Diamondbacks relieve general manager Towers of duties
PHOENIX — From worst to first, and nearly back again.
The roller coaster ride has cost Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers his job.
Towers, who guided the D-backs to the NL West pennant in his first full season in 2011, was relieved of his job, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa announced in a statement released early Friday morning.
La Russa was hired to oversee baseball operations in May, and the move was not unexpected. Towers was signed to a contract extension through 2015 prior to the start of the current season, but the team has performed below expectations from the start of the season, and La Russa's hiring was generally seen as foreshadowing of Towers' fate.
La Russa's statement indicates that Towers was offered a position within the organization.
La Russa commended Towers' contributions to the franchise but said the move was made to 'improve our decision-making process.'
"Over the past three months, I have had the opportunity to evaluate all aspects of our baseball operations and have decided to restructure our staff in order to improve our decision-making process," La Russa said in the statement. "I have the utmost respect for Kevin and a friendship with him that dates back many years, which has allowed me to appreciate his talents and experience. I have offered him a new role in the front office, as 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 year, particularly given that he has always put the organization ahead of his own self-interets. That tells you all you need to know about him as a person."
Towers was hired in 2010 and had immediate success in reconstructing the roster, resulting in a National League West pennant in 2011. But Arizona finished at .500 in 2012 and 2013 and have languished with one of baseball's worst records since the start of the current season despite bumping up the payroll to the highest levels in franchise history.
The Diamondbacks, in the middle of a 10-game road trip, have a 59-81 record following Thursday night's victory in San Diego. Only Colorado and Texas have worse records.
They have been besieged by injuries — starting in spring training when they lost Opening Day starter Patrick Corbin and setup man David Hernandez to Tommy John surgery, followed by a foot injury that sidelined slugger Mark Trumbo for more than two months and continuing through a season-ending injury to All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in August. Their season opened with two losses to the Dodgers in Australia in late March, they finished April with a 9-22 record, and they've been buried in the standings since.
Towers began dismantling the team prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline — shipping out pitcher Brandon McCarthy, third baseman Martin Prado and outfielder Gerardo Parra.
The D-backs will begin the interview process for Towers' successor immediately, but long-time La Russa general manager Walt Jocketty does not appear to be a candidate. The two worked together in Oakland and St. Louis, but Jocketty recently said he plans to stay in Cincinnati, where he has worked since 2008.
Gary LaRocque, who worked with La Russa in St. Louis, could emerge as the top candidate for the job. LaRocque joined the Cardinals in 2008 as a special assistant to the general manager and was named director of player development this season.
D-backs president/CEO Derrick Hall said the D-backs have put together a list of candidates that includes scouting director Ray Montgomery, one of Towers' first hires in October 2010. Hall said interviews will begin shortly and hopes the process will be done by the end of the season. "And if it can be within the next week or two, even better," he said.
"You'll see a lot of the names that have come up over the last few years," Hall told FOX Sports Arizona's Jody Jackson. "A lot of good up-and-coming GMs. I think you'll see some internal candidates as well. We would like to talk to Ray. And there will be some unique ones as well."
Improving the decision-making will include a look at the part analytical analysis can play, Hall suggested.
"Tony has taken a step back and said maybe we have a need there, maybe we have somebody here who can already do that," Hall said. "There is a lot that is going into the decision making and restructuring, and we have to do it quickly."
The D-backs told Towers "two or three weeks" ago that there would a change, Hall said and have asked him to stay on in an advisory capacity with a job description that has not been finalized. Hall said Towers expressed an openness to that possibility but wants to wait until a GM is hired to see if the two are comfortable working with one another.
Towers took over as general manager in September 2010. He acquired veterans J.J. Putz, Williie Bloomquist, David Hernandez, Henry Blanco, Geoff Blum and Xavier Nady before the 2011 season and added Aaron Hill, John McDonald and Brad Ziegler near the trade deadline as the D-backs made a 29-game improvement to go 94-68 and win the NL West in 2011. Promoted minor leaguers Goldschmidt and Josh Collmenter also played big roles.
After adding Jason Kubel and Trevor Cahill for 2012, the D-backs slid back to .500, prompting a major rebuild. Towers chose to center the team around Goldschmidt and not the former face of the franchise, Justin Upton, who was sent to Atlanta in a seven-player trade that many in the industry panned.
The D-backs received Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson.
Towers has traded pitching prospects Jarrod Parker, Trevor Bauer, Ian Kennedy, Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg since the winter of 2012. Bauer, the third pick in the 2011 draft, was involved in a three-team deal that brought shortstop Didi Gregorius to the D-backs last season.
In addition to Cahill and Gregorius, the D-backs' return has included Trumbo, closer Addison Reed and reliever Matt Stites.
Before joining the D-backs, Towers was a special assignment scout for the New York Yankees in 2010 and was San Diego's GM from 1995-2009.
During his tenure with the Padres, the club won four NL West titles and made one World Series appearance — a 4-0 sweep by the Yankees in 1998.
Manager Kirk Gibson's fate remains undetermined. He received a one-year contract extension at the same time as Towers.