Footprints in the Snow is FanHouse's look at the paths to be forged by MLB teams this winter as they look ahead to 2009.
After clinging to contender-ship for the past few years, it seems as though last season was a wake-up call to San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers. Trevor Hoffman will not be the closer this year, Khalil Greene is likely to be traded, and Jake Peavy is definitely going to be traded. Let's examine what triggered this.
The Padres can't hit, and they are not in position to develop an offense any time soon. They had been able to survive with little offense the previous three seasons because their pitching and defense -- teamed with their home-field advantage in spacious Petco Park -- was able to churn out those 3-2 and 2-1 victories enough times to stay competitive. That all went by the wayside in 2008, as significant time was missed by Peavy and Chris Young atop the rotation (they made only 45 combined starts after making 64 in 2007) and the rest of the starters were shaky all season. In turn, the team ERA ballooned from 3.70 to 4.41.
Back to the offense ... it got a lot worse as well, scoring 104 less runs during '08 than in '07. Perception that the stadium kills the opportunity to score runs, but it really only kills the opportunity to hit a lot of home runs. You don't have to hit home runs to win baseball games, and the team's 154 should have been plenty in that ballpark. The team's shortfall was in getting on base (NL-low .317), doubles (NL-low 264), team speed (NL-low 36 SBs), and hitting with runners in scoring position (13th in the NL at .250 ... last in NL with 450 driven in from scoring position).
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With a ballpark like this, you'll need team speed, gap-hitters, and the ability to "keep the line moving" with runners on base and able to score. Oh, and you have to get runners on base before any of that happens. The Padres were pathetic at all of that ... so it's clear the entire offense needs a new philosophy.
Who may leave?
Peavy and Hoffman are definitely gone. Greene is on the trading block. Brian Giles will be too if he ever waives his no-trade clause -- which it appears he won't. If the Padres really are starting over, I can't see how they'd have a use for Michael Barrett (32 years old, makes $3.5 million a year) or Josh Bard (30 years old, makes more than $2 million a year) behind the dish.
What do they need?
Nearly everything at this point. Even if they kept Peavy, the rotation would be awful after the top two ... and Young isn't good enough to hold down a two-spot in a legitimately strong major league rotation. They likely need to rework the bullpen as Hoffman's absence knocks everyone back a spot.
On offense, everything is lacking. You need speed, power, on-base guys, and depth.
What should they do?
Model themselves after the mid-80s St. Louis Cardinals. Adrian Gonzalez plays Jack Clark's role as the lone power hitter in the middle of the lineup. The rest of the team contains speedy, high on-base guys with good defensive range. This way you could take advantage of the ballpark, while always giving Gonzalez some men on base to keep his RBI totals from the middle quite stout. You'd also play to your advantage by having enough defensive range to cover the spacious outfield and eliminate holes in the infield on hits that could bleed into the gap or get down the line. Everyone on defense must cover ground. So let's sort this out ...
1. Peavy's a special talent, and he's only 27 years old. They should not trade him. You could have this team rebuilt in two to three years and he'll still have plenty of gas left in the tank. The impending move is a short-sighted one of desperation, showing ownership that the rebuilding process has begun in order for Towers to save his job. I understand the rationale, that he'll yield the big return and you have to start somewhere. I just think there's some patchwork that could be done via free agency, especially if they didn't pick up Giles' option (I wouldn't have).
2. I would, however, deal Chris Young. He won't land nearly as much as Peavy, but there's a bonus in this situation. I get to keep Jake freaking Peavy!
3. I would trade Greene, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Barrett, and Bard for anything in the minors. I understand the guys aren't worth much, but I'm shedding payroll -- except in Kouz's case -- he's still young enough someone would take a shot at him in a package deal with Bard, for example. The target in these trades is speed and on-base percentage. We don't care about power, because so much of it is negated in the home park.
4. Now it's patchwork time to round out the roster, surrounding what little there is left. I'd be targeting older guys who might still have something left. The intention is to try and give this season a shot, but be ready with guys who we could unload at the trade deadline. Names like Jerry Hairston and Mark Kotsay help fill these needs. I'll take four or five of these types at different positions.
5. (Quasi) Big splash time ... I'd have enough money now to swoop in and sign Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson. They are young enough to lead the team along with Peavy and Gonzalez through the rebuilding process, while also being old enough to eventually be shuffled along to another ballclub should a huge offer of prospects present itself -- especially in Hudson's case should 2B prospect Matt Antonelli get off to a hot start in the minors.
6. Pitching-wise, I'd sign two low-cost/high-upside guys like Carl Pavano and Matt Clement. It sounds stupid, but the Cubs did it with Ryan Dempster a few years ago. It can work, and doesn't cost you anything to find out. This would help fill out the rotation behind Peavy and Cha Seung Baek for this season. The key on pitching is the development of the arms such as Wynn Pelzer and Will Inman in the minors.
In this case, with an offensive/defensive core of Gonzalez, Chase Headley, Kotsay, Hairston, Hudson, and Furcal; and Peavy spearheading a patchwork rotation ... there's a chance the team stays competitive for most the year and you don't get killed on revenues. If they fall flat on their face, then you deal everyone but Headley, Gonzalez, and Peavy for prospects at the trade deadline. You know there will be buyers.
(by the way, if I said "we" a few times above, it's because I was really getting into the role of playing Padres GM. I'm not a fan of the team or anything)
What will they do?
Not nearly enough to be competitive in 2008. This is going to be one of the worst teams in baseball, unfortunately, after a decent run among the top half of the league most seasons.
They are going to get rid of every player with value other than Chris Young, Brian Giles, Adrian Gonzalez, and unproven youngster Chase Headley. Those four will be surrounded with either lackluster/cheap veterans (like they already have in Jody Gerut), youngsters who haven't really broken out (Kevin Kouzmanoff), and totally unproven kids.
The eyes are firmly looking towards the future in San Diego. It's the right thing to do, but that doesn't make the very near future any more watchable.
And I still totally think they shouldn't deal Peavy.