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:
@OutfieldGrass24 I’m more concerned about ownership dictating who the FO signs. You hired those guys to run the team. Let them run the team.
— R.J. Anderson (@r_j_anderson) August 13, 2014
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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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).