2. Kevin Towers, 2006, +15.8 (30-17-8)
As the 2006 season approached, Towers faced the task of following up on a division championship and playoff campaign, albeit one that had ended in a three-game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But it was a roster that needed a lot of work. By the time Towers completed his tasks, eight members of the starting nine plus two rotation pieces had been locked in, and the game’s best closer committed to staying in San Diego.
Free agency was a godsend. Over the offseason, Towers signed veteran catcher Mike Piazza and outfielders Brian Giles and Dave Roberts, a threesome who combined to generate 4.1 WAA. He also re-signed Trevor Hoffman, who had piled up 434 saves for the Padres since 1993, and who, at age 38, would add 46 more in 2006.
A January trade landed rookie first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young from the Rangers. Gonzalez would bat .304 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI on his way to becoming a star. Young made 31 starts supporting the team’s ace, Jake Peavy, with an 11-5 record and 3.46 ERA. That trade was worth another +2.7 WAA.
By the time that trade was completed, Towers had already obtained outfielder Mike Cameron in a straight-up swap of outfielders with the Mets, Xavier Nady going to New York. Cameron was vital to the Padres’ 2006 success, with 22 home runs, 83 RBI and an .819 OPS. He added another +2.5 WAA.
The farm system delivered a pair of useful supporting pieces. Josh Barfield came up to play second base, hitting .280 while fielding well enough to generate +1.3 WAA. Clay Hensley held down a rotation starter spot with an adequate (although not spectacular) 11-12 record and 3.76 ERA.
The revamped Padres again won the NL West, this time by a tiebreaker over the Dodgers who, like San Diego, finished with an 88-74 record. In close races of that sort, the work of a GM can be pivotal. Towers’ work improved his team by +15.8 games and, since San Diego qualified for postseason play by only three games, it can fairly be said that the moves he made were the difference.
Unfortunately it did not help in the postseason, when the Padres again were eliminated by St. Louis, this time in four games.