Towers: We're not far from being a contender
PHOENIX -- The D-backs were concluding a disappointing third-place season on Wednesday against the Rockies at Chase Field. And though they will finish around .500, they neither met the expectations of their hierarchy or their fans.A year ago, during the first full season under the leadership of general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson, Arizona far exceeded expectations, going from 97 losses in 2010 to 94 wins and a National League West title. Gibson was named NL Manager of the Year and the D-backs partook in a thrilling five-game Division Series that came down to the last pitch before they lost to the Brewers. "I have to be better," Gibson said this week about the job he did as manager in his second full season. "I take responsibility and accountability for us performing this way. On the other side, I'm very motivated to be better next year, to be a better leader and put us in a position to not feel the way we do right now at this time next year." To that end, the D-backs had intense organizational meetings this week to discuss where the club has been and where it is going. Towers, finishing his second season with the team after 14 years in the same position with the Padres, sat down on Tuesday night to expound on a number of issues facing the franchise. MLB.com: How do you evaluate what happened to your club this season? Towers: Well, we just got done going through some meetings the last two days. We discussed this among some of our Major League scouts, some of our staff members, all of our directors. It's a number of things. We didn't handle the expectations as well. Last year, there weren't as many expectations. We exceeded those, probably. This year, our fan base, the rest of the industry, had higher expectations. I think we improved our club from last year, bringing Joe Saunders back, adding Trevor Cahill, bringing Jason Kubel here. We pretty much brought everybody else back. We knew it was going to be tougher this year to be able to sustain what we did. It was all about how we would handle pressure and expectations. The shoulder injury to Chris Young earlier in the year certainly hurt, losing Daniel Hudson to Tommy John surgery -- that's 222 innings and 16 wins. We had to go with a little bit younger, more inexperienced pitching staff. We weren't as good as the San Francisco Giants this year. They were more consistent. They played better ball. We won a lot of games late last year. This year we didn't. We just didn't play as good baseball -- our pitching, baserunning wasn't as good. But I don't think we're that far away from being a contender again. MLB.com: This is the Giants team you thought would win last year. But it made a big difference for them having Buster Posey healthy and back. Towers: They're a good ballclub. They have a good group of baseball people with GM Brian Sabean. Bruce Bochy is one of the better managers in the game. They were World Series champs just a couple of years ago. To be able to steal the horns from them for a year was nice. We knew they were probably going to be the team to beat once again. They do it with starting pitching and a great bullpen. I think they're very athletic. Don't have a lot of power. They do all the little things right. They play with a ton of confidence. I think that is still the carryover from winning the World Series two years ago. I imagine they will still be the team to beat next year no matter how much money is being spent in L.A. MLB.com: As you mentioned, the Dodgers are going to keep spending under their new ownership and the Giants aren't going to stop. Now you add the Padres to the mix with their new owners and a lucrative TV contract. Isn't it going to be tougher for the D-backs to compete? Towers: We're going to have to make better decisions. We're going to have to beat our opponents no matter what they spend. We're going to have to make wiser decisions, be more frugal. Draft better, develop better. That's how you stay up with the big boys, the guys who have the deep pockets and spend. But the NL West has gotten stronger. It's going to get better. We knew that once there was a change of ownership in L.A., this might potentially happen. The Padres are getting there now. It looks like they're retaining some of their core good players. Colorado is kind of in a down spell right now, but they've shown the ability to come back at times, too. The one thing about the NL West, it's probably the most unpredictable division in baseball. Try to predict it. People had us going to the World Series. It seems like it's a different division winner each and every year. Anything can happen. Hopefully we just trade positions next year. The Giants are second and we're first. MLB.com: So what's your shopping list for the offseason? What areas would you like to improve upon? Towers: I don't think you ever have enough pitching. Any pitching that comes our way would come via trades. I think we need a shortstop, with Stephen Drew gone. Willie Bloomquist is a nice player at times, but to ask him to be able to play 150 games based on the injuries he's had, and Johnny McDonald with his age, is probably unrealistic. So we're probably looking at the left side of our infield -- third and short -- if we're able to upgrade in those areas and adding veteran depth to our starting rotation so we don't have to go with a real young staff next year if we don't have to. MLB.com: Will you have a little bit more money to spend in the offseason because of the $15 million in deferred payroll coming off the books? Towers: I'd say we'll probably be in the area where we'll finish this year. We