Brave New World for the Padres?
The San Diego Padres have made no secret of the fact that they would love to follow the Atlanta Braves’ model of building successful teams. And while 14 straight division titles is a ways off, the Pads have made good progress in creating a solid foundation capable of sustaining a winner for some time.
Sure, they are fresh off taking it on the chin against the Cards in the NLDS — again. Of course, too much Chris Carpenter and not enough timely hitting (2-for-32 with runners in scoring position for the series) did them in this time. And even if they were favoured heading into this series against a reeling Cards’ squad, San Diego has to take solace in achieving a first for the franchise in its 38-year history: back-to-back playoff appearances.
In each subsequent season following a previous Padre playoff year, the club fell flat on its face. The 1984 team that went to the World Series was followed by a third-place showing in 1985; 1996’s division winner was replaced by a 76-86 team the next year; and the team that went to the World Series in 1998 was a prelude to a five-year run of losing teams.
The Padres turned things around in 2004, starting a run of three straight winning seasons, the last two of which have resulted in post-season play. So while there must be great disappointment in San Diego over the fact that the team can’t seem to figure out how to beat St. Louis, there’s plenty of reason for optimism as well.
Let’s run down the club’s 25-man roster and see how things look for 2007 and beyond for the Padres.
- Reliever Doug Brocail was effective when healthy, which was rare. A blocked coronary artery and then a torn hamstring limited him to 25 games, so the Pads may not want to re-sign the free agent. Boston, in need of bullpen help, is said to be interested.
- Free-agent-to-be Alan Embree enjoyed a nice comeback season in a left-handed set-up role. He was hard to hit and showed good control. Boston couldn’t wait to get rid of Embree last year, but he sure could have helped the Bosox this season.
- Free-agent-signing Shawn Estes was a total bust, making just one start before going down with an elbow injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery and probably won’t be ready for the start of 2007, so the Padres are not expected to re-sign him.
- Clay Hensley was pulled out of the pen and inserted into the rotation in April and was a pleasant surprise. Although he was more susceptible to the long ball as a starter, Hensley established himself as a rotation mainstay. And he’s cheap, so write him in as the number three man in the rotation in 2007. (Of course, that could change as the Padres will seek to add a veteran starter or two via free agency.)
- Trevor Hoffman is now baseball’s all-time saves king and after topping the NL with 46 this year, shows no signs of slowing down. He may even enter into the Cy Young picture given the lack of any dominant starters this season. Hoffman is signed through the end of next season.
- Scott Linebrink, who the Pads hold a $1.75-million 2007 option on, could be dealt this offseason. Although Linebrink was more hittable this year, he continues to be a solid workhorse in the pen, acting as a bridge to Hoffman. Replacing him would be tough, but many teams would pay dearly for a reliable set-up man like Linebrink.
- Given a chance to show what he can do this season after being stolen from Boston, Cla Meredith didn’t disappoint. He was essentially unhittable and the sidearmer could easily take over Linebrink’s role if needed.
- Chan Ho Park’s ridiculous five-year, $65-million deal finally wraps up this offseason, and he’ll be leaving the team as a free agent. Obviously, he won’t ever command that kind of coin again. Park gives up too many home runs to be more than a fifth starter.
- Jake Peavy is the de facto ace of the Padres’ staff, but he didn’t have a season befitting a number one starter. He was roughed up in his Game 1 start, and admitted that his shoulder had been bothering him. Peavy is signed to a long-term deal, and given that his strikeout rate remained strong this year, I like his chances of returning to his 2004-05 levels.
- Rudy Seanez flamed out in Boston and wound up in San Diego (is this a trend or what?). He was even worse for the Padres, so will have to go searching for work again this offseason. Seanez gives up way too many baserunners, but just keeps landing on his feet. But he’ll be 38 next week and time may be running out on him.
- Injuries limited David Wells to 75 2/3 innings this year and although he provided a boost after coming over from Boston (what is this Red Sox to Padres pitching pipeline?), it looks like 43-year-old Boomer is finally going to call it a career.
