Last season the San Diego Padres finished with a 90-72 record, good for second place in the National League West and just two games shy of a division crown. The Padres, projected by most to finish near the cellar of the NL, led the division most of the season and battled with the San Francisco Giants—eventual World Series Champions—until the final game of the year.
For most organizations, coming off a 90-win season, the offseason blueprint is somewhat routine: keep most of the team together while upgrading the weak spots. There are, of course, multiple variations on that blueprint depending on the team’s specific context, but it generally follows closely along those lines. The Padres, however, found themselves in a particularly unique situation this offseason, thanks in part to an unstable ownership situation—a Jeff Moorad-led group purchased the Padres in 2009 but has yet to receive full control, and may not for some years.
Further complicating matters, entering this offseason star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had only one year left on his contract and would be due for a rather hefty payday after the 2011 season, a deal that would not be feasible in San Diego, with the aforementioned ownership situation, a poor television contract, and a relatively small market. How could Jed Hoyer and company handle the Gonzalez saga, keep a payroll in the $40 millions, and all the while appease fans hungry for more winning? Could Hoyer possibly continue to rebuild the franchise while still putting a winner on the field?
Let’s take a look at the Padres’ major offseason moves, chronologically:
The Padres dealt two decent, but fungible relievers here for a potential stud center fielder. Potential is, of course, a key word as Maybin has done little at the big-league level to prove that, and he has enough warts in his track record to suggest star status might not be realized. Still, he’s a former elite prospect who, for the most part, lived up to the hype performance-wise in the minor leagues, batting .306/.393/.478, almost always young for his league. Not to mention, he’s flashed plenty of speed and the defensive chops to play center field.
Banking on Maybin to become a star, or even a solid regular, is probably risky. Let’s face it, though; guys like him don’t grow on trees, and when you can nab one for a couple of relievers—dealing purely from a deep organizational strength—you just have to take that chance. Both Mujica and Webb have plenty of talent and should contribute toward the back end of the Marlins bullpen. However, neither offers the upside that Maybin does. This deal strikes you as one where the Padres and Marlins each win about 50 percent of the time, were we to simulate, say, 100 seasons from all players involved. However, the Padres have a much better chance to win big, and that makes this one a risk worth taking.
12/06/10: Padres sign RHP Aaron Harang to one year, $4 million deal (plus 2012 mutual option)
In a free agent market where the dollars are flying more so than in the recent past, the Aaron Harang deal looks like a possible gem. He’s struggled for the past few seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, but he was a front-end starter from 2005 through 2007 and was at least serviceable in 2008 and 2009. Harang suffered through his worst season with the Reds last year, one that saw him throw an injury-riddled 111 innings with a 5.32 ERA.
Harang wasn’t terrible peripherally, however, last season as his strikeout-to-walk ratio stayed over two. An unusually high .346 average on balls in play (.318 career) didn’t help his overall numbers. With a move to pitcher-friendly Petco Park and a good Padres defense, Harang is a very good bounce-back candidate in 2011. He should be able to help gobble up some of the innings that Jon Garland provided last season. Garland was signed to a similar one-year deal plus a mutual option last year. (He declined his part of the option and signed with the LA Dodgers this offseason.)
It’s almost impossible to view the Padres’ offseason without centering your focus on this trade, one that could be a career signature (good or bad) for Jed Hoyer.
With that said, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s value was almost surely overstated by the mainstream media and fans tired of watching star players leave town before they hit free agency. Gonzalez has developed into a true superstar, excelling in almost all facets of the game (outside of foot speed), while maintaining a squeaky-clean track record off the field. However, he’s only under contract through this season.
With only one year left on his team-friendly deal (he’ll make $6.3 million in 2011), Gonzalez’s value is diminished. He’s a great player, sure, but starting in 2012 he’s going to be paid at a near free-market rate, and that is going to minimize his surplus value. From a business perspective, the Padres have maximized Gonzalez’s prime years while paying him much less than his worth, then traded him away for younger workers at just the right time.
Of course, we don’t quite think about baseball solely from a business stance, and losing a fan favorite and great player like Gonzalez stings. It also hurts the Padres on the field next season, not to mention the draft picks they are surrendering when Gonzalez signed elsewhere after next year. Apparently, though, Hoyer and co. felt that the return was enough to justify making the trade now, and the likes of Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo will carry a heavy burden trying to live up to top-prospect hype (and forever granted a “guy they traded Adrian Gonzalez for” tag).
After the Gonzalez trade, the Padres’ offseason can only be described as just a little bit strange. They acquired a young center fielder who could develop into a long-term starter for a couple of relievers. Then they added a solid member to the rotation, and were again looking like possible contenders in 2011. Then they traded their franchise player, a guy worth four or five wins a year. What would they do next?
