A Premortem for Kevin Towers

The GM career of Kevin Towers is still alive and ostensibly healthy in the desert, but all is not well. Between an extended string of questionable or poor personnel decisions and transactions, and the fostering of an organizational culture that, at least from the outside, appears to ostracize talent for the sake of less tangible qualities, Towers is piloting an ill-fated vehicle of his own construction.

Towers is burning the Diamondbacks organization to the ground, and taking the GM incarnation of himself with it.

If Towers were to be fired tomorrow (and justifiably so), here is what an autopsy of his GM tenure with Arizona might look like. This is a premortem for Kevin S. Towers, General Manager.

I. Irrevocable damage to star player quota. Self inflicted. Attempted to patch wound with a number of lesser pieces.

Description: Rather curiously, Kevin Towers became heavily focused on trading the Diamondbacks’ franchise player prior to the 2013 season. Arizona drafted Justin Upton at 1-1 in the 2005 rule 4 draft, and he debuted with the big league club at just 19 years old. From 2007 to 2012 Upton provided Arizona with 15.5 fWAR, peaking in 2011 with a 6+ win season that would land him 4th in NL MVP voting. A section of the outfield bleachers at Chase Field were named after Upton (“Uptown”). Arizona had Upton locked up through 2015 for a total sum of $38.5M – a fairly modest price for a position player of his caliber.

Despite all of this, a trade of Upton could have been a rational maneuver. Upton’s name has a lot of star power cache in the game, and after 2012, his track record was that of a player who seemed to flirt with his upside more often than he achieved it. Upton had followed up star-level 20/20 2009 and 2011 campaigns consisting of 4.5+ fWAR and .230+ ISOs with barely above average 2010 and 2012 seasons where his ISO ended up at just .170 and .150, respectively. And Upton, while still under control for three more somewhat modestly priced seasons,

Justin Upton, lackadaisically chewing gum.

Justin Upton, lackadaisically chewing gum.

was definitely no longer cheap. If Towers and his trusted scouts and analysts came to the conclusion that Upton wasn’t going to develop into that consistent star that the organization had been banking on, then trading him to a team that valued him as a franchise player for a package of young, controllable, high upside talent could have made some real sense. And to Towers’s credit, this is what he tried to do, but he flubbed to process and ended up with a pretty raw deal after the messy star player divorce proceedings.

Towers shot himself in the foot by failing to keep a lid on his intentions to trade Upton. For most of the 2013 offseason, it was common hot-stove knowledge that Upton was being shopped. The Diamondbacks actually took down Chase Field’s “Uptown” signs in right field a week or two before the trade with Atlanta was agreed upon (what’s the antonym of posturing?). At around the same time, the beans were spilled on an agreed upon package for Upton from Seattle that would have seen Arizona land Nick Franklin, Taijuan Walker, Stephen Pryor, and Charlie Furbush. Upton invoked his limited no-trade rights to avoid landing in Safeco, but the trade would have been a fair and rational return for a 25 year old of Upton’s stature.  Furbush and Pryor would have been window dressing, but Walker was an easy top 20 prospect at the time and Franklin was something like a top 50 or top 75 prospect. In context, it would have been something in between a fair deal and an overpay by Seattle (Dave Cameron did the fuzzy math a year ago). The Seattle trade could have salvaged a bad personnel handling situation for Towers, but unfortunately for him, it didn’t work out that way and he more or less backed himself into a corner where he would be forced to accept a lesser package. A much lesser package. A much lesser package that didn’t work out.

