Q&A: Kevin Towers, Diamondbacks GM

Kevin Towers is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM knows what he’s doing, and has both the background and track record to prove it. Skeptics panning his recent moves don’t have his 16 years of experience as a big-league general manager, nor have they been a minor-league pitching coach or scouting director.

Why did Towers trade highly-regarded pitching prospect Trevor Bauer for a young shortstop many feel has a limited offensive ceiling? He has addressed that question myriad times, but a truer understanding goes beyond the specifics of any individual deal. It lays in his overall philosophy, which he discussed shortly before taking time off for the holidays.

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David Laurila: You’re a former scouting director. How do you approach player evaluation as a general manager?

Kevin Towers: First and foremost, you trust your scouts. Not only their evaluations, but their intuition and projections on players. Of course, now we have so many resources, like the analytics. We certainly look at that end of it as well.

When I’m making a deal, the first people I go to are my key evaluators. They’ve probably looked at more potential acquisitions than I have. I take in all of that information, and very rarely you’ll have a situation where it’s a [total] consensus. As a GM, you listen more than you talk. You weigh everything, then ultimately make a decision. Hopefully you have support from everybody on the decision, but while some are going to like it, some won’t. Others are probably on the fence.

DL: Do you don your scout’s cap and make your own evaluations?

KT: Absolutely. I think that’s probably my greatest strength. I came up in the game as an evaluator, specifically on pitching. I’ve always felt I was a better evaluator of pitchers than position players, not only as an amateur, but as a major-league executive and as a scouting director.

It’s always nice to lay your eyes on them. Ideally, it’s in person, but if not, at least on video to get an idea of their mechanics. You want the entire picture, so you need to talk to people who have maybe coached the player. The intangibles the players’ possess are important. Makeup, character, aptitude. Are they able to apply the instruction that has been conveyed to them? A lot of things all go into the decision-making process.

DL: Does your experience as a pitching coach play a big role in your assessments?

TW: Not only as a pitching coach, but from things I was taught as a pitcher coming up in pro ball. I wouldn’t say I was the most mechanically sound pitcher. I was blessed with a great arm, and great movement, but there was a lot to my delivery that needed to be worked on. Because it wasn’t clean, I had several instructors who gave me a lot of good information that I stored.

When I was a young scout in Texas, I spent time with veteran scouts and picked their brains. I was fortunate enough to break into an area where I was around Dee Phillips, Billy Capps, Ray Crone, Jim Hughes, Boyd Bartley, Danny Doyle… some of the great scouts of our game. I was just a sponge for info, especially in regard to looking at amateurs. What are the good things to look for? What are the negatives? What you can project and what can’t you project? What are the red flags?

DL: Do the Diamondbacks do biomechanics studies and risk assessment on pitchers?

KT: We do look at that. I think that’s probably an ongoing process, much like defensive metrics. It’s a process that’s getting better. I think we’re able to measure defense a little better, which is a huge help. But yes, workloads, stress on the arm, deliveries, opening up… things that could be warning signs. You need to take them into account when evaluating a pitcher, not only in the present, but in the future.

DL: Do park factors play a role in your personnel decisions?

KT: Yes. That’s something that was brought to me by Theo Epstein, years ago, when we were in San Diego. I never used to look at park factors. Back in the mid-90s, when I looked at the Atlanta Braves short-season-A club, they all had ERAs under 2.00. I remember Theo saying, “Don’t get deceived by that; that’s one of the best pitchers’ parks in baseball.” The parks they pitched in made those prospects look even better. That weighs heavily with position players as well.

Chris Young was pitching in Arlington Stadium when I acquired him in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. I looked at his FB/GB rate and he was more of a fly-ball pitcher. Coming to us, that would play better in Petco than it did in Texas. Conversely, here in Arizona, ground-ball pitchers are probably more effective. That played a lot into the Trevor Cahill acquisition.

Between LA, San Francisco and San Diego… all three are pretty good pitchers ballparks, but we play 81 in Chase. We probably lean more toward an offensive player, but we also wanted to build this team around bullpen, defense and pitching. When you look at the NL West — and I’ve spent almost my entire career in this division — it’s usually won with arms. It hasn’t been won as much with offense, unless you go back to 1995-1996 Colorado Blake Street Bombers. It’s usually won with pitching, so to win in the west, you have to pitch in the west.

DL: You recently acquired Tony Sipp. What made him desirable?

KT: I’ve always been a big believer that you need guys with different looks in your bullpen. You can’t have a cookie-cutter bullpen where they all have the same repertoire and pitch the same way. Sipp has a little bit of funkiness and deception to his delivery, and historically he’s had very good numbers against left-handed hitters. He’s kept them around a .200 average. He can also get through an inning, because he’s been fairly effective against righties.

He’s got a nice cutter; it’s more of a cutter than a slider. He’s different than Matt Reynolds. He’s different than Brad Ziegler. David Hernandez is different than J.J. Putz. What we try to do is have a different bullpen with different arm slots, different deliveries.

DL: Is bullpen depth more important now than it’s ever been?

KT: I think it is for the majority of organizations. You see more organizations… I wouldn’t say rushing, but young pitchers are coming into the game a lot sooner, with fewer innings under their belts in the minor leagues. With the intense lineups they’re facing, and the workloads — 33 or 34 starts instead of 25 — you can’t expect them to go that deep in games.

There is more importance on strengthening your bullpen. You get five or six good innings out of your starter and then shut it down with your bullpen. There are a handful of organizations that have veteran staffs. Tampa Bay comes to mind. They probably focus more on having those eighth and ninth inning guys. They’re not as worried about middle relief, because they have workhorses that can get them deeper into games. But for most of us, that’s not the case.

A lot of games are lost in the sixth and seventh inning, so you’re seeing more focus on strengthening middle relief and not just the back.

DL: Your pitchers had the second-best walk rate in the game this year. Was building that type of staff a specific objective?

