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With Tony La Russa in place and looking for a new GM for the Diamondbacks, the organization still faces fundamental questions about how it will incorporate statistical analysis into its decisionmaking, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. La Russa’s recent comments indicate that he is more interested in adding lower-level front office pieces with analytical backgrounds, notes Piecoro, which is a strategy that runs the risk of being ineffectual.
A bit more from the NL West…
- Grant Brisbee of SB Nation’s McCovey Chronicles opines that at this point, former ace Tim Lincecum couldn’t even be trusted with a postseason roster spot for the Giants. He certainly won’t get a rotation spot, notes Brisbee, and the spot starter/long relief role will likely go to Yusmeiro Petit, with Ryan Vogelsong rounding out the rotation. Even in a middle relief role, Hunter Strickland‘s overpowering fastball (which has averaged 98 mph this month) could be more valuable than what Lincecum could bring.
- Hanley Ramirez does not seem to be handling the final stretch leading up to his free agency very smoothly, writes Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. Ramirez refused to talk to reporters following a two-error game Tuesday, and even on Monday, he turned away reporters from the Dodgers‘ own regional sports network. Manager Don Mattingly implied that he thinks Ramirez might be burned out from answering the types of questions associated with his current situation, as he’s never been this close to free agency before and hasn’t dealt with the situation in the past.
The defensive shift has drawn plenty of attention around the game, and a study from Steve Moyer of Inside Edge (written up for the Wall Street Journal) shows that it has, in fact, been effective overall. The most impactful efforts, according to the study, have come from the Astros, whose shifts have saved the club an estimated 44 hits on the year.
More from out west:
- That statistic serves as an interesting backdrop for the Astros‘ newly-launched managerial search, given that former skipper Bo Porter played a role in implementing the club’s analytically-driven shifts. GM Jeff Luhnow — who is ultimately responsible both for driving the team’s defensive approach and for hiring and firing Porter — says that the team is inclined to add a skipper with an established track record, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. “We want major league experience as manager or major league experience as the bench coach,” said Luhnow. At present, the team has yet to conduct interviews or even request for permission to do so (for outside candidates). The hiring may extend into the offseason, he said.
- Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler has undergone microfracture surgery on his left knee, which is a more significant procedure than had been expected, as Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Nevertheless, the veteran set-up ace is expected to be ready for the spring. The out-of-contention D’backs drew some criticism for not dealing Ziegler at the trade deadline, as his remaining contract ($5MM in 2015 and a $5.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout) seemed a solid asset.
- As the Diamondbacks begin their GM search in earnest, candidate (and current agent) Dave Stewart has yet to decide whether he’ll take an interview, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports, though it certainly sounds as if he will. But the longtime big league hurler says that he is definitely intrigued by the possibility of taking the helm, especially given the chance to partner with Tony LaRussa. “I’m very, very interested in it,” he said. “I love the idea of having the opportunity to build and build a successful team, and by successful I mean building a team to win a championship.”
- Outgoing Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers seems to be seriously considering staying on in a senior scouting role, though he tells Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com (Twitter link) that he is waiting to see who will take over in his former role. “We have to be simpatico,” said Towers.
The Athletics made several errors in their approach to mid-season roster reconstruction, opines SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee, but trading away Yoenis Cespedes was not one of them. Overvaluing Jeff Samardzija, failing to improve at second, and giving up Addison Russell were all front office mistakes, says Brisbee, though much of the team’s recent poor play can be chalked up to some combination of bad luck and injury.
- Samardzija said he expects to reach free agency in November of 2015, according to Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM (on Twitter). Though Oakland obviously attributed significant value to controlling him next year at a below-market salary, giving up Russell to do so, it is hardly surprising to hear that an extension is not in the works. Samardzija went on to say that he is open to both the Cubs and White Sox as a free agent and indicated that the city of Chicago is still a priority for him (link).
- The Astros‘ coaching staff is in limbo thanks to their managerial opening, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Houston likes its current coaching staff and when figuring out who their next skipper will be, they’ll have to also decide how much they value the staff and whether it’s worth getting rid of coaches they like to accommodate a new manager.
- Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa has several avenues to pursue in his GM search, writes Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque and agent Dave Stewart have been heavily tied to the job and both have a history with La Russa. Meanwhile, if La Russa truly wants to “beef up” his analytics department, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler should garner strong consideration.
After Braves CEO Terry McGuirk told Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “everyone is accountable” in Atlanta, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wonders if General Manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez could be in trouble. Gonzalez oversees an offense that often looks lost and is next-to-last in the National League in runs per game. Wren, meanwhile, gave contracts to second baseman Dan Uggla (who has since been released) and center fielder B.J. Upton that didn’t pan out.
