We’ve all heard it whispered: Kevin Towers is going for it all this year. With both Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson in the last year of their respective deals (and quite possibly on the hot seat), it’s no wonder that people are coming to this conclusion. The team has been more active than any other team on the trade market and isn’t done making moves by the sounds of things. But just because the team is making moves doesn’t mean that they’re “going for broke” as some have suggested. Let’s take a closer look at the Diamondbacks’ offseason so far and decide for ourselves if it’s all or nothing in Arizona.

Supporting Arguments

Towers wasn’t shy about wanting to add thump to the lineup this winter and he certainly didn’t waste much time in doing so. He added the player with the third-most home runs in the last three years when he shipped off Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs as part of a three-team trade in order to acquire Mark Trumbo. As we’ve spoken about at length, Trumbo has undeniable power and while he has his warts, there is some value to 35 home runs. Of course, there’s also a lack of value in playing a first baseman in the outfield but, well, we’ve been down this road before and we won’t do it again here. The point is, Towers pulled the trigger to get the offensive piece he deemed was missing at a significant cost.

Just as we were digesting the Trumbo thing, Towers struck yet another deal with Rick Hahn who seems to be more than happy acquiring Arizona’s spare parts. In exchange for power hitting third base prospect Matt Davidson, the Diamondbacks received 24-year old right-hander Addison Reed. We knew that the bullpen was in need of some improvements and there was room to add after Heath Bell was shipped off with David Holmberg to Tampa Bay for a PTBNL. It may come as a surprise but I actually don’t hate this trade given the context, although it’s not something to make a habit of, which Towers actually seems to be doing. That disturbing trend aside, Reed offers high-leverage stability despite some warning signs that suggest that he’ll likely just be “good” rather than “excellent” for the Diamondbacks. Arizona will benefit from this move immediately whereas Davidson, whom many scouts weren’t all that high on, was unlikely to be a big contributor in 2014.

While the two moves above are relatively big in their own right, Towers isn’t done and is looking to sign a free agent starter. While getting an “ace” may be out of the picture, there are several free agent arms on the market who could be had for a pretty penny. Although none of them appear to be the type of big upgrade that Arizona needs, the organization hasn’t backed off it’s comments about getting one anyways. Perhaps they could have targeted one via trade but that option virtually disappeared when they traded for Trumbo. I’d hedge my bets towards Matt Garza at this point but it’s been well-documented that the team is considering a run at Mashiro Tanaka should he get posted. Either pitcher would be a big signing for the team and for baseball in general as they’re two of the bigger fish in the pond.

This roster is solid already. Towers has locked a lot of good players in for the long haul to get into this position. He’s committed to Hill, Prado, Montero and a host of others that have the roster above average at most positions. It’s almost as if he knew that they’d be good across the board and ready to make a push in, say, 2014…?

To make this alleged push, Towers has traded away several young, controllable pieces at far less than fair value. Eaton, Skaggs, Holmberg and Davidson were all considered to be part of the future until, well, they weren’t. All four are considered to be productive big league regulars down the road with Skaggs and Eaton having the highest ceilings of the foursome. For some teams, that’s the nucleus of a franchise but the Diamondbacks saw them as unnecessary pieces of the puzzle. In return, they obtained Trumbo and Reed, two slightly-better-than-average big leaguers. Why? Perhaps because the organization has bigger things in mind.

Counter Arguments

Towers has one of the biggest trade chips in baseball at his disposal in Archie Bradley. While it was rumored that he would consider flipping the best pitching prospect in the game for David Price, that appears to be off the table. Although David Price would represent the type of impact pitcher that the organization seeks, Arizona has a chance to develop their own young star in Bradley. Trading away Skaggs and Holmberg depleted the ready-for-the-majors pitching depth making Archie that much more valuable. Flipping Bradley for a short-term impact would have signaled an all-out approach, but the retention of him puts this in question.

The Trumbo move wasn’t my favorite and I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Reed trade, but Towers has resisted the stereotypical desperate signing that some GM’s opt for in a panic. There hasn’t been a desperate, insane free agent deal that shows that the team is in a purely win-now state. If they had made an early run at Nelson Cruz or jumped quickly on Ervin Santana, that would change the perception, but they got creative in acquiring Trumbo and appear to be slow-playing the starting pitching market. The reluctance to go above three years in a deal for a free agent starter is encouraging as it shows that they still have the future in mind to some degree. While I’d like to give Towers credit here, there’s a strong case to be made that this might be more of a reflection of payroll limitations than managerial restraint. Either way, they haven’t pushed all of their chips in on a free agent (yet?).