KT: I don’t like pitchers who walk hitters. It puts pressure on your defense. The less walks you have, the better your chances of getting through innings. More walks lead to overworking your bullpen, sometimes just by having to get somebody up, just in case.

When you have low walk rates, it’s easier for a manager to manage his bullpen. He doesn’t have to worry about protecting that individual pitcher that’s out there. If he’s starting to walk people, most managers fear things could get out of hand. He hasn’t found the strike zone, so he has to get a righty up, a lefty up. That weighs into usage of your bullpen, even if they don’t get into a game.

Strikeout-to-walk ratios are very important to me. Not just in the big leagues, but the minor leagues as well. Fastball command is paramount. You have to have it up here to be successful. In most years, the successful staffs are the ones that have low walk rates.

DL: Under [scouting director] Ray Montgomery, your drafts have been heavily up-the-middle. Does your overall player-acquisition philosophy follow that same formula?

KT: Absolutely. That’s our focus, not only domestically, but internationally. A lot of guys that start off up the middle end up on the corners, and the ones that start as corner players fade out of the game. Up the middle, it’s usually foot speed, athleticism, first-step quickness. Those are attributes that play on both sides of the ball. Your successful organizations typically build that way, especially in the National League.

DL; Was the expectation that Didi Gregorius will remain in the middle of the infield a big factor in acquiring him?

KT: Absolutely. That’s a lot of what led us in that decision-making process, looking at what the free agent market is for middle infielders — the lack thereof. Not only free agents, but internationally and domestically in the draft.

Talking to Ray [Montgomery] about what the pool of those types players will be this year, and next year and follows going forward. There’s just not a lot of inventory, and to find a shortstop or a catcher, or a centerfielder, that you think that could stay at those positions… they’re very hard to acquire. Sometimes you have to overpay for them, because of that lack of inventory.

DL; If a Gregorius, or a Jose Iglesias, provides the same level of defensive value as a Brendan Ryan, do they need to hit?

KT: I think it just depends on the makeup of your club. If you’ve got an offense like Texas, you can live with an Elvis Andrus who doesn’t hit for power, or even a huge average, but has ability to get on base. He can obviously play quality defense, For a club that lacks offense in your outfield, or your corners, then maybe it becomes a little more difficult.

I think there’s always a place for those guys. In a perfect world, you’d like to have a team where you don’t have to worry about getting a lot of offense from your shortstop. You just want somebody to save runs for you. You want them to save outs, as well as pitches for your pitcher out there on the mound.

DL: To close, what type of philosophical changes did you implement when you came to Arizona?

KT: I don’t know that I’d refer to it as changes, but my emphasis has always been on pitching, and probably more than anything, the bullpen. That and the bench. A lot of that really came from when I was in San Diego, with a small market and not a lot of financial resources. One thing we could improve was our bullpen and our bench. I didn’t go after the front-line starters, and didn’t have the ability to go after the everyday position players. I really focused on bullpen and bench, both of which play a big part in a team’s success.

When I came over here, I’d say bullpen was probably my biggest focus. It was a priority, because if we have a chance to win after the sixth inning, we can’t blow games. We need to win the games we should. It won’t happen every time, but it should the majority of the time.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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jcxy
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jcxy
3 years 9 months ago

Wow, terrific read. Love the parts where he talking about adapting over the past 15-20 years.

Cody Ross
Guest
Cody Ross
3 years 9 months ago

Hey Kevin! Thanks again for that contract, didn’t think I’d ever get that much. Can’t wait to play everyday in LF!

Grammer Police
Guest
Grammer Police
1 year 5 months ago

Bingo.

marlinswin12
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marlinswin12
3 years 9 months ago

Cody Ross didn’t get overpaid; that was a dumb comment. Great interview.

Steve
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Steve
3 years 9 months ago

Cody Ross DIDN’T get overpaid? Go ahead and make your case for that one… it’s a clear overpay. I thought AZ was having a great offseason until they made stupid moves like this Ross signing and the Bauer trade.

PillsburyFlowboy
Member
PillsburyFlowboy
3 years 9 months ago

i think your assertion is the one that requires the burden of proof here, bud.

marlinswin12
Guest
marlinswin12
3 years 9 months ago

Considering all the other stupid contracts, it’s not an overpayment. Shouldn’t contracts be compared to what the market is for those type of players? I’d easily take Cody Ross over Shane Victorino right now.

paperlions
Guest
paperlions
3 years 9 months ago

Similar players? Like Jonny Gomes, who is almost the exact same player as Ross, with Ross being a slightly better fielder. Neither is good against RHP, and each can rake against LHP. Their offensive number are nearly identical, all the way down to their splits. Ross should be a platoon player, like Gomes, but is being paid to play everyday, thereby decreasing his value.

marlinswin12
Guest
marlinswin12
3 years 9 months ago

Cody Ross can play all 3 outfield positions; Johnny Gomes is a nice platoon DH. Minor difference…

paperlions
Guest
paperlions
3 years 9 months ago

Cody Ross can NOT play CF, he has been, at best an average corner defender, and he hits RHP (who, by the way, throw 75% of MLB innings) like a glove-first SS. Ross’ defense going forward is likely to be below average (that happens to 33-35 yr old OF). Gomes will likely provide great value as a platoon player and bench off the bat….the more Ross plays against RHP, the more he cuts into his own value.

Gareth
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Gareth
3 years 9 months ago

Indirect references to Trevor Bauer:

(1) “The intangibles the players’ possess are important. Makeup, character, aptitude. Are they able to apply the instruction that has been conveyed to them?”

(2) “I wouldn’t say I was the most mechanically sound pitcher. I was blessed with a great arm, and great movement, but there was a lot to my delivery that needed to be worked on.”

(3) “I don’t like pitchers who walk hitters. It puts pressure on your defense. The less walks you have, the better your chances of getting through innings. More walks lead to overworking your bullpen, sometimes just by having to get somebody up, just in case.”

