Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has a solid reputation as a builder of bullpens, and a gunslinger who isn't afraid to make a risky deal.
One pennant and five playoff appearances in 16 seasons on limited budgets in San Diego and Arizona speak to his success.
But with a roster reconstruction capped by the long-in-the-works departure of Justin Upton, Towers has placed the pressure squarely on himself — and in turn, manager Kirk Gibson.
The Diamondbacks have been built in their old-school, tough-guy images, and both are under contract through 2014, with two potential option years. But if this thing blows up in their faces, one or both might not survive that long.
Franchise players are hard to come by, and not often traded away. The Marlins tried that with a young Miguel Cabrera, and look how that turned out. But clearly, Towers and Gibson didn't regard Upton as a cornerstone guy — despite many of the tools required for the role, especially elite-level bat speed.
No matter what you'll hear from the principals in the wake of the deal, the relationship between star and the GM/manager power base had soured. They didn't think Upton was enough of a team leader/example setter. And they really didn't like Upton's bat-slamming pout back to the dugout all too often after strikeouts.
But here's the danger in sending Upton and Chris Johnson to the Braves for Martin Prado and a package of prospects led by projected back-of-the-rotation starter Randall Delgado: Even last season, when Upton played through an early-April thumb injury and slid backward after a fourth-place NL MVP finish in 2011, he clearly was the Diamondbacks' best player; their only marketable star, really.
What the Braves are getting is a dangerous but streaky hitter with elite run-scoring capabilities but very wide home/road splits; a good/not great right fielder with a plus arm; who doesn't always get the best jumps or take the best routes to balls; and a player who at 25, has a career of accomplishments ahead of him despite imperfections.
In truth, Upton's biggest fault may just be that he appears as if he should be better. Maybe he's merely a very, very good player, but not a true superstar/franchise cornerstone.
And that wasn't enough for Towers and Gibson. The signs were apparent, starting with the early-winter departure of Chris Young — Upton's closest friend on the team. Then the signing of Cody Ross — the fifth wheel in the outfield — and finally, the numerous attempts to deal Upton, including to Texas and Seattle, the latter of which was on his no-trade list.
Why go through with those negotiations when you know that? Because that proposed deal was a far better one for the Diamondbacks, especially longer-term. But when Upton said no, that backed Towers into a corner, having to take the best remaining deal he could get before the start of training camp — when Upton's presence would have been a huge distraction.
So what have all of Towers' dealings wrought? Opinions are split. There is quality starting pitching — always the best place to start.
There's no legit ace, but there is depth and a blend of youth and experience in a projected rotation of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and either Tyler Skaggs or Patrick Corbin, with Daniel Hudson expected back mid-season.
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Then again, if J.J. Putz can't stay healthy — and there is a chance of that happening — Bell is another veteran closer option besides potentially dominant David Hernandez.
Barring a spring injury, five of the seven bullpen spots will go to Putz, Hernandez, Bell, Brad Ziegler and Tony Sipp, an underrated left-hander acquired from Cleveland in the deal for Trevor Bauer, another young star Towers gave up on after only two seasons in the organization.
Unlike Upton, Bauer was a Towers draft pick — No. 3 overall in June 2011 — when the Diamondbacks knew all about his unorthodox methods and quirky personality. Then they quickly bailed when he didn't take well to coaching, or mesh with the rest of the big-league clubhouse.
Without Upton, it's hard to project offensive improvement from 2012, when the Diamondbacks finished fourth in the NL in runs scored, sixth in batting average, third in on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging percentage.
Despite an offensive home ballpark, the lineup isn't really going to scare anybody. One projection: CF Adam Eaton, 3B Martin Prado, 2B Aaron Hill, C Miguel Montero, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, LF Jason Kubel, RF Cody Ross/Gerardo Parra, SS Cliff Pennington.
The pitching and enough offense very well could carry the Diamondbacks to an upper-80s win total and playoff contention. But trading your star player and falling back below .500 two years after winning 94 games and a division title isn't great for job security.
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