It’s no secret, Tony La Russa came into a unique situation when he joined the Diamondbacks in May. Brought in to oversee several elements of the organization, including the alignment of the minor leagues, approving major league deals and presumably evaluating the job done by General Manager Kevin Towers and Manager Kirk Gibson. That’s a pretty tall order considering the things I just laid out comprise a vast expanse of the entire Diamondbacks organization. We were cautiously optimistic when the news broke and for good reason: Arizona had seemingly lost its way. By naming La Russa, a life-long winner, as the captain of the ship, perhaps the Diamondbacks could correct some errors made by Towers and, to a lesser extent, Gibson.

Last week, a really wonderful piece on La Russa was published at Sports On Earth, written by John Perrotto. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but it largely focusses on LaRussa’s learning on the fly in his new capacity. La Russa mentions the surprise he had when being contacted about the position, his new access to information and trying to get a grasp on the organization. If you’ve ever taken a new job that’s outside of the scope of your original work, you can likely relate. But one little nugget, pertaining to owner Ken Kendrick, in Perrotto’s work stood out in particular:

However, some in the Diamondbacks’ front office believe Kendrick gets too involved in the baseball end of the operation.

Two sources — one currently in the organization and one now working for another club — confirmed that it was Kendrick who told Towers to sign outfielder Cody Ross and right-hander Brandon McCarthy as free agents during the 2012-13 offseason against the objections of the baseball operations department.

The Ross and McCarthy deals were owner Ken Kendrick’s, not Kevin Towers’. There’s no comment from Kendrick, but if you recall, he’s been rather hands-on at times. Notably, he slammed both Stephen Drew and Justin Upton in the media a few years back in what can only be described as poor PR and presumably lowered his bargaining power on the open market when trying to deal the two players, as RG described yesterday. He later publicly declared that Trevor Bauer needed to “grow up” and that probably wasn’t the best use of the airwaves, either. His employees have noticed this detrimental behavior, as my personal sources inside the organization can confirm the off-the-cuff nature of Kendrics and his unprofessionalism at times.

If Kendrick ordered the delivery of Ross and McCarthy, then backed the team into a corner of having to sell low on pieces like Upton and Bauer, what else has he had his hand in? To what level is he consulted with when deals are looking to be made? Is he qualified to be part of these conversations? RJ Anderson of Baseball Prospectus summed up my thoughts perfectly when we discussed this phenomenon over twitter last week:

I couldn’t have said it better, but I’d imagine that’s a tough pill to swallow for the guy who bankrolls the team. Still, Kendrick has to know his place in the operation. I’m not saying he should just sign the checks, but he certainly shouldn’t be dictating personnel moves to the point where he demands that certain players are acquired or traded because he doesn’t like them. That’s pretty much the definition of unprofessionalism.

Alternately, this does impact my view of Kevin Towers. Has he had the owner looking over his should this entire time? Has he not had the autonomy to mold this team in the way he thinks is best? I suppose we’d have to ask him directly and I’m doubtful he’d be willing to answer those questions while still wearing Sedona Red, but these are certainly worth pondering. Towers has certainly taken the bulk of the blame, both here on this website and throughout the Diamondbacks community, but how much of it he rightfully deserves is unknown. If he’s had to make transactions to appease ownership rather than managing the organization as he sees fit, being micro-managed to some degree, then we don’t really know how to evaluate him.

Presumably Tony La Russa knows the full story, however. In his new capacity, one would certainly hope that he’s attune to how these inner workings have failed the team in recent years. Someone needs to clean this up and perhaps La Russa is just the guy. Team President Derrick Hall has done wonders for the business side of the Diamondbacks’ organization, and that’s why he was considered to replace Bud Selig as the next commissioner of major league baseball (although Rob Manfred was ultimately chosen last week). But he’s not the guy to evaluate baseball operations. With Hall as the third part of the puzzle running the organization before LaRussa’s hiring, it’s no wonder more expertise was needed. Towers and his shaky track record had only Hall and Kendrick to assist him in running the organization.

So while we’ve wondered why Towers hasn’t been fired yet, we may have a window into the answer. Several of the problems that have been attributed to him haven’t necessarily been his doing, at least not entirely. Does that mean he deserves another shot? Unless La Russa has another guy in mind, Towers may just stick around. La Russa has had ample time now to evaluate how Towers goes about his business and has been willing to let him handle things thus far, so perhaps he approves of Towers’ work. Or maybe he’s just biding his time until the offseason. Who knows?