While anything is possible given their recent struggles, people in the industry would be surprised if the Braves made major changes, unless tension is building underneath the surface that people aren’t aware of. Wren is close with McGuirk, major league sources say, and Gonzalez was Wren’s hand-picked choice to replace Bobby Cox. Here’s more from today’s column..
- The Pirates want to keep Russell Martin, but the veteran’s price in free agency could be too rich for their blood. The 31-year-old will be the best and youngest catcher on the market by far and even though catchers historically don’t cash in in free agency, he won’t be had for another two-year, $17MM bargain. He won’t garner something like Miguel Montero‘s five-year, $60MM extension but he should at least beat the three-year, $26MM free-agent deal that the Carlos Ruiz signed last winter entering his age 35 season. Pittsburgh could try to keep Martin with a one-year, ~$15MM qualifying offer, but as Rosenthal notes, they didn’t do that with A.J. Burnett last winter. Martin ranked ninth in Tim Dierkes’ most recent Free Agent Power Rankings for MLBTR. Dierkes suggested Martin could receive a four-year deal north of $50MM.
- Rosenthal wouldn’t be surprised if Joe McEwing winds up as the next manager of the Diamondbacks. Even if he doesn’t land with Arizona, White Sox officials say McEwing’s intelligence and energy will make him a strong candidate for other jobs.
- Drew Smyly is benefiting from the Rays‘ focus on analytics. Upon joining the team, the Rays gave the 25-year-old some keen instruction and asked him elevate his fastball more. Those tips have led to some great work by Smyly in Tampa Bay and Rosenthal wonders why the Tigers didn’t pick up on some of the same things.
- The Orioles lost catcher Matt Wieters, but the makeshift combination of rookie Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley, acquired from the Padres in May, has proven quite adequate. The two have combined for an OPS right around the American League average at catcher.
- While the Mets like second baseman Dilson Herrera, Rosenthal says that doesn’t mean they should trade Daniel Murphy. No team will give the Mets comparable offensive talent for Murphy and the smart move would be to instead sign him to an extension.
The fate of Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson will likely be decided by the next GM, writes Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Five candidates have already been confirmed and Diamondbacks Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa expects to personally interview about ten before narrowing the list. La Russa “tried to put together a list that has a nice cross-section of talents.” It will be interesting to see which skill set Arizona chooses to complement La Russa.
- Also from Piecoro’s piece, the Diamondbacks hope to retain former GM Kevin Towers to oversee their scouting department. La Russa wishes to bolster both facets of the organization. He mentioned the possibility of hiring either an entry level or established analyst.
- Much has been made of the Phillies aging roster, although Chase Utley has done his part to contribute. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer wonders how long Utley can withstand the daily grind of the season. The 35-year-old has contributed a fine season including a .277/.346/.419 line. With Utley possibly under contract through 2018 (he has three vesting options), his presence could be an important stabilizing component of the club’s rebuilding effort.
- Many speculated that the White Sox would call up first round draft pick Carlos Rodon this September, but the club decided to forego promoting the youngster. Chicago pitching coordinator Curt Hasler says Rodon has all the stuff necessary to succeed, writes Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Hasler cites a plus fastball, slider, and change. Rodon does need to work on his command, as evidenced by his 4.7 BB/9 in 24 and 2/3 minor league innings.
Ron Washington’s departure to deal with an unidentified personal matter might turn out to help the Rangers, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. Washington would have been a lame duck next season, and an extension was unlikely after the Rangers’ poor season. A bad start in 2015 would have put Washington and the Rangers in awkward spots. Instead, the organization gets to start fresh, beginning with a few weeks auditioning interim manager Tim Bogar, who was once viewed as a top managerial prospect. Here are more notes on managers and GMs.
- Replacing Washington will be difficult, writes MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby, offering a contrasting view. Washington had his players’ respect, an important quality in a manager, particularly in a Rangers season that has endured so much roster turnover. Bogar, former Rangers coach Dave Anderson (now with the Orioles) and current pitching coach Mike Maddux are all potential candidates for the team’s open job.
- Maddux has interest in replacing Bo Porter with the Astros, however, Grant writes. Maddux declined to interview for the Astros’ open position two years ago when the team hired Porter, but it seems times have changed, and Nolan Ryan’s role as an executive advisor with the Astros could help Maddux this time around.
