As the Arizona Diamondbacks desperately search for answers amid a frustrating start, the team thinks it has found the man who can provide them. The Diamondbacks announced Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa will join the team in a newly created Chief Baseball Officer position.
.@Dbacks name 2014 Hall of Fame inductee and 53-year baseball veteran Tony La Russa as Chief Baseball Officer...will be introduced at 2 p.m.— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) May 17, 2014
La Russa will have final say on all baseball matters. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times notes that general manager Kevin Towers, who previously controlled roster decisions, will stay on but now reports directly to La Russa.
Despite numerous moves from Towers designed for instant competition, the Diamondbacks are 16-28 and 11.5 games back in the NL West heading into Saturday's action. They have given up by far the most runs in baseball (233) and sit high among the biggest disappointments of 2014.
Towers and manager Kirk Gibson were given contract extensions in February as a showing of good faith, but those feelings have quickly dissipated. Towers in particular has come under fire for his impatient roster building. The Diamondbacks have traded numerous top-level prospects and solid young players away in hopes of an instant impact that has not come.
"The entire organization is obviously frustrated with the results on the field and we are looking to improve," Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall said in a statement. "Tony brings us a wealth of knowledge, experience and success, and will work closely with Kevin and Kirk in evaluating our current state to determine the future of our baseball operations."
La Russa, 69, retired after 33 seasons as an MLB manager in 2011. Working with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, La Russa guided his clubs to three World Series championships and six appearances in the Fall Classic. He is third on the all-time wins list behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, and was unanimously elected to the 2014 Hall of Fame class by the Expansion Era Committee.
Since retiring, La Russa has stayed around baseball, serving as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. He has worked closely with Joe Torre and commissioner Bud Selig on rule changes—most notably the new home-plate collision rule.
This will be La Russa's first chance at running baseball operations for an individual franchise. In previous stops he had a say on roster choices, but the final buck never rested with him. In many ways, this role is not dissimilar to the New York Knicks' hiring of Phil Jackson. Like Jackson, La Russa wanted to get back in the game without the day-to-day grind of coaching personalities and stressing over lineup decisions.
Diamondbacks shake-up isn't what people thought: They name Tony La Russa as Chief Baseball Officer. Very interesting.— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) May 17, 2014
It will be interesting to see whether La Russa is up for the task. His first order of business will be finding a balance between instant competitiveness and long-term projections. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks ranked the Diamondbacks 15th in his farm system rankings, while noting depth is still an issue. If players like Archie Bradley flame out, it will be difficult for Arizona to find the low-cost, high-production talent necessary to compete in today's MLB.
La Russa will also have to decide the futures of Gibson and Towers. Their contract extensions likely give them a bit more rope than one would expect, but Arizona's move to hire La Russa is a clear sign that no one is pleased. Towers has essentially been defanged by this move, while Gibson has been up-and-down since his 2011 Manager of the Year win.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers buying their way to contention, the San Francisco Giants a constant looming contender and the Colorado Rockies off to a surprisingly hot start, La Russa has his work cut out. His track record says the Diamondbacks are making a good bet. But like the Knicks are with Jackson, the Diamondbacks are hoping La Russa's ability to instill a winning culture can translate from the locker room to the front office.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: