Monday, March 15, 2010

KT and LT

Caught up with the Gunslinger before he headed to Tampa.

He's in a New York state of mind, excited to join the Yankees as a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman.

Maybe New York gives the Gunslinger his first World Series ring and puts LaDainian Tomlinson in his first Super Bowl. Wrote about L.T. today for AOL/FanHouse -- http://tinyurl.com/y8kfv44

After 14 years as GM of the Padres, the Gunslinger likes the purity of what awaits. He can ignore player agents. No more haggling over payroll dollars with club executives. No more spin sessions on the radio. The job's all baseball.

"I'll be another set of eyes and ears for Brian," said Kevin Towers, the self-described Gunslinger. "I'm going to still live in San Diego, but I'll get out and scout. At times, I'll be like an advance scout. Maybe I'll go up to Anaheim to look at the Angels or whoever's in Anaheim. Beyond the scouting, Brian said he'd just like to be able to pick up the phone and get my opinion on things."

There's a mystique to the Yankees, but to hear Towers, it's more like he's joining a fraternity of baseball junkies.

Cashman is one of his longtime friends in baseball. He's also chummy with several Yankees scouts, among them scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. In fact, Towers looked into hiring Oppenheimer last summer, wanting him for his front office if Padres CEO Jeff Moorad had kept him around.

"There are lot of great baseball people with the Yankees," Towers said, mentioning, among others, vice-president of baseball operations Mark Newman.

Yes, he's curious about the inner workings of the Death Star itself. "I kind of like the (big) payroll," he said, laughing.

For what it's worth, I've heard that Cashman queried Towers about pitcher Chan Ho Park , who later signed with the Yankees for $1.22 million last month. As you may recall, Park pitched for the Padres from 2005-06.

Towers leaves behind a Padres franchise that owns one playoff victory in the last 11 years, yet also one that reached the postseason in four of his 14 years as GM.

What caliber of GM was Towers? Are his GM days over? If not, where might he end up?

Here are my thoughts:

* Towers was among the best traders in baseball. My guess it that he'll benefit Cashman in this area. Even the man who fired Towers -- Moorad -- said last year that no other active GM was better at "the art of the deal." Over the years, I've heard from several Padres fans who said the media over-rated Towers' trading skill. Sorry, I can't agree. True, he regretted dealing Jason Bartlett for Brian Buchanan and swapping Woody Williams for Ray Lankford, but those were rare clunkers.

* Not only did Towers make a lot of good trades, they were made with an incredible number of GMs. Almost anybody who was somebody among GMs ended up on his good-trade list -- including Cashman, John Schuerholz , Pat Gillick , Theo Epstein, Walt Jocketty, Jon Daniels, Mark Shapiro, Josh Byrnes, Dave Dombrowski, Omar Minaya and Ed Wade, not to mention Steve Phillips, Jim Bowden, Herk Robinson and Bill Bavasi.

* Towers made several fruitful moves for pitchers, but I think his success in this area was a bit overstated. The Murph was a good pitcher's park and Petco Park is an extreme pitcher's park. Pitchers want to come to San Diego. Sometimes, they'll accept less money to do it. Further, the offenses in the National League West generally underachieved. And the NL as a whole became decidedly inferior to the American League in the 2000s. Towers was smart enough to realize that bringing a pitcher from the Big Boys League (AL) to the Little Boys League (NL) increased his chances of success. He also wisely unloaded pitchers who were becoming too expensive, or more likely to get injured. I believe that Padres trainer Todd Hutcheson, one of the best in the business, helped Towers in the pitching market.
* No question, Towers has a feel for constructing a bullpen, but the people who equate him to Midas in this area often overlook that several of his bullpens were dreadful. As he often noted, he inherited Trevor Hoffman, whose presence made his life a lot easier. In fact, Towers inherited an entire bullpen that would lead the NL in ERA in 1996. Is Towers above average at finding valuable relievers? Probably. Can Petco Park give a talented but unestablished reliever a confidence boost that nudges a career into overdrive? I think it has.