- The Diamondbacks will interview Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque for their open GM job today, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. LaRocque has extensive experience in both player development and scouting in the Dodgers, Mets and Cardinals organizations, and he worked with the Diamondbacks’ Tony La Russa in St. Louis. LaRocque has also served as a manager at the minor league level.
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto says the Diamondbacks will also formally interview Angels pro scouting director Hal Morris, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona reported yesterday that LaRocque and Morris would be among the Diamondbacks’ candidates, along with player agent Dave Stewart, Diamondbacks scouting coordinator Ray Montgomery and Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler.
With the search for a new Diamondbacks GM expected to get started right away, we’re already seeing some initial reports on possible matches. Of course, many of the names that surfaced in the Padres’ recent hiring process could once again come up, but chief baseball officer Tony LaRussa could have others in mind. One hypothetical possibility is Cardinals vice president Gary LaRocque, tweets Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. Two former playes — Angels exec Hal Morris and agent Dave Stewart — could potentially become candidates, according to MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert (Twitter links), though the latter tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) that it would be “really, really difficult” to transition out of his current line of work.
- If Towers decides to stay with the Diamondbacks, it would be in a senior scouting role, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It appears that the sides have agreed to delay any decision on continued employment of the deposed GM until after his replacement is hired, meaning he’ll have plenty of time to track down a new opportunity if he prefers.
- The Rockies‘ recent two-year, $25MM extension of starter Jorge De La Rosa was in some ways the first move of the offseason. As Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes, Colorado was never going to be able to get a similarly valuable veteran — let alone one with De La Rosa’s history of success at Coors Field — to join the club at that kind of rate. (Of course, it should be noted, the team also held the threat of a qualifying offer, which threatened to crash the market for the solid-but-aging De La Rosa.) Saunders goes on to discuss some of the team’s other in-house options, concluding that at least one or two more veteran additions would be necessary to move the ball forward in 2015.
- Pablo Sandoval and the Giants are still not discussing an extension, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. As things stand, the 28-year-old figures to be a hot commodity on the free agent market; he checked in at fifth on MLBTR’s latest free agent power ranking. It is still too early to count out an extension, though. After all, San Francisco GM Brian Sabean re-upped two veterans (Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum) late last year.
9:27am: Arizona has announced via press release (in a somewhat oblique manner) that Towers has been removed from the general manager position.
The club says that it will open a search for a new GM, with the interview process beginning this week. “Any additional changes within the Baseball Operations department will be decided upon jointly” between LaRussa, President and CEO Derrick Hall, and the new GM, according to the announcement.
Meanwhile, Towers has seemingly not been fired, per se. The team says that he has been offered another position within the organization, and is considering the opportunity. In a prepared statement, LaRussa says that Towers “would like to see who the general manager is before making his own decision.”
1:56am: The Diamondbacks have fired general manager Kevin Towers, sources tell Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Towers becomes the second NL West GM to be dismissed during the 2014 campaign, as Padres GM Josh Byrnes was let go earlier in the summer.
Towers, who has been in the GM’s chair for Arizona since succeeding interim GM Jerry Dipoto (now GM of the Angels) back in 2010. His job security has been questioned over the course of the season given the Diamondbacks’ dismal performance, which will result in their third consecutive season without a playoff appearance.
Earlier this season, the Diamondbacks hired Tony La Russa to serve as the club’s Chief Baseball Officer — a position that was created in order to analyze and oversee the club’s decision-making process. That move prompted many to speculate that Towers’ days with the organization could be numbered, which does appear to be the case, as Piecoro hears that an official announcement on the move will be coming in the morning.
Few of the moves that Towers has made in recent seasons have panned out well. This past offseason, he dealt center fielder Adam Eaton and left-hander Tyler Skaggs in order to acquire Mark Trumbo from the Angels — a move that he felt was necessary to address a lack of power from the team’s corner outfielders. However, the move came just a season after Arizona dealt Justin Upton (and Chris Johnson) to the Braves in exchange for what most believed at the time to be an underwhelming package of Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Brandon Drury and Zeke Spruill. The Trumbo acquisition, however, was just one attempt at bringing a power-hitting corner bat back into the organization, as Towers also inked Cody Ross to a three-year, $26MM pact that has been a negative for the organization.
Prado was signed to a four-year, $40MM extension before playing so much as a game with the D’Backs, but that contract looked questionable at best just 18 months later when he was dealt to the Yankees in exchange for power-hitting prospect Peter O’Brien. The team also received little in exchange for right-hander Ian Kennedy — left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, relief prospect Matt Stites and competitive balance (Round B) draft pick — and then watched Kennedy go on to have a strong rebound in his first full season with San Diego.
