It wouldn't be politically correct to call the San Diego Padres cheap, but what else is there to say about an organization that seems complacent in finishing near the bottom of the NL West the past three seasons.
Padres CEO Jeff Moorad said goodbye to general manager Kevin Towers and handed the reins to former Boston Red Sox employee Jed Hoyer. Towers was the longest- tenured GM in team history, as he was named to the position in November 1995. He was then promoted to vice president in 2000 while still holding onto the title of GM, and under his guidance the team won NL West titles in 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2006, reaching the World Series in 1998.
Hoyer now has the privilege of building the club with a limited payroll and figuring out what to do with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Hoyer can deal the slugger for prospects or keep Gonzalez with hopes of picking up where the Padres left off in 2009. San Diego had a strong ending to the season, but still finished fourth in the tightly-packed NL West.
The core of the team is still pretty much intact minus ace Jake Peavy, who was dealt to the Chicago White Sox along with his lucrative contract last July. Perhaps the biggest addition to the team was pitcher Jon Garland. Garland signed a one-year contract in January and is a favorite to be San Diego's Opening Day starter. The righty will make $4.7 million this season, with a mutual option for $6.75 million in 2011. If the Padres decline the option, he gets a $600,000 buyout. If Garland rejects it, the buyout is $300,000.
Garland went 11-13 last season with a 4.01 ERA between six starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers and 27 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. There's a lot riding on Garland in 2010 and hopefully he'll be able to rise to the occasion. Chris Young may get the Opening Day start and is San Diego's only other pitching threat to the rest of the National League.
While the rest of the team looks like a Triple-A affiliate, the Padres are expected to have another third or fourth place finish in the division and miss out on the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2009 edition of the Padres, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
(75-87) - Fourth Place (NL West)
Key Offseason additions
OF Scott Hairston, OF Aaron Cunningham, RHP Jon Garland, C Yorvit Torrealba, INF/OF Jerry Hairston Jr., OF Matt Stairs, C Dusty Ryan, RHP Radhames Liz
Key Offseason subtractions
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, OF Brian Giles, C Henry Blanco, C Eliezer Alfonzo, INF Edgar Gonzalez, INF Luis Rodriguez, RHP Shawn Hill, RHP Mike Ekstrom, OF Cliff Floyd, RHP Walter Silva, RHP Cha Seung Baek
After trading Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Oakland Athletics for outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham, third baseman Chase Headley is back at his natural position on the hot corner. This will be Headley's second full season after earning a promotion from Triple-A Portland midway through the 2008 campaign. The switch-hitting Headley batted .262 with 12 home runs, 64 RBI and 10 stolen bases, but is still lacking the power needed for a third baseman.
A lot is riding on second-year shortstop Everth Cabrera this season. Cabrera was acquired from Colorado in the Rule 5 Draft and impressed his new teammates by stealing 25 bases and hitting .255 in 103 games. The switch-hitting Cabrera suffered a broken hand last April and compiled 23 errors in the field, something Black is not too pleased with. Black, though, should be happy that Cabrera had a large percentage of the team's stolen bases (25-of-82). The speedy Cabrera is expected to bat near the bottom of the order and will turn double plays with veteran second baseman David Eckstein. Eckstein is another quick player who has some pop in his bat and is entering his second season with the club. A World Series champion with St. Louis in 2006, Eckstein produced 131 hits, 50 RBI and a career-best 27 doubles in 2009. He had just two errors in 326 attempts.
All eyes will be on Gonzalez at first base for many reasons. Currently playing at a bargain rate with his hometown team, San Diego's lone star is saying all the right things about wanting to win a championship with the Padres. But he did mention this offseason that when his deal expires after the 2011 season his next contract is the 'contract where I look for what I deserve.' The slugging lefty was almost traded this offseason and management feels it would be better to move him now rather than later. Gonzalez will most likely be in search of a deal similar to what Mark Teixeira got with the Yankees if he's not traded. Gonzalez is coming off his third season with 30 or more home runs -- he hit a career-high 40 homers in 2009 -- and has played no less than 160 games over that span. His durability is often put to the wayside, much like San Diego's expectations of winning the NL West.
Nick Hundley appears to be the frontrunner for catcher and is entering his third season with San Diego. Hundley has caught 138 games with the Padres over the last two seasons, and missed 50 games last season with a sprained left wrist. He recorded eight homers and 30 RBI a year ago and will be pushed by Yorvit Torrealba, who spent the past four years with NL West-rival Colorado. Torrealba signed a one-year deal in February and will serve as a mentor to the younger Hundley, who's excited for the opportunity to work with the veteran. Dusty Ryan was acquired from Detroit and will also join the backstops.
