WTNYNovember 16, 2005
One More Year
By Bryan Smith

If it wasn't for Kevin Towers, we might have forgotten that the offseason has begun. First, the Arizona Diamondbacks asked permission to talk to Towers, and things did not work out there. He then was among the first names being discussed for the Red Sox GM opening. Now, after re-committing with the Padres, Towers has made the first two trades of the winter, with rumors that a third is right around the corner.

The minute that free agent lists were released, it was evident that the Padres would be active during the hot stove season. Two of the clubs most powerful hitters -- Brian Giles and Ramon Hernandez -- are among the top free agents in the game, and joined by Mark Sweeney and Joe Randa on offense. Pedro Astacio is the lone starter who could go elsewhere, but the pitching staff is also in danger of losing three of their five best relievers: Trevor Hoffman, Chris Hammond and Rudy Seanez.

Needless to stay, Kevin Towers has been forced into rebuilding a good portion of the NL West champions. He has already started to rebuild, first trading steady starter Brian Lawrence to the Washington Nationals for Vinny Castilla. Today it was announced that, pending a physical, the Padres were trading young Xavier Nady for Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron. Finally, rumors around the Majors indicate that David Wells could soon return to southern California, in exchange for New England icon Dave Roberts and the underachieving Sean Burroughs.

What jumps off the page is that Towers seems willing to take on extra salary in 2006 to have one last hurrah. After the 2006 season, the team stands to lose Mark Loretta, Castilla, Chan Ho Park, Woody Williams, possibly David Wells, and holds expensive options for Ryan Klesko and Cameron. Towers has obviously decided that acquiring aging veterans to make a run at the NL West title next year will also allow him to make a splash in the 2007 free agent class, when he will have nearly $30 million to spend.

This is a plan that I support when considering how weak this winter's crop is. Towers must find a way to get one final year out of many of these veterans, while also slowly deciding upon the future of many of his young players. It seems as though Josh Barfield, Paul McAnulty and George Kottaras all have one season to prove their worth to the front office contingent of Towers, Grady Fuson and Sandy Alderson. Ben Johnson, Miguel Olivo and Tim Stauffer will all be significant roles, and their performance will dictate their future in the organization. However, the 2006 season will be about how much performance Bruce Bochy can get from Klesko, Loretta, Castilla, Williams, Wells and other aging veterans.

First and foremost, Towers must find a way to get the David Wells deal done. If any of the older players mentioned above have a good chance at success in PETCO Park in 2006, it's the flyball-friendly Wells. And while Dave Roberts presence in left field could form an outfield of three center fielders (Roberts, Cameron, Johnson), his value is undoubtedly overrated in the minds of Bostonians. While I would prefer Sean Burroughs is not included, and given the same chance in AAA as Barfield or McAnulty, his exit from the organization wouldn't be awful. In my mind, he's probably nothing more than Mike Cuddyer will ever be.

A bad idea, however, is trading Akinori Otsuka. With three good relievers poised to leave the organization, Otsuka is in the position to become a set-up man for future closer Scott Linebrink. While the team would be smart to add another reliever, Otsuka will surely be one of Bochy's most dependable arms. That's because other than Linebrink, the San Diego bullpen currently has plans to give innings to Craig Breslow, Clay Hensley, and the loser of the Chan Ho Park v. Tim Stauffer rotation spot. Those names don't invoke a lot of confidence.

With the acquisition of Wells, however, Park or Stauffer will be the fifth arm in the rotation. Jake Peavy obviously sits on top, and will be followed by Wells, Adam Eaton and Woody Williams. As a group, this foursome averaged 168.7 innings in 2005 with an ERA of 4.04. And given the breakout potential that Eaton has, and Wells forthcoming move to a pitcher's park, that number should all but decrease in 2006.

However, the pressing need for next season is finding a way to score more runs. The San Diego offense ranked just 13th in the National League, and as mentioned, is now losing Giles and Hernandez. However, one should expect improvements up the middle, as Loretta and Greene both underachieved in 2005, and Cameron represents an offensive improvement in center. Hopefully, these improvements will offset the decrease in production from right field. Giles was one of the National League's ten most productive players in 2005, and it's hard to expect rookie Ben Johnson to be among the top 50 next year.

So, the team needs to improve at catcher, first, third and left. One of those spots will be filled by Ryan Klesko, who should at least match his production from this season. Even considering age regression, Vinny Castilla should improve upon the .254/.318/.366 line that Padres' third basemen hit in 2005. So, how do you fill the catching and 1B/LF situation without going away from Towers' plan?

Mike Piazza. Yes, the same Piazza that many think belongs nowhere near the playing field ever again. In 2005, Piazza played 113 games. This is about how many the organization that signs him in this winter should expect him to play in 2006. This is fine with the Padres, who would like to give time to see what they have in Miguel Olivo. Neither the prospect of playing Olivo 130 games behind the plate, or giving the likes of Ben Molina or Kenji Jojima long contracts are inviting. So, why not give an expensive, one-year deal to Mike Piazza, with an option for 2007?

To give Piazza time off from catching duties, the club should start Miguel Olivo against southpaws. Olivo has always hit left-handers very well, and would produce from such a role next year. However, they also don't want to lose Piazza's bat against southpaws, so they simply will play Piazza at first, and move Klesko to left. Against right-handers? Drop Olivo from the lineup (occassionally giving him a start to rest Piazza), and re-sign Mark Sweeney, who performed admirably in 2005.

My suggested 2006 lineup:

Position	Vs. RHP	Vs. LHP
C	Piazza	Olivo
1B	Klesko	Piazza
2B	Loretta	Loretta
SS	Greene	Greene
3B	Castilla	Castilla
LF	Sweeney	Klesko
CF	Cameron	Cameron
RF	Johnson	Johnson

For those interested, I suspect these nine players would cost the Padres about $35 million next season. Six of the players (including Piazza and Sweeney) could be in the position to be free agents again in one year. With a rotation that will add about $30 million in costs, the Padres wouldn't have a ton to spend on the bullpen, though it's almost complete, anyway.

One season. That's all Kevin Towers is asking of many of his veterans, before allowing himself some fun in a year. With the NL West in shambles, with no evidence that it will improve soon, this is a fantastic plan. If you ask me, Mike Piazza would only add to it.


Kevin Towers was not offered the job in AZ.
He didn't "re-sign" with the Padres, he was already under contract until the end of 2007.
Dennys Reyes was released last July.
Klesko can no longer play defense at ANY position.
Brad Ausmus and J.T. Snow probably could be signed for what Piazza would cost.
Re-signing Sweeney seems sound.

brian, i re-worded the front office jargon in the first paragraph to be more clear. Thanks for pointing that out, as well as the stupid mention of Dennys Reyes. With Breslow, it's possible the Padres have found their own Jamie Walker-type, and don't even need another southpaw.

I would be shocked if Ausmus didn't re-sign with the Astros, and Snow would not do well in PETCO. For his power, and the public relations help, I think Piazza is the best option.

Bryan, I'm a little less excited about a potential Wells deal than you are; my feelings run close to indifference on that front. I'd just as soon see Stauffer and Hensley (and possibly Cesar Carrillo) get a shot at the rotation.

Hensley is an intriguing pitcher. He did post a 2.99 ERA in the PCL last year and a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 IP for the big club. Next to Linebrink, he was the most reliable reliever for the Padres down the stretch. I'd like to see him in the rotation but wherever he ends up, he should be effective.

Also, Eaton's name is being mentioned prominently in trade talks. Like Burroughs and Roberts, he is arbitration eligible, which in Padres land often means trade bait.

Geoff, thanks for stopping by. If all the Red Sox are asking for is Roberts and Burroughs, I'm shocked you aren't excited about Wells. I see the same numbers that you do (no H/9 under 9.00 since 1998...ugly K/9), but Wells fills a purpose. Besides his one season in Chicago, Wells has pitched 30 or more starts in every season since 1996. 43 is 43, I know, but in PETCO, he can be about 5-10% above average.

To me, Hensley makes more sense in the bullpen. While it was a sample size worth of data, his performance against RHB was pretty astounding. I imagine he has that platoon split in his minor league numbers, as well. Given that, and his groundball tendencies, he should be in a similar (albeit larger) role than what Brad Thompson did this season in St. Louis.

Oh, and give Carillo a season. If I were the Padres, I wouldn't have Cesar's season start until May 1, and he shouldn't be allowed to throw more than about 120 innings. Injury risk is just too high. Could start the 2007 season in the rotation, though.

Finally, the thought of trading Adam Eaton would be a horrific one for Padres fans, I would think. He's just too good to trade away now, as undervalued as he probably is.

Any thoughts on Mike Piazza, Geoff?

I really could take or leave Wells. It won't kill me if the Padres bring him back, it won't kill me if they don't.

The one reason I'd consider leaving Hensley in the bullpen is that of the guys on the bubble of the rotation, he's the only one who really has had any success in a relief role.

You're probably right about Carrillo, especially with regard to innings. I guess I'm looking at 2006 more as a rebuilding year.

As for Eaton, I've been picking him to have a breakout season for as long as I can remember. I still like the guy, but I don't think he's part of the long-term plan in San Diego. The downside is the names we've been hearing (Gerald Laird, Adrian Gonzalez, Layne Nix from Texas) aren't particularly enticing. Moving Eaton means geting Hensley and/or Stauffer into the rotation, which I wouldn't mind seeing.

I guess Piazza would be okay, but I don't really see the point. I'd rather run Olivo out there most days and see what he can do. To me, 2006 is a year to figure out which guys are part of the next big push and which guys aren't.

As you say, anything can happen in such a weak division but I think if the Padres are serious about 2007 (which they should be), they need to start making some decisions on the kids. And that can't happen if they keep bringing on more veterans.

I am a big padres fan I saw David Wells pitch here two years ago. He is a very smart pitcher. He throughs good junk which should enable him to pitch well up until he retires. He has been in many high pressure situtations and it seems to show. He is very calm and I belive he has a calming influence on the younger members of the staff.

Adam Eaton has the tools, but he remains a bit immature, pouting at times on the mound and not wasting pitching when he is ahead in the count.

I would be very excited to have Wells back on the staff. It would certainly trade Robert and Burroughs for him.

Frankly, I don't think Burroughs will ever make to the bigs full time. He is a hulk of a guy, but he lacks any sort of power whatsoever. He just slaps at the ball, and he does not seem to be able to keep his average over 300. Not major league material.

Bryan, how much are you thinking Piazza would ask for in a one year deal with a club option? I think Sandy might actually like that deal if he's able to get a couple more draft picks for 2007. He's already piling them up as it is.

I'd also like to know what you think about the situation with Trevor Hoffman.

Your assumptions about Hensley are wrong. In the minors, his R/L splits were pretty darn close, but actually favored him against lefties:
R: .201 avg against with 15 XBH in 198 at bats.
L: .191 avg against with 9 XBH in 152 at bats.

For some reason, I don't have the full splits from Mobile in '04, but his '03 splits were again, very close but slightly favored him against lefties.

More to the point, Hensley has always been a starter and as you know, a starter has much more overall value to his team than a reliever.
Given that Park has demonstrated he's a 30-40 pitch guy these days, it makes much more sense to assume he'll be the guy who goes to the pen.

A couple of other thoughts:
Definitely agree that Carrillo is not ready to start the year in the big leagues. I'd like to see him get a full year in Mobile, but I keep hearing indications that if he gets out to a solid start, he'll make the jump a la Peavy in July. No need to whittle down the innings as much as you suggest (actually, I think it would hurt his development).
Kottaras is almost certainly NOT getting the bump to Portland to start the year, so it's quite possible that he wouldn't see the big leagues until a late-season call-up in 2007. I think I'd be more aggressive with both him and Michael Johnson than it appears Grady wants to be, but I also understand wanting to make sure they have success.

Chase, I do think that Piazza would be relatively expensive for the 2006 season. When I said the lineup would cost $35 million, I was assuming that Piazza would be $7 million of that. There is a chance he gets a smaller, multiyear offer from a team like the Orioles or A's, so I think if you gave him 7 million, plus a 1 million buyout on a 2007 option, he would probably do the deal. A lot, yes, but it could be just enough to push them over.

David, thanks so much for the info. Color me wrong on Hensley, though his K/9 still scares me a bit. Putting him in the competition for a rotation spot seems fair, expecting more of him than Tim Stauffer does not.

I didn't mean that Kottaras would start the year in Portland, I agree that he will most definitely be in Mobile. But, given how much of a pitcher's park that is, I would like to see the Padres try to give Kottaras some confidence by putting him in Portland towards the end of the year. If he shows something, and Miguel Olivo does not, than they have their 2007 answer.

If the Padres are simply going to let Giles and possibly Hoffman walk thinking they can improve by bringing in Cameron, Wells, and Piazza in their place, then you are sadly mistaken if that is the plan to try and make another run at the west flag. Changing those players for each other without adding another big hitter leaves too many holes to fill in a weak and aging offensive lineup. I can understand bringing those guys in, but it will take more to stay in first in a division where they finished .500 and the two best teams in the division, the Giants and Dodgers, were destroyed by injuries.

The philosophy of making a one year run with some aging guys is fine, but trying to do it on the cheap means you must be taking an analysis striaght from Padre ownership.

Jeremy, believe me, if the Padres had a larger payroll, this would not be my suggested team. Re-signing Brian Giles to play left is obviously the better option, but I wouldn't discount the possibility that he gets priced out from the Padres.

It seems to me that letting Robert go in the Wells deal would be a big mistake. We don't have any acceptable lead off hitters, and when Roberts was healthy last year, he did a lot for the team at that spot, and the team's record was much better than when he was out of the lineup. Putting him in LF will give him an easier position to play and less wear and tear on the body.

If Guzman continues to show well in Winter league and ST, then he can back up the OF and pinch run, leading to him taking over LF and leadoff in 2007.

Without Roberts being on board and depending on Guzman to be the lead off hitter, we're really taking a chance.

Rob H

I guess you haven't seen Olivo try to catch or Piazza try to play first. Neither will help demeanor of pitching staffs. Piazza will probably go to an AL team where he can DH most of the time. As an ex-Seattlite, I expect Olivo to regress to his inadequate mean and become the AAAA catcher he looked like at Safeco.

Probably more reasonable to expect Olivo to revert to the form he showed in Chicago in '04. 270/316/496 and throwing out 35% of runners would be just fine from the starting catcher if you ask me.
While there's a lot of talk about Ausmus, I'd much rather see the team go after a Todd Pratt, Todd Greene or Eddie Perez-type who is a good defensive career backup who can handle it if you need to give him 200 at bats in the season.

Bryan, do you think a Mark Loretta for Jason Marquis trade is very likely this offseason? Put Barfield and/or Hill at second base. Do you believe that would help both teams?

Then the Padres could trade Eaton (who has always had problems staying healthy) to Texas in that rumored deal for Laird, Gonzalez, and Nix. No?