This is what ended up happening: Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to Atlanta for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury. Those last three names were never factors, so we can ignore them in our transaction analysis. Here is how the trade looked in context, using ZiPS projections for 2013, rough aging curve adjustments, and a $/WAR of $6.88M for that year:

Prado projected for 3.3 fWAR and was under control for just 2013; that’s $15.7M in surplus value if we consider Prado’s arb 3 cost to be the $7M he ended up getting as part of his extension with Arizona. Johnson projected for 0.5 fWAR and was under control for four arbitration years (super 2 player); Johnson was essentially a non-asset at the time of the trade, since his arbitration costs would likely have been close enough to the value of roughly two wins over four years. Delgado still had six years of control left, so if we simply consider him to have been a top 50 pitching prospect and adjust this research to a higher $/WAR, he would have been worth $20.23M. Upton was projected by ZiPS for 3 fWAR in 2013, and at just 25 years old we should have expected that number to increase in future seasons. 3 wins in 2013 plus 3.5 and 4 in 2014 and 2015 would placed Upton’s in-context surplus value at $41.09M above his contract. That’s more than the $35.93M combined from the assets that were Martin Prado and Randall Delgado, but not a whole lot more. In a nutshell, the trade was certainly close enough to fair value to say that it could have worked out for Towers. Outside of the nutshell and one year down the road, we can say that it definitely didn’t.

Prado gave the Diamondbacks 2.4 wins for $7M. Delgado gave them 0.1 fWAR for peanuts. Upton provided the Braves with 3.2 fWAR for $9.75M, and Chris “non-asset” Johnson tipped the scales by giving Atlanta 2.8 wins for $2.875M. Towers traded three years of a young player with “star” upside for a single season of Prado and a prospect, so the evaluation of this trade has to be heavily contingent on what Prado helped the Diamondbacks do in 2013. Prado slightly underperformed expectations and the team actually got worse (not solely as a result of this trade, but Arizona’s Pythagorean win total went from 86 in 2012 to 80 in 2013. Their actual wins stayed the same at 81). Looking solely at 2013, Arizona paid about $7.5M for 2.5 wins and Atlanta paid $12.625M for 6 wins. That’s $9.7M in 2013 trade-related 2013 surplus value for Arizona, compared to $28.665M for Atlanta. On top of this, Johnson has slightly improved his projections for the next few years, to the point where he’s probably a slight asset, whereas Delgado has burned one of his pre-arbitration years with replacement level production, at best failing to increase his value and possibly lowering it by a small amount.

It’s true that there’s some related value here in the team friendly contract that Towers was able to get Prado to sign after the trade, but it’s also true that there’s some market value in the palpable upside of Justin Upton (as evinced by what the M’s were willing to give up for him). Towers punted that upside in order to manipulate his roster in a particular way in the short term, and it didn’t work out in the least. Bad process begot bad luck – an unfair causal link, for sure, but it’s always tempting to label these types of outcomes as karmic justice. Regardless, the value lost, even if most of it is only applicable in hindsight, is a real contributing factor to the ongoing dessication of Towers’s professional persona.

II. Blunt force trauma to team OBP. Self inflicted.

Description: During the Winter Meetings in early December, with an apparent lack of regard for his own well-being, Towers agreed to a 3-way deal that saw him ship out saber-friendly CF youngster Adam Eaton and high end pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs for the polarizing, lopsided Mark Trumbo and a couple of not significant minor league bonbons.

This trade is horrendous, and the associated organizational wound will not be easy to recover from.

Mark Trumbo celebrates his trade to Chase Field

Mark Trumbo celebrates his trade to Chase Field

Mark Trumbo entered the league as a bit of a statistical joke, a real one trick pony, but he has succeeded in turning himself into a pretty useful big leaguer. Trumbo overcomes a lot of whiffs and a lack of walks or defensive value with absolutely gory power, and he’s been a slightly above average position player in each of his three Major League seasons (2.1, 2.2, and 2.5 fWAR). Trumbo is a polarizing statistical figure that you can probably use as a pretty good litmus test for someone’s baseball traditionalism. The more old-fashioned of us might think of Trumbo as markedly more studly than he is in actuality, thanks to his track record as (essentially) a “30/100″ player. A career 111 wRC+ doesn’t necessarily play in the very middle of a good team’s batting order, but 20 years ago a player like Mark Trumbo would have easily been given the third spot in the batting order or the cleanup hitter role on nearly every team (think Joe Carter). Well, Kevin Towers just traded way too much for Trumbo and intends to deploy him as the team’s left fielder and cleanup hitter in 2014.

