This is an urgent time for the Diamondbacks organization, which could be set on any kind of path within the next month or so. Yet, the club and Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa have been moving deliberately through the process—as well they should. When Jeff Wiser and I talked D-backs on Saturday, he used the word “pragmatic,” and that’s putting it perfectly.
To wit: the Diamondbacks waited from May 17 (TLR’s hiring) all the way to September 5th (nearly four months) to make a decision on whether Kevin Towers should remain as GM. Much of that time was data-gathering, I’m sure, and La Russa putting himself in a position to wield some actual authority through a base of familiarity with the organization. But it’s not a coincidence that they made the move at the beginning of September, which is the very best time to replace a GM. A GM can’t do very much in September in the way of negotiations, in the way of working with other clubs, or even with respect to preparing for the offseason. On the field, the D-backs are still in data-gathering mode. In the front office, this was a time for the front office to twiddle its thumbs.
La Russa and Derrick Hall want the GM search tied up by the end of September. What great timing! And by leaving the future of Kirk Gibson up to the next GM, they get to use Gibson through the end of this season without installing anyone else. That, to me, is why Gibson is sticking around; not because they think he’ll be around in 2015, but because they may not want to clog up the manager position with an interim manager right now. They do seem, through their actions, to want to give the next GM a blank slate at the manager position. After all, if it took Tony La Russa four months to figure out that it made sense to remove Towers, how will the next GM figure out in a week or so whether Gibson should be the D-backs manager in 2015?
The list of GM candidates that have been identified has continued to grow, as Nick Piecoro reported yesterday. So here’s the list so far, in no particular order:
- Gary LaRocque, farm director, St. Louis Cardinals
- Larry Beinfest, former GM, Miami Marlins
- De Jon Watson, AGM, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Ray Montgomery, scouting director, Arizona Diamondbacks
- Billy Eppler, AGM, New York Yankees
- Hal Morris, pro scouting director, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
- Dave Stewart, player agent
- Tim Purpura, farm director, Texas Rangers
- Allard Baird, player personnel director, Boston Red Sox
Two names that aren’t on the list: Walt Jocketty, who is staying with the Reds, and Paul DePodesta, who despite the rain dance I’ve been doing for three days hasn’t even been rumored. We’ll console ourselves with the fact that Kevin Towers also isn’t on the list.
We don’t put much off limits here at Inside the ‘Zona — if we can measure it, or if there are a way to apply sabermetrics or common sense principles to it, it’s fair game. But Jeff and I were talking about how this process could be an exception. For those of us not empowered to put questions to any of these guys or their co-workers directly, how can we really express an opinion? DePodesta has done enough talking in the past (including an excellent lecture from before he was GM of the Dodgers) to get in his head a little bit. For the rest of these guys, it’s a black box.
So all we could really do is ask that the D-backs be smart in this hiring process. And when someone is hired, we’ll be on the edge of our seats, reading into everything the new GM says.
All that said — if I had a black ball for this list of nine, I’d use it on Baird. He’s a guy who, like Towers, has some real strengths — but who, like Towers, led an organization (Kansas City Royals) down a losing path with a losing philosophy that led to a lot of losing.
Another random thought: who and where is AGM Billy Ryan?
On to the links:
- The best news we’ve heard thus far is that Tony La Russa is committed to strengthening the organization on the analytics side. That could mean anything, and I doubt very much there will be a full department installed, but one can hope. It sounds like those decisions will be partly dependent on who is hired as GM — not so much because they will get to dictate how many people get hired, etc., but because La Russa will look to make up for or complement the new GM’s strengths and weaknesses. As it should be. As we said here on Friday, La Russa’s presence and Derrick Hall’s involvement mean that many decisions are going to be made on a committee basis anyway. Better to get a “team of rivals” together with different viewpoints to help avoid groupthink. The analytics notes were everywhere over the weekend, but I’ll send you here to ItZ favorite Steve Gilbert, as he included those comments in a rundown of all the publicly named GM candidates.
- I’m not sure how much information we’ll ever get on each of these GM candidates, but of the nine named, Dave Stewart really sticks out as being a different kind of candidate. I’m intrigued. Here’s the excellent Nick Piecoro with a profile on Stewart and Stewart’s candidacy; and oh, by the way, Piecoro happens to have reported that La Russa and Stewart just happened to be “spotted” together in Jacksonville, FL (a/k/a “not the crossroads of America” a/k/a “not many reasons to go there”).