(4) “Strikeout-to-walk ratios are very important to me. Not just in the big leagues, but the minor leagues as well. Fastball command is paramount. You have to have it up here to be successful. In most years, the successful staffs are the ones that have low walk rates.”

Of Course the references are Oblique enough so that you could say he was talking in general terms in regards to Pitching. But it is apparent to me now that his philosophies were a big factor in getting Trevor Bauer out of dodge.

maqman
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maqman
3 years 9 months ago

What a copout, no mention of Trevor Bauer? Was it because it was a “don’t ask” condition for the interview? Even a feeble attempt to justify his being drafted and then punted would have been informative. Since he focuses on pitchers that’s a touchy subject I guess. You might have told him he’s overstocked on OFers, maybe he isn’t aware of that.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 9 months ago

He probably isn’t willing to give every reason for the trade. If they didn’t get along with him or they found what they think is a mechanical flaw he wasn’t willing to fix or something, then I could understand why he wouldn’t talk about that.

Also, I’m sure hundreds of people have already asked him that, so go look at one of their interviews.

marlinswin12
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marlinswin12
3 years 9 months ago

So is Billy Beane.

Gareth
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Gareth
3 years 9 months ago

The issue is not the Cody Ross signing by itself. Which is neither a good nor bad signing. It just appears to be an arbitrary move unless he trades one of the extra starting outfielders he had BEFORE he even got Ross.

The Outfield of Eaton, Parra, Kubel and some other guy you hardly hear about (I can’t think of his name right now) was already pretty set.

The question is not the Ross signing but the merits of who he gets rid of, and for what sort of return.

Lets not forget that he traded Young for Pennington. Then traded Bauer for Gregorious.

I’m thinking he trades Parra for Julio Lugo.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

Isn’t FanGraphs required by law to identify paid interviews and paid advertisements masquerading as articles?

Wow, what a horrible softball of an interview. Laurila, you missed a few questions.

1) Why did you trade a plus center fielder for a no hit shortstop, then shortly thereafter trade your best pitching prospect for a slightly better no hit shortstop.

2) If makeup is so important, why did you draft Bauer just a year ago, when he was telling every interested club that he would not change his “bizarre” workout routine?

3) Given Kubel’s long track record of being a very poor defensive outfielder, why did you give him $15M to break up a fine defensive outfield, and why after one year have you given up on him and tried to move him? How is he any different than you expected?

4) Why did you sign Cody Ross when you have Kubel, Parra, Upton and Eaton? Why not sign a cheaper player to be the short end of the platoon with Parra and make Parra your main left fielder or center fielder, esp. given his greater value than Ross and Kubel?

5) Given Willie Bloomquists history of being one of the worst offensive players in the league, why did you spend millions to “lock up” an aging defense only bench player instead of use the role to develop a young player with a future?

“Kevin Towers is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically.”

No, it wasn’t meant sarcastically, it was meant sycophantically. Dear David Laurila, I understand how intimidating it must be to talk to a “real GM”, but you blew it. You didn’t do your job, you asked leading questions to give Kevin Towers the opportunity to pontificate on how wonderful he is. You didn’t ask him a single tough question, and got no revealing or insightful answers.

Interviews are a type of writing that is not for you.

shane
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shane
3 years 9 months ago

I can answer two for you:

Kubel is a below average defensive OF. No more, no less. The 2011 team, however, needed to score more. If you’re going to bury a questionable defender/++ ISO guy, don’t you want to do it in leftfield in a tiny OF? You complain really complain about the size of the contract either…it generated surplus value and, since it wasn’t a 1 year deal, allows them to extract value for him if they choose to trade him this offseason. So, you’ve turned 7.5 MM into 10 MM of on-field value AND you’re going to get value in a prospect back. This is beyond defendable.

As for the logic of drafting Bauer…it’s easily explainable: they took best available. There is plenty to question in selling “low” on him, but questioning drafting a guy who reached the majors in 12 months would seem to be beyond reproach.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

Kubel was significantly below average this year by UZR, and it was his best defensive year ever, historically he has been horrid and is likely to revert to that next year. Signing him didn’t create 10M in on field value, the DBacks were going to get significantly more value than that for almost free by starting Parra, but spent $7.5M replacing him with a worse left fielder. They gutted the 2011 teams outfield defense to improve it’s offense, how successful was that?

And now they realize that and are trying to ship Kubel, so why didn’t they realize that before?

They took the best available guy but then they drove down his trade value by constantly criticizing his approach this year, the approach they were fully aware of when they drafted him. You can’t let Towers off the hook here. Either he’s responsible for his ship leaking constantly and damaging his trade goods, or not trading Bauer earlier when he had more value.

Most importantly you can criticize him for trading Bauer to slightly upgrade shortstop instead of holding Bauer and seeing if you can rebuild his value. Or gee, maybe get a cheap frontline starter for the next 5 years.

an android
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an android
3 years 9 months ago

No. And disclaimer: I’m not a DBacks fan, Padres fan, or any type of Towers apologist.

First of all, journalistic access is a huge deal, makes these interviews happen, and depends heavily on reputation. If you get an interview with an esteemed figure (e.g. Kevin Towers), you can’t ask people obviously abrasive questions, or other esteemed figures (e.g. other MLB GMs, scouts, etc.) won’t want to interview with you. Or if Laurilia frames the interview in an article that’s negatively toned and/or has a vitriolic nature towards Towers.

Also, if Towers is any decent at posturing, he would respond to abrasive questions (e.g. why did you trade X for Y, etc.), with cliches, as he did when other media). The internet and baseball media have already bashed Towers’ moves endlessly. Avoiding the obvious, abrasive, questions and trying to gain insight into Towers’ scouting/player evaluation process is exactly how an interview should approach obviously controversial subjects.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

I understand the game. I just don’t think Fangraphs should play it. Clearly Kevin Towers chose to be interviewed because the author is adept at writing non-interview interviews, Towers or Diamondbacks PR found a go to guy whose schtick is not to ask tough questions.