The future core of the Diamondbacks has been weakened with the trades of Eaton, Skaggs, Holmberg and Davidson, but by keeping Bradley and Owings, the future still appears bright. The minor league system has been taken a blow but not one that it can’t recover from. The long-term deals given to players in recent seasons have clogged the roster and the current wave of prospects don’t have a clear place in the eyes of the organization. The long-term prospects of the team haven’t been completely jeopardized and while we all be watching to see just what becomes of the foursome traded away this winter in the future, there’s no reason to think that the organization is devoid of talent in the wings. The team has kept valuable chips for the future deliberately and while some guys have changed teams, the big picture remains promising.

Conclusion

I’d say that Arizona has stopped just short of “going for broke.” If they had dealt, say, Bradley and Owings plus other pieces for Price or Scherzer, then I might change my mind. Towers has done what he thinks he needs to do to improve the club and while we can certainly quibble with his mindset and/or each individual transaction, they don’t necessarily add up to an all-in approach. Instead, he’s chosen some awkward middle ground where he’s making a push and mortgaging parts of the future to do it, but the push he’s making may not be enough. It’s 90 wins or go home for the Diamondbacks, and if they finish with 88 and miss the playoffs, Towers and/or Gibson may not survive the winter.

I’ll save the majority of my feelings on this for another day, but this is exactly the kind of trap that a mid-market team has to avoid. They have enough payroll to consistently contend and build a winning club but they can’t afford to buy their way to the very top on a regular basis. Instead, they have to pick their spots and when they think they’re primed to make a run, go big in hopes of cashing in. I would have hated to lose Bradley in a Price trade, but I could justify it. Alternatively, we might commit $50+ million to Matt Garza and come up short. The outfield was already crowded and I really don’t want to be paying Shin-Soo Choo into his late 30’s, but they could have gone that direction in attempts to be playing in November. Instead, they have the anti-Choo in Trumbo and while he came at a far lesser cost, he may not be enough to get the team over the hump.

Towers isn’t going for broke. He’s opted for an in-between that may or may not pan out. Of course, this could all change tomorrow, and that’s what makes the Hot Stove so much fun. Stay tuned…

Tagged with:
 

14 Responses to Is Kevin Towers Going For Broke?

  1. smith says:

    Enjoyed the article, however, disagree regarding farm system. Towers kept the arms and position players that he valued (Pollock over Eaton, Bradley, Shipley, etc over Skaggs, both SS’s). I like what they have done and they aren’t done yet.

  2. Rick says:

    Wish I could say I enjoyed it but it sounds like another idiot who wants to complain about the moves that Towers makes without giving an opinion on moves that could have been made but weren’t, or any other insight whatsoever. Personally, I think that the Reed trade was brilliant. He traded for a top relief pitcher and got rid of a useless cog in the machine. The same could be said for the Trumbo trade, he traded the second best center fielder and a pitcher who came in third in a three horse race for a roster spot last year for a power bat that the team needed. In both cases, he traded POSSIBLE big league players for PROVEN players. Nothing wrong with that.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Rick,

      Jeff and I understand that many of our readers don’t read everything we write, but saying he hasn’t offered an opinion on other possible moves or other kinds of insight is completely absurd. We’ve both posted tens of thousands of words like that in the last two months, including a comprehensive alternative plan last month. Not everything fits into single posts. If anything, we’ve sometimes been guilty of trying to fit too much into single posts.

      You tap into a point which is always important to remember — prospects are only prospects, and in many cases, prospects don’t work out (even so-called high probability guys).

      You confuse risk of no value, however, with lack of value. A player with a 50% chance of being worth X could be worth roughly 50% as much as X. If you bought a raffle ticket for $1 for a prize worth $1,000, and then found out that they only sold two tickets, your ticket would be worth about $500 at that point — not $0, and not $1,000, even though those might be the only two eventual outcomes.

