Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Five Padre Stories of 2009

As we get ready to roll the calendar over, let's take a look back at the biggest Padre stories of 2009. I've ranked them from smallest to biggest:

5. Jake Peavy traded.
I realize this saga started in 2008, but it actually happened in 2009. The Padres had made no secret of their desire to trade Jake away, repeatedly saying they couldn't meet the contract terms they had agreed to in Dec 2007 (as a refresher, that extension meant Peavy would make $15M in 2010, $16M in 2011, $17M in 2012, and an option for $22M in 2013 (with a $4M club buyout)).

Jake was supposedly traded to the Braves in Nov 08, but that deal fell through when the two clubs couldn't agree on the players going back to San Diego.

How the trade played out makes it a top 5 story this year. Although widely reported as traded to the White Sox in May, Jake invoked his no-trade clause and rejected the trade. Something about wanting to pitch in the NL and liking San Diego. I remember thinking 'That's AWESOME!' at the time. Why would a player negotiate a no-trade clause and not use it if he's happy where he was?

Alas, the reprieve was short-lived. Jake was eventually traded at the deadline, for ostensibly the same players the Padres would have gotten had the May deal gone through. Back in May, this story had the money quote which explains why Peavy ultimately went to Chicago:

Linebrink talked to Peavy Wednesday and revealed Thursday morning that he thought the likelihood of the deal being completed was "50-50" but added, "[Peavy's] running out of spots to go to."

Linebrink said Peavy was very pointed in his questions but realized the White Sox might be the best chance for him to leave San Diego, which is rebuilding.

Whether this was a good trade for San Diego won't be known for a couple of years. Of the four players obtained - Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell, and Dexter Carter - Richard spent the rest of the year in San Diego, Russell was activated 24 August, Poreda was a September call-up, and Carter is still in the minors. Richard looked promising in the rotation, and Poreda received hype as a "can't miss prospect" a la Rick Porcello in Detroit.

4. Anthony Gwynn Jr acquired.
Perhaps more of a big deal because of his name, but the trade bringing Tony Gwynn Jr to San Diego sent ripples through the community. He was in AAA when acquired, and the Padres immediately brought him up to the big club where he spent the rest of the season.

Tony fought the allegations he was brought in merely as a publicity stunt by putting up a .348/.439/.467 slash line in his first 27 games with the club. However, following the 22 June off-day he cooled significantly (.248/.322/.306). His lousy SLG is more amazing considering he hit both his home runs during that 92 game stretch.

Tony Gwynn Jr probably doesn't hit enough to remain the long-term answer in CF. Plus, the club reportedly continues to look for a right-handed hitting outfielder to play center. But for a day, and perhaps almost a month, we remembered how good a ballplayer his old man was, and smiled whenever his name reverberated through the stadium.

3. Everth Cabrera stolen.
When Kevin Towers selected Cabrera during the 2008 Rule V draft, no one really noticed. Cabrera played with the Colorado Rockies Class A affiliate (Asheville) in 2008, and was not on their 40 man roster. Who would protect a Class A player anyway, when Rule V draftees must spend the year on the ML roster or be returned to their former organization? The Padres thought they saw something at a position they had no real organizational depth. Remember, they signed David Eckstein to play short before the '09 season.

Cabrera was set back almost 2 months with a broken left hand, but upon his return he immediately had an impact. His showed off a cannon for an arm, and gave the Padre lineup something in short supply around here - speed. His 25 for 32 in steals isn't great, but the 25 thefts represented almost a third of the teams' 82 steals last season. He looks like the lead-off hitter of the future for this club (his .342 OBP isn't great, but it isn't awful). Not bad for a Rule V guy who'd never played above A-ball.

2. Dick Enberg hired.
Hey, whenever you hire a 75 year-old legend of a broadcaster, that's big news in my book.

It is, however, a curious hiring. For one, Enberg hasn't been the primary play-by-play guy for a baseball team since 1978. For another, he hasn't called baseball at all since 1985. Next, he hasn't even been associated with a baseball broadcast/production since 1989 (the last year he was the NBC studio host for the Game of the Week).

So why hire him? Is it a publicity stunt? Or does it signal a major re-shuffling of the broadcast talent covering the Padres? Fans remain confused, and somewhat angry, especially at the conspiracy-theory thoughts regarding this hiring and the amount of air time the Baseball HOF broadcaster San Diego already employs will get in 2010.

Dick Enberg is a professional. I'm quite sure he's doing all the necessary research now to not sound like an idiot on the air. It will be nice to hear someone with a clue on the TV feed (that's not a shot at Mark Neely, but at his predecessor).

I'll hold out hope that, at some point next season, Dick and Jerry Coleman will call a few innings together. That would be fun.

1. Kevin Towers fired.
Twenty years in the organization. Fourteen years as the General Manager. Four Division Titles (1996, 1998, 2005, 2006). Just missed the playoffs as the Wild Card in 2004 and 2007. One NL Pennant (1998). By any measure, the most successful General Manager in franchise history.

