Friday, April 13, 2012

The Gunslinger's vision

Kevin Towers saw a winner, where others saw a last-place team. Inspired by what he believed the Diamondbacks could soon become, the former Padres general manager proposed having two of his future salaries become guaranteed only if the team won a lot more often. Towers was interviewing for Arizona's general manager's job late in the 2010 season, the same job for which he interviewed in 2005 only to lose out to Josh Byrnes. The Diamondbacks were cemented to last place and soon would finish 65-97, yet Towers seemed sure that he could turn them into a winner and also build for later years.

"I kind of put my neck out there and said, 'Yeah, I think we can be good and if not, you shouldn't be married to me,' " he said.

Towers got the job and then began to install his plan. But his offseason moves, directed at the team's culture as much as its talent, dazzled neither oddsmakers nor baseball pundits.

Entering 2011, the over-under betting line for Arizona's victory total was 72 and media experts near and far said the club would finish last or next to last.

"I felt confident that we could win," Towers said.

The bullish belief was evident in the GM's contract, this blog has learned. Towers's salaries agreed to for 2011 and 2012 were smaller than the salary he received from the Padres in his 14th and final season as their GM. Incoming GMs often get three to five guaranteed years, but Towers's third and fourth years with Arizona were club options that would vest only if the team met a stipulated level of performance.

Towers declined to say what the vesting trigger was, but industry insiders say it was a total winning record from 2011-2012.

In 2010 the Diamondbacks had lost more games than all but three other clubs. For 2009-10, only four major league teams exceeded Arizona's total of 189 defeats.

Not many baseball experts would've predicted in September 2010 that Arizona would be a winner over 2011-12.

Hungry for the job, Towers told Diamondbacks execs he would work under a one-year contract if that's what it took.

"I felt the team was better," he said. "I inherited some talent. I felt the team had kind of under-performed the last two years. In this division, I felt we could win. I just wanted the opportunity. There are only so many of these jobs."

The National League West was known for producing surprises, and the Diamondbacks joined the list by winning 94 games in 2011 to go from worst to first. The victory party last September was familiar to Towers, whose Padres teams won the West in 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2006.

Impressed by Arizona's 29-victory improvement, Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall guaranteed Towers's salary for 2013-2014. Hall didn't respond to an interview request for this story.

The Diamondbacks are off to a 5-1 start this year. If Towers has a vision of their destination, he's not sharing it.

"This division, I'm not smart enough to handicap it," he said. "We're humble. We're very fortunate to have won the division last year. We've got a greater challenge this year."

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