Arizona Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz and catcher Miguel Montero embrace...

Arizona Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz and catcher Miguel Montero embrace after Putz closed out the Diamondbacks 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres. (July 27, 2011) Credit: AP

Diamondbacks strike back

When Kevin Towers took over the Arizona Diamondbacks' baseball operations last September after serving the 2010 season as special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, he prioritized short-term gains over long-range reconstruction.

"Fans don't believe in long-term plans," Towers said this past week in a telephone interview. "I told [Diamondbacks president] Derrick Hall, 'My job is to turn this around as quickly as I can.' "

That he has done just that, putting the Diamondbacks in play for both the National League West title and the NL wild card, is partly a tribute to Josh Byrnes, Arizona's GM from late 2005 through the middle of last season, who acquired key players such as Ian Kennedy (from the Yankees), Chris Young (from the White Sox) and Josh Collmenter (through the draft). Towers' lieutenant Jerry DiPoto picked up pitchers Daniel Hudson (from the White Sox) and Joe Saunders (from the Angels) during his time as interim GM last summer.

Yet Towers, the former Padres GM, inherited a team with consecutive last-place finishes on its resume, committed to interim manager Kirk Gibson and boosted his reputation as a bullpen guru by signing former Met J.J. Putz as a free agent and acquiring David Hernandez from Baltimore for Mark Reynolds.

"I've always been a firm believer in getting bullpen guys with different looks," Towers said, and that's why he picked up submariner Brad Ziegler from Oakland last week to go with Putz (who throws sliders and split-finger fastballs) and Hernandez (curveballs and changeups). One difference from San Diego, Towers noted, is that he can't be as open to fly-ball pitchers in the more hitter-friendly Chase Field.

Gibson, meanwhile, has put himself in the running for NL Manager of the Year, a strong competition also featuring the Mets' Terry Collins and Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle. The knock on these talented Diamondbacks had long been that they weren't optimizing their talent. That's no longer the case.

"There's no greater compliment than talking to other executives, other GMs, and they say, 'You guys play your ---- off. You play hard,' " Towers said. "Players take on the personality of their manager."


A-Rod's and Albert

Yes, Major League Baseball officials get exasperated by Alex Rodriguez's constant run-ins with trouble. And no, there isn't a darn thing they can do about it, at least not yet.

If you want to know how unlikely it is that A-Rod will receive a suspension for his involvement in illegal poker games, look at the case of former slugger Albert Belle, whom MLB investigated for betting on other sports -- reportedly pro and college football and basketball.

Belle admitted to losing about $40,000 on these bets, yet baseball found itself powerless to discipline the outfielder. Betting on other sports, needless to say, is far closer to the unforgivable betting on baseball than is A-Rod's participation in high-stakes poker games.

Let's be clear: Baseball can't so much as "order" a meeting with A-Rod. It can request a get-together, and A-Rod can be nice enough to attend, which he'll do.

This isn't an indictment of MLB, which has to do what it can to control its players. Yet we need to have our facts straight when discussing this story. There's a better chance of A-Rod winning this year's World Series of Poker than of him getting suspended for any transgressions related to this.


For whom Heath Bell pitches

The Padres vowed all along that they would trade Heath Bell only if they received an offer commensurate with the two compensatory draft picks they'll receive this winter if Bell rejects arbitration and signs elsewhere. And they weren't bluffing, as Bell remains in San Diego following the non-waivers trade deadline.

Now Bell says he'll accept arbitration if the Padres offer it this winter. Eh. I'll bet he doesn't. Even in a flooded free-agent market for closers, with Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez also out there, Bell should find a multiyear deal somewhere.

If Bell actually accepts arbitration? That wouldn't be good, But the Pads could try to convince Bell to be traded, and teams would like the idea of one-year commitment to Bell.

In all, given that the Padres didn't like the trade offers for Bell, this strategy is a worthwhile risk.


Pop quiz

Name the major-leaguer who retired, starred in a sitcom and then returned to play in the big leagues.



Three players who could be traded this month

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros. He'll clear waivers, and the Astros would love to dump him.

Jason Isringhausen, Mets. If the Mets fall further out of the race, they'll have little incentive to keep the veteran.

Jason Giambi, Rockies. Big G would be a nice bench piece for any aspiring playoff club.


Three contenders with remaining needs

Angels. Their starting rotation is strong at the front but very weak in the back.

Giants. Even with Carlos Beltran aboard, they could use more help on offense.

Yankees. They want another lefty reliever. Maybe it'll be their own Manny Banuelos.


Quote of the week

"It's going way too far when they start cursing your family and the funniest one, the guy's yelling, 'I hope you get shingles again.' ''

-- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, taking on fans after an intense game in Milwaukee.


Pop quiz answer

Jim Bouton, who headlined "Ball Four" for CBS in 1976 and pitched for the Braves in 1978. Interestingly, "Ball Four" lasted five episodes and Bouton pitched in five games in '78. Thanks to Mark Topaz of Long Beach for the suggestion.

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