Instead we get more PR fluff coverage for Towers to use to justify his moves, while still never having to intellectually justify his moves.

BurleighGrimes
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BurleighGrimes
3 years 9 months ago

“Interviews are a type of writing that is not for you” — this is simply not an accurate thing to say about Laurila, who has done nothing but awesome interviews to date for this site. Really, he is one of the most consistently excellent writers fangraphs has to offer.

I agree that in this particular interview, I would have appreciated a specific question or two…but I still think you are giving David way too little credit.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

This interview makes David seem like a non-interview interviewer. Believe it or not, in my day job I have my own PR person on retainer. And David seems like the type of guy who would be on my PR person’s speed dial, who asks leading, insubstantive questions and strives to never irritate or embarrass an interviewee with a serious or tough question.

It’s softball efforts like this that make real interviews and journallism so difficult, when guys like Kevin Towers can hide behind carefully vetted interviews and deal only with sportswriters who don’t understand enough about baseball or sabermetrics to call him out.

BurleighGrimes
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BurleighGrimes
3 years 9 months ago

Look, your comment below — when you make more substantive criticisms — is fair. But this first post is troll-ish, rude, and ignores a large body of interview work David has done with players & managers, much to many fangraphs readers’ satisfactions. This GM interview is a bit of a disappointment…but so is the useless whinging that has become too prevalent in the comments section of this site.

Z.....
Guest
Z.....
3 years 9 months ago

Technically, Jerry Dipoto drafted Bauer, not Kevin Towers. That still doesnt excuse not getting full value in the deal, but just saying

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 9 months ago

@ValueArb Fantastic questions. Those are the ones that should have been asked, absolutely. Towers is no genius and many of his moves have been the ones trying to mimic someone else’s (Beane) while not adapting his own scenario to the good ideas put forward by others.

an android
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an android
3 years 9 months ago

Towers is not mimicing Beane.

Sure, platoons, but Beane is taking a high-risk, high-upside approach with both last year and what he’s doing with 2013 (gambling on Chris Young, Nakajima, and Griffin/Straily), while Towers is minimizing risk while also reducing the absolute ceiling.

So the variety of outcomes is far greater for the A’s than it is for the Dbacks.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 9 months ago

If he’s not mimicing him, then he’s simply collecting as many players as he can that Beane unearthed first.

Either way, he’s not a very talented GM and is getting shown up here in keeping his internal employees on the same page. The Gregorius trade was borderline idiotic, Parra could have gotten them Gregorius by himself, there was no need to get rid of Bauer and half the pen. But he really wanted to move Bauer because even though Bauer told every team to treat his training like the Giants did with Lincecum and AZ had no intention of doing so but drafted him anyway. Considering Dylan Bundy was drafted immediately after, there was never a reason to draft Bauer in the first place. The Front Office is really doing a poor job with this team.

Really?
Guest
Really?
3 years 9 months ago

Given your alleged position and PR requirements, I would assume that you would understand that David did a terrific job of extracting answers to these types of questions without giving the impression of attacking Towers in the interview which your questions would do.

Asking “Was the expectation that Didi Gregorius will remain in the middle of the infield a big factor in acquiring him?” and “If a Gregorius, or a Jose Iglesias, provides the same level of defensive value as a Brendan Ryan, do they need to hit?” answers your “Why did you trade a plus center fielder for a no hit shortstop, then shortly thereafter trade your best pitching prospect for a slightly better no hit shortstop.” without being a dick and saying hey, you f*%^’d up here, don’t ya think?!

C’mon, I can tell you are smart enough to get this…

Jon
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Jon
3 years 9 months ago

One of the best posts I’ve seen on here – I couldn’t agree more.

I was hoping for some explanation for the bizarre moves he’s made this offseason. I always had a lot of respect for Towers and it actually troubled me a bit that he lost it all in the past couple months.

I did want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I assumed we’d get answers to some of these questions in the interview.

Needless to say I’m very disappointed. Can we get Frangraphs to let you give the next GM interview?

JR
Guest
JR
3 years 9 months ago

Yeah trading Bauer for a terrible hitting slow shortstop and other scrubs was idiotic for sure. The question I would love to ask Towers is why in the world is Justin Upton continued to be talked about in trade tumors? He had a down year in 2012 but what he has done at his age in the majors is pretty amazing. If you get a great deal for Upton, fine trade him. But how in the world can there be leaks about him constantly? I would be willing to bet he blows up in 2013 if the Diamondbacks just shut up.

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

Oh, another pertinent question would have been

6) Given Didi Gregorius’ history of being a AA no hit shortstop for most of the same age year where Derek Jeter was hitting .314 for the Yankees while winning ROY, why did you compare Didi directly to Jeter? How can a defense first short stop be a reasonable comparison to a poor defender who sticks at shortstop only because of his HOF bat?

ArmChairGM
Guest
ArmChairGM
3 years 9 months ago

Its not that Towers overpaid for DiDi, its that Towers could have got overpaid for Trevor and then use the overpayment of players to acquire a fielding and hitting shortstop. It was too early in the off season to not get overpaid for Trevor Bauer. Other than that detail, I trust Tower’s evaluation of players.

The result of the trade won’t be known anytime soon.

catherder
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catherder
3 years 9 months ago

The monistry of baseball remains a mystery. Thank you Mr. Towers.

Givejonadollar
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

The internet is a big place. If you don’t like the interviewers questions above, you can go elsewhere, or even start your own blog and ask questions you deem to be “better”.

Good interview.

ValueArb
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ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

The internet is a big place, Fangraph viewers can go to other places for actual insightful interviews and discussions.