But since La Russa’s hiring in May, we haven’t heard much from owner Ken Kendricks. And maybe that’s the takeaway: La Russa has served as the bridge between Kendrick and Towers, presumably working with Kevin to make smart baseball decisions while assuring ownership of the work that’s being done. There’s no doubt that Kendrick respects and values La Russa’s knowledge and experience, likely more so than Towers’. The hands-on management hasn’t done the Diamondbacks any favors, and if La Russa can insulate the baseball operations from ownership, the organization might prove to be moving in a better, more level-headed direction.

How the rest of it plays out is yet to be seen, but if La Russa can keep Kendrick from meddling in player transactions, then I’d say it’s a hire well worth making. We’ve already seen the alternative, and that’s something that can’t continue.

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11 Responses to Who’s Steering This Ship?

  1. Paulnh says:

    …Wow.
    Well that makes me feel even worse about the state of the Diamondbacks. That’s really disappointing to hear that all our problems can’t be fixed with the firing of one guy, the problems are coming from the very top. I’ve never liked Kendrick because of his comments about Drew, Upton, and Bauer, but if what you’re saying is true, there is a very serious problem. Kendrick CANNOT manage the team, he’s just not qualified. If he really is managing the front office, this team with never be successful again.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a difficult while on the one hand..while on the other..both weren’t bad signing per se, unless you complain about the finances if things don’t work out.

    Let’s start with the history of the moves. 2011 had an ace and a number 1, in Kennedy and Hudson. One was expected to regress in in 2012, Kennedy, while Hudson was expected to improve. Hudson went down, and Kennedy became whom he actually most likely is. 2012 Cahill didn’t perform as expected. Parker most likely would have been lit in Chase, no denying those peripherals oak home/road, let alone his tj problems too. Chris Young separated his shoulder and never recovered, after starting out as league mvp. Throw in Drew, never regaining his form after the groin and broken ankle that trashed the 2011 year, so that’s two up the middle players, and the number 1’s but still they battled to 500 in 2012.

    2013, signing ross gave them depth and a good baseball player. Downside of his career maybe, for a lot money, but plays winning baseball, and insurance if Pollock/Parra/Kubel crapped out, that was a good signing. Let alone a guy who pounds left hand pitching. McCarthy one of those guys if he’s right that’s 10 mill for a number 2, and maybe even help bring Cahill back along to number a 2/3. They had no ace again, and Putz/\heathbell experience , no lefty specialist were awful. Reynolds was outstanding though, possibly best loogy, let alone top reliever on staff with Ziegler but alas another tj. . Upton didn’t bring an Ace, which should of been the number 1 priority, that was the failure of 12 off season. Montero also spent most of the year knicked up. Hill got his hand broken, Kubel knees went, Parra didn’t develop, but Ross came along at the perfect time, after a three months of adjustment to nl, then dislocated his hip while playing great baseball from end of Jun. to the injury in Aug. Team still battled to 500.

    This year I think Towers wanted an ace, and his name was samardzja and had no other plan b. He also probably dreams about Gallardo not drinking and driving last year,as he may of been able to be had, but because of the loss of corbin, defensive start by Trumbo/then injury, and pitching start by Skaggs, the team start, the LaRussa over the shoulder. Irony though going foreward….the lack of an Ace is the difference between this team being 500 again. Now irony..

    Number 1 need for this team scherzer.

    • Paulnh says:

      You definitely make a good case, but I still have to disagree with you. The Parker for Cahill trade wasn’t a good one. Parker has been pretty good in his two years in Oakland, but no, he hasn’t been great. With the pitcher’s park in Oakland and the hitter friendly stadium that is Chase Field, you can certainly make a case that Trevor Cahill has been just as good or maybe even slightly better than Parker since the trade. But your forgetting about the money. Trevor Cahill is making 24 times what Parker is making. Also, remember who else was part of that trade. Ryan Cook, he of sub 3 ERA three years in a row out of the pen. We did not win that trade by any stretch the way I see it.

      I also don’t think we can blame injuries for our disappointing seasons. Everyone has injuries (yes, us and Texas probably have the most) but that is not an excuse. You have to find a way to manage around them.

      Cody Ross was not a good signing. 3 years 26 million for a guy who should be a platoon player is a terrible signing. We can’t afford those kind of contracts with our payroll. If Cody Ross hadn’t been signed, we could have spent that money getting a true ace like Tanaka. That was a serious overpay in my opinion.

      Last thought, I completely agree that this team has to aquire an ace somehow, but Max Scherzer is not the guy. He’s going to be out of our price range, and I don’t think he’s going to want to come back to Arizona. I think James Shields is our best bet.

  3. Terry says:

    Nice piece Jeff. Great insight and investigation into the rest of the story. I had no idea of Kendricks negative influence on baseball operations but I have worked in situations like this where someone above you is meddling with things they don’t really understand and you get stuck with the blame. Makes me more sympathetic to Towers.