finished in the high 70 [millions]. We'll probably be somewhere in the mid-70s to mid-80s. We've got a plethora of outfielders. Young outfielders, veteran outfielders, I would say we'd have to move one of our outfielders to be able to fill some of those other needs. We like A.J. Pollock a lot. We like Adam Eaton. We have some other guys pushing upwards. But we have more than enough money to be able to contend next year. We'll look at the free-agent market, the international market. We took a trip to Japan to see what they have over there. I'd say the trade market right now, after an early look at it, is probably the avenue we'll take rather than the free-agent market. MLB.com: What's the future of Justin Upton? Towers: Right now, he's a Diamondback. That's not to say people aren't going to inquire about him as they have the last two years. It's always been my method of madness to be open-minded on everybody. Not just Justin, but anybody on our club. My job as a general manager is to not fall in love with players, to always be looking to improve the club in the present and into the future. It's probably going to be very difficult to move him. We've explored it the last couple of years and there wasn't a deal that presented itself that made sense, that we felt was going to make us better. We'll take the same approach this year. As of now, he's very much a part of this club. He's signed for the next three years. He's a very good player who we think is only going to get better. MLB.com: Upton is only 25 years old. He's going to blossom either here or somewhere else. Aren't you concerned with that happening somewhere else? Towers: That's the risk you would take. That's probably why we haven't done anything yet. Sometimes a change of scenery does a lot for certain players. He came up in this organization at a very young age with a lot of expectations and as kind of the face of the organization. That's a lot of weight to carry for a 21-22-year-old. Sometimes when you get away from that, you fit in better as just a smaller piece of the puzzle. Even though you're a big-time type of player, it takes some of the pressure off. All of a sudden, you see him take off. We're certainly conscious of that. MLB.com: Any thoughts on whether you're going to pick up the $6.5 million option on J.J. Putz? Towers: We've got some time to do that. But I'd say that based on the way he's performed this year and based on how much his option is for and what the market for closers is, it's a no-brainer. We've got a guy in David Hernandez, who at some point in time should be able to do it. My gut tells me we'll probably exercise it. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure that one out. MLB.com: Is Drew coming back as a free agent even an option? Towers: It's an area of need and he's a free agent, but I would say probably not, considering we moved him. We controlled his destiny when we still had him on the ballclub. I wouldn't say completely no. We're going to keep all of our options open. But I'd probably say more than likely not. MLB.com: When do you think you'll get Hudson back from his surgery? Towers: I'd say after the All-Star break at some point. That's not to say he won't be pitching before then, but probably more than likely after the All-Star break. MLB.com: What do you expect from Trevor Bauer next year? He was your organization's Pitcher of the Year in his first season, but he had a tough time when you brought him up to the Majors and you didn't bring him back in September. Towers: He had a tremendous year. He was 14-2, including the playoffs, and was part of the championship Reno team that won at Triple-A. He went from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues. I think his experience in the big leagues will be good for him. Hopefully he's learned from it. He needs some rest and some time off and he's going to be competing for one of our spots in the rotation next year. He's got to win a job. So does Tyler Skaggs. So does Patrick Corbin. All these guys. We want it to be very competitive in Spring Training. It will be once again. And if Bauer is the best pitcher at the end of March, he'll be in the rotation. If not, he'll probably be back in Triple-A. MLB.com: Gibson talked this week about taking personal responsibility for the season and wanting to become a better manager. How do you think you did this year? Towers: I think we're all to blame. When I came into this organization and I addressed everyone, I said, "We're the Diamondbacks." That includes the front office, the coaching staff, the players, the trainers, strength and conditioning coaches and the scouts. We lose, everybody's got a hand in it. I know there are areas I need to improve upon. I don't know that I gave Gibby the best of benches this year. A lot of that could have been because of Stephen Drew, not knowing when he was going to come back from his ankle injury and having Johnny Mac and Willie Bloomquist to piggyback until then. That didn't allow us to go out and get a power bat.
I've always taken great pride in bullpen and bench. Those were typically areas in the markets I worked in that I could address. This year, from a bench standpoint, I think we were inexperienced. I didn't give (Gibson) a lot of options late in a game to go to a guy who could win it with one swing of the bat. I think we all need to look at ourselves in the mirror. I know Gibby will as well as his coaching staff and myself and hopefully the players. We want to be where we were last year. It's no fun knowing that we now have to pack up our bags and start focusing on next year.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.