Trumbo is under control for three more arbitration years, his age 28-30 seasons. Steamer projects him to be worth 1.9 wins in 2014 and he shouldn’t decline markedly, considering his age. MLBTR thinks he’ll get $4.7M in arbitration this year, and if we use the typical arbitration model of 40% market value in arb 1, 60% in arb 2, and 80% in arb 3, Trumbo should be expected to get about $23.55M across his three arbitration years (adding in 9% inflation per year). If he’s worth 1.9 WAR in each of those years, then Trumbo would be a $23.16M asset above his expected contract.

Tyler Skaggs still has six full seasons of entry level team control left, so let’s consider him to be the top 25 prospect that he was rated as prior to both 2012 and 2013. Adjusting our prospect value source to a $7.5M $/WAR paradigm, Skaggs would have a present value of about $28.335M. Tyler Skaggs alone was worth more than three arbitration years from Mark Trumbo.

Eaton was never really a highly-regarded outfield prospect in the internet scouting circles, but he did crack a few top 100 lists and he’s absolutely a saber darling. A .450 career minor league OBP will do that, and a lot of the factors that make the sabermetrically inclined observer like Adam Eaton (very high walk rate, agreeable strikeout rate, CF profile, SB speed, and a bit of doubles-heavy pop) are similar or the same as what would be projection system inputs. So it’s not entirely shocking that projection systems like Eaton quite a bit for 2014; Steamer projects 2.3 fWAR and Oliver (often recognized for how well it handles projecting young players transitioning into the league) projects a lofty 3.8 wins. Both of these marks are higher than the 1.9 wins projected by both systems for Trumbo. In year two of his league minimum entry level control, Adam Eaton already projects to be better than Trumbo. He’s a better positional player, currently cheaper with two more years of control attached, and KT found it necessary to add a top pitching prospect to him in order to downgrade to Trumbo. If we ignore Oliver and add some very minor aging curve perturbations to Eaton’s next five years (2.3, 2.5, 2.7, 2.5, and 2.3 WAR), he would be worth $110.38M on the field between 2014 and 2018. Subtract whatever sensible arbitration salaries you’d like from that figure, and you’d have a Skaggs+Eaton package as being worth something rather ridiculous like $90M or $100M more than Mark Trumbo. The gap here is so massive that the specifics hardly even matter.

How can a Major League General Manager justify making such an egregious transaction? Relating back to article I. here, this is what Towers said after making the Upton trade (source):

But the numbers game certainly is a factor in Towers’ decision-making, as explained by his view of replacing the bats of Upton and center fielder Chris Young, who’s now a member of the Oakland A’s.

“We’re going to score the same amount of runs [with them gone],” Towers says.

The Diamondbacks scored 49 less runs in 2013, and their run differential plummeted from +46 to -10. Yeah, I’m quote mining here, but Kevin Towers might not really know what creates runs in baseball. Let’s mine a bit more. Here’s a pretty telling Trumbo trade related KT tidbit (source):

One knock on Trumbo has been his on-base percentage, which was .294 last year.

“You always would like to see better, but I like the idea of potentially 100-plus RBIs and 30 homers to go with Goldy,” Towers said. “It’s hard to find the guys that hit 30 to 40 home runs with high on-base as well, but we’re excited about the player.”

Though Trumbo’s power numbers have been good, they could end up getting even better with the switch to Chase Field, which has the well-deserved reputation of being a hitter’s ballpark.

“I think he has a chance to hit 40 home runs in our park,” Towers said. “He should put up better numbers than he did in Anaheim based on park factors and how the park plays.”

