A busy offseason in San Diego

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:

11/13/10: Padres trade RHP Edward Mujica and RHP Ryan Webb to Florida Marlins for CF Cameron Maybin

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.) 

12/06/2010: Padres trade 1B Adrian Gonzalez to Boston Red Sox for RHP Casey Kelly, 1B Anthony Rizzo, CF Reymond Fuentes, and 2B Eric Patterson

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?

12/17/2010: Padres trade RHP Adam Russell, LHP Cesar Ramos, RHP Brandon Gomes, and RHP Cole Figueroa to Tampa Bay Rays for SS Jason Bartlett

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:

Incoming Position WAR Outgoing Position WAR
Hawpe 1B .7* Gonzalez 1B 4.8
Hudson 2B 1.6 Eckstein 2B .7
Bartlett SS 1.6 Tejada SS .8
Maybin CF 2.3 Gwynn CF .7
Harang SP 1.0 Garland SP 1.3

*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.

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Comments

  1. Sean D said...

    Cole Figueroa is a 2B not a RHP. Sorry for my only comment to be a correction, because I did like the article.

  2. Ryan said...

    Very good rundown, Myron.  As hard as it is for some to believe, if Latos, Richard, and Stauffer approximate their performances from last season, the Padres will again compete for the NL West title.

  3. Myron Logan said...

    Thanks, guys. That Hawpe deal seems like another reasonable one, for sure. It’s interesting how many mutual options the Padres are working into these contracts.

    And Ryan, I agree – I think a big part of how successful the Padres are next year is how well the pitching holds up. I mean, it should be good, but there could be quite a bit of regression to the mean as well.

  4. John Conniff said...

    Nice article Myron.  Two minor complaints (1) As noted Figueroa is a second baseman – and arguably one of the better ones in the Padres’ system but with their depth was moveable.  Also while Gomes, Ramos and Russle are also expendable because of the organizational depth – it does deplete a good amount of the Padres’ bullpen quality arms.  (2) I would have liked to have read a little more on the guys that they got back for AGon.  To me an interesting angle might be about the upcoming battle between Rizzo and Kyle Blanks.

    Really liked your use of statistics on the major league players coming over – especially Harang.

  5. Tanned Tom said...

    2 questions: how can Maybin have a positive WAR when he hasn’t shown he can hit in the majors? and can one assign a number to the value that Hudson and Bartlett have TOGETHER? SS and 2B are special positions, as they execute plays together in a way no other positions do. There must be some additional value to having good fielders at BOTH SS and 2B.
    But what I am really concerned about is why must the payroll be so low? A new park in the right part of town, a competitive team and they barely crack 2 mil in attendance? The 7th biggest city is a small market? I don’t think so. The poor TV contract? Well, dammit they better get on the stick and do something about that. The NL is not all that tough, the Giants would’ve finished 4th in the AL East, so just raising payroll to HALF the luxury tax threshold, $89 million, would be enough to put them in the playoffs yearly. Teams like the Tigers, the Orioles, the Twins, the Diamonbacks, the Rockies play in similarly sized markets and can afford a more reasonable payroll. Why can’t the Padres?

  6. John Conniff said...

    Revenues for major league teams are based on the TV market.  So although San Diego is a large city – and then again it depends if you are going by the city or metropolitan area – the size of their TV market is relatively small; it’s only San Diego.

    They have two teams in LA to the north and the Diamondbacks to the east so it limits their regional possibilities as compared to Seattle which has the entire state of Washington, Oregon, the northern Rocky Mountain states and British Columbia. 

    Seriously if you look at most of the 30 teams in baseball the Padres would be near the bottom in terms of potentially profitable television markets.

  7. David Jay said...

    Nice work Myron (and thanks Geoff for the h/t) A few quibbles:

    Bartlett was fairly low among the Type A guys this year.  Given that he’s pretty unlikely to repeat his outlier 2009 season, he’s probably not going to be a Type A guy after 2011. If his performance is comparable to last year’s and he’s a Type B, the club is going to be hard-pressed to offer arbitration out of fear that he’d accept.

