Medford grad Towers takes Arizona GM job
PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick and president Derrick Hall had no problem with the job Jerry Dipoto did as interim general manager. Thought he handled himself quite well, actually.
But when Kevin Towers expressed his interest in the job, it was hard to turn him down a second time.
The Diamondbacks hired Towers as executive vice president and general manager on Wednesday, bypassing the highly regarded Dipoto for a man they turned down five years earlier.
"It was a difficult conversation to let him (Dipoto) know that we were going in a different direction because I know his heart was in it and he wanted this position so badly," Hall said. "Jerry is going to be a general manager and has proven he can handle it, but in our current situation we felt that Kevin Towers is the right man for this position to turn this thing around right now."
Towers graduated from Medford High in 1979 and was a 2007 inductee into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame.
A former pitcher in San Diego's farm system, Towers was the architect of a Padres team that won four division titles and reached the 1998 World Series during his 14-year tenure as general manager.
The Diamondbacks essentially went with experience over promise to rebuild a team that has stalled in last place the past two seasons.
Towers made a name for himself as an adept talent evaluator, particularly with pitchers, picking up players like Mat Latos and Jake Peavy with late-round picks, scrap-heapers like Luke Gregerson and Heath Bell from other teams.
Refreshed after spending this season as an assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Towers is thrilled to be back in the GM seat and ready to start the rebuilding process in Arizona.
"I like a lot of the things that are happening on the field and it's a quick turnaround," said Towers, sitting between Kendrick and Hall at his introductory news conference. "I'm not a big believer in five-year plans, six-year plans. I want to win next year and these guys want to win next year and I think that was the beauty of coming here to work with them."
Towers' first priority will be to determine who the manager should be.
Kirk Gibson has been the interim manager since July 2, when A.J. Hinch and general manager Josh Byrnes were fired, and appears to have a good line on keeping the job.
The gritty former player has impressed the current front office with his thoughtful approach to the game and Towers came away with nothing but praise following a two-hour meeting that was supposed to last just 30 minutes.
"First impression, I like the look in the eye, I like what he had to say," Towers said. "I think he probably deserves more time to set a foundation in spring training because it's tough on an interim basis to maybe do some of the things you'd like to do during the season. He's done a great job in a short period of time."
Once Towers finds a manager, he'll have plenty of other holes to fix, starting with the bullpen.
Arizona has a decent young starting rotation and plenty of power in the lineup. The bullpen has been a shaky point, though, costing the Diamondbacks countless games over the past two seasons.
Towers won't just try to find a closer, something that's been missing in the desert since Chad Qualls dislocated his kneecap last season. He wants to build a collection of working parts that can span the gap from the starters to the closer.
"I like the young starters that they have here, but I've always said that a baseball game is like a dining experience: it can be a great meal, tremendous ambiance and great company, but if you have to wait 40 minutes for your check you ain't going to remember anything that was good about it," he said. "Baseball is no different."
Another issue will be cutting down on strikeouts.
Arizona has already eclipsed the major-league record this season, with 1,403 in 150 games. The Diamondbacks have a lineup built for power, which usually means lots of strikeouts, and Towers may look to change that by bringing in a few more contact-type hitters.
"There's some nice hitters on this ballclub, but the strikeouts are somewhat alarming," he said. "That's something we certainly need to cut back. I like to see breaking records for walks more than strikeouts."
Dipoto's future is unclear. The former player and vice president for player personnel is well-respected throughout the league and hasn't decided yet if he's going to remain with the club, which team officials hope he does.
"It's really up in the air right now," Hall said. "I know he's keeping an open mind until he meets with Kevin to see if there's a good fit. I absolutely think the world of Jerry and I'd love for him to be here if it makes sense for both parties."