Kevin Towers is either A) dumbing down player analysis for the media, or B) actually evaluating a player based on HR and RBI. Similarly, Towers either doesn’t realize how park factors really work, that park inflated offensive stats don’t actually make a player more valuable, or he’s just dropping that 40 HR line to appease possibly disgruntled fans. Considering the massive gap in nutshell value in the Trumbo trade, however, definitely makes one think that Towers significantly overvalues Mark Trumbo because he thinks he’s acquired a bonafide, 30/100 cleanup hitter who could become some 40 HR behemoth of immense value in his bandbox ballpark. OBP be damned, just think of the OPSBI that Trumbo could post in Arizona!

Medically speaking, while the death of Kevin Towers, GM, was an intricate event with many related causes, this singular self-inflicted wound was likely the biggest contributor of cumulative bled out value.

III. Necrotic lesion apparent on prospect value capitalization region of organizational cognition complex.

Description: Considering the lack of year-to-year improvement for the team that Kevin Towers has been running, he’s made quite a few questionable prospect trades. Gone are Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, Jarrod Parker, and David Holmberg. In are relievers, older, more expensive players, inferior talents, and in one case, salary relief. While moving this young capital, the Pythagorean win totals of Towers’s teams have gone from 88 in 2011 to 86 in 2012 to 80 in 2013 (as far as I can tell, none of the significant contributors for the 2011 DBacks were there because of moves by Towers. Correct me if I’m wrong). Towers has made a slew of win-now, prospect removing trades without improving his team.

The debacle that is the Skaggs+Eaton for Trumbo trade has already been addressed at length in article II., and this particular necrotic lesion was apparently a contributing factor in that self inflicted blunt force trauma to team OBP.

Before the 2012 season, Towers sent Jarrod Parker to Oakland, along with Ryan Cook and Collin Cowgill, for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow. Parker was one of Arizona’s top pitching prospects at the time, along with Bauer, Skaggs, and Archie Bradley, and he was essentially major league ready. Cahill was coming off back-to-back league average seasons in Oakland, and he had just signed an extension through 2015 which had him in line to start making some real money in 2012. In context, this trade was defensible for Towers in the sense that Arizona had a lot of prospect arms and Cahill offered more bankable, immediate production. In hindsight, it has been a flop. Parker was better than Cahill immediately, posting 3.5 fWAR for Oakland in 2012 compared to Cahill’s 2.9 mark in the desert. Parker would post a 1.3 mark in 2013, bringing his two year league-minimum total to 4.8 fWAR, while Cahill would miss ~7 starts due to injury in 2013 and contribute just 0.9 fWAR, bringing his two year total in Arizona to 3.8 fWAR at a cost of $9M. Billy Beane and friends would also turn Ryan Cook into a bit of a relief beast, milking 3.1 wins out of him in the past two seasons for league-minimum. In sum, Oakland has received 7.9 wins for about $2M, and Arizona has received less than half that for 4.5 times the cost. Parker and Cook are also under control for four more cost controlled years, while Cahill is owed $19.7M in the next two seasons before Towers’s eventual replacement can decide whether or not to pick up a pair of ~$13M team options.

When Towers traded Matt Davidson for Addison Reed, he moved six years of a real but not elite positional prospect for four years of a “proven closer”. I can’t say much more about it than Jeff Sullivan already did, but Towers certainly did a few things here. He chased the save collecting reputation of Reed, he moved Davidson because he was firmly blocked by Prado after the Trumbo trade pushed Martin to third base, and he ate a bit of value. Reed and Davidson are both fairly volatile assets going forward, since the former is a relief pitcher and the latter is a whiffy prospect, but Steamer likes Davidson a bit more than Reed even in 2014. Add in the two extra years of control for Davidson, and Towers is in the red on this one, at least in a nutshell (team needs could arguably change the bottom line here). This trade isn’t alarmingly bad on its own, but it’s part of the extended pattern here wherein Kevin Towers fails to capitalize on the value of his prospect capital.

