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The Diamondbacks are travelling down “Grit Avenue and Guts Boulevard and Grind Parkway”

Jan 25, 2013, 10:37 AM EDT

Kevin Towers

Yesterday I talked about Kevin Towers’ apparent grit-obsession. Today Jeff Passan has a great column up looking more deeply at the choices the Arizona Diamondbacks have made in their recent trades, and marveling at a team trading away talent for attitude:

Trading talent with perceived personal flaws rarely leads to such success. This does not make Gibson a bad guy for wanting a certain type of player. This does not make Towers stupid, not after a career of showing that he is indeed one of the game’s savvier GMs … It simply leaves them prone. The Diamondbacks dumped a player with superstar potential when they didn’t have to. They scoffed at the roads offered and cleared a new one with Grit Avenue and Guts Boulevard and Grind Parkway as side streets. They can only hope the ride is not as bumpy as it looks.

Go check it out.  I think it strikes a perfect balance of fairness to a couple of guys — Gibson and Towers — who have earned respect and some benefit of the doubt — while still being appropriately skeptical of what, on the surface anyway, is a baffling couple of trades.

  1. robmoore - Jan 25, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Gibson was a great player because he had skills, not because he had grit. He seems to have misinterpreted his own success. I can’t see this working out well for the D-Backs.

    • nategearhart - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      Joe Morgan-itis

    • chacochicken - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      Yes, Gibson was a great WR at Mich. St. and only played one year of college baseball. He was apparently an incredible athlete as a young man. Doesn’t sound all that different from Justin Upton really.
      Grit is great, and good pitching, don’t forget the pitching. How well does grit play over a 162 game season?
      Craig, from one to ten, who are the grittiest writers on this site?

    • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      You can’t tell anyone they don’t have grit. Everyone thinks they have grit.

      • Ben - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM

        I crashed my bike pretty hard once. I had grit for weeks. Stuff gets embedded in your skin.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:29 AM

        Sounds like someone went off the training wheels a little too early…

      • recoveringcubsfan - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:48 AM

        Wait, now, maybe it was a hoverbike. Ben, was it a hoverbike?

      • sophiethegreatdane - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:20 PM

        I have no grit. Smoooooth. Just call me Legato.

      • skids003 - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:36 PM

        Grits are something you eat down South.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:41 PM

        I’m pretty sure you can get soul food in the D, but I will take that to mean skids hasn’t had his black-eyed peas for the new year.

      • skids003 - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM

        histrio, you should come down here some time and let me take you out to supper and treat you to some Southern delicacies, I think you’d like them.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:00 PM

        skids, why am I afraid you want to con me into trying calf fries? :) I live down south, btw.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jan 25, 2013 at 3:16 PM

        I love Grits. Contrary to popular opinion…you don’t have to live in the South to eat them.
        Love em’. With lots of butter…and even more sugar. Yeah…Grits.

  2. csndrew - Jan 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    Sure, the 2010 Giants, 2011 Cardinals and 2012 Giants had plenty of talent, but they – particularly the 2012 Giants – were loaded with gritty players who knew how to win. The most talented teams almost never win the World Series.

    That said, I’m not sure what the hell the D-Backs are doing.

    • nategearhart - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      “They knew how to win” is sort of a post hoc rationalization though, isn’t it? If any of those teams had not won the world series, but were every bit as gritty, would you still be saying that they “knew how to win”? A metric that can only be applied after all the dust has cleared from a season is not a tool that a smart GM should be using to build a team. Talent, meanwhile, is talent. And without it and some luck, you aren’t getting to the playoffs.

      • jl9830 - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM

        I mean, that’s like asking “if he didn’t hit 40 homers, would he still be a 40 home run hitter?” If they didn’t win, but were every bit as gritty, they didn’t “know how to win.”

      • nategearhart - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:45 AM

        Hitting 40 home runs is a tangible thing you can do to help your team win. “Knowing how to win” is not.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:22 PM

        I know how to win. Just score more runs than the other guys.

        No grit required.

    • infrancoeurgible - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:04 AM

      Yeah, but all of those teams were crazy good at something.