  4. Ryan says:

    Interesting read, but it’s “Kendrick,” not “Kendricks.”

  5. Angry_Saguaro says:

    The best article I’ve read in regards to the inner circle of the Dbacks leadership. And it’s so, so true!

  6. Kevin says:

    Is it so much to ask for the front office to just actually be competent for once?

  7. Randy says:

    Byrnes/Dipoto left Towers a massive ton of talent and he’s frittered it away, Goldschmidt, Upton, Parra, Pollock, CY, Eaton (having very good year for white sox) Owings, Montero, Hudson, Kennedy, Parker, Skaggs, Cook, Colmetter, are just part of the list.

    Towers continuously trades away cheap young talent to get older veterans who are no better, and sometimes worse. Cody Ross isn’t even on his top 10 list of mistakes. He spent $20M and two top prospects to acquire two DHs (Kubel & Mr no OBP) to ensure the team always has the worst defensive left fielder in baseball.

    He is Mr. Sell Low, Buy High, putting too much weight on a players last season. Cody Ross is where he bought high, Ian Kennedy, Adam Eaton are where he sold low.

    Plus, he employs the worst manager in baseball. Gibson teams have has led the league in running into outs, worse he’s terrible at managing a pitching staff. He destroyed his best starters arm, when Hudson was struggling and obviously not right Gibson berated him, demanding 100 pitches every start even in 2 or 3 horrific innings. His last 10 starts were an amazing display of ignorance and abuse. Now the two mental midgets have locked an awful team into senseless rounds of beanball wars, so they can lose even more players for dumb reasons.

    Towers couldn’t even manage his own picks, he took Bauer 3rd even though Trevor told everyone thinking of drafting him that he would not change his approach. Trevor smoked thru the minors in less than two years so the DBacks constantly praised him and his unique approach. Then he comes up to the majors and the idiot catcher decides to start a battle of wills to try to force Bauer to change everything in his first week. Bauers struggled that year, and only then does Towers start ripping the kid for being everything Towers knew he was when Towers gave him $4M. Towers lowers his value so much he could only get a no hit shortstop prospect, dumping a top 20 prospect for a mid 70s ranked prospect.

    Didi had one hot week when brought up and reverted to what he’s always been, a good glove guy who can’t hit, destined to be a bench/utility guy for his career, while Bauer is now starting in Cleveland. Bauer is already more valuable than Didi now, and he’s still got a ton of potential upside. Nice return on that #3 Towers.

  8. Randy says:

    I forgot about Towers inheriting Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Drew. And that Ian Kennedy’s FIP is 3.0 this year after not getting the Gibson massive pitch count in short inning starts where you don’t have it treatment.

    That means he inherited

    Position players:
    Goldschmidt, Owings, Drew, Upton, Parra, Eaton, Pollock, CY, Cowgill, Montero and Ender Inciarte.

    Pitchers:
    Hudson, Kennedy, Corbin, Parker, Skaggs, Colmetter, Miley, Cahill, Chase Anderson, Cook Bryan Shaw, & Eury De La Rosa.

    He was flat out given core and depth for a heck of a team that cost less than $50M a year. How did we end up with this team for over $100M?

    Let’s look at pitching. Diamondbacks ERA+ is 91 this year, making their staff ERA+ the 2nd worst in the NL. They paid $29M this year for the worst starting rotation in baseball with an 85 ERA+, and an average age of 30 years old.

    This is what towers traded away.

    Starters
    Jarrod Parker (24 years old) – 103 ERA+, 378 IP, $500k/year
    Trevor Bauer (23) – 87 ERA+, 135 IP, $1.1M
    Tyler Skaggs (22) – 86 ERA+, 113 IP, $500k
    Ian Kennedy (29) – 92 ERA+, 168 IP, $6M

    Relievers
    Ryan Cook (27) – 157 ERA+, 183 IP, $500k
    Bryan Shaw (26) – 129 ERA+, 135 IP, $500k

    Doesn’t look like much, esp. the starters, so what has Towers spent money on instead?

    Starters
    Brandon McCarthy (30) – 77 ERA+ 109 IP, $10M
    Bronson Arroyo (37) – 93 ERA+, 88 IP, $9.5M
    Trevor Cahill (26) – 84 ERA+, 83 IP, $8M

    Relievers
    JJ Putz (37) – 59 ERA+, 13 IP, $7M
    Brad Ziegler (34) – 111 ERA+, 62 IP, $4M

    If you look at Bauer, Skaggs and Kennedy, it doesn’t look like he gave up much, 3 below average starters. But if you look closer you see combined they make less than $8M combined and would RAISE the Diamondbacks starters ERA+. But far more importantly Skaggs/Bauer are only 22 and 23 years old. If just one of the two turns into an > 100 ERA+ starter for the next 3 years it’s a disaster for the Diamondbacks. A solid MLB starter is worth $15M+ a year.

