Wrong perceptions, right move

Kevin Towers

The firing of popular San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers produced an outcry from the local and national media with the consensus that new owner Jeff Moorad erred in firing the long-time general manager in favor of installing his "own guy".

After the initial knee-jerk responses have faded, Moorad, who made a fortune running a sports agency, may have more valid reasons for the change than ego.

In the process of taking control of the team from John Moores, Moorad is not a Daddy Warbucks style owner in the same vein of Detroit's Mike Illitch, but rather the leader of a consortium with a finite budget that is expected to provide a return on investment.

Towers was not evaluated as a general manager, but rather as the head of baseball operations, Sandy Alderson's old job, which these days is considerably more than the running a team, but involves, which has been the popular buzzword the past few days, a "strategic vision."

Despite Alderson's unpopularity on local talk radio and message boards, the former general manager of the Oakland A's transformed San Diego into a major league organization by attempting to look beyond annual results and attempting to put the franchise on a more solid long-term footing.

He changed the way the team drafted, developed players and how they were incorporated onto the big league club. With the exception of two players, all of the home-grown players that played near .600 ball over the last two months of this season were brought in under his watch.

What Moorad's team wanted to know was how much of the turnaround was Towers' and what wasn't.

Its indisputable that Towers is a master evaluator of talent and this year may have been best. Shedding the contract of Jake Peavy and trading him for several very good young pitchers along with the deals of Khalil Greene and Scott Hairston rank up with his best accomplishments for not only making San Diego cheaper but better.

What is in dispute is how influential Towers was in creating an organization that was able to blend the draft, development and incorporate its products into the major league team during his 14 years.

The draft and development of young players is of paramount importance to nearly all teams with the exception of a wealthy few. Because players must have six years service time before free agency clubs have below market costs, especially in the first three years where players are not arbitration eligible.

For small and medium market teams, which conservatively is more than two-thirds of baseball, this is the only way to compete within their fiscal constraints.

For example, the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, a player that had slightly over a year of major league experience before coming to San Diego, was not only a major coup in terms of his talent, but in its cost to the team. He is currently in the middle of a four year, $9.5 million dollar contract; or about half of what the Yankees' Mark Texiera earns in one season and considerably below his open market value.

The Padres failure with number one picks has been well documented, but the teams' draft history was much worse before 2005 when Alderson acolyte Grady Fuson assumed control of scouting and development.

From 1999 to 2004 San Diego produced only two significant home-grown players, Jake Peavy and shortstop Khalil Greene, and subsequently missed on nearly every other pick, including 1999 when they had five first round picks.

In 2003, where they had the fourth overall selection, and in 2004, when they had the number one overall pick, were the worst in team history. Throw out Kyle Blanks in 2004, a 42nd-round draft-and-follow selection, and it's hard to find a pair of less productive drafts in baseball.

Much of the blame of the Matt Bush debacle can be laid upon Towers, where the downside of his "gunslinger" management style came through, as he failed to communicate with owner John Moores on the parameters of his budget until a few days before the draft. This "new information" led to a last second trip to a local CIF playoff game, resulting in what may go down as the worst overall number one selection of all time.

Out of the 2005 draft alone, three players, outfielders Chase Headley and Will Venable and catcher Nick Hundley, were regular parts of the 2009 team and add in Mat Latos and Wade LeBlanc from 2006, the Alderson/Fuson did better in two years than the previous regime in six.

Even when the team did have young talent, it still seemed there was a constant battle to get it on the field in San Diego. No case better exemplified this concept than Xavier Nady; who after hitting .330 with 22 home runs in Triple-A found himself fighting for time with veteran retreads Terrence Long and Brian Buchanan.

At the end of the 2006 season, Towers appeared to be in open disagreement with Alderson about offering Bochy a contract extension, despite Bochy's reluctance to play young players. Towers, who had served as a minor league pitching coach under Bochy in the minors, was reluctant to not bring him back after a first place finish, but to others in the organization Bochy was not the best man to manage what Alderson was attempting to develop.

In the three areas where the Moorad group was evaluating Towers' draft, development and the major league club; he excelled at one and his contributions in the other two were questionable.

As good as Towers was at swinging deals and finding a low cost bullpen, for some reason, despite an extensive scouting background, he never was able to put in place an effective development program.

History tells us their is little doubt that if Kevin Towers continued his tenure with San Diego that he would make another shrewd trade or waiver wire pick up, but if this is true the opposite also holds; he is unlikely to develop the type of organization that Moorad's group believes is the key to San Diego's long term success.

Sometimes being the quickest gunslinger isn't enough.

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