- I also particularly liked Piecoro’s check-in on Cody Ross in this notebook. I tweeted recently that Ross shouldn’t be counted on as part of the 2015 roster, and I still that’s true; assuming no moves are made, Ross is probably fifth in the pecking order behind Pollock, Peralta, Trumbo and Inciarte. I’ll continue to be convinced that a Trumbo/Inciarte makes sense in left field, even though I doubt it’ll happen. But with respect to Ross, what I think should happen is also probably what will happen: he’ll be a part time player in right field, spelling Peralta against lefties (Peralta has been showing more of a platoon split lately), and pinch hitting on the other days. Ross could end up getting about 10 plate appearances per week like that (7 is more likely), and if he punishes LHP the way he has in the past, right field could be extremely productive for the D-backs.
- In terms of quality, commitment to his craft, overall excellence, and ability to pose for a picture with Morgan Freeman, my favorite baseball writer, print or otherwise, is Jerry Crasnick. And it just so happens that Crasnick wrote about the Towers removal, and so it just so happens that you get that link, too. Crasnick makes a fair point that a president-and-king arrangement between Towers and La Russa “was never going to work,” for the reasons he describes. And Crasnick is also perfectly spot on with the point that when you’ve reached a depth as low as the one the D-backs find themselves in right now, there are lots of ways to get better. It’s a question of: which way to get better is… better? And Crasnick does the “final thought” thing better than any writer in the world, IMHO. With respect to the D-backs both firing Towers and inviting him to stay on, Crasnick (perceptively) noted: “The mixed messages from that scenario tell you all you need to know about the challenges the organization faces.”
- Jon Heyman reported that Beinfest has already met with La Russa, with Purpura’s interview also imminent. Heyman also discusses Watson and Stewart, for what it’s worth. As a rule, the only general bias that writers have that I’m aware of is being attracted to a story. I was guilty of that above too, but I think this Dave Stewart thing is picking up steam just because it’s interesting to read and write about. Of course, it’s interesting to read and write about because it’s an interesting idea anyway…
- Dan Bickley wrote 100 words or so on the Towers firing, and they’re all pretty much 100% on point and 100% exactly right. I’d be curious to hear from anyone else on Bickley’s piece.
- Really good week over at Snake Pit, especially this rundown of defining points of Towers’s tenure by Jim McLennan and this road map for the future from Preston Salisbury. Enjoyed but disagreed with parts of Salisbury’s piece. For starters, the fact that offense may be down doesn’t make offense more important than pitching (it’s all relative). And we can’t judge from other contenders what will work for the D-backs; hitters tend to have longer lifespans than pitchers, which means that the richest teams are, when they’re good, loaded with offensive talent — but that might not mean that’s a game that the D-backs can win. I’d also add that an arbitrary cutoff like Top 10 or Top 5 doesn’t mean that the D-backs don’t need, first and foremost, to get from the Bottom 5 to at least the middle. I’m sure I’m not saying anything Salisbury doesn’t know, I just mean to say that any past record of offense being emphasized more for victors is probably misleading with respect to the D-backs. I’d also say that I didn’t really understand the point about bats being more volatile than arms, which would require substantially more research to even hypothesize. Finally — while the key in general for pitching is not so much quality as quantity (a general point to which I wholeheartedly agree), I think that’s much less true for the D-backs specifically. It may not be that great, but the D-backs do have depth at pitching (better-than-Zeke-Spruill pitching) — they just haven’t had much plus contribution. This season, the D-backs had some average pitching from guys like Wade Miley, and terrible pitching from guys like Trevor Cahill and Mike Bolsinger. Many staffs are like that, but also have some plus pitching to pull them back to the middle. That’s what the D-backs are missing. I could discuss this stuff for a long time — most of Salisbury’s headers could make for longer posts, because they’re all very substantive. I look forward to reading more from Salisbury.
- Feel like doing some daydreaming? Well check out the 2015 D-backs schedule. That’s always fun! Just 9 road games in July next year, but I’m already looking forward to going back to Citi Field. The NL West gets matched up against the AL West this year, which means we’ll see the Astros again. Check it out!
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