When Fangraphs sells out their audience by publishing a softballed white wash of an interview so Kevin Towers can get the cachet of addressing a “saber audience”, Fangraphs should get called out for it. Fangraphs can’t be a place for critical thinking and insight and publish drivel like this.

It wasn’t a good interview. The questions were terrible. I’ve given detailed reasons why. You should go post sycophantic comments elsewhere.

BurleighGrimes
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BurleighGrimes
3 years 9 months ago

Man, the commenters on this site really get their panties in a bunch way too often…

Levski
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Levski
3 years 9 months ago

Synopsis of this interview:

DL: “Kevin, tell us what makes you the greatest GM ever in this game.”
KT: “I’m a former pitcher and a scout and I know park factors, ergo…”

I’ve never seen so many intellectually lazy questions in one interview.

Pass.

rubesandbabes
Guest
rubesandbabes
3 years 9 months ago

Yes, David they are ripping you to rip Towers. If Bauer pans out, he traded Jarrod Parker and Bauer (+ Ryan Cook) in successive seasons.

Gregorius has to work out kinda well, overpay or no. Let’s see.

And yeah, what the ValueArb guy is saying about all this outfield stuff, Kubel and Ross, dumping Chris Young to clear salary to pay Heath Bell. It seems willy-nilly.

Oh and then dangling Upton for like a year now and not moving him…

rubesandbabes
Guest
rubesandbabes
3 years 9 months ago

But different from the ValueArb guy, I do appreciate the article.

In my mind, I just assume Branch Rickey would have been familiar with park effects, even way back when. Kinda shocking to hear Towers admit how recently he saw the light.

chacochicken
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chacochicken
3 years 9 months ago

Kevin Towers is smarter than you. You can’t understand the conundrum wrapped in an enigma that is the Cody Ross signing.

Gareth
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Gareth
3 years 9 months ago

“[or questions he wouldn’t answer].”

LOL

This is what some of the trolls on the internet sitting in their basement don’t realize. The politics of an interview. I bet when faced with an actual real live person of influence and power, stringing together an actual coherent sentence would be an achievement for them.

Keep up the good work Kevin.

marlins12
Guest
marlins12
3 years 9 months ago

The interview gives readers a chance to see what the philosophy of a big-league organization is. What does everyone expect to be asked? “Hey Kevin, why have you sucked at times?”

I thought the interview was insightful. I learned plenty about what the Diamondbacks are doing. Other GM’s have been interviewed and the interviews were about the same. The interviews aren’t intended to critique moves but rather for readers to view the strategies involved when those moves were made and to decide for themselves if the GM’s explanations are valid.

I see no problems with the interview.

Plus, it’s really stupid to question a GM about trades when the results haven’t even played themselves out yet. Just because some of you think they’re bad doesn’t necessarily make them bad.

an android
Guest
an android
3 years 9 months ago

This.

I remember a big chunk of baseball analysts and pundits arguing that the Diamondbacks came out significantly on top with the Parker/Cahill trade when it happened.

Obviously, that hasn’t really come to fruition.

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

It’s also pretty dumb for Fangraphs to write articles about trades when they haven’t panned out yet.

Why should we want to know the reasons why a trade was made and why sabermetric measures of value weren’t considered or weighted highly? How presumptious of us to think we even have the right to ask those questions when we can just wait a few years and go by results.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle
3 years 9 months ago

It’s obviously interesting when a guy like Trevor Bauer is traded for something that many consider to be less valuable than Bauer himself (apparently you feel this way, too). It’s worth analyzing from both a traditional and saber-savvy point of view. “Why didn’t the Diamondbacks get a bigger return for Bauer?” is a perfectly legitimate question. That’s why articles are written about it. The analyses are then based on the involved players’ current perceived value, which is derived from many factors, such as past performance, expected future performance, cost, and, yes, intangibles.

When sabermetric measures of value alone can’t explain why Bauer was traded for a “no hit shortstop,” I think it’s safe to assume that the Diamondbacks had their own internal (and private) reasons for doing so. Conveniently, some of Kevin Towers’ responses in this interview shed some light on why he probably wasn’t Bauer’s biggest fan.

And, by the way, if you don’t like the articles that are written on FanGraphs, you don’t have to read them.

Jay Dixon
Guest
Jay Dixon
3 years 9 months ago

Haren trade seemed awful to me, then the value keeps rolling in from the minors meanwhile Haren’s value to the Diamondbacks at the time just not as important. Didi is a 22 year old AAA shortstop – if ValueArb is down on Fangraphs for publishing the article why is he reading Fangraphs. If he’s reading Fangraph’s he’ll see that 22 year old AAA shortstops (especially a top WoBA performer) do not grow on trees. I will yield judgment for later, meanwhile we will continue to watch Bauer rack up a high walk rate.

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
3 years 9 months ago

Haren trade was made by Jerry Dipoto

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

“If he’s reading Fangraph’s he’ll see that 22 year old AAA shortstops (especially a top WoBA performer) do not grow on trees.”

First, just this year we had Didi, Jose Iglesias, Pastornicky, Tim Beckham, and Carlos Triunfel on AAA teams. And that’s just using your very narrow criteria, there were better shortstop prospects available lower, such as Profar who is 19 and in AA already.

Secondly, Didi wasn’t a AAA player this year, he spent 2/3s of the year in AA, and was just promoted late in the season.

But most importantly, is Didi a terrible hitter or a “top WoBA performer”? When you wrote that I became momentarily happy, thinking I got Didi wrong and that KT made some secretly canny move. But looking closer, I’m not sure what the heck you are talking about. Here are stats I conjured up just averaging wOBA from each year with games played, so they should be close I think.

Player A 353 Minor League Games, Minor League wOBA 0.323
Player B 463 Minor League Games, Minor League wOBA 0.319

Player B is of course Didi, Player A is Elvis Andrus. OMG! WE JUST GOT THE NEXT ELVIS ANDRUS!!!!!!!