The Padres will welcome back a familiar face in center field, as Hairston is slated to take over the starting spot. Hairston played 56 games for the Padres in 2009 before going to Oakland, appearing in 60 contests. He batted .299 with 10 homers and 29 runs batted in for the Padres, then his numbers dropped off a bit while with the A's. Hairston, who posted seven home runs and 35 RBI, and hit .236 in Oakland, signed a one-year deal worth $2.45 million in February. Despite missing most of June while on the disabled list with a strained left biceps, Hairston will likely see most of his playing time in center field with some time in right field. Tony Gwynn Jr. will also spend time in center and played a career-best 119 games a season ago, recording two homers with 21 RBI and a .270 batting average.
Will Venable will take over full-time in right field for Brian Giles, who was picked up by the Dodgers after San Diego let the veteran walk. Venable is a young, fast third-year pro ready to break out for the Padres, and established career highs in games (95), hits (75) homers (12) and RBI (38). According to San Diego's official web site, Kyle Blanks will hold down the fort in left. Blanks appeared in 54 games in his rookie year last season, hitting .250 with 10 homers and 22 RBI. The outfield is a microcosm of the entire organization with young players still raw and ready to make a splash at the big league level. Jerry Hairston, Aaron Cunningham and Matt Stairs will platoon.
Losing a Cy Young Award winner is always tough, but the Padres have more important things to worry about other than Peavy. That's why Garland is expected to be the team's No. 1 ace when the season gets underway next month. Garland, who has a career record of 117-102 with a 4.42 ERA over a 10-year career in the Major Leagues, spent the first eight seasons of his career with the White Sox. He won 18 games in 2005 and again in 2006, and made the American League All-Star team in 2005. Garland then played musical chairs in 2009 by splitting time between Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 33 starts between the clubs, Garland went 11-13 with a 4.01 earned run average.
Black is left with sort of a mess on his hands as to who will get the nod on Opening Day. It could Garland or last year's ace Chris Young, who is coming off arthroscopic shoulder surgery in August. The lanky hurler has received praise from Black for his ability to bounce back this spring after making just 14 starts a year ago, going 4-6 with a career-worst 5.21 earned run average. Young has played the past four seasons with the Padres and was an All-Star in 2007. Either Young, Garland or Kevin Correia will take the ball in the opener. There's a lot riding on Correia this season after the career year he had in 2009. The right-hander, in his first campaign with the Padres after six seasons in San Francisco, made 33 starts and posted a 12-11 record with a decent 3.91 ERA through 198.0 innings pitched. He apparently caught the eye of the front office and earned a one-year deal worth about $3.6 million in December. The native of San Diego earned $1.1 million last season even though he came to Spring Training on a minor league deal.
Left-hander Clayton Richard impressed his new teammates when he came over from Chicago in the Peavy deal, recording a 5-2 mark with a 4.08 ERA in 12 starts with the Padres. Richard is entering his third season in the majors and has the advantage of playing inside humongous Petco Park. The southpaw doesn't strike out many batters but is a strong ground ball-inducing hurler. Either way, the Padres have solid No. 4 or 5 starter in Richard. The fifth spot will be decided during Spring Training between Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer or veteran Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc is another youngster in the rotation and showed flashes of brilliance in 2009, going 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA in nine starts.
Bell showed what he can do as a closer last year to the tune of a National League-leading 42 saves in 48 chances. Bell, who took over for future Hall of Famer and fan favorite Trevor Hoffman, is apparently trying to add a changeup to his repertoire of fastballs and curve balls. The burly right-hander made his first All-Star appearance in 2009 and was rewarded in January with a one- year deal, reportedly worth $4 million, thus avoiding arbitration. The $4 million is a substantial raise over the $1.255 million Bell received a year ago. Bell, who compiled a 6-4 mark with a 2.71 ERA in 68 games last year, will be joined in the bullpen by a handful of players. Mike Adams missed most of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, going 0-0 with a 0.73 ERA in 37 trips to the mound. Joe Thatcher, Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica, Sean Gallagher, Ryan Webb and Cesar Ramos will all battle for a relief position.
The San Diego bench seems more like a police lineup with unfamiliar faces just doing their job. Matt Stairs was perhaps the biggest addition to Black's bench with his ability to hit the longball and veteran leadership. An instant folk hero for the Philadelphia Phillies with a monstrous homer in the 2008 NLDS against the rival Dodgers, Stairs will mostly serve as a pinch-hitter. Stairs is a career .268 pinch-hitter with 19 home runs, and has a career .377 on-base percentage coming off the pine. Hairston, Gwynn, Cunningham, Torrealba, Ryan and Oscar Salazar are expected to be the core of the San Diego bench. Youngsters Donavan Tate and Josh Barfield may reach the bigs this season too.
There's a ton of uncertainty on the future of this franchise, but the fans are hoping the switch from Towers to Hoyer will breed better results. That's a lot to ask of the first-year general manager even though the natives are certainly restless with the upcoming season. The Padres are hoping they can ride the fumes of last season's late surge into a promising 2010 campaign despite all the distractions surrounding All-Star slugger Gonzalez and the starting rotation. The young players are confident in their abilities, but if the team is already out of the mix by the All-Star break, expect big changes by the San Diego brass in the second-largest city in California.