Kevin Towers throws D-Backs fans a curveball again with Heath Bell trade


Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers. Photo by: Mark Sobba / Flickr

I don’t know what’s it like to be an Oakland Athletics fan, but I can imagine it would be full of guessing and second guessing every decision general manager Billy Beane makes. The best part is that you can never get comfortable and settle down with the roster because he’s always making a deal with someone somewhere for unknown utility infielders, undervalued relief pitchers, and Manny Ramirez.

Beane gets a lot of criticism for the way he’s always changing the look of his team, but it’s the hand he’s been dealt with since day one i.e. a small market team trying to compete with the big boys. I don’t need to rehash Moneyball or anything, but his forward thinking has helped further statistical analysis of the game and I like GMs who never settle for what they have and always tweak with their team’s roster.

Of course it’s easy to praise Beane from afar which might be because I’m not a casualty of his wheelings and dealings, and other fans might feel the same way about Kenny Williams (who I love) and Kevin Towers.

Towers is a hard one for me to fairly judge because he is after all the GM of my Arizona Diamondbacks, and fans scrutinize their own harder than others do. One of the first things he did when he took over in 2011 was sign a veteran group of players like Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, J.J. Putz, and Russell Branyan, with only Putz being a worthwhile investment. Right away that told the fan base that he wasn’t F-in around and wasn’t afraid to make a polarizing moves.

Since then he’s made plenty of peculiar deals, like signing non-defensive outfielder Jason Kubel when the team already had a gold glove defender in Gerardo Parra, or trading former top draft pick Jarrod Parker to Oakland for an equally young but more experienced pitcher in Trevor Cahill.

That move was viewed as a good deal at the time by many pundits and writers, but the eventual results from the two pitchers caused those same fans and media types to declare the trade a big loss for Arizona. It’s never always this cut and dry, but it’s too easy at times for us to posthumously decide whether or not they ultimately like a transaction based on the end results and never having a clear opinion on the process in the moment. We run into this problem all the time in sports simply because it never ceases to be unpredictable just when you think you’ve got it all figured out.

Much to no one’s surprise, Towers made another flurry of moves this weekend that will be subject to the process/results examination, trading centerfielder Chris Young and acquiring closer Heath Bell.

Young, 29, is a career .239/.318/.437 hitter in his 7 year stint with Arizona, who acquired him in 2005 from the White Sox. For those keeping score at home that’s the second Kenny Williams reference in this article, go me.

Young hit 32 home runs in his rookie season in 2007, which helped the D-backs infamously win the NL West with a negative run differential. Fans took to him, and he became part of the new wave of ‘Baby Backs’ (not to be confused with the Wrangler jean hawking Baby Backs from 2003, which is an obscure reference that Google image search isn’t helping me out with). Young always maintained an ability to draw walks (averaging 66 per season), but his swing was so flawed that he would often subject to prolonged slumps and high strikeout rates. You can’t really say he’s a three true outcome hitter either (high percentage of at bats ending in a walk, strikeout, or home run. Think Adam Dunn) because of the wild inconsistencies with his offense. Sometimes he would walk a lot, sometimes he would strike out a lot, and sometimes his power would go in the tank.

Defensively he was always a treat for the hometown fans, showing off good range, and occasionally rob a home run. His biggest weakness with the glove was always his very poor throwing arm. At this point in his career, he’s a guy you’d probably want to platoon against left handers, and he’ll provide you 20+ home run power. I’ll always appreciate his time with Arizona, and I don’t hold it against Towers for trading him.

Why? For one, his he’d owed $8.5 million in 2013 in the final year of the 6-year extension he signed in ’08 under then GM Josh Byrnes (who now of course, runs the Padres, a team that Kevin Towers used to run), and for the skills he has now, he’s theoretically not worth that much in terms of performance. Being the calculated businessman he needs to be, Towers realized that Adam Eaton, the younger, cheaper, and potentially more valuable centerfielder going forward was the immediate future of his ballclub.

So the process here is that you dump off the high salary of one player to free up money elsewhere, and you can replace that production with someone more cost effective and under team control for a longer period of time. Oh, and you also get a plus defensive shortstop in Cliff Pennington who might hit enough to be a decent player. I get it, I understand it, we’re done making deals, right?

Wrong, now Arizona has flipped Yordy Cabrera, who they acquired five minutes ago, to Miami to get back in return their closer Heath Bell.

My rational/irrational fandom could understand the Chris Young move, but getting an expensive reliever who has declined significantly in the past two seasons, and you’re going to pay for $13 of the remaining $21 million left on his contract? Rage inducing reaction from the irrational fan in me.

Hell, even the rational, analytical side is still having a hard time justifying it. Arizona already has a stout bullpen with Putz, David Hernandez, and Brad Ziegler. Now they’re getting a fly ball pitcher who has seen his strikeout-to-walk ratio go from a high of 3.29 in 2009 to a low of 2.03 last season, with a steady decline each year. I understand that Towers originally traded for him in 2006 when he was with San Diego, but Petco Park is a place that allows fly ball pitchers to get away with pitching up in zone and having a significantly lower home run to fly ball ratio. Because of that success, Miami signed him to an easily regrettable 3 year/$27 million dollar deal.

Bell was a top 10 relief pitcher in his heyday, but now he doesn’t crack the top 20. Even if he rebounds from his horrid 5.39 ERA in south Florida and performs like an average/above average reliever in high leverage situations, will it justify the money spent? I’m going to say no, because even if the results end up being better than expected, the process is not one that I agree with, unless it’s Mariano Rivera, the ultimate outlier.

This is the world we D-Back fans now live in, every move will make your head spin with his refusal to stand pat and always give you the sense he’s up to something devious, usually with Oakland for some reason. What’s going to come next? I don’t know, but likely something that will be unpredictable and frustrating.

Wait a minute; am I talking about Kevin Towers or Billy Beane? Perhaps I do have more in common in A’s fans than I thought. There’s probably a good chance that Chris Young will be flipped for another round of future trade bait by mid-July, that we both agree on.

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