* Towers punished trade partners who had not done their homework. He had a knack for finding these folks. Frankly, some of them were asking to be fleeced. Are GMs more informed now than then? I don't see how they couldn't be, given the hyper-explosion of information within the industry. In most trade talks, Towers had the better baseball "dope." He's a sponge. His ballplayer instincts, which a lot of GMs do not have, serve him well. So does a personality that Billy Beane rates among the most likeable in the business. He's developed a vast network of information sources. He can work a lot of rooms -- clubhouses, executive suites, scouting sections, press-rooms and nightspots where baseball people congregate. Many ballplayers wanted to play in San Diego. Towers cultivated them and used it to his advantage.

* The man who hired Towers into the GM job -- Larry Lucchino -- insisted that Towers consider the merits of advanced statistics at a time when many GMs were ignoring them. Towers was flexible enough to adapt, with help from bright statisical analysts such as Eddie Epstein, Theo Epstein, Jeff Kingston and Josh Stein. Many of his GM colleagues were not as open-minded. Towers didn't let his ego get in the way. And unlike some baseball men who became overly controlling or even paranoid after being promoted into a GM job, Towers remained flexible and secure in his own skin.

* It's hard to imagine many other GMs would've better navigated the crazy corporate culture that existed under Padres majority owner John Moores. In the 2000s, the Padres had five CEOs, a carousel that forced Towers to adapt to a wide variety of personalities and budgetary shifts. At times, he also reported directly to Moores, or an attorney hired by Moores. You expected to hear a caliope when you walked into the Padres' offices. "John collects people," an owner of another major league club told me long ago. It's a description that's often come to mind. Often, it was up to Towers to deal with the fallout.

* Towers bears considerable responsibility for the farm system's chronic failings, and he'll need to learn from it if he becomes a GM again. He fired a Padres scouting supervisor -- Logan White -- who later would join the Dodgers and draft several players who've helped Los Angeles reach the last two NLCS. Towers over-promoted friend Brad Sloan into the scouting director job in 1995. In late 2000, Towers replaced Sloan with another of his scouting friends, Bill Gayton. While Gayton wasn't to blame for the Matt Bush debacle or the Jake Gautreau selection or the Padres' unwillingness to spend above slot in several years, he probably was more suited to a national cross-checker role. Towers hired Grady Fuson to oversee scouting and player development in 2005. The recent drafts of Fuson/Gayton have some promise, but the Padres are still playing catch-up in this area. Look at what some of their NL West rivals have done. Towers regretted not being able to hire his friend Jack Zduriencik as his scouting director a decade ago. The Brewers continue to reap benefits from Zduriencik's astute drafting. Based on the Doogster's recent expansion of the scouting staffs, Towers wasn't investing enough in scouting. It's striking how quickly the Doogster has poured money into this area. I know the Padres regret not scouting in greater San Diego more heavily. That's an area where they've failed miserably. Whether the overall scouting budget was skimpy because Moores refused to provide enough money, I do not know.

* My guess is Towers will return to the GM role within a few years. His time with the Yankees should widen his skill set. He's made it clear that he's not interested in supplanting a GM. GMs who are on the hot seat include Jim Hendry of the Cubs and Minaya of the Mets. Because Mets ownership is reputedly a GM's nightmare, it's not an appealing job to many GMs. If the Cubs fizzle, I could see Towers ending up in Chicago. For what it's worth, I quoted him several years ago that if he had to choose a manager other than Bruce Bochy, the list would begin with Lou Piniella, who's in his fourth season with the Cubs. Towers and Hendry also are friends. The two golfed and bowled together during the GM meetings two years ago. Hendry is popular with a lot of baseball people, and it'd be nice to see the Cubs have a big year for him. It's not like the Cubs are in a big slump. Their last three teams had winning seasons and two of those won the NL Central. Hendry is under contract through 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment