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The Defining Points in the Towers era

A few days short of four years passed between Towers arrival as Diamondbacks' departure and his dismissal from the role. Here are the moments that will probably loom large when the history of this period in franchise history is written.

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Sep 20, 2010: Appointed General Manager.

Derrick Hall said, "Kevin is an experienced general manager who brings years of success, roster construction, pitching knowledge, industry networking and talent evaluation to the table. He understands what it takes to build a winner and will work diligently to bring continuity to the staff and sustainability to the results." According to AZ Central, "Towers called a revamping of the bullpen and the bench his top priorities; considers the club's record strikeout total "somewhat alarming" and something he wants to cut back; and said he believes the team's strengths to be up the middle and in right field, where he has a "potential star" in Justin Upton." Yeah... About that...

Dec 6, 2010. Traded John Hester and Mark Reynolds to Baltimore for David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio.

It didn't take long for Hall to stake making trades that sharply divided fandom, in this case moving a regular position player for two relievers. In our poll, 35% generally approved of the deal, 36% disapproved. Certainly, something needed to be done as the 2010 Arizona bullpen had a 5.74 ERA, more than a run worse than the 15th-ranked club, and the highest NL figure since the 1938 Phillies. But this and other moves to shore up our relievers worked: the 2011 figure was more than two runs better, and the Diamondbacks went 90-6 when leading or tied after eight innings, compared to 62-19 the previous year.

Augt 23, 2011. Traded Kelly Johnson to Toronto for Aaron Hill and John McDonald.

The first year, it seemed that Towers could do nothing wrong. After a monstrous 2009, where he hit 36 home-runs, Aaron Hill had folded with the Blue Jays and at the time of the trade had an OPS of only .584. Kelly Johnson was little better, hitting .209, and this seemed simply like a trade of under-performing second-basemen. Except, Hill was resurrected in Arizona, hitting .315/.386/.492 down the stretch and matching that production in 2012, making Towers look like a genius. Well, at least until Hill's contract extension. Oh, and we also got the Prime Minister of Defense, John McDonald, who was cheap and provided bonus defensive wizardry.

Sep 23, 2011: Diamondbacks win National League West,

Hall said of Towers, "He is the architect of an extremely competitive team that has resulted in arguably the most impressive and unthinkable turnaround in our game this season.'' In the same piece, Jon Heyman of wrote that Towers "made several subtle personnel improvements, using every method possible, from trades to cost-efficient free-agent signings to even Rule V and the minors.... The improved team has a persona that's grittier, a lineup that's less strikeout prone and bullpen that's deeper and better." Hang on: is this the true origination of the "grit" narrative, well before the trade of Upton?

Dec 11, 2011: Traded Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill and Jarrod Parker to Oakland for Craig Breslow, Trevor Cahill and cash.

This might have been the turning point. Flushed with a division title and an apparent invincibility, Towers dealt three upcoming prospects to the Athletics, for a more proven starter in Cahill, who had been an All-Star the previous year. The aim was to anchor our rotation, Cahill being under control through 2017. It didn't work. by bWAR, Cahill hasn't been above replacement level in any of his three seasons here, while Oakland received 7.4 WAR, even though Parker hasn't pitched this year. Cahill has also been a lot more expensive, and his struggles leave the new GM with a difficult dilemma this winter, as he's on the books for $12 million next year.

Jan 24, 2013. Traded Chris Johnson and Justin Upton to Atlanta for Brandon Drury., Nick Ahmed, Randall Delgado, Martin Prado and Zeke Spruill.

I still don't hate this trade. Yes, so far, it has favored the Braves, but a) Johnson's entirely unexpected 2013 is a big part of that, and b) Brandon Drury is looking pretty impressive, and may help tip the balance back down the road. But what made this a defining moment was Towers' statement about what he was seeking: "Different clubs like to look for different intangibles in players. We kind of like that grinding, gritty player – hard-nosed." Even though, as noted above, it wasn't the first time the G word had been used in connection with the Diamondbacks, those four letters were used lazily to characterize every subsequent move, whether warranted or not.

Mar 30, 2013. Signs Paul Goldschmidt to five-year, $32 million extension,

Hard to argue this was not Towers' best move. Goldschmidt has, in two seasons, already posted 11.6 bWAR, while costing just $1.6 million, and he'll earn less than $9 million until 2018. In hindsight, it's easy to say this was an "obvious" move. But don't forget, at the time Goldschmidt had only played 193 games in the majors, and there were certain ESPN pundits still claiming he would never amount to anything much. It probably did help that Goldschmidt hardly seems like a hard-nosed negotiator, who'd probably have said "Sure" to almost any offer. But credit where it's due to Towers, for locking up the best position player we've ever developed for the foreseeable future.

Dec 10, 2013. Traded Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton for Mark Trumbo.

As mentioned yesterday, this was where my tolerance of Towers' approach toppled over the event horizon into a singularity. A move to address a "problem" that wasn't really a problem, we acquired a player with one skill-set and whose deficiencies elsewhere outweighed those, and handed over not one but two young prospects, each arguably of greater value. And this isn't hindsight, since at the time, I called it "the textbook definition of a bad deal." So it proved. In 2014, Trumbo cost $4.8 million and was worth -0.8 bWAR. Skaggs was lost to Tommy John, but Eaton has cost $511,000 and put up 4.8 bWAR. Five wins more, for about 1/10 the cost. Yep, that escalated quickly.

May 17, 2014. Tony La Russa appointed Chief Baseball Officer.

Towers went all-in, and had to after the team declined to exercise its contract option on him. [Bizarrely, they later did extend his contract, which may be why they want to keep him in the organization: if he declines the alternative position, I presume they don't have to pay him] The horrendous April, despite the highest payroll in team history, put Towers' tenure on life-support, and in hindsight, the arrival of La Russa likely was the final nail, representing the end of the GM as the final arbiter for decisions in Arizona. Instead, it was La Russa of whom Kendrick said, "He has the freedom to make the decisions that he thinks are right. There's no limitation to his authority."

Sep 4, 2014. Towers relieved of his position as General Manager.

The other shoe finally dropped yesterday. Towers leaves with a winning record (315-311); that's 47 and 26 more wins than the Rockies and Padres have had since the start of 2011. But the trend was going the wrong way, and there was no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel. It's probably true to say that Towers leaves the team not far from where it was when he joined it, despite a complete revamping, with Gibson and Miguel Montero close to the only survivors. Questionable baseball philosophies (We need fewer K's! No, home-runs! Wait, OBP!) and a tendency to make statements better not said, will likely be my own abiding memories of his time in charge.