    Also, I’m not sure I’d agree with “league average” as a description for Bartlett’s non-2009 seasons.  The avg shortstop with 400 PAs in 2010 had 2.1 WAR; Bartlett was 0.7.  In 2008, it was 2.8 league/1.8 Bartlett… I also worry significantly about his diminishing defensive value over the last three years.

    @TannedTom – Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Phoenix and Denver are all MUCH larger media markets than San Diego.  You can google Nielsen DMA to understand the difference between city size and market size. (Those teams also have multiple other DMAs with no competitor MLB franchises in their catchment areas.  The Padres have… Imperial County).  As noted in the link Myron used, the Padres ARE “doing something about that.” But you know, the tricky part about a contract is that you’re – you know – contractually obligated to it.

  8. Tanned Tom said...

    John Coniff and David Jay, you both raise good points, and I confess my relative ignorance in this regard. However, the logical end of your arguments is that San Diego is too small a media market to support a competitive team. And that still doesn’t explain the low attendance. San Diego has great weather and, last year, a very competitive team. Yet barely cracked 2 mil in attendance. If we can’t outdraw lousy teams like the Tigers, Orioles, and Diamondbacks, then maybe baseball can’t survive in SD.

  9. John Conniff said...

    Tom,

    I don’t think they can outspend Boston or the Yanks but that doesn’t mean they can’t win.  They are in about the same boat as most teams in the league.

    Out of 30 teams the Padres’ finished 18th in attendance

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance

    BTW – They outdrew both the Diamondbacks, Orioles and the Tigers were slightly ahead of them.

    DJ will probably look this up, but the team has a small but not the smallest media market.  There are also other factors that go into a team’s payroll such as the amount of debt the team has to service – this is particularly relevant to a team like the Dodgers who are leveraged to the hilt – what type of deal they have on the stadium, etc..

    The best way for teams in the Padres situation, which for a rough guess is about 2/3 of baseball, is to develop young players who can be had for below market value.  For example this is how the Rays compete with the Red Sox and Yankees despite having a much smaller payroll.

    The main thing that fans need to realize is the size of a payroll does not necessarily correlate into how many wins a team will have at the end of the year.

    john

  10. Chase said...

    DavidJay re: Bartlett and the Padres being afraid to offer him arbitration next year, don’t think that will be the case at all.

    First off, no type-b FA (19 of them) accepted this year, so that bodes well to securing the pick. Hope compensation picks don’t go away before then with CBA agreement due. Bartlett seems poised to get a multi-year deal next year. You could point to a half dozen teams that would take a hard look at him for 2-3 years. Lastly, they are going to get a top 50-60 pick by offering arbitration to a guy (Correia) that they had no desire bringing back. Having fear of filling a likely need (‘12 SS), isn’t going to come in play.

    Keep in mind that with Ludwick, Bell, and possibly Hawpe and Harang are also FA’s as well, they are not going to be losing any sleep over how to afford a Jason Bartlett if heaven forbid (he won’t) he accepted arbitration. I’d put the odds of them offering well over 90%.

    Anyways, my two cents.

    Great rundown on the Padres, definitely one of the better ones I’ve read in this young, yet active off-season. I personally believe that the upgrades the Padres will see from 2B/LF/CF will outweigh the loss at 1b when all is said and done. Don’t expect the offense to score any fewer runs, with room for them to surprise, and maybe even in a big way. The team looks even more athletic with the new middle infield and it’s not far fetched for the pitching staff to be even better, considering the so-so rotation work they got last year from several players. Stauffer and Luebke giving the team 350-375 innings in the rotation is something we should all be looking forward to.

  11. Myron Logan said...

    Guys, great discussion. Sorry I couldn’t keep closer track during the week.

    Tanned Tom, the THT Forecasts really likes Maybin’s fielding in center and his minor league track record with the bat. Definitely high on him, but I think that projection is feasible given Maybin’s talent.

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