This afternoon, the Diamondbacks organization announced that manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers had been signed to contract extensions, although it did not disclose terms. Less than an hour later, Nick Piecoro tweeted that OF Gerardo Parra and the D-backs have avoided arbitration with a one-year, $4.85M pact.
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.
With respect to Gerardo Parra, it seems that the arbitration projection model of MLBTradeRumors’ Matt Swartz was unable to account for Parra’s unusual skills. There was almost no precedent for Parra’s defense since the defensive statistics Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved were devised (just the 2013 season of Andrelton Simmons), and, hence, no precedent for a player like Parra in arbitration, let alone one who primarily played a corner outfield position. Despite the Swartz projection of $4.2M for Parra, the D-backs offered $4.3M, while Parra countered with $5.2M. Parra’s deal for $4.85M is above the midpoint between player and team, which would have been $4.75M.
Here’s what the Inside the ‘Zona team had to say about both sets of deals, starting with the extensions for Gibson and Towers:
Ryan P. Morrison: The Gibson/Towers extensions come as a pretty big surprise for me, considering the team has little information it didn’t have when it came time to make a decision on the club options for both men. That makes two possibilities, as far as I can tell. The first possibility is that both men signed for less than what their options were for. The second, and maybe more realistic possibility, is that ownership gave Towers marching orders for this offseason, and then found that Towers had lived up to that challenge sufficiently. It would be a good explanation for the flurry of activity in December, and it would explain why the D-backs bid for Masahiro Tanaka despite falling far short on dollars. If it’s the latter possibility, Kirk Gibson’s extension had everything to do with Towers, which is interesting. In my opinion, Gibson has had the respect of the players, and he did a fine job of juggling some very difficult playing time splits in 2013, so I’m happy to see him back. Towers is more of a puzzle — he’s had wonderful, innovative moves like selling David Holmberg to move Heath Bell, but also a handful that were highly questionable when made, such as trading for Bell in the first place, signing J.J. Putz to an extension, trading Ian Kennedy for pennies and trading two valuable players for Mark Trumbo.
Jeff Wiser: We can dissect individual decisions from Towers and Gibson all day long, and maybe we’ll look at that down the road, but there’s a significant problem with these extensions. What I take away from this decision is that the executive leadership of the organization does not recognize the flaws in the thought process of these two, especially Towers. Principally speaking, KT is very old school and that just doesn’t have a place in today’s game. When every team is trying to outsmart one another, such as the Cubs hoarding international pool dollars and Billy Beane building a 96-game winner with everyone else’s scraps, I would sleep better at night knowing that the D-backs have someone at the helm who can compete on that level. Instead we have someone willing to trade two highly-regarded prospects, who still have a combined twelve years of team control, for a one-dimensional first baseman to play the outfield through his arbitration years. That’s an indication that the team doesn’t properly view value and while that’s just one move, it’s a metaphor for several others over the last few years. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to Gibby, but one thing’s clear, he needs to find a lineup that works. The players complaining of the shake-ups isn’t a good sign and while it’s tough to truly grade managers without all of the information they have, some guys (Maddon) can push all the right buttons. The D-backs need that guy and I’m not sure it’s Kirk Gibson.
RG: I spent a good deal of thinking of time thinking about why the Diamondbacks gave Kevin Towers an extension after most of the offseason has been concluded. Let’s try a thought exercise.
Imagine you’re a GM. Your success is measured by your team’s success, which is a product of the transactions you make. If you have a multi-year contract, you can afford to take a long-term view of the organization. If you’re on a short-term deal, which Towers was entering the off-season, you’re only worried about the short-term success of the team. You would likely be willing to sacrifice the future prospects of your organization to win in your last year. You want to keep your job, after all. The trades that we saw this offseason, acquiring Reed and Trumbo for prospects, support this logic. So why would the Diamondbacks wait until this moment to sign Towers to an extension, after he spent all offseason with interests that were misaligned with the organization’s interests?
One scenario is what Ryan mentioned above, but I wanted to propose an alternate theory. If you’re the Diamondbacks, and the above scenario exists, other teams might look to take advantage of you. They would think that quality prospects are for sale; the D-backs are going for broke.
But if these trades occurred after Towers signed an extension, other teams wouldn’t view the organization’s moves in the same light. They wouldn’t think that Towers had the same short-term incentives. Instead, they might believe that the D-backs weren’t very high on Skaggs, Eaton, or Davidson. This would be a cause for concern—it might indicate that the D-backs view these prospects as flawed.
So if the Diamondbacks were particularly strategic, it’s possible that they agreed to an extension with Towers far in advance and agreed to keep it a secret for the majority of the offseason. This way they can have the best of both worlds. Again, I just want to make clear that this is my opinion. It’s possible to draw multiple conclusions from someone’s actions. I like this theory because it accounts for the trades and Towers’ unwillingness to sign pitchers to long-term deals. This extension was either incredibly calculated or just plain dumb.
On the deal signed by Parra to avoid arbitration:
RPM: No one is more shocked than I am by this Parra contract, because it’s not all that shocking on the surface. But I really thought that the D-backs had outflanked Parra when figures were exchanged a few weeks ago. Offering more than the Swartz projection was a shrewd move, because it clearly didn’t adequately capture his “true” value on offense — but I’m just surprised that the team thought an arbitrator was more likely to award Parra his number ($5.2M) than theirs. This is a new direction for the club in favor of “advanced statistics” or valuing defense as highly as offense. That’s good for the team; I have no idea how the arbitrator would have come out, but this is a sign that the D-backs have embraced the new reality in the sport. On the flip side, it seems that either Parra or the D-backs vetoed the idea of an extension (or Cody Ross has not been doing so hot). And I hope that the D-backs are all the more motivated to sign Mark Trumbo on their terms, which better reflect Trumbo’s “true” value, or else take it all the way to a hearing. If the D-backs pay Parra based on “true” value but do not hold the line with Trumbo, when that line benefits them, they’ll be losing both coming and going.
JW: I guess you can just consider this a continuation of my rant, but why not extend Parra? Why not find a deal that buys out his remaining arbitration years at a discount, plus one free agent year? He’s so valuable to the club, I wonder if the organization realizes what they have in him. For all of the discussion about his offense, it was only 4% worse than average for a right fielder last year and his defense is clearly off the charts. Something like 3-year for $20 million might get it done. If it’s Parra and his agent holding things up with crazy demands, then that’s one thing, but with the line of thinking exhibited by the brain trust recently, I’d be willing to be it’s the Diamondbacks who don’t see what they have in Parra. If they extend Trumbo instead, well, you might want to give me some quiet time in the corner to cool off before talking to me!
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