SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Kevin Towers likes to tell the story of the trade that netted him a used treadmill from Cleveland in 1999. San Diego had a limited weight-room budget, and the equipment was an upgrade. It is his favorite deal.
His good ones are many. Greg Vaughn, Sterling Hitchcock, Woody Williams, Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Brian Giles, Mike Cameron, David Wells and Heath Bell played at a higher level with the Padres than the players who left in return.
His best is easy: Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young in a six-player package from Texas for pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka before the 2006 season. Eaton won 24 more games over four seasons before retiring. Otsuka had a 36-save season before exiting the majors a year later. Gonzalez still haunts the NL West.
Towers’ most dissected? Where have you been this winter?
The Diamondbacks’ decisions to trade Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer, two of the biggest and splashiest moves in the major leagues over the winter, will go a long way toward defining the D-backs, not only this season but for the foreseeable future. They will comprise a large part of Towers’ legacy, just as rebuilding the bullpen and acquiring Aaron Hill did in 2011.
Both winter trades have been widely panned at the national level, and some in the algorithm set are especially aggrieved. Trading a two-time All-Star and a young pitcher considered one of the best prospects in baseball can have that effect, even if the returns included another All-Star in Martin Prado and a top shortstop prospect in Didi Gregorius. Towers’ previous aptitude in San Diego seemed to have little carryover this time.
Through his almost 20 years as a general manager, Towers never has been afraid of going out on a limb. To some, he never has been as far out as he is now.
That is OK with him. He likes the view.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been on a limb my whole life. That’s the way I’ve always approached the job. I’ve never felt comfortable. To me, I kind of cherish that. I don’t mind sitting out there on a limb. Hopefully I stay on top of it,” Towers said.
So far, so good, which makes the criticism of the latest moves a little knee-jerky.
With Upton, Chris Young and Chris Johnson replaced by Adam Eaton, Prado and Cody Ross, the D-backs will make more contact and hit fewer home runs. That is OK with them. That is the way manager Kirk Gibson and Towers want to play it, and they will play it with the players they believe fit best.
“That (criticism) doesn’t bother me,” Towers said after the D-backs sewed up another piece of their future by signing Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year contract Saturday. “All I worry about is our club. There’s a plan. There’s a process. We knew what we were doing. We don’t worry about what other people think. I don’t judge other people’s trades, especially when they are made, because nobody really knows, especially with all those minor league players in the deals.”
And if it costs an Upton and a Bauer …
“We were very happy with the players we got back. It’s not that we didn’t care about losing (Upton, Bauer and the others), it was just about the players we got back in return. We think it is going to make us better this year and going forward,” Towers said.
The moves were not made in a vacuum. Told that many outsiders consider them a gamble, one D-backs executive said, “We don’t believe that.”
Some of the criticism has been specious, almost to the point of absurd. One analyst said that even if the D-backs win with their new configuration this season, their margin would have been greater with Upton, et al. That argument is as hard to follow as it is to defend. If you win, you win.
Scouts believe in the measurables, another reason the losses of Upton and Bauer did not receive a warm response. As one scout said recently, teams do not get better trading by front-line players/stars for gamer-type overachievers. “Talent wins in the long run,” he said.
The D-backs believe that to a degree, as showed by their winter moves.
There is no question that Upton was the most athletically gifted player in the group, even though the five-tool label that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft never completely fit. His fourth-place finish in the 2011 NL MVP balloting was well-deserved, but in Prado, the D-backs received a player whose WAR – wins above replacement player – over the last three seasons was higher than Upton’s, although Prado is four years older. Upton was uncomfortable as the face of the franchise, and he was extremely hard on himself. His ability to make game-situation adjustments at the plate could have been better.
Bauer’s issue was maturity. A team that wants to win now would rather not wait for his mind to catch up to what appears to be top major league stuff. Bauer changed his mechanics with the Indians this spring – rewriting neuromuscular programs, as he called it – and was optioned to the minors early last week.
“So far, Kevin has had a pretty good track record,” Diamondbacks president and DEO Derrick Hall said. “Quite a few of the deals he has been criticized for have turned out just fine. He has a knack for that, and as he said, character is very important to us. It’s always been important to him. And that also goes into factoring who he is trying to acquire.”