Gunslinger Kevin Towers Settling In as Diamondbacks General Manager
Yet, where better than the Old West for a GM who shoots from the hip and has Gunslinger in his email address? Among his favorite spots in Phoenix is Rawhide, an Old West town where, for a PR stunt 11 years ago, he and other Padres honchos assembled in gunslinger garb.
But it's far more than locale that has Towers smiling on this February morning as he reviews his first five months on the job.
For all his headline-grabbing trades and quips as Padres GM, he wasn't always allowed to indulge his, well, his gunslinger-ishness, sometimes for his own good, he admits, citing mostly his early years as a GM under the savvy, if obsessive Larry Lucchino. Now, befitting his 14 years of GM experience, he's getting more elbow room.
"It's a perfect job," he says.
Most fun he's had in a decade-plus, he adds, calling Diamondback-dom "the best working environment" of any front office where he's worked.
Provided he keeps young CEO Derrick Hall and owner Ken Kendrick up to speed, he has free run.
"It's an opportunity for me, now that I have some experience, to help mold an organization the way I think it should have been done," says Towers, who was the majors' most tenured GM when Padres CEO Jeff Moorad fired him in late 2009. "I've learned a lot over the years. What works, what doesn't work, what's important."
His first order of business was to overhaul a bullpen that'll have him chugging sarsaparilla if it's as bad as it was last year, which it can't be. Towers imported several power arms, most of them cheap. It's what he does.
Creating national headlines in November, he invited other GMs to overpay for Arizona's most talented player, right fielder Justin Upton, a potential superstar who's under contract through 2015. Upton, who wasn't traded, is an erratic defender who should be a Gold Glover, scouts say, but his attention wanders. He's a good citizen, but Towers and manager Kirk Gibson want to make sure a sense of entitlement doesn't exist within the clubhouse. And if Towers does decide to trade Upton, the past winter clued his value.
Towers will continue to shake things up, likely next month. From 2007-2010, the D'backs opened the season only once with a player who wasn't with them when spring training began. Towers, conversely, views spring training as a ripe time to cheaply acquire players, especially relievers.
He'll owe Hall an apology if the Garden Snakes, who can't be considered rattlers after last-place finishes in 2009 and 2010, amass 97 defeats again. With a blah farm system (also a Towers bugaboo in San Diego), his dicier task will come later as Arizona's best players near free agency.
More so than with the Padres, he'll find it difficult to build a sturdy pitching staff, because no more does his home ballpark transform timid hard throwers into attack dogs.
The big picture: Expect him to try to emulate the Twins and the Phillies, two scouting-driven franchises that rely less on statistical analysis than the Padres did in his 14 seasons. A former Triple-A pitcher, pitching coach and scout whose favorite baseball task is eyeballing pitchers, Towers nonetheless likes advanced stats such as True ERA and BABIP, which encouraged him to trade for closer Heath Bell.
"I like the analytical side," he says.
But, implying that playing experience was undervalued in San Diego's staffing decisions, he said Triple-A or big league experience was critical to his recent hires and promotions.
"It's a great working environment," says Towers, who scouted for Yankees GM Brian Cashman until Hall hired him in late September. "People get along real well here. People respect people here. They allow you to do your job. I don't know if it was being out for a year and recharging the batteries, but I love to go to work every day."