D-backs introduce Towers as new GM
Veteran executive spent 14 years in same post for Padres
PHOENIX -- The D-backs passed on their first opportunity to hire Kevin Towers.
They weren't about to do it again.
The D-backs named Towers the third general manager in franchise history on Wednesday, nearly five years after choosing Josh Byrnes over him to replace Joe Garagiola Jr. in October 2005.
"It almost is hard to describe for me the emotions of going back really five years ago [to] when Kevin and I met and talked, and we were considering him for the position," D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick said. "And I guess occasionally in life one gets a do-over and, in the case of Kevin, we're getting a do-over. I'm thrilled about it."
So is Towers, who will now get to compete in the same division as the Padres, where he served as GM for 14 years before being dismissed late last season by owner Jeff Moorad.
"I guess second time is a charm," Towers said. "I had a lot interest in this place in 2005. I'm very excited to be back in the NL -- not just the NL, but the NL West. I'm looking forward to making this our home on a year-round basis. Very excited and appreciative. Hopefully, it's a great, great run."
Towers was signed to a two-year deal with a pair of club options. Each of the club options is for two years. The D-backs will have to continue to pay Byrnes through 2015.
"We both agreed that two years was right," D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "I think it's an advantage [for] all of us."
Towers is tasked with trying to rebuild a team that is on its way to its second straight last-place finish and one that has become fractured due to the tremendous amount of changes the last two seasons.
Over the last month, Towers has kept a closer eye than usual on the D-backs -- and that intensified even more over the past two weeks. That's given him a pretty good idea of what he has to work with at the big league level.
Despite their ugly record this year, Towers said that he doesn't view this as a long-range project.
"I think there's a lot of good core players here to build around," he said. "I think it's a quick turnaround. I'm not a big believer in five-year plans, six-year plans; I want to win next year. I know these guys [Kendrick and Hall] want to win next year. I think that was the beauty of coming to work here with these guys and getting to sit down with Ken and Derrick, and know how badly they want to get back to bringing a championship ballclub to the fans -- the many fans here in Arizona and the Phoenix community. The proof will be in the pudding. Talk is talk, but I will assure [that] I'm going to do everything in my power [with] our baseball operations staff to get back on top of the NL West and get back to playing championship baseball -- and get back to seeing this ballpark filled as it was eight or nine years ago. That's what motivates me. That's what drives me."
One glaring difference between Towers and Byrnes is their approach to building a pitching staff. Whereas Byrnes preferred to focus on the rotation, Towers believes in building a staff from the bullpen forward.
Towers is largely responsible for a San Diego bullpen that has been the best in baseball, while the D-backs statistically are the worst.
In fact, two key members of that San Diego bullpen, Luke Gregerson and Edward Mujica, were acquired in an eight-day span towards the end of Spring Training in 2009. Towers said he realized midway through spring that year that the team's bullpen was not good, so he told his scouts to scour other teams' rosters -- inluding those not on the 40-man roster -- to see what might be out there.
As a result, he acquired Gregerson as the player to be named later from the Cardinals to complete an earlier trade and got Mujica from the Indians for $30,000.
"My analogy [is] that a baseball game is like a dining experience. You can have a great meal with tremendous ambience and great company, but if you [have] to wait 40 minutes to get your check, you ain't going to remember anything that was good about that dinner," Towers said. "A baseball game is no different. If you blow the game at the end of the game, your 'pen does, the fans are going to walk out -- your players, your coaching staff, front office -- everybody is going to be unhappy. Bullpens can make managers look good. My hope here is to put together a bullpen that is better than San Diego's."
Towers' ability to get four teams into the playoffs on a modest payroll during his 14 years in San Diego impressed the D-backs. Aside from picking up overlooked pitchers, Towers also made shrewd trades. One of his best might have been the deal that sent pitchers Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and a Minor Leaguer to the Rangers for pitcher Chris Young and a first baseman by the name of Adrian Gonzalez.
Towers said he was pleased with the way the D-backs are built up the middle -- with Stephen Drew at short, Kelly Johnson at second, Chris Young in center and Miguel Montero behind the plate. He also likes the young arms in the starting rotation.
Aside from the bullpen, the other area of need that he sees is the bench -- which he feels needs to be strengthened. That, and of course, finding a way to cut down on the number of strikeouts. The D-backs have set a Major League record for strikeouts in a season.
"There are some nice hitters on this ballclub right now," Towers said. "The strikeouts are somewhat alarming. You certainly need to cut that back and [you] would like to see certainly breaking a record for more walks than strikeouts."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.