Saturday, March 29, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: San Diego Padres

Continuing today's whirlwind tour of (most of) the NL West, we make our way down to San Diego. Where we check in with Padres fanatic J. Neff.

The 2008 Padres are mostly the same team that played well enough a year ago to suit up for one game past number 162, but not well enough to play any more after that. Before I get into that, though, let me get into this: this is the part where I show my San Diego insecurity. Actually, never mind. I might say something paranoid later about East Coast bias, I don't know yet, but just now I came to grips with the fact that America's Finest City® is a smedium media market and that's just the way it is. With a whole hell of a lot of water on one side of the city, a whole hell of a lot sand on the other, Los Angeles of Anaheim up above, Mexico down below, and a local rather than regional television deal, I don't expect that to change any time soon, especially not in time for opening day. If I was still insecure, I'd say something right here about the kind of Angeleno cultural imperialism that had Vin Scully on basic cable in San Diego during my childhood, but I'm not, so I won't.

Nevertheless, the Padres will never be able to spend with the Giants and Dodgers, so they're forced to compete creatively.1 For instance, they saved money on last year's bullpen by re-signing Doug Brocail, a year removed from a 99% blockage of the left anterior descending artery,2 for half of his 2006 salary. Glendon Rusch, after losing the end of his 2006 season and his entire 2007 season to a pulmonary embolism, will more than likely start this season in the Padres' pen after signing a minor league contract in December. But the most significant post-injury bargain contract in the organization belongs to native San Diegan Mark Prior, who, if he ever heals, will find himself at the back end of a rotation that should be functionally similar to last year's edition. That is, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux, and then two other guys.3

Trevor Hoffman remains the face of the bullpen and will accordingly face early season scrutiny. I don't like to tell family business in public, but based on the back-to-back blown saves that ended last season, a lot of us think hell's bells may have tolled, or something to that effect. The thing is, Hoffman blowing a save in Colorado4 doesn't really indicate very much. He's struggled there throughout his career, with a lifetime ERA in the City of God('s Team) that tops six. He may be done or he may have been following a trend. I don't know, and I won't be committing to anything here. I will say, though, that even though he's already highly specialized, even for a specialist,5 I wouldn't be opposed to seeing his role shift over the course of the season, with Heath Bell seeing more save opportunities, especially on the road.

The infield doesn't hold many surprises, but the outfield may be adventurous. Josh Bard and Michael Barrett will be back behind the plate, and both will continue to share blame with the pitching staff when the rest of the league steals at will. Adrian Gonzales worked out and talked hitting with Tony Gwynn this offseason and I know it's a lot to ask, but I'm hoping things work out the way they did when Gwynn had a similar conversation with former Padre Ted Williams.6 Tad Iguchi was brought in as a short term placeholder to keep second base company until Matt Antonelli is ready. Khalil Greene, who has more (batting) stances than Shaolin kung fu,7 will be back (after signing an arbitration-avoiding two year extension this offseason) roaming the earth between 3rd and 2nd. He will continue to have a mild case of Dave Kingman. Kevin Kouzmanoff was sub-Mendozal early last year, but rebounded to have a solid rookie season, offensively at least.

Erstwhile third baseman of the future Chase Headley8 is now the left fielder of the very near future. That means Jody Gerut is the likely opening day left fielder (as long as Scott Hairston is otherwise occupied) while Headley continues his on-the-job training in AAA Portland. This, according to the Padres, will allow him to experience playing in conditions in left—at night, on wet fields, etc.—that weren't available in the Cactus League. A side effect of this is that he won't be learning a new position and facing live major league pitching for the first time in a park that depresses all offensive stats (except for triples ) during the part of the season that it is at its most depressive.

Speaking of things that depress, the Jim Edmonds is the Padres' new center fielder. I read somewhere that he spent the offseason training with SWAT, presumably to give him something to do during his stretches on the disabled list. With Edmonds still sidelined with a calf issue, Scott Hairston is the probable opening day center fielder. Brian Giles is back in right and hoping to show that injuries more than age were the root cause of his decrease in production a year ago.

I think this team is too arm strong not to compete for the NL West again this year. I also think it unlikely that they'll do much more than that. 88-74.

1. The Diamondbacks and Rockies, under similar payroll constraints do something creative as well. They develop young talent.

2. I'll never doubt Kevin Towers' ability to put a pen together. I just think you have to be either some kind of low or some kind of saint to re-sign Doug Brocail to a 50% pay cut the year after he has two angioplasties.

3. Randy Wolf and (probably) Justin Germano to start the season.
4. I'm pretending the blown save in Milwaukee didn't happen.
5. He's pitched more than 60 innings in a season only three times this decade and over 65 only once.
6. It's true. Look it up.
7.He also talks a little bit like Kwai Chang Caine.
8. If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that, other than Khalil Greene, the Padres haven't really developed any position players since the days of Benito Santiago and the Alomar brothers. I guess Derrek Lee counts and Josh Barfield counted for a year and then had his name redacted from the list. Former Padre second base prospect Pedro de los Santos once developed, overnight, into an outfielder named Freddy Guzman who was two and a half years older than de los Santos. To the best of my knowledge, Headley (when he's called up) and then Antonelli will be the first position players drafted by the Padres to make the big club since Sandy Alderson took over as team CEO and Grady Fuson took over scouting and development a few years ago.

J. Neff is a temporarily displaced San Diegan whose Padre fandom defies words. So here's a picture of his shoes, instead:

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