Does Kevin Towers Deserve Credit?

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman recently ranked the ten best general managers in baseball. The writer, who is often criticized for his too close for comfort relationship with super agent Scott Boras, showed some restraint and didn’t name Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo (and Boras prey) one through five.

While there may not be any ulterior motives apparent in the ranking, it doesn’t mean that his selections aren’t questionable. I can agree with the inclusion of Alex Anthopoulos, Brian Cashman, Jon Daniels, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Doug Melvin and Fran Wren, but I’m going to have to take some issue with his number one choice: Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers.

There’s no disputing the surprise success that the Diamondbacks have attained this year in the National League West. However, Heyman himself, points out my biggest problem with reserving praise for Arizona’s triumphant return to the top of the table for Towers.

Towers benefited from the coming of age of ace Ian Kennedy, who was acquired by the first of two GMs last year, Josh Byrnes, and a full year from Daniel Hudson, who was obtained by the second 2010 GM, Jerry DiPoto, Towers is the one whose many finishing touches helped the upstart team turn the corner. Perhaps no one made more moves. Closer J.J. Putz, who got $10 million guaranteed for two years and was the single largest expenditure, has been worth every penny, with 38 saves in 42 opportunities and a 0.92 WHIP. But today, most of the moves seem sizable in their own way.

There’s little question in my mind that Putz has been a great addition to the D’backs and at a great price. Generally speaking, Arizona’s bullpen has been very well constructed by Towers through free agency and trades. But a bullpen, by definition can only do so much.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have been winning games, and they’ve been doing that on the backs of players that were attained or drafted by previous general managers, not by Towers.

Consider this:

Towers’ additions have pitched 31.2% of the D’Backs’ total innings, but account for 21.0% of the team’s pitching wins above replacement. Likewise, Towers’ lineup additions have comprised 22.7% of Arizona’s plate appearances, but account for only 6.2% of the lineup’s wins above replacement.

This isn’t a criticism of the team’s current GM. He’s appeared to make some great decisions in bringing up players already in the system and giving them a shot at everyday play, while also remaining active on the waiver wire. I just don’t think it’s enough to warrant such a high ranking, or membership in a discussion about the game’s best GMs.

As Heyman says:

The team probably wasn’t as far away as it seemed. But even if he doesn’t want the credit, Towers was the guy who smartly figured out exactly what was needed to make them into a contender.

If keeping Justin Upton on your team and ensuring that he’s in the lineup as often as possible is thought of as being smart, consider me, and anyone else who has ever seen Upton play a game, an absolute genius.