Towers builds D-backs around familiar faces

Towers builds D-backs around familiar faces

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Padres may have left Kevin Towers behind, but he certainly hasn't done the same to the Padres. Opening his first season as general manager of the D-backs, Towers has six of his former San Diego players in camp this spring.

The list includes outfielder Xavier Nady, utility man Geoff Blum and backup catcher Henry Blanco, who are on the Major League roster, while first baseman Russell Branyan, pitcher Brian Sweeney and third baseman Sean Burroughs have Minor League deals.

Although some of them were bit players, they account for 13 seasons of combined Padres experience when Towers was GM in San Diego. Even the now-retired Padres closer Trevor Hoffman was "Plan B" if the D-backs didn't sign J.J. Putz to a free-agent contract during the offseason.

"These are character guys, veterans that I knew would have a strong presence in our clubhouse," Towers said as the D-backs worked out Tuesday on the practice diamonds behind their new Salt Lake Fields facility. "I knew what their intangibles are, which I thought was important. We wanted to change the culture. Makeup and character was paramount in constructing this club. When you have history with individuals, you know what they're about as well."

Towers was GM of the Padres for 16 years from 1996-2009 before he was dismissed by chief executive Jeff Moorad. At the time, Moorad called Towers a "gunslinger," who could make the quick trade, but was let go with a year left on his contract because he wasn't deft at building a farm system. Towers spent 2010 working as a scout for the Yankees before the D-backs hired him this past September.

Nady was picked by the Padres in the second round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft and three years later was traded to the Mets for Mike Cameron. Blum played for the Padres twice -- for part of the 2005 season and again in '06 and '07. In the interim, you might remember Blum hitting the 14th-inning homer that won Game 3 of the '05 World Series for the White Sox over the Astros in Houston. Chicago captured its first World Series title since 1917 the next evening.

Both players said on Tuesday that their relationship with Towers was a key reason why they signed with the D-backs. It may be only a coincidence, but Nady and Towers both make their offseason homes in San Diego.

"It made the negotiations a lot easier," said Blum, who will be used as in a veteran backup role. "I'd like to think that we had a good run in San Diego. I helped out a little bit. The three years I was there they won two division titles and went to a 163rd game for a playoff spot and lost. K.T. had some pretty good success over there."

"He obviously gave me my start in pro ball," said Nady, who will be given a chance to break the starting lineup as a left fielder. "I've always been very thankful to him and we've remained close friends. He's a good man with a great knowledge for the game. He's been very successful and I know the Diamondbacks are very happy to have him."

Towers was hired by the D-backs a little more than two months after general manager Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch were dismissed. In another ironic twist of fate for the D-backs/Padres relationship, Byrnes and Hinch are working in the front office for Moorad, who was once an Arizona general partner. Towers interviewed with Moorad for the D-backs GM job in 2005. Byrnes got it.

Though both Nady and Blum expressed their surprise that Towers was let go by the Padres, Towers said it was a fate accompli as soon as Moorad bought part of the club from John Moores and took over as chief executive just prior to the 2009 season.

"I knew it was coming for some time," Towers said on Tuesday. "I had a month or two to prepare, and by the end of that season, I knew what was going to happen. I was a good soldier there for a couple of months, ultimately knowing at the end of the season that I was going to be let go. The toughest thing for me was my phone not ringing off the hook every day. I didn't know what to do with myself for two or three months. It was kind of awkward."

The "gunslinger" label, he said, was a fun nickname. And when the Padres went to the last day of the season before playoff elimination largely behind a bullpen and a young team he built, it disproved the notion that he couldn't construct a Minor League system. Mat Latos, Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Will Venable all were drafted and came up through the Padres' system when Towers was the general manager.

After almost five months in Arizona, Towers said he's gotten over calling the D-backs "them" and the Padres "we." But it's obvious that his San Diego ties still run deep, as the current D-backs roster attests.

"There always has to be a reason when you let somebody go," Towers said. "I looked at the gunslinger tag as a badge of honor. That's the person I am. I'm old-school. When I grew up, I learned that the guy who threw the first punch usually won. I wasn't going to let somebody punch me first.

"It's a business. Sometimes with a change of ownership there is a change in leadership up top. I had a great run there. I have no complaints. San Diego was very, very good to me."

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.