- Woody Williams, now 40, has a tougher time staying healthy every season and he’s expected to be allowed to walk as a free agent. But a big September that helped him go 12-5, 3.65, combined with his superb control, will mean someone will offer him a decent deal.
- Chris Young continued to add to his Road King reputation by winning the only playoff game for San Diego this year in Game 3 in St. Louis. This guy has gone 24 straight road starts in the regular season without losing and he led the NL in road ERA in 2006. Young, signed through 2007, could have easily won 15 or more with better run support. He’s seriously underrated.
- Josh Bard looks poised to take over as the starter in 2007, and will be a serious sleeper. He’s not a youngster, but he’s never had a chance to show what he can do with serious PT. Give him 350 or more at-bats and he’ll turn into a fine run producer.
- If he’s brought back, Rob Bowen will likely take over Bard’s back-up role. He showed some developing gap power this season and is improving at the plate.
- Mike Piazza did a good job revitalizing his career this season, and as a result, the probable free-agent-to-be (the Padres are not expected to pick up his option) may have priced himself out of the market. He would like to return, but Piazza once again showed his defensive deficiency in the NLDS, so would probably be best served taking whatever offer an AL team gives him and becoming a DH.
- Josh Barfield had a very fine rookie season, but how he hit .280 with just 30 walks is one of those mysteries that leaves you scratching your head. I never expected him to hit for such a high BA given his lack of patience. I want to see Barfield improve that before he takes the next step, but he clearly established himself as a steady presence at second base for the Padres.
- Mark Bellhorn was so not the answer at third base. I was quite surprised how much the Padres used him this year before they finally realized he can’t hit and strikes out way too much to be of any use. He was a surprise — and ill advised — addition to the NLDS, but didn’t disappoint, striking out in a key situation (of course that didn’t necessarily make him unique among Padres this postseason). Bellhorn is a free agent and he will not be back. Third base is a key area San Diego needs to upgrade this offseason, but the Padres plan to uncharacteristically loosen the purse strings and go after someone big (Adrian Beltre? Alex Rodriguez?) in the trade market.
- Geoff Blum didn’t do much in the postseason (almost no Padre did), but he was being asked to fill a hole that was too big. He’s a great role player who can still deliver a hit when needed, so the Padres would be well-advised to try to re-sign this free agent.
- Wow. Where did Adrian Gonzalez’s breakout season come from? He showed the kind of power that most people had given up on ever seeing from him and his emergence was perfectly timed with Ryan Klesko (whose Padre career is likely over) missing almost the entire season. It’s hard to imagine the Padres winning the NL West without this kid.
- San Diego loves Khalil Greene at short, but his penchant for getting hurt must be of some concern. Greene’s power has been slow to develop, and seems to be in a holding pattern, however, it was nice to see him get back to taking a few walks like he did in his rookie season, but abandoned in 2005.
- Todd Walker was brought in to try to solve the third base situation, but that was short lived. Although he hit pretty well in San Diego, he’ll probably be walking as a free agent.
- The Pads tried to tap into the long-bomb potential of Russell Branyan (and hope he might also be able to help at third), and he parlayed the best stretch of baseball he’s ever played (albeit just 27 games’ worth) into probably convincing the Padres to exercise his 2007 option. Branyan may even get a crack at the third base job next year if San Diego can’t acquire a suitable replacement. If nothing else, he showed a willingness to take a walk, and Branyan, now 30, may yet carve out a career for himself.
- San Diego will exercise the 2007 option on Mike Cameron shortly, and why not? He plays a mean centrefield, rediscovered his running game and continues to improve his on-base skills.
- Brian Giles is signed long-term and is a great contact hitter, but masquerading him as a number three hitter is ridiculous, as he just does not produce like one any more. The Padres really need another basher, and they’ll address this situation…
- …in left field, where free agent Dave Roberts is expected to depart despite a career year and a fine post-season showing. San Diego needs to add a serious bat in this spot, along the lines of Carlos Lee.
The upshot is San Diego has a strong bullpen, solid core of young starting pitchers to build around, a good, young infield (except third) and a decent outfield (that’s especially strong defensively) that needs another stick to beef up its offensive potential.