Towers’ trade of Trevor Bauer in a three-team deal that netted Didi Gregorius — a light-hitting but defensively gifted shortstop — was also the source of scrutiny, though Gregorius still looks to have some promise. The D’Backs seemed dissatisfied with Bauer’s behavior, and he wasn’t the only player whose demeanor didn’t sit well with management. The Diamondbacks reportedly allowed players’ laid back personalities to fuel multiple transactions, including the aforementioned trade of Upton.
Ultimately, while Towers’ tenure had its bright spots — the five-year, $32MM extension signed by Paul Goldschmidt looks tremendous for the D’Backs at this point — his run as GM appeared to consist of more moves that served as steps backward than moves that provided a foundation for on-field success.
It’s been speculated that Towers, if dismissed by the D’Backs, could return to San Diego in an advisory capacity, though Padres officials denied on multiple occasions that they’d had any conversations with Towers regarding the potential move. Now that he is on the market, Towers will obviously be free to explore a new post with the Padres or any other club.
Looking ahead for Arizona, LaRussa has only begun the work of turning things around. He still has to decide on the fate of manager Kirk Gibson, who was serving as interim manager when Towers was hired but was ultimately awarded the full-time job. And more importantly, LaRussa will presumably spearhead a search for a new general manager to work under him. It remains to be seen what kind of timeline the club will work under, but there should be sufficient time to install a new GM before the offseason kicks into gear if that is the intention.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Daniel Hudson pitched last night for the Diamondbacks for the first time since 2012, when he underwent his first of what ultimately became two Tommy John procedures. He tossed a scoreless frame and reportedly sat at 95 mph with his fastball. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes up the 27-year-old’s comeback, which surely provides some hope to other hurlers who have recently received their second new ulnar collateral ligament. Hudson signed a minor league deal to stay with Arizona, but earned MLB service time as he was added to the 40-man roster and DL’ed all year. He will have over four years of service heading into the offseason, but the club will have the chance to retain him through a $800K option. MLBTR congratulates Hudson on his return to action.
Here’s the latest out of the division …
- Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers indicated that he may be ready to hand the reins over to a young middle infield combination next year, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports. “In a perfect world, long term, I think hopefully it’s [Didi Gregorius] and [Chris Owings] with [Aaron Hill] kind of moving around from second to third,” said Towers. “My gut is that I think it will work. I love both of those guys. Didi is probably our best shortstop defensively. C.O. is probably the best offensive middle infielder we have. He seems to be comfortable at second.” In that scenario, Hill will function as a rather expensive ($12MM in each of the next two years) utility option. Towers also indicated that he may well retain Cliff Pennington, who is arb eligible for a final time. With top third base prospect Jake Lamb seemingly ready for a chance at the bigs, in spite of his difficulties in a brief call-up thus far, it will be interesting to see how Arizona proceeds with filling out the non-Paul Goldschmidt portion of its infield (even after clearing Martin Prado out of the picture).
- Though the Giants farm system generally does not draw rave reviews from outside, the club is higher internally on its slate of youngsters, writes Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com. “We always have what we need,” said club vice president Dick Tidrow. “We have turned down trades for all of these guys,” Tidrow added, referring to the current active roster players who came through the San Francisco system (including its recent call-ups).
- Former Padres closer Heath Bell says that he hopes to join the club next year after taking the latter portion of 2014 off, Barry Bloom of MLB.com reports (Twitter links). Bell said that he asked the Yankees to release him when they failed to bring him onto the MLB roster. The 36-year-old righty was highly productive in San Diego, where he pitched to a 2.53 ERA in 374 innings over five seasons.
- New Padres GM A.J. Preller will, of course, make the call whether to give Bell another run in San Diego. As MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports, Preller’s lengthy to-do list would appear to have a few higher priorities at the moment. After getting his arms around the organization, including most of its minor league affiliates, Preller is now turning his focus to the big league club for the end of the season. “Some of the newcomers, [see if] can they break in, be part of the club in the last month and set themselves up for net spring and get in a spot where they can compete to make the team,” Preller said of what he was watching for. “And for guys like Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, you want to see them finish strong.”
Here are the day’s minor moves …
- The Diamondbacks have inked outfielder Aaron Cunningham to a minor league deal, according to the MLB.com transactions page. The 28-year-old has seen 501 career MLB plate appearances, all of those coming between 2008-12. Once a well-regarded prospect, Cunningham was never able to sustain production at the major league level. Arizona previously released Cunningham in mid-August after he put up a .255/.342/.346 slash in 281 plate appearances at Triple-A Reno.