      The Giants pitching in 2010 was bonkers good (first in NL ERA, hits allowed, and strikeouts), and their offense was actually slightly above average overall. Good mix for winning.

      The Cardinals in 2011 as a team had a split of .273/.341/.425 (all first in the NL), pitching was slightly below average but the offense could rake so that was cancelled out and then some.

      Then this year’s Giants had an above average offense and above average pitching (in spite in Lincecum and Zito).

      Teams that win World Series are usually above average at both pitching and hitting, and if not, really, really good at one or the other.

      • recoveringcubsfan - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:12 PM

        Let’s also always bear in mind that teams that win the World Series cobbled together 12 wins (if you include the abortion-on-the-diamond known as the play-in game) out of a maximum possible 20 games. So, you can go 12-8 and win the World Series. We are not speaking of teams that dominate the opposition, necessarily. You just have to be somewhat talented and a lot lucky, worst-case. So, to pin postseason success to one factor is not a good argument to make – it just doesn’t translate clearly that a team with the best ability to do something will win 12 of 20 games because of that. Even the worst teams in baseball go 12-8 sometimes. Were they “gritty”? I think we can say that the Cubs, Astros, Royals, and Marlins sure don’t “know how to win,” so how do they go 12-8 sometimes?

      • pdowdy83 - Jan 25, 2013 at 6:51 PM

        I look at the Diamondbacks roster and think they will have an average offense with an above average pitching staff. Are they better than the Giants and Dodgers? Maybe not but it isn’t like they gutted the team. While yes these trades seem unnecessary they do remove some level of “friction” from the organization. Whether the issues are real or not they became public and that has to cause tension in the club house.

    • paperlions - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      The most talented team rarely win because they have to win 3 short series in a row. If you are clearly the best team, that puts your odds of winning 3 such series around 15-18%. All teams that make the playoffs do so because of talent, not because of grit. There are a lot of bad teams chock full of grit, but somehow grit is only paid attention to when a team laden with talent also has it.

    • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Hey! The Tigers had grits!

  3. Ben - Jan 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    Grit. It’s the new OBP. Or something.

    • Sign Ahead - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      I think it’s the new “Veteran Presence”.

      • Ben - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:04 AM

        This is actually Kevin Towers’ genius “new Coke” plan. He’s going to trade away all his talent, so then when everyone thinks the Diamondbacks suck, he’ll bring back Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, Chris Young, etc.. and sales will go through the roof! Or something?

      • Sign Ahead - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:12 AM

        I gotta admit, I find the whole thing kinda frustrating, but I don’t think I can blame Kevin Towers. The Diamondbacks have a peculiar owner with very little patience for people who don’t conform to the narrative in his head. And that narrative apparently demands gritty ball players and plucky announcers who are ready to jump up and say “Yes, SIR!” (or maybe “You betchya, skip!”) when the boss tells them what to do. Upton, Bauer, and Sutton didn’t conform, so they were dropped for people who did.

      • infrancoeurgible - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:17 AM

        Towers has always had interesting ownership situations.

        Back in 2004, he did not want to take Matt Bush #1 overall. At all. He had his eyes on a kid from Old Dominion named Verlander and a more local kid from Long Beach State named Weaver. Ownership wasn’t too keen on paying their bonuses though.

      • cur68 - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        infrancoeurgible: I didn’t know that about Towers wanting Weaver and Verlander ahead of Mat “Expletive” Bush. Sure puts a new spin on this whole business, now doesn’t it? When I read Towers’s comments about why Upton was traded all I could come up with out of them was: Upton didn’t risk his body like his manager used to do to make plays and wasn’t liked (by some) because of it. All phrased in such a way as to make it clear that Towers isn’t trying to slam Upton and lining Gibson and the team owner up as the source of this reasoning line.

        As anyone who knows how to use BRef can verify, Upton’s first six years in MLB are better than Gibson’s first six, with a third more games played than Gibson. He’s a better player with more work in as a pro ball player & less injury history than the guy who’s citing his lack of “grit”.