      You’re characterizing the players involved to serve your point, so I’m not going to go in depth there. Suffice it to say that Adam Eaton is a very good leadoff prospect, and that most GMs would eat dirt to get a lottery ticket like Tyler Skaggs. Overall, I’m on record as thinking the Reed trade was very reasonable, and while the Trumbo move was really bad, the Bell-Holmberg trade was good and completely brilliant. Unfortunately, of those three trades, the bad one is the one that has the largest consequences.

      Major league baseball is not rotisserie league fantasy baseball — Arizona is not competing in ten categories, one of which is power. 10 extra home runs (expected run value: 14 runs) is not definitely more valuable than 50 more walks (run value: 16 runs) or saving 20 more runs in the field.

  3. AZJoe says:

    To say slightly better than avg big leaguers is saying that you think the 3 guys traded are any better than that. With prospects, there always an “if” attached to them. They acquired guys that you know what you’re getting. To say it was an over pay is not fact, but your opinion. I respect that, trouble is most people think you have proof to say it’s an overpay. Truth is, even the best Major League scouts won’t know for at least 4 years who won this deal. Bottom line, Towers trust his scouts that sit in the stands, he always has. When he makes these trades, he gets crushed by sites and blogs like this who only look at prospect list and stats, they never actually see the players enough to have an opinion based on their eyes! I’m ine of the few people who still trust what scouts see, and not trust exactly what a prospect list or certain stat says!

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Joe,

      No, saying slightly above avg is not saying you think the 3 other guys are better than that. For instance, a single second-year player who seems to be slightly below average is probably worth more than a slightly above average player who is in his last arb year, making near-market salary. See what I’m saying? To a certain extent, players are assets. That’s why I like to think of trades in two ways. Is it a good trade value for value? And, secondly, is the move a particularly good fit for the team, thinking about the rest of the roster, and how close the team is to contending?

      So even though prospects have risk, they still have a somewhat fixed value as an asset. Not saying we know exactly what that is.

      Also, it’s not like we’re not relying on scouts to help ascertain floor, ceiling, or present day value. Not all scouts work for MLB clubs. And while we aren’t always using our own eyes… You aren’t either, right?

      I think judging trades in hindsight is dumb, precisely because of the risk associated with prospects. It’s like in poker: an objectively bad decision (betting when the percentages say your chances are terrible) can pay out… But that doesn’t somehow make the original decision a good one. For the most part, I only change my mind on trades if I find out the team knew something at the time that we didn’t know. I feel differently now about trading Bauer, because I think the team probably had a better handle on what the mechanics troubles meant than I realized at the time.

      By the way, what did you think of the Bell-Holmberg trade? I thought it was brilliant. But it’s a great example of players as assets. Arizona really didn’t get anything back — it was just a matter of trading an asset (control over Holmberg) to eliminate a liability/negative asset (Bell).

      And, thanks for weighing in :)

      • AZJoe says:

        You’re correct, I don’t see them with my own eyes. However, I do have hind sight, which you think is dumb. I have the hind sight of all trades Towers has made for the Dbacks. He’s done very well. However, at the time of those trades he was ripped as overpaying, undervaluing his prospects, etc. the Parker trade is questionable an we still don’t know the outcome as a win or lose. Agree with you 100% on the players being assets. Yes, the Holmberg deal is a classic example. However, with stocks, bonds etc there is a fixed value now and a projection of that specific assets value going up or down. Hindsight is the only way to decide who placed proper value on their assets. Agree?

        • Jeff Wiser says:

          I’ll weigh in quickly here. Saying that the team has acquired three slightly above average players is statement based on facts and averages, not a comparison. We tend to treat these transactions in terms of cost/benefit in the long run, not about who’s better right now because baseball will exist in the future, too. Trumbo is better now than Skaggs and Eaton, but can we safely say the same in a year? Two years? Six years from now? Given the rapidly rising salary scale, there’s enormous surplus value in developing your own talent rather than trading it away. Some teams are catching on to this and others aren’t. Time will tell, as it always does, but Arizona appears behind the trend as per usual.

