Anybody who managed to acquire a young Adrian Gonzalez for a package centered around ham and egg pitcher Adam Eaton must have some baseball acumen. But after the second puzzling move in the past two months, I’m wondering what Kevin Towers grand plan is for the Arizona Diamondbacks and how he and manager Kirk Gibson attempt to accomplish their goals.
Contending teams and winning organizations have long been built around core players and pitching depth. In December, the Diamondbacks jettisoned the young and talented, but eccentric Trevor Bauer and now have parted ways with former number one pick Justin Upton.
Perhaps Towers and Gibson are the best pair to judge Bauer and Upton. In 2008, Towers traded shortstop Khalil Greene, a first round pick who appeared on the verge of a productive career, to the St. Louis Cardinals for a package that included minor leaguer Luke Gregerson. Gregerson has been one of the top setup men since 2010 while Greene is out of the major leagues.
The Diamondbacks surprised the baseball world and won the National League West in 2011. Entering 2013, it appears the Diamondbacks are heading in the wrong direction. Today’s contending teams all have at least two core players, including those in the National League West. The San Francisco Giants have Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, while the Los Angeles Dodgers are flush with cash and proven producers, such as Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez.
Gibson’s comments at the press conference announcing the trade were interesting, but predictable. Remember, Gibson was an All-American wide receiver and one of the fiercest competitors in the game. Gibson said “we want to be gritty… we’re relentless…we’re determined and undeterred in our goals.” Diamondbacks fans should hope that Gibson did not influence Towers to pursue the gritty Martin Prado in exchange for Justin Upton because Upton was not Gibson’s type of player.
As a player, Gibson knew one way, all out. He gave no quarter, nor asked any. As a manager, Gibson needs to realize not all players are hardwired in the same fashion. If Towers pursues players based on Gibson’s desire for a grittier team, the plan will prove to be a faulty one, doomed to failure.
In exchange for the talented Upton, the Diamondbacks received Martin Prado. Prado is a fine player who displays all the traits of a Gibson type player. He is a winning player, but needs to be in the right spot, deployed in the right manner. Prado was a perfect fit for Atlanta and Fredi Gonzalez the past few years. Prado played left field, manned third base when Chipper Jones was injured or plugged in the middle infield when needed, and he produced steadily.
He simply does not possess the elite talent of Justin Upton. Prado has ceilinged with mid teen home run power and an O.P.S. of about .800. Upton floored last year with a .785 O.P.S. and twice has approached .900. Add his speed and fielding potential, and you have the makings of a 25 year old player who can be a core contributor for years with the Braves.
Trades sometimes take years to evaluate, and maybe Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson come out on top. But Martin Prado and a collection of non elite prospects will have a difficult time outperforming Justin Upton over the next five years.
Sometimes general managers like Kevin Towers and organizations lose sight of simple truths that have been consistent over decades. Quirky and eccentric is good if it throws 98 m.p.h., and grit is a great trait…for a backup catcher. Talent is the basic building block of successful organizations; the Diamondbacks received a complementary part in exchange for the type of talent winning teams are built upon.