        As far as I can tell, Gibson and his team owner’s line of reasoning is that “grit” = “injured all the time”.

        I’m starting to think that Towers needs to work for someone else, because these guys are in the process of ruining the team he built.

      • paperlions - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM

        If those situations are true, then Towers is still at fault IMO. If you are a GM hired to do a job to the best of your ability, and the owner keeps chiming in telling you what to do, then you give him the choice between letting you do the job you were hired to do or to fire you and hire someone that agrees with the owner’s philosophy. It isn’t like a talented FO person would be out of work for long.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:56 AM

        Oh, so they are looking for Thelma & Louise grit. With you now.

      • schlom - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:03 PM

        The Padres were never going to draft Verlander in 2004, their final two were Jared Weaver and Towers’ favorite Stephen Drew. However supposedly team owner John Moore’s didn’t want o spend for those two so at the last minute they switched to local product Matt Bush, reportedly so late before the draft they didn’t interview him or do any background check.

        I’m not sure why everyone thinks the Padres were going to draft Verlander, I guess since he went second overall.

      • Sign Ahead - Jan 25, 2013 at 1:13 PM

        @paperlions

        I’m sure that there are some owners who would welcome a smart, principled baseball executive who left his job over a conflict with another team’s owner. But I suspect that many of them believe, as Kendrick does, that employees should do as they’re told (In Arizona, the last two owners have fit that profile to some extent). To them, a GM who doesn’t do as he’s told is not a good GM. That said, I would not be surprised if Towers leaves when his contract is done.

        On the other hand, I don’t think he was that fond of Upton himself. He just saw enough value in Upton to hold out until he got a decent (not great…just decent) deal. For that, I’m kinda grateful (although the Bauer for Gregorious deal still worries me).

  4. flosox - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    I hate that phrase “know how to win”…its right up there with “learn how to pitch”…

    These guys all “know how to win”; score more runs then the other team! I think the more appropriate term is “care to win.” It seems like a lot of times these guys mail it in, a la Roger Dorn.

  5. heyblueyoustink - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    “Trading talent with perceived personal flaws rarely leads to such success.”

    I wonder if Ugeth Urbina is familiar with this line of thinking, burying the hatchet, and getting his arm in shape.

  6. tomemos - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    Passan’s column is good overall, but can I push back on the idea that the Giants won with “a diametrically opposed baseball worldview” from numerical analysis? I thought we buried that one already.

  7. Old Gator - Jan 25, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    “Grit Avenue and Guts Boulevard and Grind Parkway” all terminate in a cul-de-sac in an industrial area full of prefab steel sheds where bad teams are either dismantled and rebuilt or cut up for spare parts. This is not going to be a great year for the Snakes.

    • koufaxmitzvah - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      Grind Parkway sounds like a glorified alleyway. Or at least the nickname for a stall in a dingy bar that has a reputation for peep and/or glory holes.

      Would hate to peep through a glory hole.

      Yes, I have spent my last two weeks watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

    • Sign Ahead - Jan 25, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      Hey, right now, we’re tied for first!

  8. thebadguyswon - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    Gonna be fun watching the DBacks grind their way to 74 wins each of the next five years.

  9. recoveringcubsfan - Jan 25, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    For what it’s worth: my gf became a huge baseball fan last season, out of the blue. She is now absolutely crazy about baseball and devours anything related to the game, her team, her favorite players. She’s also really clever and so she already knows that as a new fan all she has to do to make fast friends with anybody is ask them to teach her about the game, since she didn’t grow up around it or its fans. Right away, I showed her the clip of Gibson’s walkoff, and with tears in my eyes I tried to put into words how that moment and so many others I have seen over the years symbolizes all that is unpredictable, wonderful, and transcendent about the game. How we, as fans, can sometimes if we’re lucky, be present at a moment where a plain man overcomes all odds and touches the sublime and we, with him, are transformed for those few unforgettable seconds. In that iota of time, from many we become one. It is one of the great joys of any collective passion like sports.

