Here we are, mid-April, and already someone has tossed a match on the season here in Arizona. And this season has gone from smoldering to fully engulfed just 18 games in. Off to a 4-14 start, worst in franchise history, with a staff ERA over 6.00, CEO Ken Kendrick has to be wondering what in the world he’s allowed Kevin Towers to spend his $100M payroll on.
Heading into the season, with both Patrick Corbin and David Hernandez lost to year-ending Tommy John surgery during spring training, it was pretty evident pitching was going to be problematic. The D-backs elected to carry 13 pitchers on the roster to start the season, relying on a group of starters made up of all #3’s and #4’s and a bullpen full of retreads. Unsurprisingly – to borrow a quote from a former Arizona Cardinals coach – “they are who we thought they are.”
So who’s to blame? Who should bear the greatest responsibility for this debacle? The players? Partially, yes. In the end, none of the staff, upper management or fans get out on the diamond. How about Kirk Gibson? As managers go, he seems solid. He’s isn’t the easiest person to communicate with, but he knows the game and seems to rarely make mistakes. And after all, he can only run the guys out that have been provided to him. But as was previously mentioned, the owner has given him a $100M roster. Which basically brings us to down to the guy responsible for building this team, GM Kevin Towers.
In baseball, it’s said that for a pitcher to lose 20 games in a season, he would’ve had to have pitched pretty well. If that is true, then wouldn’t an extension of that indicate a GM who has been at the helm for more than 1600 losses must be pretty good at his job? While in San Diego (from1995-2009), Towers got the Padres to the World Series in 1998. They also finished last five times. Still, following the 2010 season, Towers was hired by the Diamondbacks to turn around a team that had fallen on some hard times after the Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Luis Gonzalez era. When the Diamondbacks won 94 games 2011, the decision looked brilliant.
But then, the questionable decisions started. From that original roster, only 10 players remain, with two, David Hernandez and Daniel Hudson currently out with arm injuries, and a third, Henry Blanco, now a member of the coaching staff. The two stars, Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy are gone, Upton in a blockbuster with Atlanta, in which the jury is still out, and Kennedy to the Padres, for the equivalent of a jock strap and some chewing gum. Key contributors like Chris Young and Stephen Drew are gone. Lyle Overbay was allowed to walk. Also since then, top prospects like Jarrod Parker (an All-Star in his first season with Oakland), Tyler Skaggs (pitching like the the prospect he was projected to be for the Angels), Adam Eaton (hitting over .300 for the White Sox to start the season), Trevor Bauer (currently tearing up AAA), Matt Davidson and Dave Holmberg (jettisoned along with Heath Bell to get some other sucker to take on his ridiculous contract), are all gone. In exchange, they’ve gotten players like Trevor Cahill – currently back in the bullpen, where he spent some time last season, in addition to time in Reno trying to figure his stuff out – Brandon McCarthy, who seemingly has never recovered from the devastating injury he suffered after getting hit in the head and nearly dying, and Mark Trumbo, who is showing a Dave Kingman-like propensity for hitting the ball 500 feet or not hitting it at all.
When Towers took the job, he insisted he was going to strengthen the team by building up the bullpen and the bench. But players like Eric Hinske, Jason Kubel, Geoff Blum, John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist were mostly ineffective. Cody Ross can’t stay healthy. Heath Bell was a terrible acquisition and Joe Saunders was average at best. The bullpen has been amongst the worst in baseball the last two season. In 2013, there were 29 blown saves, by 10 different pitchers. Some strength. And this season looks far, far worse to date.
The bottom line is Kevin Towers hasn’t delivered on his promises to strengthen this team, and in fact, has taken a team soundly built by Josh Byrnes – now his replacement in San Diego – and Jerry DiPoto, and promptly steered it right over the proverbial cliff. By the time this debacle runs its course, the mediocrity of the past two seasons is going to feel like a pleasant dream. There is no help coming. Archie Bradley is struggling at AAA. And other than Paul Goldschmidt, there are no marquee pieces to move to get pitching help. This season is going down in flames, and Kevin Towers is holding the matches.