Probably not. First, Elvis’s value isn’t in his wOBA, which is acceptable for a short stop, but his defense, which UZR loves so much it wants to marry it, and his base running.

The last 4 years Elvis has been 4th in defense among shortstops. It’s hard to know if Didi can match that, it’s an awful tall order to be the 4th best infield defender on the planet so it seems unlikely. But lets’ assume Didi can be a plus defender, not far from Andrus.

In baserunning, Didi is 30-40 in his 443 minor league games, so he doesn’t seem like a fast baserunner at all. Elvis was 125 for 175 attempts (71.4%) in fewer Minor league games, he seems to have much better wheels. Didi grounded into fewer double plays, 1/95 PAs vs. 1/50, but still it seems unlikely that he’ll have as much baserunning value as Elvis.

But look at their very similar wOBAs, still it looks like we have a younger, cheaper Elvis Andrus in the building!

Except… everything I wrote above is actually a lie. Because I ignored the most important metric, age. For Elvis Andrus last season in the minors he was 19 years old in AA. Didi didn’t reach AA until the end of his age 21 year.

Elvis put up a slightly better minor league wOBA than Didi while being as much as 2 years younger at every stop. He was promoted to the majors at age 20, while Didi was in A ball. And Elvis’s offense has turned out to be below average (he’s 25th in wRC+ among qualified shortstops the last 4 years). So Didi’s offense projects to be execrable, given that Elvis’s ABs vs. much older pitchers in the minors at younger ages is significantly more impressive.

You know what really doesn’t grow on trees? Pitchers who finished 2nd in the PCL in K rate at an age of only 21 and still gave up less than 1 HR per 9 in the highest offense minor league on the planet.

Jon Williams
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

I thought it was a well done interview. First, the way several commenters suggest questions be asked would just get the interview shut down and rob David of a quality contact. Second the answers to most of your questions are there between the lines. You want to know why he traded Bauer? It is in there. Even the ideas behind adding Cody Ross are hinted at if not answered outright by comments on building a quality bench. Don’t just read, read to understand.

BurleighGrimes
Guest
BurleighGrimes
3 years 9 months ago

Right on.

BurleighGrimes
Guest
BurleighGrimes
3 years 9 months ago

It seems like people are hating on this interview simply b/c they don’t agree with the recent moves Kevin Towers has made.

We are never going to get utter transparency from ANY GM, because they are necessarily guarded about what they do or don’t value in their system. This secrecy is necessary when trying to make trades, etc.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 9 months ago

I’d go check out the interviews Billy Beane does on AthleticsNation, the questions never pull punches and he never gives smoke and mirrors answers. Its not “utter transparency” but he will tell you the reasonings behind every move he makes (just as long as you dont quiz him on moves he -might- make).

an android
Guest
an android
3 years 9 months ago

Consider the audience. For a Beane interview on an A’s fansite, the audience is A’s fans. AN is only trying to build relationships with A’s execs and people, while Laurilia/Fangraphs are trying to build interview relationships with executives, players, etc. from ALL MLB teams, which means Laurilia has to be far more careful with his questions than an A’s blog does.

Also I strongly, strongly doubt Beane has been as roundly criticized by A’s fans this offseason/ever as Towers has this offseason by Diamondbacks fans.

I mean, people were tweeting some pretty hard-hitting stuff at the DBacks team twitter account (and Derrick Hall, team president, ‘s personal account).

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
3 years 9 months ago

You’d be surprised at how much grief Beane gets from A’s fans. I agree that hard-hitting stuff you speak about hasn’t really happened this offseason, but moving Carlos Gonzalez and basically sinking the team for 5 years definitely put him on the hot seat for a while, and he was always pretty good at the “I did that because of X and Y, and it didnt work because of Z”, his charisma always put him in good stead.

Lew Wolff, however, is absolutely hated by at least half of the (online) fanbase and is blamed for anything (even a random loss). But that goes on with every team I think.

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
3 years 9 months ago

As someone who still really cares about the Diamondbacks organization, despite my recent frustrations, if I had the opportunity to speak with Kevin I would air my BIGGEST concern:

Please stop allowing those in your organization from devaluing your own assets. It’s really bad business. While it might be emotionally satisfying for coaches, scouts, and front office personnel to spread gossip about a player they don’t like or doesn’t fit in the organization any longer, it’s extremely counterproductive.

I still have access to a number of scouts, baseball personnel, and media folk. And I’m telling you all the gossip gets around, and is sometimes so specific that it could only come from within your organization.

Then it gets compounded by your owner going out in interviews and repeating some of the very conversations you have behind closed doors.

Please Kevin……clamp it down. You have GOT to get your guys in line and get them to shutup. They shouldn’t be saying anything negative to anyone about players in the organization. And you have got to convince Ken to stop criticizing players publicly.

It may not be the biggest overriding factor in how OTHER organizations will value one of your assets, but can you at least agree it DOESN’T HELP ?

Thanks for reading.

MrsSimons
Guest
MrsSimons
3 years 9 months ago

Totally agree with shoewizard . . .

dbacks_Nation
Guest
dbacks_Nation
3 years 9 months ago

If anyone is curious on KT’s “experience,” let’s take a look at his first round draft picks every year he was with the San Diego Padres:

1995: Ben Davis 2.3
1996: Matt Halloran (Never MLB)
1997: Kevin Nicholson 0.1
1998: Sean Burroughs 4.7
1999: Vince Faison (Never MLB)
2000: Mark Phillips (Never MLB)
2001: Jake Gautreau (Never MLB)
2002: Khalil Greene 7.4
2003: Tim Stauffer 2.8
2004: Matt Bush (Never MLB)
2005: Cesar Carrillo -0.7
2006: Matt Antonelli -0.3
2007: Nick Schmidt (minors)
2008: Jaff Decker (minors)
2009: Donavan Tate (minors)

Only 7 players made it to MLB, the rest either never made it or are still in the minors.