The most obvious example of this might be the Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorius trade. Bauer posted some gaudy minor league strikeout numbers in 2011 and 2012, leading to him being in the top 10 prospect conversation in each year. Aside from those who followed Cincinnati closely, most fans probably hadn’t heard of Gregorius before he was involved in the 3-way blockbuster headlined by Choo and Bauer. Other parts moved in this deal, but the principal pieces for Arizona were Bauer and Gregorius. Towers famously incited the internet shortly after the trade by comparing Gregorius to Derek Jeter. As it turned out, Towers may have been on to something with both key players. Bauer underperformed alarmingly for AAA Columbus in 2013, showing significant decline in most of his peripherals, while Gregorius held his own in the big leagues (1.4 fWAR in 404 PA) with seemingly normal peripherals. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that Towers couldn’t have landed more in-context value for Bauer, perhaps if he hadn’t pigeon holed himself into trading Bauer for a shortstop.

Towers shipped out David Holmberg in the 3-way trade with Tampa and Cincinnati involving Hanigan and Heath Bell (apparently Towers has a 3-way fetish). Essentially, the Diamondbacks moved Holmberg so that they could shed the $5.5M in big league payroll that they were able to save by moving Bell. Towers did little more here than move money from one spreadsheet to another – he spent prospect dollars to save payroll dollars. Holmberg isn’t much more than an OK pitching prospect and he’s probably not “worth” much more than the $5.5M that Arizona saved by trading him with Bell, but it’s still a somewhat odd decision for a GM that’s evidently made a habit of trading young farm talent for little of substance. Well, actually, it’s not really an odd decision at all I suppose. It’s a somewhat expected course of action with negative repercussions when taken in conjunction with Towers’s aforementioned prospect punting tendencies. Move one David Holmberg for nothing and you probably won’t regret it, but move enough David Holmberg’s for nothing and you might be watching some other team enjoy your next Pat Corbin. After all, was Corbin ever much more than just an OK pitching prospect, not unlike Holmberg?

Eaton, Skaggs, Parker, Bauer, Davidson, Holmberg, Cook, etc…. some of them will flop, some of them might become really good, but when you make a habit of trading your young capital for pennies on the dollar, you’re simply increasing the odds that you’ll regret it down the road.

IV. Attrition of relief pitcher profit structures, likely due to save collector acquisition tendencies.

Description: If the sabermetric bible had ten commandments, “Thou shalt sell the closer” would be one of them. Kevin Towers buys closers.

It worked out for him just fine with JJ Putz. Towers gave him a two year deal worth $10M total, which included an option for 2013. Putz was excellent in 2011 and 2012, providing Arizona with 3.1 fWAR, and Towers picked up his $6.5M option for 2013. But like most pieces of sabermetric dogma, the “sell the closer” maxim is a generality, not an absolutism. Buy a closer once, and you might win. Make a habit of it and you’ll slowly bleed value.

Towers would then take the struggling formerly excellent save collector Heath Bell off of Miami’s hands prior to 2013, agreeing to pay him about $5M in each of 2013 and 2014. Bell and Putz would both perform at replacement level in 2013, according to FIP, while taking up about 13.3% of Arizona’s 2013 payroll. Towers would subsequently convince himself to trade a real prospect in order to clear Heath Bell’s 2014 salary, as outlined in article III. And yet, Towers keeps buying closers. This offseason, he’s handed Putz a $7M extension for 2014 and traded Matt Davidson for Addison Reed, as also described in article III.

The attrition of Kevin Towers’s relief pitcher profit structures, while a small factor in his demise, also seems to have been correlated to a decreased ability to audit his own process.

V. Penetrating wound to free agent purchasing mechanisms.

Description: A non-lethal malformation with some telling properties.

