One More Year
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.