In a move that was surprising and seemingly came out of left field, the Arizona Diamondbacks announced last Saturday that the organization hired Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa to become the team's newly created chief of baseball operations. La Russa will report directly to team CEO Derrick Hall.
This move is a game changer for the D-backs. La Russa changes everything moving forward in the immediate future. The D-backs had seemingly been handcuffed during the team's terrible start to the season by having limited in-house options to replace general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.
La Russa brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, but the biggest thing he will bring to the desert is credibility and a history of success. La Russa is a known quantity, someone most baseball fans will know from his track record with the Oakland A's and most recently the St. Louis Cardinals. In short, he can inspire confidence with the fans as the D-backs try to dig out of this hole.
As Fox Sports' Jon Morosi points out in this tweet, La Russa has been involved in one losing season since 1999. One. Compare that to the D-backs' six losing seasons and two .500 seasons since 1998 and you can see why La Russa will be empowered to bring consistency to the organization.
If the 69-year-old La Russa can bring a semblance of his success from the Cardinals to Arizona, this might turn out to be a franchise-changing decision. La Russa has won three World Series, six pennants and has 2,728 victories to his credit over his 33 years of managing in the game.
Just as impressive is that the Cardinals have hardly missed a beat since La Russa left the organization after the 2011 season. He set up the Cardinals to have long-term sustained success, something the D-backs have struggled to find since their inception in 1998.
It would seem fairly obvious that this move will eventually spell the end for Towers and maybe even Gibson in the desert. It is to the credit of Hall and managing general partner Ken Kendrick that Arizona seemed reluctant to make changes just for the sake of making a change. Firing Gibson after the team started 4-14 would have likely endeared the organization to the fans, even if it wasn't the right move.
I am still not convinced that Gibson needs to go. I believe he was given a poor roster and a below-average pitching staff this season and asked to create magic. Towers is far more culpable for the poor trades and bad decisions that the organization has made since making the playoffs in 2011.
La Russa is likely to want to bring in more of his own people. He already has his longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan on board as the Diamondbacks pitching guru, former coach Dave McKay as the team's first base coach and Roland Hemond involved in the team's front office. It provides a level of comfort as La Russa learns the Arizona organization.
Outside of Arizona, La Russa might be tempted to raid the Cardinals for front-office help in the form of Cards director of player development Gary LaRocque, as Peter Gammons speculates here. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal mentions bigger names such as Walt Jocketty and Al Avila in this article. If the D'Backs look for a new manager, USA Today's Bob Nightengale mentions St. Louis bench coach Mike Aldrete as an option, and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tabs Joe McEwing as a name to keep an eye on.
All of these names would figure to be in the mix for the D-backs given their ties to La Russa.
To his credit, La Russa made it very clear that he has no interest in managing again. Perfect. Find the next John Mozeliak or Jocketty to be general manager. See if Gibson can morph into Mike Matheny if given a better team and pitching staff.
This is a coup for Arizona. While this season looks like it is going to be remembered for wasted opportunities, it might ultimately be remembered for bringing about the necessary and needed changes to get the D-backs back on track.
Information used via Arizona Diamondbacks/Twitter, Baseball-Reference, Jon Morosi/Fox Sports, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal/Fox Sports, Bob Nightengale/USA Today Sports, Jerry Crasnick/ESPN and MLB.com.