Kevin Towers made a few curious free agent purchases in the last couple of seasons, and when taken in totality and in conjunction with some of the previously mentioned articles, they can be seen as evidence of chronic value-blindness.

Towers handed Jason Kubel a two year, $15M contract before the 2012 season. In the year prior, Kubel was worth just 0.7 fWAR in 141 games. The year before that, he was actually a sub-replacement level player, accumulating -0.4 WAR in a full season. Jason Kubel is a pylon with much less than no defensive value in the outfield, and he doesn’t hit nearly enough to overcome that deficiency and be a consistently productive player (career 107 wRC+). In seven seasons with Minnesota, Kubel was only an above average player one time – 2009 when he was worth 2.5 wins. Outside of that season, Kubel was never even a 1 win player. But what he did do was collect some counting stats. From 2008-2010, Kubel hit the 20 HR mark each season, passing the 100 RBI mark in 2009 and collecting 92 in 2010. Kubel actually exceeded sane expectations in 2012, giving Arizona 1.6 wins and a 30 HR campaign that year, but he gave it all back in 2013, hemorrhaging 1.7 wins in just 267 PA before Towers decided to eat most of his salary and ship him to Cleveland in a post-DFA cash/PTBNL deal.

Considering what Towers said about Trumbo, as described in article II., it seems at least plausible that KT placed real value on Kubel’s HR/RBI abilities. Trumbo and Kubel are fairly similar players, with Trumbo displaying more prodigious power without having been given the extended chance to bleed runs in the OF like Kubel was given in Minnesota and Arizona. Towers is going to give Trumbo that chance though, because apparently Kubel didn’t help him realize that HRs and RBIs aren’t predicitve, and power dependent LF plodders don’t thrive just because your ballpark is a launching pad. In addition to this lack of process auditing, the poor Kubel contract could have been a contributing factor to article I., the highly questionable decision to trade Justin Upton prior to 2013, if Kubel was viewed as reliable OF depth. And when that didn’t really work out in 2013, we get the Trumbo debacle LF patch-job, article II. It’s a connected comedic succession of poor personnel decisions.

The Cody Ross contract is fairly reasonable on it’s own. Towers signed him for 3 yrs/$26M with a team option, so at a little more than $8M per season, Ross barely had to be worth more than 1 win a year to earn his free agent money. He was decent in 2013, 1.8 WAR in an abbreviated campaign, and he projects to be close to league average in 2014. The eyebrow raising elements here come in the associated transactions by Towers. He signed Ross a month before his self-inflicted wound described in article I. (again, what’s the opposite of posturing?), and two months after selling alarmingly low on Chris Young. Essentially, what Towers did was replace Upton in the OF corners with some combination of Ross (free agent contract), Kubel (free agent contract) and Gerardo Parra, and then tell the media that his team would score the same amount of runs as they did in 2012. Regardless of what ended up happening, the process demonstrated seems to value something that exists outside of what we know makes a baseball player objectively good. Cody Ross might be exhibit A of Kevin Towers shunning talent for the sake of intangibles, a serious and GM life threatening ailment that will be expanded upon in article VI.

Cody Ross in a gritty almost belly shirt

Cody Ross in a gritty almost belly shirt

The final presentation of the wound to Towers’s free agent purchasing mechanisms comes in the form of Brandon McCarthy. As with Ross, the signing of McCarthy is not particularly bad when viewed on its own. Towers agreed to pay him $15.5M over two seasons, a sum that McCarthy would only have to produce about 2 total wins to be worth. In an injury shortened 2013, McCarthy gave Arizona 1.8 wins, and he’s projected by Steamer to provide them with roughly the same amount in 2014. The inefficiencies here, again, shine through when noting some surrounding factors. McCarthy was coming off of a terrifying brain injury in 2012, and Towers decided to give him a multi-year free agent contract while simultaneously dealing Trevor Bauer to Cleveland at a probable value loss (article III.). McCarthy also constitutes a piece of SP depth that was likely a factor in Towers deciding that he could sacrifice Tyler Skaggs to the RBI gods, as outlined in article II. There are some analogies to be drawn here between Towers’s previously explained OF tire-spinning. In the OF, Towers has shipped out Upton, Young, and Eaton so that he could bring in players like Ross, Kubel, and Trumbo. In the rotation, Towers has punted young players with immense upside like Bauer and Skaggs, and sold drastically low on Ian Kennedy, so that he could give a rotation spot to Brandon McCarthy and pay him a free agent rate.

