In Kevin Towers' first season as the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he orchestrated a worst-to-first turnaround that brought the team from 65 wins to 94—a 29-win improvement good enough for the NL West crown in 2011.
Last season, the Diamondbacks fell back to 81 wins due in large part to the regression of the team's star slugger, Justin Upton, as well as third baseman Ryan Roberts and starters Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy.
Upton's on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) dropped by over 100 points from .898 in 2011 to .785 in 2012, and Towers dangled him in trade talks at the deadline. Roberts' OPS also dropped by 100 points from .768 to .656, and he was eventually replaced at third base before being dealt to the Rays.
Kennedy's ERA rose by more than a full run from 2.88 to 4.02, and Hudson's ERA shot up from 3.49 to 7.35 as he battled a shoulder injury before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
The Diamondbacks went into the winter with the stated priority of upgrading at shortstop, where Stephen Drew, Willie Bloomquist and others combined to produce a .692 OPS last season.
That priority appeared to be taken care of when Towers dealt from his outfield surplus to acquire Cliff Pennington and infielder Yordy Cabrera from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for center fielder Chris Young.
This was the first in a series of puzzling offseason moves by Towers. The Diamondbacks, a mid-market team, agreeing to pay that much money for a 35-year-old reliever coming off of a terrible season was a poor use of limited resources.
Towers' next big move was to send top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to the Cleveland Indians in a three-team deal that netted the Diamondbacks shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius, reliever Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson.
The Diamondbacks had reportedly soured on Bauer because of issues with his workout routine, inability to adapt and his problems with teammates. However, turning the third pick of the 2011 draft into a shortstop who might not be able to hit much in the big leagues after having already filled that vacancy earlier in the winter with Pennington was another questionable use of resources.
Even after trading Young, the Diamondbacks still had a surplus of outfielders among Upton, Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock. Yet Towers added to that surplus by signing 32-year-old outfielder Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal with a fourth year club option.
Though Towers is still actively trying to deal Upton—who recently vetoed a trade—it's still not clear why the Diamondbacks needed Ross. At 32, his decline phase is fast approaching, and he's probably best used as a platoon player. He has a .928 career OPS against lefties compared to just .727 versus righties.
The Diamondbacks would have been better off holding onto Young than signing Ross. Young is a better, younger and cheaper version of Ross. They also should have gotten more for Bauer than Gregorius and spare parts, though Towers is apparently higher on the young shortstop than most—going as far as to compare him to Derek Jeter.
It's also not entirely understandable why Towers has been so eager to move Upton. He's only 25-years-old and signed to a reasonable contract through 2015. He hasn't met the lofty expectations that come with being the first overall pick in the draft, but he's had two outstanding seasons out of the last four, including a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP voting two seasons ago.
The constant trade rumors that have surrounded Upton during Towers' tenure with the team make it unlikely that the two parties can go forward together much longer. At this point, Towers may have to take the best offer he can get for his star right fielder before spring training and move forward without him.
Not all of Towers' moves have been so puzzling this winter. Signing third baseman Eric Chavez on a cheap, one-year deal and signing starter Brandon McCarthy to a two-year deal were quite sensible moves that met two of the organization's needs without breaking the bank.
Yet the sum of his offseason moves have left fans and writers wondering: what exactly is the plan here? In the end, it seems like the general manager with a reputation for being a gunslinger is just shooting from the hip rather than executing a well-thought-out plan.
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