for helping put things together]

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