As the Arizona Diamondbacks have cratered to the near bottom of the National League West this season, plenty of criticism has been heaved at general manager Kevin Towers and his sometimes baffling decisions to get rid of talent in favor of players who fit manager Kirk Gibson's idea of what a baseball player should be.
Realizing they are in a division that may be quickly leaving them behind, the Diamondbacks fired Towers, according to Arizona Republic beat writer Nick Piecoro, who cited sources in his story published late Thursday night. Piecoro said the team is expected to announce the decision Friday morning. There was no word on the job status of Gibson, Piecoro reported.
The move comes nearly four months after the organization hired Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as Chief Baseball Officer. Around the time of the hiring, rumors spread about a big front office move, and wide speculation was that Towers could be the focal point of the shake-up.
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
When it was La Russa's hiring that was the news, many national columns speculated the move could be the writing on the wall for Towers and Gibson's departures. This was despite Towers signing a contract extension in February, as did Gibson.
The Diamondbacks hired Towers in 2010, and the team won the division the following year. Since that season, the team has failed to break the .500 mark while dispatching players like Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, Ian Kennedy, Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs. The players they got in return have not panned out, and Martin Prado—he was part of the Upton trade to Atlanta and had value—has since been dealt to the New York Yankees.
Towers clearly built this roster in the mold of Gibson, and the words "gritty" and "playing the right way" have become synonymous with the Diamondbacks. It is what led to the ridiculous Upton trade as well as the trading of pitching prospects, which the club now desperately needs.
The Diamondbacks have also earned a reputation for retaliating at real and perceived disrespect on the field. In the last few seasons, benches have cleared plenty in Diamondbacks games, and the rest of the league has grown tired of the childish act.
The Diamondbacks entered this season with their highest payroll ever—nearly $112 million—but lost 22 of their first 30 games and have never recovered.
Injuries have played a role in their fall. No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin was lost for the season in spring training, MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt suffered the same fate due to a fractured hand on Aug. 1, power hitter Mark Trumbo has played in 67 games this season because of plantar fasciitis and a stress fracture in his left foot, and finally A.J. Pollock broke his hand in May after experiencing a career year offensively.
Currently the Diamondbacks are 59-81 as they head to Los Angeles for a weekend series against the first-place Dodgers, whose resurgence is one of the reasons the Diamondbacks are being dusted in the NL West.
Towers' most significant and criticized trade was the Upton deal. Upton had been an inconsistent player for Arizona, but when he was good, he was a legitimate MVP candidate with a team-friendly contract.
But because of Upton's wrongly perceived lack of intensity, he was not seen as a fit with Gibson, and Towers traded him before last season. At the time of the trade, writers and other baseball executives alike shared in the confusion as to why Towers would dispatch Upton for such a light return. Upton was 25 years old at the time of the deal.
Now, nearly two full seasons after the trade, it looks even more one-sided than it did then. Prado is gone, and Upton is having a monster year for a playoff contender. Upton ranks in the league's top five in home runs (26), RBI (91), slugging percentage (.515) and OPS (.874).
Even the July 31 Prado trade was somewhat odd. Prado was signed through 2016 at $11 million a year, and the minor leaguer the Diamondbacks got in return from the Yankees—24-year-old catcher/infielder/outfielder Peter O'Brien—has shown little big-league prowess other than hitting for power in the lower levels.
St. Louis Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque and Diamondbacks scouting director Ray Montgomery have been connected to Arizona's GM job, according to Piecoro. Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty has also been linked, but Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal shot down that rumor a couple weeks ago.
Prior to heading to Arizona, Towers was the GM of the San Diego Padres from 1996 to 2009 before spending a year as a special assignment scout with the Yankees. Towers' reputation for rebuilding bullpens was attractive to the Diamondbacks, who had a wretched relief corps in 2010. Partly because of Towers’ improvement of that unit, the Diamondbacks went from 97 losses to 94 wins in one season.
However, Towers shed that goodwill in Arizona with his determination to give Gibson the kind of players he wanted to manage.
Towers is now out of a job, and Gibson just might soon be following him out of the desert. And both men might be hard-pressed to find the same roles with other clubs because of their last few perplexing seasons.
UPDATE: Kevin Towers has been offered a new position within the organization, according to chief baseball officer Tony La Russa (via ESPN.com):
I believe his skills fit well within the framework of what we are building. Understandably, he would like to see who the general manager is before making his own decision.
We are extremely grateful for all that he has done for the D-backs during his four-plus years here, particularly given that he has always put the organization ahead of his own self-interests. That tells you all you need to know about him as a person.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.