Shortly after the Gonzalez trade was completed, the Padres filled a major void by adding Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett (whom the Padres originally drafted in 2001). Bartlett, outside of his breakout 2009 campaign, has essentially been a league-average shortstop throughout his career.
With Miguel Tejada and Jerry Hairston Jr. departed via free agency, the Padres were left with Everth Cabrera to man the shortstop position in 2011. Cabrera, selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Rockies, was solid in his debut 2009 campaign, but he struggled mightily through an injury-plagued 2010 season (hitting .208/.279/.278 in 241 plate appearances). It’s unclear whether he can handle the position, both offensively and defensively.
Adding Bartlett gives the Padres some stability at short, and affords Cabrera time to develop further in the minors. (He jumped from Single-A ball to the majors in 2009.) Further, Bartlett could net the Padres two draft picks next offseason if he leaves via free agency, as he may qualify as a type-A free agent.
The Padres did give up four arms in the deal, trading quantity for quality—and again from a position of organizational strength (pitching, in general). None of the four arms dealt are particularly likely to develop into significant contributors, though all have their plusses.
12/20/2010: Padres sign 2B Orlando Hudson to a two year, $11.5M deal (plus 2013 club option)
After fixing one hole up the middle by adding Bartlett, the Padres patched up another by signing second basemen Orlando Hudson to a free agent deal. Hudson has been very consistent throughout his career, putting up WAR numbers between two and three in just about every season, depending on your sources. He’ll be 33 next season and he’s likely lost a step at second, but he still a very nice acquisition, signed again to what appears to be a below-market deal.
Last season the Padres actually got worse production out of second base than shortstop, at least offensively—David Eckstein and Jerry Hairston Jr., primarily, combined to hit .260/.316/.327. David Eckstein was decent defensively by the numbers (+6 UZR, +3 DRS), but it’s hard to expect Eckstein to remain an above average defensive second baseman going forward, and his offense had deteriorated in his time in San Diego.
Unofficial: Padres signed right fielder Brad Hawpe
The deal or terms have not yet been made official, but the Padres have apparently signed right fielder Brad Hawpe to a deal. Hawpe’s only played 72 major league innings at first base, but that’s where he’ll suit up for the Padres, replacing Adrian Gonzalez. Hawpe won’t match Gonzalez on either side of the ball, but he doesn’t have to. He’s been a very good hitter in his own right, batting .279/.373/.490 while playing almost exclusively for the Rockies (he was traded to Tampa Bay last year). Hawpe’s WAR numbers have been hampered by terrible defensive numbers in the outfield, regardless of what metric you use. If he can make the transition to first base, his value may actually improve quite a bit (though he’ll have to get used to Petco Park, the polar opposite of Coors Field in terms of its treatment of hitters).
After trading Gonzalez, the Padres had a huge hole at first. Kyle Blanks was pegged the likely successor to A-Gon, but that hasn’t worked out as planned. Given a starting role in the outfield last season, Blanks hit .157/.283/.324 (120 PAs) after a solid 2009 debut. He later underwent Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be back until the season is well underway. While Blanks may still become the first baseman of the future, adding Hawpe gives the Padres some immediate reliability at the position.
The Padres have had an extremely busy offseason, as you can see. Frankly, it’s hard not to like it. Jed Hoyer has somehow managed to continue to rebuild for the long-term (trading Gonzalez for prospects, not losing any of the current Padres top prospects), while simultaneously putting an intriguing (likely competitive) product on the field in 2011 (adding Maybin, Harang, Bartlett, Hudson, and Hawpe).
It’s a balancing act that many general managers could not pull off, especially when strapped with a low budget. Hoyer has done a brilliant job so far in his short tenure as Padres general manager, satisfying the immediate wants of the fan base by fielding competitive teams, while also building a solid foundation and not losing sight of the future.
One could argue that the Padres have actually improved their team heading into 2011, despite losing their star in Gonzalez. Let’s take a look at some 2011 WAR projections, using the THT forecasts:
*I’m calling Hawpe an average defensive first baseman, which might be generous.
Just looking at these moves in a vacuum, the Padres lose big time at first base (minus 4.1 WAR, or so), but they improve up the middle at second, short, and center (plus 3.3 WAR). The loss of Gonzalez is almost negated by the additions up the middle. Harang and Garland are essentially a wash. To determine whether or not the Padres have truly improved upon last year’s club would take a more thorough analysis, but the point remains that Hoyer has done a good job assembling his team in a tough situation. It’ll be fun to watch how these moves work out as the 2011 season gets under way.