1. Kevin Towers, 1996, +19.2 (19-9-3)
The 1996 season was Towers’ first as general manager; he had been appointed the previous offseason to replace Randy Smith, who left for a similar position in Detroit. It also marked San Diego’s first postseason adventure since 1984, and Towers’ reshaping of the roster had everything to do with that success.
Two lockups of potential talent losses were pivotal to the Padres’ transformation from a 70-74 club of one season earlier. Both third baseman Ken Caminiti and outfielder Steve Finley had come over from Houston in an 11-player swap in December of 1994. Caminiti and Finley were both potential free agents, and Towers re-signed both of them to extensions.
The gain to the Padres was immediate. Caminiti hit .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI, easily the best season of his career and one that would win him the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
Finley played center field brilliantly and batted .298 with 30 homers and 95 RBI. Together, Caminiti and Finley were worth +9.1 WAA to San Diego’s 1996 season.
Towers also completed the process of extending the team’s face, outfielder Tony Gwynn. Although there was little likelihood of Gwynn actually leaving San Diego, formalizing his return was still important; Gwynn batted .353 as the regular right fielder.
Towers also re-signed veteran left-hander Fernando Valenzuela and in return got a 13-8 record and 3.62 ERA in 31 starts.
First base had been an unproductive position since the trade of Fred McGriff to Atlanta. To remedy that, Towers swung an offseason trade with the Kansas City Royals that landed veteran Wally Joyner. He batted .277 with a .781 OPS, good for another +1.2 WAA.
The combined record of Towers’ reshaping of the roster he inherited improved the Padres by a massive 19.2 games statistically. Since the Padres only won the division by one game and only qualified for postseason by three, it’s safe to say that Towers’ moves manipulated his team into the playoffs.
Once there, unfortunately, they were knocked out in the first round by the Cardinals in three straight games.