Where Do The Diamondbacks Go From Here?

Nobody could ever accuse Kevin Towers of being anything less than bold. Few teams have been as interesting as the Arizona Diamondbacks over the last few years. Setting aside the quality of his moves, the sheer volume and often puzzling circumstances surrounding them garnered Arizona more headlines than such a middling team typically deserves.

His moves cut against the grain of prizing young, cheap talent and instead focused on a loose set of criteria, most of which was derived from the ability to play above one’s tools. It didn’t make the team better but it sure spilled a lot of ink. The problem is a simple one: a general manager’s job is to win and make money for the club, not generate think-pieces and schadenfreude. The Diamondbacks didn’t win and now Towers is out as the general manager, with the search for his replacement beginning in earnest (the list of candidates is as long as your arm.)

The Diamondbacks team  Towers inherited wasn’t a world beater, though it did claim the 2011 National League West crown. One could convincingly argue that the franchise is actually in worse shape now compared to Towers’ first day on the job. What exactly has the outgoing general manager left the next person to fill his chair? More than you might think.

The decision to remove Towers came just weeks after he authored a sizeable sell-off of the team’s older assets. Arizona traded Martin Prado — arguably the biggest piece of the ill-fated Justin Upton deal — as well as Gerardo Parra, Brandon McCarthy, and reliever Joe Thatcher in deals designed to lower the payroll burden for this year and beyond.

It cleared some money off the books but they were mostly minor moves, hardly stocking the shelves for a return to prominence in 2015. Let’s take stock of the Diamondbacks circa today:

The Diamondbacks have:

  • An extremely good player signed to an extremely cheap deal. No matter what me might think about Towers’ tenure in Arizona, he still got Paul Goldschmidt’s name on that contract, the one that will pay him a whopping $3.1 million in 2015, with three more years and an option still to come, all for less than $30 million.

    Goldschmidt is around, or at worst, a 4 WAR player still closer to 25 than 30. He figures to be a middle-of-the-order mainstay in Arizona or else one heck of a trade chip, should the new GM opt to scorch the Earth.  This is not a bad place to start when building a team.

  • Relative strength up the middle. Between archetypal Diamondback Miguel Montero, the promising (?) middle-infield duo of Chris Owings and Didi Gregorious, and A.J. Pollock, Arizona at least has some options to plug into the tough-to-fill spots in the center of the diamond.

    While Gregorius and Owings have a long way to go before they are solidified as everyday players for good teams, Montero’s 2014 suggests his awful numbers in 2013 are the exception rather than the rule. Pollack is nothing if not exciting, though his true talent remains something of a mystery due to injuries.

    Not a superstar between them but players with league-average in sight at positions where better options are tough to come by. Again, you could do worse than starting a team with this kind of talent.

  • Injured pitchers. Yes, the DBacks were ravaged with injuries this season, losing an unfathomable number of starters to injury, as rotation mainstays Bronson Arroyo and Patrick Corbin lost their 2014 seasons to the dreaded scalpel.

    The good thing about injured pitchers is they usually stop being injured pitchers at some point. So the Diamondbacks have a nice pitcher in Corbin and a reliable backend guy returning, if not in time for the start of the 2015 season then sometime before 2016 (they hold a club option for Arroyo for 2016).

    Beyond the pitchers hoping to return next season, there are enough promising pitchers on the farm (Archie Bradley notwithstanding) at least give Arizona more depth and better options to start games.

  • Too much dead money. For a team with a relatively limited budget, there are too many players performing far below their pay grade. Aaron Hill is about to become the world’s most expensive utility player, with Cody Ross serving as an overpaid fourth outfielder at the same time, Trevor Cahill’s rocky road back from oblivion has more twists as yet untaken. Throw in Arroyo and suddenly four of the Diamondbacks five highest-paid players are marginal starters at best.

    It’s a tough corner to punch out of, as the trade value is minimal. The next GM needs to decide who can help the Dbacks next year and how many checks ownership needs to write to make the rest go away.

The Diamondbacks need:

  • Better players. Simply put, they need to either develop better players or stop the players they acquire from performing worse after they arrive in the desert. Be it the ballpark or culture or just bad luck, the Diamondbacks under Kevin Towers don’t have a strong track record when it comes to the guys they dump versus the guys they bring in.

    For all their competence up the middle, they need far more production from their non-Goldschmidt corner positions if they hope to stop leaking wins as they have every season since that magical run in 2011. There is no easy way to plug these holes, short of spending money that might already be in short supply. Does adding…Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera make them better than the Dodgers and Giants in 2015? That’s an expensive proposition, and an unlikely one for any incoming GM to consider.

  • A new identity. Do the Diamondbacks have a PR problem? The whole “grit and gamer” narrative probably got more play than it deserved but the raft of lower-ceiled players on their roster right now makes improving difficult.

    Perhaps identity is the wrong word, but a shift in culture certainly wouldn’t hurt, especially if the existing culture prevents the pursuit of the “better players” mentioned above.

    Mostly, “culture change” and “new identity” are just coded words meaning “they need a new manager” as the fingerprints of Kirk Gibson are all over the roster right now. Tony LaRussa calls the shots now, overseeing everything on planet Diamondback, meaning it his smudged thumb starts showing up on the club’s DNA.

As Nick Piecoro points out, the “gunslinger” reputation Kevin Towers brought to Arizona ended up his undoing. Too many moves made without proper insight from his advisors and members of his staff robbed their roster of high-performing talent. The next person to occupy the GMs’ office at Chase Field can only pick up the pieces, take stock of what is on hand, and boldly move to correct course for a franchise headed in the wrong direction as they see fit. Boldy? Maybe “carefully” is a better idea. Deliberately? Let’s go with that one.

Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

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They can start with saying the “Diamondback Way” needs to move into this millennium.