The struggling Arizona Diamondbacks made an unconventional front office decision in hiring three-time World Series champion manager Tony La Russa to a shiny new position earlier this month: chief baseball officer. The move made sense in the wake of Arizona solidifying their status as a last place team in the NL West, especially considering general manager Kevin Towers‘ seeming inability to strap together a balanced ball club.
The rumor mill has already begun to swirl around baseball in regard to what this move means for Towers, who has witnessed several “key” offseason player-personnel decisions blow up in his face in early action. At the moment, Arizona sits 10.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants despite owning the 12th largest payroll in baseball. The D’Backs currently have a 1.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, a product of their minus-65 run differential. They’re 11 games below the .500 mark.
Adding La Russa to the forefront of the team’s front office won’t suddenly turn the D’Backs into a winner, but it will have a substantial carryover effect if the future Hall of Famer is given the type of power he deserves. Make no mistake, La Russa would have never accepted this position if he wasn’t going to have significant input within Arizona’s brain trust. That reality doesn’t bode well for Towers, who was named Sporting News MLB Executive of the Year in 2011 after the D’Backs achieved a 29-game turnaround to win the NL West but has made a slew of highly questionable personnel decisions ever since.
Towers is responsible for head-scratching moves, like trading up-and-coming third baseman Chris Johnson and proven outfielder Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for a band of prospects and Martin Prado. That deal will go down as Towers’ legacy in Phoenix. Arizona had pieces in place to contend, but Towers digressed, opting instead to put his stamp on the team. Now, it’s La Russa’s turn to make an impact.
Although it remains somewhat unlikely for La Russa to pull the plug on Towers this summer, his presence in the owner’s box virtually creates a lame duck situation. Towers is no longer in control of the organization’s future. La Russa’s well-established connections throughout baseball will lead to Tower’s oust. How soon that happens remains to be seen.
Some believe the link between La Russa and current Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty is too strong to ignore, but owning a house in Arizona doesn’t constitute a willingness to jump ship for a struggling organization. One thing is for sure: La Russa is now in charge of overseeing player-personnel decisions in Arizona, making Towers a temporary sideshow.