PHOENIX It only took a year for the Diamondbacks to understand and appreciate the value of Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson. The two were awarded new contracts not so much because the Diamondbacks won in 2011 but because they built a winning atmosphere that management believes set a foundation for long-term success.
The sides agreed on new three-year deals in October just days after the end of the D-backs' turnaround a 94-victory season although the news did not come out until late Thursday.
"Their greatest contributions were a change of culture," D-backs managing partner Ken Kendrick said early Friday. "From the first day, that was the mindset they brought. They (players) needed to learn how to win, and that's what (Towers and Gibson) taught them to do. This is a lot about leadership and creating a mindset of winning, and the continuation of understanding that winning is why we are all here. We wanted to show our confidence in them."
Both contracts come with options for 2015 and 2016.
Towers was hired on Sept. 23, 2010, and he picked Gibson as his manager a week later, after Gibson had served as interim manager in the second half of the season. Gibson is now the leading candidate for the NL Manager of the Year award.
The D-backs also will give Towers more money to spend in the offseason, Kendrick said, although he did not specify a figure. The D-backs won the NL West title with an on-field budget of about 54 million last season.
"Kevin has a great history of making trades," Kendrick said, although he added that specific needs "have not been defined."
"We're prepared to invest back into this team," Kendrick added. "We're trying to give Kevin some reasonable flexibility if he can find the right guys."
The mid-market D-backs will not be in the Prince FielderAlbert Pujols sweepstakes, but they do appear to have some money to spend, with only about 48 million in salary commitments moving forward. That figure includes the return of left-hander Joe Saunders, who stands to make about 6 million in arbitration if the D-backs tender him a contract, as expected.
The team also is expected to receive more of the baseball operations budget this season because less will be earmarked for the Rule 4 draft in June. The D-backs spent 10 million on their first four picks in 2011, when they were the first team in major league history to have two picks in the top seven. They have only one pick in the 2012 first round, No. 26, so they could divert perhaps half of that 10 million to major-league salary.
The D-backs' culture change began in the offseason, when Towers added veteran leaders such as Henry Blanco, Willie Bloomquist and Geoff Blum. The change also was noticeable in the All-Star coaching staff Gibson assembled, bringing in notable names such as Don Baylor and Alan Trammell to join a group that already included Matt Williams.
The D-backs became the first team since the start of division play in 1969 to go from last place to first in the span of a month when they caught the San Francisco Giants at the end of May last year, and their 29-game improvement included their first NL West title since 2007.
"They expected to win last year," Kendrick said of Towers and Gibson. "If you would have asked me what I thought, I wouldn't have had that expectation. It was more of a hope than an expectation."
Contract talks were initiated immediately after the D-backs lost the NLDS to Milwaukee in five games. Towers had originally agreed to a two-year contract with two two-year options that could vest depending on the team's performance. Gibson was on a two-year deal through 2012 that included an option for 2013.
The D-backs said the new deals were not a proactive move to take Towers and Gibson off the market during the annual hunt to fill openings. The Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres have filled their GM vacancies, although Baltimore's is still open. The Cubs, Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals are in the market for managers.
"You could expect their performances were noticeable by others, but that was not a part of our decision," Kendrick said.