    When Towers took over he had a wave of super cheap young starters coming up thanks to Byrnes and Dipoto. He could have let them compete for jobs and see who turned out well and who busted, knowing he always had more young arms in reserve, and use their cheapness to focus his $40M pitching budget to get a couple top tier starters. Or he could use the young guys as trade fodder and trade most away without getting full value in return and taking on salary and mediocre starters.

    Towers chose the second option because he doesn’t trust young players. He’s always shown a preference for a more expensive “proven” veteran, even when on the downside of their career or coming off a fluke season, to a young prospect who is just as talented, just not as experienced, but far cheaper.

    Parker/Cahill is the epitome of a Towers trade. To get proven veteran Cahill, he traded MLB ready top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker and threw in Cook/Cowgill for good measure. He did this knowing Cahill would cost a minimum of $25M more than Parker over the next 4 years.

    The trade wasn’t a disaster because Parker has been more valuable than Cahill since, they’ve been roughly equal in value, Parker the better starter, Cahill more innings. The disaster was paying $25M more for a pitcher who wasn’t likely to be appreciably better, AND throwing in a top relief prospect AND a useful 4th outfielder (Cowgill surprisingly has been worth over 3 wins as a backup outfielder since he left AZ). It was just an unforced error, the trade only makes sense if the As throw in at least $25M and a couple of decent cheap prospects of their own (Breslow is a good reliever but made $2M and Towers gave him away 3 months later).

    Tower’s fetish for veterans blinds him to the value of cheap control years on promising young players, or the additional risk of long term deals. If Parker had busted or got hurt again the Diamondbacks don’t owe him anything, and can just roll out the next in their formerly long line of young starting pitchers. Cahill was getting $30M if he was a stud or skunk.

    Towers biggest mistake was locking the team and it’s budget into longer term deals for middle tier veterans with no more money and no exit strategy if they tank or get hurt. He took over a loaded team (Upton, CY, Montero, Parra, Roberts, Drew, Hudson, Kennedy were all in their prime) that only cost $73M in salary, fixed the bullpen with a great trade of Mark Reynolds, and had a deep, deep farm system (especially in arms) to use to fallback to ensure he could always put a good team on the field.

    But instead he squandered most of the farm talent on ill-advised trades and locked up most of his budget on expensive contracts for mediocre vets. $40M for 4 years of Prado isn’t awful on the face, but when you did it to avoid paying $40M for 3 years of a much younger Upton it’s absurd.

    But not as absurd as giving Aaron Hill $33M when he’s a 32 year old second baseman who has yo-yoed between All Star and replacement level during his prime years (from age 26, 0.6 wins, 4.5 wins, 1.1 wins, -0.4 wins, 1.1 wins, 5.1 wins, 2.3 wins, jackpot?). Giving an undersized catcher with an injury history the teams biggest ever contract into age 33 is questionable, but it probably is his best contract decision and that’s scary.

    Even if Kendrick is responsible for the Cody Ross signing, why didn’t Towers point out that Ross has always been a mediocre platoon layer and was coming off a career year he’d likely never repeat? The reason is likely Towers didn’t get that himself, he probably wanted to sign an even worse outfielder himself, trading Skaggs/Eaton so he could “cement” Mark Trumbo (career OBP a miserable .299 makes him a Master of Making Outs) as the leagues worst left field defender is proof of that.

    And I’ll finish with a look at Adam Eaton’s season.

    Adam Eaton 2014 Chicago White Sox (sob)
    Batting average: .304
    OBP: .370
    SLG: .401
    OPS+: 117
    Defense: 8 runs better than average according to Baseball-Reference.
    Wins: 3.7
    Paycheck: $500k
    Age: 25

    An all star level center fielder for $500k, who will only make $500k next year, and will then enter arbitration so he will only be paid a fraction of his value during his prime years. When he’s 30 years old he’ll be an “experienced” free agent and finally worthy of a Towers signing. Who needs his next 5 prime years cheap when you can have his declining performance in his 30s for $15M a year?

    Sob.

  9. […] Sports on Earth article about D-backs owner Ken Kendrick’s involvement in baseball decisions, Jeff wrote that it does change his evaluation of GM Kevin Towers if Kendrick has really gone over hi…, as with the Cody Ross signing. On Saturday, Joe Jacquez of Venom Strikes added his two […]

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