A year and a half after fielding a pennant-winning team, and receiving due credit for it, Arizona Diamondbacks' general manager Kevin Towers was the recipient of impassioned criticism all offseason.
Following an 81-81 showing in 2012, Towers' grit gambit over the winter was scoffed at by many who had difficulty with the concept of building a team around the intangibility of a never-give-up, grinder, scrappy attitude rather than talent. That -- talent -- was what the Diamondbacks GM traded away when he parted with Justin Upton, the face of the franchise, and prized prospect Trevor Bauer.
Yet, despite some bumps along the way, Towers' club is cruising in first place following a doubleheader sweep of the Rangers on Monday. And he's not surprised in the least.
"I think we're a good club," Towers told Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf, "I felt we were a good club in spring training. I felt that we were as good as anyone else in this division. We knew there would be injuries but we knew that we had depth."
At 30-22, the Diamondbacks are leading the NL West by two games over the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies. They lead Major League Baseball in one-run victories, with 13, which is a welcomed improvement over last season's 15-27 record in such games.
"We loved the character of the club," Towers said. "It was the type of club that (Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson) and I kind of wanted all along. One that would kind of scrap, find ways to score runs. Pitching. Defense."
By adding players like Martin Prado, who came to the team from the Atlanta Braves in the Upton trade, Cliff Pennington, and Cody Ross, along with veterans Eric Chavez and Eric Hinske, Towers hoped to create a clubhouse culture that valued hard work and team, rather than individual, success. Players like Willie Bloomquist, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero, and others already seemed to embody the attitude that he was after.
"They're just fierce competitors," Towers said of his team later in the on-air interview. "They hang together. They bounce back after a tough game. Gibby was telling me that the energy they had during a split doubleheader, in which a lot of guys could be dragging, he said our guys were fired up and had energy going into the game."
Towers couldn't stop rambling about his guys. "They love playing the game. They love playing together. They challenge one another. They root for one another."
To the baffling of the scoffers, the team Towers fielded this season is thriving, making him look awfully good.
But it wasn't just this season Towers was thinking about while he strung together his offseason moves. It was the future, too.
"The beauty of this team is a lot of these guys should be together for quite a while," he explained. "If it is the right recipe, hopefully we'll be enjoying exciting, good Diamondbacks baseball for many, many years."
The Diamondbacks extended the contracts of both Martin Prado (four years; $40 million) and Paul Goldschmidt (five years; $32 million), while signing Cody Ross to a three-year contract and trading for Didi Gregorius, who will be under team control for the next six years.
Indeed, for Towers, the future, just like the present, is bright.
"This team believed in themselves. They felt they could compete. They felt they could go out and win this division. Now we just have to do it for another two-thirds of the season."