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Kevin Towers' tenure in Arizona: Four years of poor trades

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After three lackluster seasons, the Diamondbacks parted ways with GM Kevin Towers who had more than a checkered trade history in Arizona.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

"Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake?"

-- Annie Savoy, Bull Durham

Or who will ever forget Justin Upton-for-Martin Prado for that fact, either? Now to be fair there were other parts to those trades – Pappas was acquired by the Reds along with Ted Davidson and Bob Johnson; and Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed, Randall Delgado, and Zeke Spruill also landed in Arizona with Upton – but the point remains the same: both the Reds and Diamondbacks clearly didn’t get enough by dealing away two superstar caliber outfielders.

And it was moves like the latter that forced the Diamondbacks to look in another direction as the club, under the guidance of the newly-minted Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, relieved Kevin Towers of his General Manager duties in early September, bringing to an end one of the more criticized runs in recent memory.

After piloting the D-Backs to the third best record in franchise history in 2011, Towers began selling off bit-by-bit some of the club’s more valuable assets, getting pennies on the dollar in return, including dealing a team-controlled 25-year-old Upton, a former #3 overall pick, and two promising pitching prospects.

In total, Towers would consummate 34 trades during his four-year tenure at the helm:

Date ARI Acquires Opp Acquires
11/19/10 Juan Miranda Scottie Allen (NYY)
11/24/10 Zach Duke Cesar Valdez (PIT)
12/06/10 David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio Mark Reynolds and John Hester (BAL)
01/24/11 Armando Galarraga Kevin Eichhorn and Ryan Robowski (DET)
06/01/11 Lucas May Andrea Pizziconi (KC)
07/30/11 Jason Marquis Zach Walters (WAS)
07/31/11 Brad Ziegler Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto (OAK)
08/23/11 Aaron Hill and John McDonald Kelly Johnson (TOR)
09/23/11 Mike Zagurski Adam Worthington (PHI)
12/09/11 Craig Breslow, Trevor Cahill, and cash Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker (OAK)
04/21/12 Josh Bell Mike Belfiore (BAL)
07/23/12 Frazier Hall Barry Enright (LAA)
07/24/12 Tyler Bortnick Ryan Roberts (TB)
07/29/12 Chris Johnson Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss (HOU)
07/31/12 Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik Craig Breslow (BOS)
08/20/12 Sean Jamieson Stephen Drew (OAK)
08/26/12 Matt Lindstrom Joe Saunders (BAL)
10/20/12 Cliff Pennington and Heath Bell Chris Young and cash (OAK)
11/20/12 Matt Reynolds Ryan Wheeler (COL)
12/11/12 Didi Gregorius (CIN); Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp (CLE) Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw (CLE)
01/24/13 Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed, Randall Delgado, Martin Prado, and Zeke Spruill Chris Johnson and Justin Upton (ATL)
02/18/13 Tony Campana Jesus Castillo and Erick Leal (CHC)
07/31/13 Matt Stites and Joe Thatcher Ian Kennedy (SD)
08/29/13 Matt Langwell Jason Kubel (CLE)
12/03/13 Todd Glaesmann and Justin Choate Heath Bell and cash (TB); David Holmberg (CIN)
12/10/13 Mark Trumbo, A.J. Schugel, and Brandon Jacobs Adam Eaton (CHW); Tyler Skaggs (LAA)
12/16/13 Addison Reed Matt Davidson (CHW)
04/28/14 Lucas Harrell PTBNL (HOU)
06/29/14 Ronny Cedeno Raywilly Gomez (PHI)
07/05/14 Zach Borenstein and Joey Krehbiel Tony Campana and Joe Thatcher (LAA)
07/06/14 Vidal Nuno Brandon McCarthy and cash (NYY)
07/31/14 Anthony Banda and Mitch Haniger Gerardo Parro (MIL)
07/31/14 Peter O'Brien and PTBNL Martin Prado (NYY)
08/14/14 Brett Jackson Blake Cooper (CHC)

And while a few of those deals worked well in terms of net WAR for Arizona – namely acquiring relievers Brad Ziegler and Matt Reynolds –the overall results of those trades are, well, staggering.

Total WAR Total $ $/WAR
ARI 13.40 $83,934,750 $6,263,787
Opp 31.90 $85,085,300 $2,667,251

Towers acquired 13 wins above replacement and at the approximate cost of $84 million in salary, for an average of $6.2 million. He would deal nearly 32 wins above replacement for just about the same cost ($85 million), or an average price of $2.7 million. Basically, Arizona paid open market price for one win without considering the talent leaving the club and opposing teams more than doubled their acquiring WAR for just over 40-percent of the cost.

No business on the planet can sustain a successful business model with that type of failure.

A few things to note about the study:

  • Future value was not considered, both in terms of money and on-field production. If some of the players Arizona acquired unexpectedly blossom – Drury, Delgado, O’Brien, etc.. – the end results change. And likewise, if a player like Prado tanks during the final years of contract then the price per WAR increases for opponents.
  • A player’s value was analyzed from the point of the trade through the end of his team-controlled years with his new club.
  • Finally, salaries are estimated based on time of trade(s)

Towers’ best deal: acquiring Brad Ziegler from the A’s for a couple of spare parts. Ziegler’s gone on to amass more than 4.5 wins at the average cost of $2 million.

His worst deal, believe it or not, is trading off Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, and Collin Cowgill for the right to pay a disappointing Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow a combined $18.5 million for just under three wins of production.

Again, this doesn’t look at future value. Maybe Brandon Drury or Peter O’Brien or develop into useful big league bats and Prado puts up bupkis in the next two years. But any future contributions aren’t likely to swing the pendulum hugely in Arizona’s favor, especially considering Upton is still under team control through the end of next season and Parker, Cook, Trevor Bauer, and Adam Eaton are several years away from free agency.

In the end, it wasn’t just one deal that did in Kevin Towers as a GM; it was a history of selling low and buying high that pushed the team back towards mediocrity.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey