SoCal So Happy
I was in the midst of preparing today's fantasy entry when word came the Padres had acquired Brian Giles and traded Rondell White. The fantasy idea was quickly deleted, and my mind shifted to that of the San Diego Padres. Can Kevin Towers build another World Series team? Will PETCO Park attract enough fans to keep a bloated payroll afloat?
First, let's analyze what the Padres are in possession of, then come up with methods of improving the team. The lineup is almost complete, with bats surrounding their newest star. Ryan Klesko is etched in at first base, and Mark Loretta will team with him on the right side. Khalil Greene went from 2002 College Player of the Year, to a 2003 where he is hitting .303/.359/.466 in 290 AAA at-bats. Sean Burroughs made up for a bad rookie season, although his five home runs is less than expected. Giles and Mark Kotsay are locks in the outfield, and there's competition in right. Xavier Nady, a farm system prize, has had mixed results in the Major Leagues. And while Phil Nevin has proved everything, the Ken Griffey for Nevin rumors meant his job isn't safe.
The catcher position is wide open, since neither Gary Bennett nor Wiki Gonzalez has gotten it done. The team has been toying with this position for years, without any real success. Here's a mock 2004 lineup:
1. Greene- SS
2. Burroughs- 3B
3. Giles- LF
4. Klesko- 1B
6. Kotsay- CF
7. Loretta- 2B
8. Catcher to be named later
Actually, a playoff-type lineup. The catcher should be good defensively, as its obvious that scoring runs won't be a problem for this team. In fact, its preventing runs that will hold this team back. What was once the best group of pitching prospects around has turned into trade bait (see Oliver Perez), or just flunked out (Dennis Tankersly).
The team has three good arms this season: Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy, and Adam Eaton. Lawrence, the 2002 ace, isn't having a great season (6-14, 4.54ERA), but has promise (166H in 170.2IP). Peavy is gradually improving, and allowing 148 hits in 159.1 innings against 124 strikeouts is a great sign. Eaton did well coming back from surgery, and actually pitched the best. His 119K showed his great curve was still there, and he also allowed less hits than innings. These three could sit in any rotation, although there isn't a clear ace.
So, what's available within the organization? Not much. Kevin Jarvis has been Towers' greatest bust, and the contract will continually hurt the team. Clay Condrey, Carlton Loewer, and Mike Bynum have all been tried in the rotation, but none possess great potential. Ben Howard was just brought up from AAA, where he allowed 118 hits in 130.1 innings. Another encouraging player is AA southpaw Cory Stewart, who is 12-7 with 3.72ERA in the Southern League. He also has struck out 133 men in 125.2 innings, while surrendering only 104 hits and 50 walks. Let's say, to be conservative, that one of these five players will impress Padres' brass enough to be counted on every fifth day. That leaves:
1- Brian Lawrence
2- Adam Eaton
3- Jake Peavy
What was once a great bullpen, has lost its hype with Trevor Hoffman's injury-plagued season. Rod Beck has filled in nicely, not blowing a save in his first eighteen attempts. These two players are the Padres two significant free agents, and dictate a lot of what they do in the winter. Rod Beck wants 300 career saves, and will likely only sign somewhere that he is promised to get all the saves. That won't happen if the Padres retain their all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman. San Diego's favorite player has an expensive option for next season, and Towers has no choice but to decline. Both sides have reported interest, and are in the midst of working on an extension. Count on one of these two men closing games in San Diego next season.
So who else? Luther Hackman was acquired in the Brett Tomko deal, and the power leftie has done well in 56 games thus far. Scott Linebrink was a great waiver claim, as he is sporting a 3.33ERA in 81 middle relief innings. His future is not in a rotation, but rather in that middle-role. Jay Witasick was signed to set-up Hoffman, and hasn't disappointed. Finally, although rumors are he may be traded, I expect the club to hold onto Brandon Villafuerte. These four players consitute a set-up man, two middle relievers, and a leftie.
Three that won't be retained are Mike Mathews, Jaret Wright, and Charles Nagy. Mathews hasn't done well in a LOOGY role, and there are better options available. Wright was a good idea in theory, but his 8.37ERA in 47.1 innings is pretty uninspiring. And if the 38-year old Nagy doesn't retire, then he has an outside chance at a long relief role. He should battle with some of the rotation losers, like Jarvis and Clay Condrey.
Last season the Padres used more pitchers then any team in history, and have some succeeding in the minors. J.J. Trujillo, who had a brief tour in San Diego, has done decent in 26AA games. He is similar to both Linebrink and Villafuerte though, so he'll likely go to AAA. But Rusty Tucker, who was closing games in Lake Elsinore (high-A) last season, shouldn't. Tucker has closed 28 games for the Mobile Bay Bears, and struck out 63 men in 53 innings. Best of all, he's a leftie. He could move into the bullpen and be the second left-hander, and set-up at the same time. This would give the Padres this:
SU- Jay Witasick
LH/SU- Rusty Tucker
MR- Scott Linebrink
LH- Luther Hackman
MR- Brandon Villafuerte
OK, so that leaves holes behind the plate and one in the rotation. The team could pursue these on the free agent market, although I see no need. Phil Nevin should be traded, as he is expensive, and commands value. The offense will surely score runs without him, and Xavier Nady should do much better next season. Here's my idea:
Phil Nevin and Ramon Vazquez to Dodgers for Koyie Hill and Odalis Perez
This trade would undoubtedly help both teams. For the Dodgers, Nevin would be an extra bat in an offense that needs help. He would likely play first base, and permit Paul Lo Duca from moving there. Lo Duca's presence at catcher would allow Hill, to exit. Odalis has struggled this season, and the Dodgers are loaded in pitching. Vazquez hasn't done much since being a AAA all-star, but is an improvement over Cesar Izturis or Alex Cora.
San Diego would love this deal. Hill is ready to catch in the Major Leagues, and could post a decent average back there. Perez has immense potential, and would be the ace the team needs. It will fill all the regular holes, and leave money to be spent for deadline trades.
What was once the best division in baseball, the NL West should take a hit in coming seasons. Arizona and San Francisco have money problems, and won't lure anymore free agents. Los Angeles is having ownership issues, and will likely fire Jim Tracy and Dan Evans. And Colorado, well no one will ever win in Denver. That leaves space for the Padres, once the laughingstock of baseball, to make another run to the playoffs.
Editor's Note: Since writing this article I learned the player to be named later in this deal is likely Cory Stewart. This doesn't change my stance dramatically, although it may put the Padres in the market for a fifth starter.