LOS ANGELES – After spending 28 years with the San Diego Padres -- the final 14 as the team's general manager -- Kevin Towers was told to take a hike last fall.
New owner Jeff Moorad wanted to run the show, a right he had paid for in putting together a group that bought the franchise from John Moores. And an established exec like Towers didn't fit.
Moorad said he respected Towers but saw him as more of a "gunslinger," and Moorad wanted to have a more orderly plan.
Word of advice to Moorad: In the orderly world you create, pay attention to the talents of Towers. There was a method to his madness, and with the Padres' early season surge, rest assured other owners are taking note, which more than likely will open the door for Towers to get another opportunity to sit in the general manager's chair. And this time it most likely will come with a team that has money to spend.
In San Diego, Towers had a knack for dealing with the financial limitations, winning four titles in his 14 years and making it to the World Series once.
He was in the midst of the major remodeling of the Padres to adjust to Petco Park, their new home since 2004, which turned out to be dramatically different from the original Padres pad, Jack Murphy Stadium.
"It took two years to figure out how Petco was actually going to play, then it takes two or three years to get the draft moving and three or four years to get the drafted players through the system," Towers said. "Now, I think that is coming together."
The first signs of the new-look Padres surfaced in the final two months of last season. Cynics wrote it off as a late-season surge.
But the way the Padres have played in the opening weeks of 2010 is forcing the doubters to reconsider the evaluation of the Padres' plight.
The Padres went into the weekend leading the NL West, a surge built around a Towers-revamped pitching staff that ranked second in the NL (behind St. Louis) in overall earned-run average, third in the NL (behind St. Louis and San Francisco) in rotation ERA, and second in the NL (behind Colorado) in bullpen ERA.
What's more, the Padres have done it with a pitching staff on which the highest-paid member, Chris Young ($6.25 million), made only one start -- pitching six innings -- before going on the disabled list with shoulder problems. This is a staff on which eight of the 12 pitchers on the active roster are making less than $425,000.
It's also a pitching staff thrown together by the "gunslinger." Jon Garland, an offseason free-agent addition, is the only member of the staff added since Towers departed.
And Towers is enjoying the success the Padres are having, without any hard feelings. He remembers replacing his longtime friend, Randy Smith, as the general manager in 1996, and seeing the Padres win a division title. Two years later, they were in the World Series.
"I was the beneficiary of all the things Randy Smith did before me," Towers said. " ... I hope Jed (Hoyer, the current general manager) wins the division. It's great for a first-year GM to win the division, as I did. But I don't look at it as my team. It's Jed's team."
Although, Towers said, he does keep a close eye on the Padres.
"I certainly watch the Yankees first," Towers said, "but on the West Coast, I can catch the Yankees at 4 p.m., and then watch the Padres. I still have a lot of friends over there and a lot of players I've seen develop."
The focal point of the new-look Padres is the pitching staff, which Towers was able to create despite a bargain-basement budget.
While Garland was added to the rotation, the other starters right now include two products of the 2006 draft, Wade LeBlanc (second round) and Mat Latos (11th round); Kevin Correia, who was signed to a minor-league contract after San Francisco released him following the 2008 season; and Clayton Richard, acquired on July 31 last year along with pitchers Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell and Dexter Carter from the Chicago White Sox for Jake Peavy, whose contract was too rich for Moorad's checking account.
The bullpen is built around Heath Bell, acquired in November 2006 from the New York Mets for outfielder Ben Johnson and pitcher Jon Adkins.
Luke Gregerson came from St. Louis in the December 2008 trade of shortstop Khalil Greene. Edward Mujica came from Cleveland at the end of the 2009 spring training for a player to be named, who never was named. Tim Stauffer was the No. 1 pick in 2003, who is returning from major arm surgery. Joe Thatcher was part of the July 2007 package from Milwaukee for Scott Linebeck. And Ryan Webb was one of three players Towers acquired last July from Oakland for Scott Hairston, who Hoyer reacquired in the offseason.
As for the two pitchers on the disabled list, Sean Gallagher came along with Harrison from Oakland, and Chris Young was part of a package that included first baseman Adrian Gonzalez that Towers stole from Texas for a package that was built around Adam Eaton.