2010 record: 90-72
Finish: Second place, NL West
2010 final payroll: $43.7 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $45 million
During his eight years in the Boston Red Sox front office, Jed Hoyer learned how to run a baseball team with urgency. Every move around the American League East affected the Red Sox’s standing and often called for a countermeasure. His ability to carry over the same philosophy to such a different situation – the Padres are indeed the Little Friars of the Poor – speaks to his skill as an executive.
Hand it to Hoyer: Forced by impending free agency to deal Adrian Gonzalez(notes), a legitimate franchise player and native San Diegan to boot, the general manager didn’t stop there. Nearly one-third of the expected 25-man roster is brand new and, at a majority of the positions, improved.
Now, Brad Hawpe(notes) can’t replace Gonzalez at first base. Five Hawpes couldn’t. Orlando Hudson(notes), however, is an upgrade over David Eckstein(notes) at second base. Same with Jason Bartlett(notes) over the Miguel Tejada(notes)-Everth Cabrera shortstop combination last season. Cameron Maybin(notes) is a huge talent, and escaping Florida was the best thing that could have happened to him, even if it is for Petco Park, which swallows home runs like Pac-Man does cherries.
To get Maybin, the Padres dealt relievers Edward Mujica(notes) and Ryan Webb(notes). Hoyer’s fundamental understanding of relief – except for the elite of elite, they’re fungible – bodes well. He’ll find some more young arms, plug ‘em in and let Petco do its work.
Another beneficiary, Hoyer hopes, is right-hander Aaron Harang(notes), who needs help of any kind, be it environmental or mechanical. Sticking Harang with Darren Balsley, San Diego’s renowned pitching coach, could help find the strikeouts he lost last season. Pitching at Petco solves half the issue. Even Charlie Brown could win there.
Oh, there was more: Signing Dustin Moseley(notes) away from the Yankees – New York spends $90 million on its free agents, the Padres spend $900,000 on theirs – and trading for backup catcher Rob Johnson(notes) and, all the while, sending a warning bugle to the NL West.
If the Padres are going to dip back into the dregs of their division, it’ll be with a mighty fight.
As nice and romantic a story as it would be to ink Heath Bell(notes) to a long-term deal, Hoyer understands that he cannot do so unless Bell takes a severe discount, which simply isn’t going to happen. It’s nuts for a team with a pea-sized payroll to devote 10 percent of its payroll, let alone the 20 percent it would take to keep Bell, to a guy who throws 70 innings a year.
This sort of conversation colors every discussion about the Padres. It’s one thing to pare salary during rebuilding. It’s another to hoard money and handicap management. And while we can’t yet say definitively how owner Jeff Moorad, the former agent, will support the Padres, it’s worth noting that Forbes said the franchise had the fifth-highest operating income at $32.1 million in 2009.
Rather than focus any energy on an extension for Bell, Hoyer will find a suitable trade partner and do what he did with Gonzalez: extract a good return. Casey Kelly should join the Padres’ rotation by next season at latest and complement Mat Latos(notes), who proved himself last season one of the best pitchers in the NL. Another solid season from Clayton Richard(notes), a Tim Stauffer(notes) breakthrough in the rotation and Corey Luebke or Wade LeBlanc(notes) stepping up alongside Harang makes for a rotation that can prevent runs.
Like last season’s? Well, perhaps that’s too much to expect. The 581 runs allowed by the Padres were the fewest in the last seven years. San Diego can have the best rotation and bullpen around, and it’s still not going to give up less than 600 runs this year. And that makes gaining ground offensively imperative.
There are no impact bats anymore, nothing like Gonzalez, so the Padres have to hope outfielder Jaff Decker or one of the two prospects acquired from Boston – first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Reymond Fuentes – turns into one. For now, they’re content with Maybin’s deep-down power and Chase Headley’s(notes) steadiness and Bartlett regaining his 2008 form instead of the sub-standard ugliness to which he’d become accustomed.
Picking the Padres to spend almost the entire season in first place last year was an exercise in faith, and it’s tough to flex those muscles in two straight seasons. Maybe Hoyer does have the right formula: pitching and defense overcomes all – a simple, straightforward philosophy on the game that has served him well. That, and the urgency to make this work – now, next week and well into the future.