          • AZJoe says:

            Again, how can you say that without hindsight. To accuse a guy who’s been a GM almost a decade of being shortsighted is, well, short sighted on your part. Fact is we don’t know. We do know they haven’t had a losing record since he’s been here. He inherited an organization that had lost 90 games in back to back seasons! Are you gonna trust a kid who’s just burst on the scene as a stock broker or a guy with someone who has a track record to protect your portfolio? Hindsight is imperative for us us to draw conclusions on someone placing proper value, current and future, on assets. You have no definitive proof KT has undervalued any asset at this time. Furthermore, none of us know how his people value the assets that aren’t on the radar now. IE, Lamb, Drury, Shipley, etc.

          • AZJoe says:

            ** two decades as a GM

        • Ryan P. Morrison says:

          Ok, see where you’re coming from.

          Definitely disagree on the stocks/bonds comparison, because there’s no noise — the market is the entire market. With trades, all we know is two people agreed. It’s a little more like people selling a house — there’s no guarantee that the sale price was reflective of the market, that the new owner could turn around and sell the house the very next day at a price that was almost identical. Also, hindsight could be great to see who most likely found an undervalued asset (and was smart about it) — but it doesn’t change what the actual value was at the time. Hindsight is not dumb, and using hindsight is not dumb. I just think it’s weird to pretend that outcome is the only way to evaluate whether something done years earlier was a good decision to make at the time.

          To return to my raffle ticket analogy from earlier, even if Towers knew his raffle ticket was worth zero (and I don’t think he knew that with the guys we’re talking about), if no one else knew that Towers knew that, then the value of the raffle ticket might still be $500. But Towers would know it was overvalued at $500.

          I also don’t want to be misinterpreted as not respecting Towers. Today’s Ziegler extension is SO GOOD. The impact might be small, but on a scale of -10 (bad) to 10, I’d give the Ziegler extension a score of 8. Bell-Holmberg is almost there, too, and overall I think Towers is excellent.

          I also don’t think Towers is dumb. I think he knew what he was doing with Trumbo. It’s an entertainment business, and shuffling deck chairs (or paying someone to shuffle them) can be worth it on the business end. When we say chicks dig the long ball, it’s not really tongue in cheek. We all dig it.

          • Ryan P. Morrison says:

            Joe, maybe we’re not so far apart here. Outcome can’t be the only way to evaluate decisions, but I’m not saying it’s not part of the puzzle — especially if there’s reason to think that the person who made the decision had information at the time that we didn’t know they had. And that could be pretty often. It might only affect the market rate of those assets, though, if all 29 other teams knew something material and important that none of us knew, and that’s a lot less likely.

            Let’s say Towers knew that paper bills were going to be worthless in 2 years. Just, suddenly, any paper bills you had in your wallet were worth zero. Towers has a $100 bill. Now, is he smart for trading in that $100 bill for something that was worth $50?

            You say yes — hindsight says that he took something that was going to be worthless, and he made $50 off of it. I get that. Making that move was definitely better than not making a move.

            Where Jeff and I sometimes fall, though, is that, hey, even if Towers knew the $100 bill was going to become worthless… why sell it for something worth $50? You can bet that everyone else will treat the $100 bill as worth pretty much $100 (although, without the deal being good for them, they might not be motivated to do anything). Reed-Davidson was something akin to getting something worth $90. I’m completely good with that.

          • AZJoe says:

            Yep. I think we agree on more than meets the eye. I just give Towers a little more benefit of the doubt than you guys. Dbacks have Prado for 3 more years, plus Lamb and Drury on the way. He’ll provide no value other than depth for an unforseeable injury over the next couple of years. So it’s worth a closer with 69 saves his 1st 2 years in MLB. 4 more years of control. I appreciate the work you guys do and especially appreciate the responses. Great dialogue and perspective. Go Dbacks!

  4. […] In a column, Piecoro also stepped back to look at the D-backs’ offseason plan, the perception of fans, and how recent moves fit with the moves from previous offseasons.  Jim McLennan at Snake Pit also wondered if the D-backs’ moves were enough to put them over the top.  If you missed Jeff Wiser’s thoughts on this topic, check them out here. […]

  5. […] The Gibson and Towers deals were somewhat unexpected; when 2015 options for both were declined in November, the impression was that the team would need to show some improvement in 2014 for either or both to keep their jobs after this season. This, and a number of individual moves and transactions, led Jeff to wonder if Towers and the club were going for broke in 2014. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>