Following a disastrous 2008, and a .400 start to 2009, he remolded the roster to make the Padres competitive down the stretch. Hey 39-35 isn't a bad finish when you start 36-52. There is some measured excitement going into 2010 based on how the 2009 team finished, and who's on the current roster. However, despite John Moores still being the Chairman of the club, and all Kevin Towers' past efforts, it wasn't enough to save his job with the new leadership. Towers was 'let go' the last weekend of the season.

New leadership bringing in new personnel surprises no one. The fact that no indications/rumors existed on this firing until like 24 hours before it was announced made it a surprise, and why it is the top Padre story in 2009.

Jed Hoyer has just begun writing his name in the Padre history book. He has some large shoes to fill.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Phone Call?

Somewhere downtown, on a Friday morning...a phone rings.


"Jed my boy! How ya been? How's San Diego treating you?"

JED HOYER: "Hey Theo. Dude you were right - this place is fantastic! Look at me - I'm saying 'dude' now!"

THEO EPSTEIN: "That's great man! And the fish tacos - Rubio's right? Did I tell you?"

JH: "Theo. Those Rubio's tacos were a little heavy on the cabbage. I found this hole in the wall place out on Point Loma that I really like, though."

TE: "Whatever. Listen, you saw how I gave Bay the boot, right? And that Lackey signing? Pretty cool, eh? We're going back to the World Series!"

JH: "Theo, you know I'm the Padres GM now and-"

TE: "The last piece is to solve my corner infield problem. I can't give away Lowell, but with his hip I can't play him at third anymore either. Remember how we kept dreaming about Adrian Gonzalez as a Red Sox?"

JH: "I remember you thought he'd be a nice fit-"

TE: "Well with Lackey and Cameron I've got some room to maneuver. I keep getting these 'Tweets' saying the you guys want a right-handed centerfielder, and everyone needs more pitching. So how's this: I'll pick up the tab on Cameron for the next two years, and send him with Buchholz to you for Gonzo. You can't pass that up!"

JH: "I'm not sure that's entirely ethical-"

TE: "What's not to like? You get a young pitcher with a lot of upside you control cheaply for another 4 years, and a 4-time Gold Glove centerfielder to patrol the canyon out there at Petco who has EXPERIENCE patrolling Petco, and I get a left handed first baseman."

JH: "Gonzo is our best player. He's our biggest draw and considered a native son to baseball fans on both sides of the border. I can't-"

TE: "Confound it man, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette! Getting Cameron allows you to move Gwynn to left and Blanks to first. A rotation of Young/Correia/Richard/Buchholz/Latos is pretty intimidating. I'm glad I'm here in the AL East! You know you'll never sign Gonzo to a long term deal so long as you're hamstrung with a $40 million dollar payroll. So whaddya say? I'll fax you the paperwork!"

JH: "Theo, I really appreciate the fact you gave me my start in the business side of baseball. I do. And I'll never forget what you taught me. But with a new ownership group in place, and a fan base already frustrated by the way Jake Peavy left town, I might as well walk to the top of the Coronado Bridge and jump if I trade Adrian Gonzalez away."

TE: "You're kidding, right?"

JH: "No. No deal."

TE: "Well I tried. Can you send me one of those tacos you raved about?"

JH: "Sure. Can you advance me $6.25? I haven't been paid yet."

This conversation probably never took place.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Correia Re-Ups

There were concerns in this corner of the Padre blogosphere about Kevin Correia leaving. The Padres had decided to non-tender him, so as to avoid any arbitration issues and possible large bump in salary. Correia had pitched very well in 2009, as evidenced by the below chart, which includes all pitchers that started at least 9 games for San Diego last season.

The lavender highlights guys no longer with the organization. What you'll notice is Correia wasn't the best pitcher the Padres had in 2009. Even after he went on the DL and then to Chicago, Jake Peavy was a stud. However, Correia was

First in FIP
First in innings pitched
Second in K/BB ratio
Second in BB/9
Second (tie) in WHIP
Third in ERA and ERA+
Fifth (tie) in K/9.

Overall, the best starter on the staff. Why would the Padres want to let him go? Well, as has been discussed elsewhere, they couldn't afford to pay him what he would have been worth in arbitration.

That's why today's news is great. Correia signed a one-year deal reportedly worth $3.6 million. It's nice to see the Padres keep this guy for 2010.

Competition for the 5 rotation slots should be pretty intense during spring training, because there are 7 guys to choose from. However, I think we can safely say one of those spots is spoken for. And that's a good thing.

Welcome back, Kevin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Not the Pu Pu Platter

Reports exist indicating the Twins have offered Glen Perkins, Mike Redmond, and Nick Punto for Kevin Kouzmanoff.

If that's true, I hope Hoyer rejects the offer while saying something cool, like 'Hasta La Vista, Baby', 'Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out of my suite', or 'Do I look like Dayton Moore to you?'