    But now that I know a little more about Kirk Gibson, that idea has been corroded and has lost its lustre, at least as far as he is concerned. His way of playing the game has been legitimized, no doubt partly as a result of the great credit he gets for that hit, and now all I can see is the insidious ideology that underpins his feelings about the game. It’s just wrong now.

    I suppose that baseball needs to be a complicated pursuit; or to be more specific it needs to be understood in complex ways. It’s a national myth, after all. Like with the HoF, whose irresponsible stewardship of the game’s legacy is a blot on its own soul, not the game’s, people like Gibson who insist that baseball is not complex, but merely the pursuit of perfect mimicry – in this case, of some paragon of “grit” – should be left behind by the fans. The game belongs to them as much as it does to the players and managers, and the corporation known as MLB. It’s always been a popular sport whose true history is in the minds and memories of those who watched it and who took from it what they needed. What’s true about baseball, as James would say, is what we say about it. Thus, for a collectivist game with popular appeal, it actually lives only in the passing of stories between parents and children, boyfriends and girlfriends, one generation to another.

    Which is also why I say, screw Kirk Gibson. He doesn’t tell me shit about baseball.

    • professormaddog31 - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:05 PM

      To that end, one man’s grit is another man’s laissez-faire. People who grind it out through injury aren’t always a ‘better player’ than the guy who can’t hack it so much.

      I’ve never liked Gibson, I’ve always considered him a bit of a weasel for some reason, and the more I learn about him, the less I like him.

      Grit’s fine and dandy but so too is intelligence. And thinking that one person has the corner on ‘grit’ is about as dumb as dumb can be.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:25 PM

        I always wonder why people think it’s better to play hard than play smart.

  10. sisqsage - Jan 25, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    They’ll be the grittiest .500 team money can’t buy.
    Every organization that purports to wanting to win a World Series has to have a plan.
    The Giants plan: outpitch you. The Dodgers now want to outspend you.
    For AZ, giving up on Bauer that quickly is just plain weird, and indicates that their plan for him didn’t work (after all of two years and skyrocketing through the minors) or that they really don’t have one at this point.

  11. professormaddog31 - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    Cheese grits, son. With some blackened shrimp. Louisiana hot sauce for flavor.

    Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we were talking about something good, and not the roster for the D’Backs. :)

    • Old Gator - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

      Yellow corn grits at that. Mix the Tabasco with some melted butter before drizzling it over the shrimp and cheese.

  12. sf69ers - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    As a D-Backs fan, what is Towers and Gibson’s defintion of grit? Chris Young was off to a fast start last year and looked as if the light had finally come on. Young destroyed his shoulder on an amazing catch crashing into the wall. He was not the same player rushing back from the shoulder injury and gets shipped out this offseason. Not sure what is going on, but at least the beer prices are still amongst the leagues lowest!

  13. sportsdrenched - Jan 25, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    If this is a sound strategy for winning why hasn’t Dayton Moore traded Chris Getz for Justin Verlander?

    I’ve heard enough BS come out of the Royals front office that involves these terms that when I hear these terms I immediatly think: “they’re terrible and we’re trying to dress thing up so you’ll spend your money on tickets this summer”.

  14. louhudson23 - Jan 26, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    Why is it so hard to understand that Gibson doesn’t want anyone,regardless of so called talent ,who acts as though they would just as soon be elsewhere,gives him shit every time he says something to them,is pretty much a dick to his teammates and whose total value is based on unfulfilled potential? Just because they call it grit,doesn’t mean they mean grit. Talent,skill and production are always valued by everyone in the game,so why just get rid of someone. Because you deem that putting up with their baggage(as you perceive it) is not worth it,in relation to what they actually contribute. Clearly,Towers/Gibson believe that Prado will give production and be happy to be there playing baseball for a living. They did not feel that way about J.Upton. So,he is gone. Grit indeed……

  15. chiefmac64 - Jan 26, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    Gibson was a great player because he had skills and grit combined. The Upton Brothers are a perfect reflection of uber talented and poorly driven motivation wise due to way too much notoriety at a young age and too much $ too early. They have zero drive. Talent? Without question. Talent alone though is never enough.

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