Closer finishes stellar 18-year career with 601 saves
Trevor Hoffman, certainly the best National League closer of his era and a top first ballot Hall of Fame candidate for the Class of 2016, has decided to retire, ending his stellar 18-year career, he told MLB.com in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
The right-hander will finish with an all-time record 601 regular-season saves, 42 ahead of Yankees great Mariano Rivera who is in second place at 559. Hoffman, whose career ended with the Brewers, turned 43 on Oct. 13. A seven-time NL All-Star, Hoffman will return to the Padres -- the franchise where he built his reputation -- in a still undefined front-office role, he said.
"It's time to retire. It's time to move on," Hoffman said via phone from San Diego, where he and his family still make their home. "This is more of a self-evaluation. I expect to pitch at a certain level, and I had to be honest with myself that I wasn't certain I could maintain that anymore."
The Padres are planning a press conference on Wednesday in PETCO Park at 9 a.m. PT to announce the retirement and Hoffman's new role. The retirement of Hoffman's famous "51" should not be too far behind.
Jeff Moorad, the team's chief executive, said Hoffman will spend the year learning different facets of the front office, including baseball operations, before he "decides over time where he wants to focus his energies."
"Clearly, Trevor is one of the most significant players in Padres history," Moorad added. "It seems only right that he's back as part of the Padres family."
Hoffman, who did not exactly part ways with the Padres amicably after the 2008 season, said it was time to put all that acrimony to rest. The team's front office has almost completely turned over since then, with only majority owner John Moores still involved in the operations. Hoffman left as a free agent after a breakdown in negotiations, ultimately signing with Milwaukee.
"I would say it's the old adage -- that time was the real healer," said Hoffman, who recorded 552 of his saves pitching for the Padres from 1993-2008. "Sometimes you have to take a step back. I understand that some of it is about baseball being a business, but I don't really want to rehash all that. There's been a turnover of people there who wanted to reconcile and I've been cool with it. A couple of years definitely makes a big difference."
The Padres did ask Hoffman if he wanted to get back in uniform for one day and retire, but he declined the request.
"No, I won't do that," Hoffman said.
Hoffman made the decision after viewing the landscape of free agency again this past offseason. He was looking for a closer's job in proximity to home and didn't want to return in a setup role, a slot he filled for the better part of this past season in Milwaukee.
He was hoping to land in Arizona where old friend and former Padres general manager Kevin Towers is now the GM of the D-backs. But late last year, Towers signed J.J. Putz as the team's new closer, precluding that option. Had Putz signed elsewhere, Towers told Hoffman that he would've been the D-backs' "Plan B."
With Heath Bell having saved 89 games in the two years of Hoffman's San Diego absence, there was little possibility of Hoffman triumphantly returning on the field there, either.
"They really didn't want to bring me back to pitch," Hoffman said. "Heath is their closer and that's the whole thing. I think I might have had options to be a setup guy or another team could've brought me back on its staff, but I wanted to close. I had two great situations in San Diego and Milwaukee. I didn't want to just bounce around. I'd seen that happen with some other guys and I didn't want to diminish what I'd accomplished."
Hoffman parted ways with the Brewers after two seasons and became a free agent when the club declined to exercise a $7 million mutual option on Nov. 2. Hoffman's contract included a buyout that increased from $500,000 to $750,000 when he finished his 35th game of the season on Sept. 26.
Hoffman went into this past season only nine saves from the coveted 600 mark. But he says now that elbow tendinitis plagued him for most of the first half. Hoffman would never use that as an excuse, but after he blew five early opportunities, then-Brewers manager Ken Macha took Hoffman out of the closer role by mid-May and never reinstated him. Just as he mentored Bell for the Padres in '08, Hoffman did the same this past season with John Axford, who replaced him as closer.
Although Hoffman finished the season 2-7 with a 5.89 ERA (as opposed to a 1.83 ERA in 2009) in 50 appearances, he allowed just nine earned runs in his last 33 appearances dating back to June 3, finally reaching the 600-save plateau on Sept. 7 at Miller Park.
Aside from the 601 saves, he ends his career with an all-time record 856 games finished. Throwing his trademark slider and changeup that both danced in and out of the strike zone, Hoffman also had a 61-75 record and a 2.87 ERA with 1,133 strikeouts and only 307 walks in 1,839 1/3 innings.
If there's one chink in his resume, it's that he was able to amass only four postseason saves in 12 appearances as his Padres clubs went to the playoffs only four times, losing the 1998 World Series to the Yankees. But that says more about the Padres' lack of success than it does about Hoffman's.
Hoffman came to the Padres from the Marlins in the 1993 fire-sale trade that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida. A converted Minor League infielder, Hoffman recorded his first two big league saves for the Marlins. His best season was 1998, when he converted 53 of 54 save opportunities and allowed 12 earned runs all season for a 1.48 ERA as the Padres won their second NL pennant.
His Padres tenure ended, though, after the end of the 2008 season when former Padres chief executive Sandy Alderson abruptly pulled a $4 million offer from the table. Hoffman shelved negotiations at the time and later signed with the Brewers.
That's all "water under the bridge now," said Hoffman, who is emotionally comfortable with his ultimate decision to retire and how he is making it.
"I'm comfortable that this is the way it's happening," Hoffman said. "I didn't know how it was really going to play out. I think my biggest fear was the future, a 'What's next' kind of thing. I think having something to do is really a blessing for me. Some guys leave the game and they really don't know. But for me, having a commitment from the organization I made my name with is pretty big."