Total WAR of these 7 players adds up to:
2.3
0.1
4.7
7.4
2.8
-0.7
-0.3
_________
16.3 WAR

Levski
Guest
Levski
3 years 9 months ago

The prevailing excuse for the generally horrendous drafts that Towers had in San Diego was that he had cheap owners who would never spend any money on amateur players. That’s why, in 2004, Towers didn’t take Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver. He went with the affordable Matt Bush, who received $3.15M bonus. Right after that, the Tigers drafted and clearly overaid Justin Verlander, by giving him $3.12M signing bonus.

Ironically, to hear Kevin Towers himself describe himself: “I’ve always felt I was a better evaluator of pitchers than position players, not only as an amateur, but as a major-league executive and as a scouting director.” I recall reading that one of the scouts on the Padres hated Verlander. That guy, ironically, is now working for the Diamondbacks, and has significant input in the talent evaluations and acquisitions they make.

That should tell you everything you need to know about Towers’s “key evaluators”.

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
3 years 9 months ago

Kevin Towers rep for building good pitching staffs is COMPLETELY underserved.

From 1995-2009 with Sandiego, his teams had the HIGHEST ERA- of any team in the league !! (107)

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=nl&qual=0&type=1&season=2009&month=0&season1=1995&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=12,d

Now I wouldn’t expect his teams to necessarily be in the top 5 or 6, considering payroll and all….but at least middle of the pack if he were actually better at evaluating pitching. Instead, his teams ranked DEAD LAST

And the vaunted KT bullpens ? Yeah…um second to last, 100 ERA-, better than only the Marlins. And this is with Trevor Hoffman manning the closer position and never having to worry about that . He had a few teams near the end of his tenure with SD that had pretty good bullpens.

So the playing record pretty much debunks his own and everyone elses assesment of his strengths as a GM

Park Factors indeed.

an android
Guest
an android
3 years 9 months ago

On the flip side, his teams’ offenses with San Diego were a LOT better than he is given credit for though.

Park factors and all.

Benjamin
Guest
Benjamin
3 years 9 months ago

Kevin Towers is a decent low revenue GM. He could play the scrap heap fairly well in constructing a decent team now and again. He kept good relations with the big boys and used that to his advantage.

This same style is not working as well on the mid-market Diamondbacks.
He is allowed to spend more money, but what he’d valued as affordable, smart and shifty buys for a low-market team (bullpen, bench), he now spends high amounts of money on, as he assumes that’s how you win and beat the sabremetrics crowd. He spends most of he extra cash on the likes of: Blum (no I haven’t forgotten that three year deal as his first signing!), Bloomquest, Hinske, Ross, Heath Bell, Chavez, Pennigton, McDonald, Didi Gregerious, and Kubel. All can be valuable as bench/role players, but not when they are paid like regulars.

In addition, when you trade regular players who can provide or could real impact to the team: Chris Young, Bauer, possibly Upton, Drew (for nothing).

The offseason for the Diamondbacks has been so odd because if Towers wanted a defensive whiz at SS, he already had him, McDonald. Instead he trades Young and Bauer for two poor hitting defensive SS in Pennington and Didi. The outfield at least had the future play of Adam Eaton to look forward to after the trade of Young, but Towers went and made another logjam and at a larger investment than was needed, again for a nice platoon/bench player. Paying Kubel/Ross $16m+ a year to “defend” and hit in LF is way too much. I hope KT is not adding Kubel’s 20-30hrs to Ross’ 20-25 and saying, hey I have the equal of one player for the year who’s going to hit the team 45-50hrs from LF.

As a Diamondbacks fan I have not been happy with Kevin Towers’ running the team. I thought the previous group evaluated talent well (Goldschmidt, Miley, Parra, Young, Upton, Drew, Montero, etc). They did a poor job in the bullpen and deciding upon managers, but at least the Diamondbacks developed truck loads of talent. Talent Towers is stripping from the team.

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
3 years 9 months ago

Android, the point is that Kt himself thinks he is a pitching savant, and thats his rep, and it’s clearly, patently false.

Yes, his teams ranked 5th in wRC+, which is 1 point better than the league avg. But did you happen to notice his teams also ranked DEAD LAST in fielding runs ?

So worst park adjusted pitching and fielding, and very slightly above league avg hitting.

Not a great record at all.

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
3 years 9 months ago

By the way, Billy Beane’s pitching staff’s since 1998 rank 4th in fWAR and 1st in ERA- , while his team’s offenses have ranked 6th in wRC+ (99)

They rank 11th in UZR since 1998 though, so maybe their proprietary defense system needs a tweak or two.

So the scouty shoot from the hip gunslinger is getting blown away by the spreadsheet enthusiast by the bay. (KT giving lip service to analytics does not make me believe he actually uses, acknowledges or believes much of what might cross his desk or computer screen…..or he just doesn’t know how to asimilate the info together with his scouts info)

jcxy
Guest
jcxy
3 years 9 months ago

wow, i’m shocked this interview blew up! classic case of shoot the messenger. keep up the good work, david!

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

“Kevin Towers is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM knows what he’s doing, and has both the background and track record to prove it. Skeptics panning his recent moves don’t have his 16 years of experience as a big-league general manager, nor have they been a minor-league pitching coach or scouting director”

When a supposedly impartial writer starts off by telling the readers they are dumb, KT is way smarter than them, and they don’t even have the right to question his decisions, how did you think the interview will be received?

Gleb
Guest
Gleb
3 years 9 months ago

Towers is a good not great GM.
Plenty of moves make me scratch my head
1)Trading bauer for nothing. Fail
2)Not giving Upton a talk about how he’s the franchise and they’re there for him no matter what. He’s in limbo right now.
3)Signing Cody Ross. Really? ugh..

Consider me unimpressed with his body for work post Padres.