A lousy starter, back up catcher, and David Eckstein II for Kouzmanoff. Excuse me if I don't get all woozy for this one.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Trade Rumors: Kouzmanoff and Bell

On the ride home, Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton spent a lot of breath discussing potential Padre moves at this week's winter meetings. What started this hot-air-a-blowin'? Trade rumors having Kouzmanoff headed to San Francisco, and Heath Bell headed just about anywhere.

The SD U-T online edition has a story detailing the Giants offer:

The Giants are said to be interested in Kouzmanoff, although the Padres are not interested in the Giants reported first offer – left-handed hitting outfielder Fred Lewis and middle infielder Kevin Frandsen.
I don't want to get into the specifics of this trade offer. The larger question is, is trading Kouzmanoff and/or Bell the right thing to do?

There is some sentiment out there to leave the current Padre roster as is. After all, they went 45-27 down the stretch, which means they played .625 ball. Although the Padres finish was something to be proud of, and cause for hope, even that Padre team isn't good enough to compete for a division title or a wild card. They have to get better. Currently, by my estimation, they need a catcher, second baseman, and since they intend to non-tender Correia, another starting pitcher.

How do they acquire those guys? Buy trading players they can afford to give up, players whose loss may sting in the short-term, but won't in the long view.

And that means trading Kouzmanoff and Bell.

Heath Bell had a spectacular first year as a closer, complete with selection to the NL All-Star team. His value may never be higher than it is right now. Who would replace Bell? Consider:

Heath Bell: 2.42 FIP, 10.21 K/9, .303 BABIP
Mike Adams: 1.66 FIP, 10.95 K/9, .166 BABIP
Luke Gregerson: 2.50 FIP, 11.16 K/9, .332 BABIP
Luis Perdomo: 5.35 FIP, 8.29 K/9, .287 BABIP

Ok, so including Perdomo might be a mistake. And Adams' BABIP is probably unstainable over a career - actually it most definitely isn't sustainable. But the point is either Adams or Gregerson has the stuff to close. Losing Heath Bell won't hamstring the Padres at the end of games. Kevin Towers did a fine job reconstructing the bullpen during the first half of 2009. And they have other power arms to fill out their 2010 bullpen should Bell leave.

Not to mention there are plenty of GM's out there willing to overpay for a closer. Remember JJ Putz? The Mets over-paid for his services, and that trade helped resurrect the Mariners. Hoyer should pull the trigger if he gets the pieces he's looking for and ship Bell somewhere.

Kouzmanoff is a tougher call, but they should move him too. Kevin is coming off a season where his UZR was the second best in baseball for third basemen, and he set a ML record for fielding percentage. Why should the Padres trade him? The Padres have three players for two positions - third and left. Kouz, Chase Headley, and Kyle Blanks. Headley and Kouz can play third, Headley and Blanks can play left. Well, they try to play left.

Blanks has ridiculous power. Dave Kingman/Willy Mo Pena kind of power. Looking for a guy to support Gonzo in the lineup as a consistent power threat? Blanks is your man. They have to find a way to get his bat in the lineup every day. And, albeit with a small sample size, Blanks was the better left fielder. Headley's UZR/150 was -11.1 in 2009. Blanks' was 21.9. Start Blanks in left.

So that means either Headley or Kouz at third. Kouz is the better fielder, but Headley wasn't a slouch. At third his UZR/150 was 4.4 (granted, that's a small sample size of 28 games). But here's the kicker for me: in 17 straight games at third (from 9-27 Sept), Headley hit .303 and had an .816 OPS. For his career he's pnly hitting .263 with a .740 OPS. I would say that's a pretty significant jump in production when he quit having to worry about playing the OF and returned to his natural position. Kouz? career .308/.743. Headley has more power upside (potentially) at third, and hits for average at about the same rate.

Headley can replace Kouz rather effortlessly. Kouz is another tradeable Padre. I think they should trade Kouz.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Meeting Kickoff

Well, since I've largely ignored this blog since mid-August, it's high time I start it up again. The Winter Meetings starting Monday seemed a perfect time to do just that.

The Padres are expected to non-tender Kevin Correia. This surprises me based on how Correia pitched in 2009. From the biz of baseball, here's what non-tender means:

If a club has no interest in keeping a particular player, the club may choose to non-tender him, or to not offer him a contract. A player generally becomes a candidate to be non-tendered when he is arbitration-eligible and his club determines he is not worth the salary he might command in arbitration. A player who is non-tendered becomes a free agent and may sign with any of the 30 Major League clubs, including his former team, at any price.
Correia has over 4 years service, so he's arbitration eligible. He made $750K last season, but his 2.4 WAR in 2009 meant he was worth just under $11M dollars. No one is going to pay Kevin Correia eleven million dollars to pitch for them. However, if he went to arbitration he'd make substantially more than 750K. Heck, Brad Penny is about to sign a deal for $7.5 million - and he was awful for most of 2009! And for a cash-strapped franchise, that's a deal breaker.

With Correia's non-tender (and it isn't official until 12 December), the Padre rotation stacks up something like this:

Chris Young, Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, Wade LeBlanc.

I think I'd rather have Correia in the rotation than either Stauffer or LeBlanc.