A fair chunk of the future is already gone in Arizona, and Towers’s attempt to “win-now” with players like Kubel, Ross, and McCarthy has actually made his team worse. If Towers’s free agent purchasing mechanisms are broken, the underlying cause might just be the chief factor in his physical decline as an MLB General Manager. See article VI. for more.

VI. Anecdotal and secondary evidence of psychosis in the general organizational culture area.

Description:  Articles I. through V. could have all been caused, at least to some extent, by a loss of contact with reality; a top-down psychosis existent in the general organization culture. Towers’s past actions and statements provide plenty of evidence for this disturbance in brain function.

Studies have indicated that an abundance of Kirk Gibson can cause a baseball traditionalism laden psychosis, and that appears to be what happened here. A key piece of evidence is the conference call that Towers spoke on following the trade of Upton (source):

“[Asked if Upton is an elite player] Towers said Upton is “a very good player, with the potential to be a superstar. Sometimes to be a superstar you have to be willing to pay the price and become that player.” He added that such progress was probably going to be difficult in Arizona… [asked if the Diamondbacks prefer “gritty” players] Towers replied, “That’s accurate. That’s the way [manager Kirk Gibson] played the game. That’s how we won in 2011, and Justin was part of that club.” Towers lauded Martin Prado as having that kind of mentality, grinding out at-bats and not striking out. He added, “Justin played hard every single day,” and “he cared, he’s a competitor.” But because he had a bit of a “swagger,” and because of his general body language, people might have perceived him differently.”

Towers made sure to praise Upton and call him a “competitor who plays hard every single day”, but it’s hard not to interpret that conference call quote as a bit of a backhanded compliment when Towers chooses to bring focus to Upton’s “swagger” and body language. If Towers was just being politically correct and giving Upton some lip-service on his way out of town, what an ex-teammate of Upton said in a more candid interview might shed some more direct light on Towers’s attitude at the time of the trade (source):

“The problem is that he didn’t play with a high level of energy,” said the former teammate, who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified. “What I think they want is guys who play with the speed, energy and intensity of the Oregon football team – all out, all the time… Justin doesn’t have that kind of attitude; he has a quiet intensity that doesn’t fit the mold of what KT and Gibby seem to want. He plays hard, but has to look suave doing it. Slamming into walls isn’t his thing, and they will accept nothing short of all-out sacrifice for the team.”

Take that second quote for what it’s worth – it didn’t come from Towers himself, but it would make sense as a more direct representation of Towers’s current talent evaluation priorities, especially in light of some of this other moves and quotes.

Under Towers in Arizona, unique players like Trevor Bauer, who is introverted and cerebral and has his own ideas about pitching, aren’t given a real chance to stick around. Bob Nightengale explains that situation pretty well here, but the most telling dip into Arizona’s Towers fostered organizational culture that we can pull from this incident comes from Miguel Montero:

“When you get a guy like that and he thinks he’s got everything figured out, it’s just tough to commence and try to get on the same page with you … Since day one in Spring Training I caught him and he killed me because he threw about 100 pitches the first day,” Montero said, adding he told Bauer he should take it a bit slower and work on locating his fastball first before working on his breaking pitches. ”And he said ‘yes’, and the next time he threw I saw him doing the same thing,” Montero said. “He never wanted to listen … Good luck to Carlos Santana.”

