In 2007, the Arizona Diamondbacks made a surprising run toward the playoffs and reached the National League Championship Series before finally falling short against the Colorado Rockies. Three years later, the architect for that surprising run, general manager Josh Byrnes, was fired in July 2010.
After starting this season by winning only nine of their first 31 games, the D'Backs look doomed to repeat that cycle. General manager Kevin Towers is likely to pay the price for Arizona's struggles this season due to his questionable moves and the poor performance of the team's core players and pitching staff.
Towers enjoyed early success in his tenure with the D'Backs, building the 2011 squad into a group that advanced to the 2011 National League Division Series before falling to the Milwaukee Brewers. Arizona looked to be a force in the NL West, primed for a strong three- to five-year stretch based on the depth of the team's farm system, promising young core players and the improved financial flexibility.
Now, just three years later, almost all of the optimism around the organization has vanished. Much of the fault falls at the feet of Towers for building a poorly constructed team that has failed to capitalized on the window of opportunity that the franchise seemingly had.
It is hard to understand how things have gotten to this point.
Arizona has good ownership, led by Ken Kendrick. Kendrick has been surprisingly approachable while running the team and has seemed to grow into the role as managing general partner. The D'Backs are completely involved and invested in all of the communities of Arizona, operating as great ambassadors of MLB.
The man who Kendrick has picked to run the day-to-day operations of the franchise, Derek Hall, is one of the most genuine and engaged executives in the game.
Hall should find himself on the short list of candidates to replace outgoing commissioner Bud Selig when Selig finally steps down. Hall has the experience of working in a large market with the Los Angeles Dodgers and a mid-market like Arizona. His background in media, communications and business only add to his resume as MLB looks to embrace the new age of social media and lure back younger fans.
Towers has a lengthy resume built in the game among his time with the San Diego Padres and now the D'Backs. Towers has been very accountable with the media concerning the D'Backs' struggles and has a strong reputation within the game. But in his 17 years as a general manager, his teams have only made it to the playoffs five times and have only had a winning season in seven of those 17 seasons.
Manager Kirk Gibson is in a tough spot.
He is tied at the hip with Towers, and both men seem to genuinely like and support each other. But the D'Backs, as currently constructed, are not winning anything. And much of the blame goes back to the construction of the pitching staff and the poor player evaluations that the team has made over the past three seasons.
While Gibson might appease his critics by throwing things and calling out his players, he has continued to operate like a professional who has been placed in a no-win situation.
If Gibson is sacrificed, it won't be because he is to blame for this mess. It is simply because it is the easiest thing to do before blowing up this roster. Arizona talked about being a playoff team this season, not scouting for next season's draft. It's not fair, but the D'Backs cannot afford to go through an entire summer with an empty building.
With all of this executive talent, it is hard to understand how this organization has drifted so off track again so quickly. When the D'Backs fired Byrnes, they were undertaking a culture change within the organization. The man they finally picked to replace him, Towers, was basically the polar opposite of Byrnes in terms of building an organization and establishing the organization's philosophy.
Where Byrnes favored the new-age analytics of the sport, Towers was much more of an old-school executive. Byrnes was viewed as a young, paper-pushing bureaucrat, while Towers was viewed as a wily, seasoned veteran.
Many of the moves that Towers has made during his tenure in the desert fly in the face of the information that is readily available to all of the team's in MLB and have left the organization open to much criticism. Continually trading away prospects while trying to build a successful mid-market team is virtually impossible to do.
The numbers don't lie. Arizona features the worst pitching staff ERA (5.20) in the major leagues and an offense that is in the middle of the majors in runs. All of this coming with a franchise-high payroll of almost $113 million to start the season.
Barring a miraculous turnaround, the D'Backs will likely be forced to make changes with Towers and Gibson during the month of May if things continue to trend in a negative direction.
Towers is likely to leave the D'Backs in worse condition then when he was hired, leaving a below-average farm system, high payroll, bad contracts and very little quality starting pitching outside of Wade Miley, an injured Patrick Corbin and top prospect Archie Bradley.
The next general manager and manager of the D'Backs will need to be people who can combine the old-school mentality of Towers with the new-school analytics of Byrnes. They will need to be able to build a consensus and adhere to a three-year plan while developing a blueprint for this team to become a perennial contender.
Change is coming for the D'Backs, and it's incredibly important that Kendrick and Hall hit a home run with their next moves in order to get the franchise back on track.
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