I was not impressed with the interview or the answers he gave. Very vanilla, very much going through the motions. C+

Gleb
Guest
Gleb
3 years 9 months ago

1995: Ben Davis 2.3
1996: Matt Halloran (Never MLB)
1997: Kevin Nicholson 0.1
1998: Sean Burroughs 4.7
1999: Vince Faison (Never MLB)
2000: Mark Phillips (Never MLB)
2001: Jake Gautreau (Never MLB)
2002: Khalil Greene 7.4
2003: Tim Stauffer 2.8
2004: Matt Bush (Never MLB)
2005: Cesar Carrillo -0.7
2006: Matt Antonelli -0.3
2007: Nick Schmidt (minors)
2008: Jaff Decker (minors)
2009: Donavan Tate (minors

LOL. Wow. Trash. Even worse than I thought.

Steven
Guest
Steven
3 years 9 months ago

The worst thing that could’ve ever happened to the Diamondbacks was making the playoffs in 2011 and validating KT as the “pitching savant” he thinks he is. In fact, he’s probably having that nickname engraved on all of his Tungsten-metal business cards.

Patrick Bateman
Guest
Patrick Bateman
3 years 9 months ago

My God, it even has a watermark.

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
3 years 9 months ago

“Kevin Towers is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM knows what he’s doing, and has both the background and track record to prove it. Skeptics panning his recent moves don’t have his 16 years of experience as a big-league general manager, nor have they been a minor-league pitching coach or scouting director.

I’m going to close by repeating the first paragraph David wrote, and should be eternally ashamed of writing.

Those of you who enjoyed the interview, that’s fine, it was grammatically correct, and Kevin Towers revealed a bit of his cluelessness in it. But it belonged on David’s personal blog or a team fan site, not Fangraphs.

I read Fangraphs because their writers attempt to find the truths of what is value in baseball and what makes good decisions, and in their quest they often challenge conventional wisdom. They aren’t beholden to the MLB, GMs, sportswriters, even themselves Fangraphs is at it’s best when they challenge opinions and decisions, even when Fangraphs is wrong I still often learn a hell of a lot, which is why I can never dislike Dave Cameron.

It’s a site for critical thinking, not interviews full of leading questions carefully conducted not to offend.

“You recently acquired Tony Sipp. What made him desirable?”
“DL: Is bullpen depth more important now than it’s ever been?”‘
“DL: Your pitchers had the second-best walk rate in the game this year. Was building that type of staff a specific objective?”
“DL; Was the expectation that Didi Gregorius will remain in the middle of the infield a big factor in acquiring him?”
“DL; If a Gregorius, or a Jose Iglesias, provides the same level of defensive value as a Brendan Ryan, do they need to hit?”

These are all leading questions that essentially lay out the answer for Kevin to give, or are fluff questions that allow Kevin to talk about unimportant minutiae.

Was it to much to ask for questions like

“Why did you make the Chris Young trade for a defense first short stop, then trade Bauer a month later for a defense first short stop prospect?”

Notice I didn’t add “you idiot”. It’s a polite question, it’s not one he’s going to enjoy answering, but it’s an extremely pertinant question, and if he can’t answer it Towers simply can’t be alllowed to do any interviews by DBack PR. If he can’t explain the thought process there to us, how does he explain it to Kendrick or anyone else?

The simplest answer is “we desperately needed an upgrade, and I simply did not think Didi was available at the right price, but after Fall League scouting we were convinced his future is worth paying up for.”

So what skills does Didi have that jumped out of you, that made you think of Jeter?

“He’s athletic, he’s got all the skills to become a great defensive short stop and we were very impressed by his bat.”

Was his bat that much improved at Fall League? Because Didi is a career .271 minor league hitter with a .699 OPS who spent most of age 22 year in AA, while Jeter was a career .309 hitter with a .804 OPS in the minors who at 22 was hitting .314 as ROY for the Yankees. They both are athletic but it seems to me they are polar opposites, one defense first, the other a HOF hitter who played enough defense to stay at short deep into his 30s.

“Well it’s interesting you make that point. My perspective is…”

This is Fangraphs. Not contrasting what Kevin Tower sees as value with what sabermetrics estimates value as in an interview makes it a bust. KT doesn’t have to agree, doesn’t have to be insulted, but the interviewer should be able to describe value from the Fangraphs perspective and get his opposing perspective on the things he sees as more important, or why he doesn’t buy into Fangraph style value systems.

I may have been a little harsh on David, but the biased starting paragraph and leading questions he used were clearly inappropriate, and it seems his style of interviewing is more personality based than fact based. There is a place for that (without the awful opening paragraph which plays no where), but I think publishing it on Fangraphs undermines the critical thinking brand they have built (why not on one of the sub brand sites, NotGraphs, RotoGraphs, etc, or start a BaseballTalk or BaseballChatGraphs for more personality driven pieces and interviews).

Now I don’t pay the bills here, and given how unimportant the DBacks are, this interview may have succeeded beyond the sites wildest dreams as click-bait. But it that’s how they need to keep the lights on, I am saddened. The one thing I can’t criticize is how they keep a free site running.

dirtbag
Guest
dirtbag
3 years 8 months ago

This first paragraph looks even worse today.

steve-o
Guest
steve-o
2 years 11 months ago

Lolololololol

dirtbag
Guest
dirtbag
2 years 9 months ago

The first paragraph looks much worse today.

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 5 months ago

And getting worse still…

shoewizard
Guest
shoewizard
2 years 5 months ago

The first paragraph was ALWAYS terrible, misguided, and off the mark.

Joe
Guest
Joe
2 years 4 months ago

And still getting worse

Noah Baron
Guest
2 years 23 days ago

and it has reached rock bottom

Sam Fuld
Guest
Sam Fuld
2 years 21 days ago

I could’ve done a better interview. Don’t believe me? Ask Jeff.

Grammer Police
Guest
Grammer Police
1 year 5 months ago

And Cody Ross just got released, with the DBacks eating nearly $10M.

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