It’s a pervasive sickness in Towers’s organization. The Diamondbacks value intangible characteristics like grittiness and extroversion much more than they should, relative to real baseball talent. This is the common thread that ties the moves of Kevin Towers together. Justin Upton and Chris Young, with their swagger and easy athleticism, are gone. The introverted and different Trevor Bauer never had a chance. In are players like the grinding Cody Ross, the productive RBI man Mark Trumbo, and the brave TBI survivor Brandon McCarthy. And if anyone, God forbid, doesn’t believe in eye-for-an-eye HBP reciprocity in baseball, then they have no place in Arizona (source):

“Not that I don’t take any of our guys from a lesser standpoint, but if Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye. Somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.” Towers put all his hurlers on notice during the radio interview — get ready to retaliate or you’re outta here. “Some of them, contractually, it’s tough to move,” Towers said. “But I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another. “And if not, if you have options, there’s ways to get you out of here. And (if) you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Posthumous psychological diagnoses can be difficult in some circumstances, but from the collection of relevant quotations and actions available for consideration here, it seems exceedingly likely that Kevin Towers suffered from a a form of psychosis in his top-down general organizational culture towards the end of his GM life, possibly caused by too much Kirk Gibson.

Kirk Gibson whispers something nefarious and salty into Kevin Towers's ear

Kirk Gibson whispers something nefarious and salty into Kevin Towers’s ear

Overall Opinion: 

In the opinion of this medical examiner, Kevin S. Towers, GM, ceased to exist in his professional incarnation due to cumulative value loss caused by some combination of articles I. through V., with the likely primary cause of each of these specific maladies being article VI., a loss of contact with reality in his organizational culture forming region. A declining mental state and a pervasive psychosis likely caused Towers to act recklessly, with little regard for his professional well-being.



The posters at diamondbacksbullpen.org pointed a few things out to me that range from minutiae to material.
(1) Charlie Furbush, while a part of the initial rumour, was not involved in the actual Seattle proposal for Upton.
(2) Towers’s infatuation with trading Justin Upton actually started way back in 2010. I knew this, to some extent, but didn’t mention it in the article. Considering this fact could add a slightly different dimension to the Upton-Towers saga. 
(3) Stephen Drew deserves mentioning in some respect. I couldn’t find an easy way to fit him into the mold of this piece, but it serves as an example of yet another poor personnel handling decision by Towers. Drew was drafted and developed by Arizona, and he put up a string of productive seasons for them at shortstop before suffering that catastrophic injury sliding into home in 2011. Towers lost patience with Drew’s recovery, sold remarkably low on him in 2012 despite little SS depth in the organization, and created a positional hole that he would have to fill by both A) trading Bauer for Gregorius, and B) selling low on Chris Young and taking on Heath Bell in order to acquire Cliff Pennington. Drew would bounce back for Boston in 2013, giving them a 3.4 win season, while Gregorius and Pennington would combine for 2.2 WAR in Arizona.


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Author: Nikolai Ballevski

Nikolai Ballevski moved to Toronto at a very young age to live with his aunt, after his parents were suddenly imprisoned for unknown reasons immediately following the attempted and failed 1991 coup d'etat of Gorbachev by the KGB. Nikolai fell in love with baseball during the players strike of 1994, and became a fan of the Blue Jays when they signed Otis Nixon prior to the 1996 season. Follow Nik on twitter @NikBallevski

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  1. Fantastic article, Nik. The nerdy, scientific angle you took is such a brilliant counterpoint to the Towers mentality. I can just imagine him reading it and absolutely hating it.

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  2. Nice article. I thought you summarized the philosophy behind the Diamondbacks’ transactions under Kevin Towers quite well. More articles like this would be appreciated.

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  3. Perfect writing–piece could be a little tighter – it takes forever to read – but it was gripping throughout. Now please do one about my mental issues.

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