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July 11, 2008

Prospectus Today

San Diego's Setback Season

by Joe Sheehan

For the most up-to-date information on tonight's BP Petco Park event, read Dave Pease's Unfiltered post with all you need to know about what to do, who to contact, and what's in store by clicking here.

---

I always did like San Diego. I never warmed up to Los Angeles or Orange County in all the years I've lived here, but I loved San Francisco and I liked San Diego. The emergence of a pretty good downtown to go along with the Gaslamp District and all the beaches has made it that much better over the past decade.

Adding to my affection for the city has been the great relationship BP has had with the Padres over the years. As far back as when Theo Epstein was working for them, the Pads have been readers of the book and the website, and always eager and willing to work with us on events. That's why I'm here now, for tonight's Ballpark Feed at Petco, featuring a pregame talk with Paul DePodesta and, thanks to some luck, a Jake Peavy start. This will be our third Petco event-Kevin Towers and Sandy Alderson spoke at previous ones-and the first one for which the Padres are buried in last place.

It's been a difficult season in San Diego, as a combination of aging, a fallow farm system, injuries, and a poor offseason have left the team 36-56, just shy of the worst record in baseball to date. While the poor play of the Diamondbacks kept the Pads within shouting distance of self-delusion for a while, a 5-17 stretch dating to June 15 has just about ended any thoughts of contention. That's not a bad thing-this isn't a good team, and pursuing 83 wins at the expense of future seasons would have been a mistake. With their hopes for this year dashed, they can get on with the business of converting current roster value into future franchise value.

The Padres need just about everything. Of the players currently on the roster, only Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez, and perhaps Chase Headley could be starters on a winning Pads team in 2009 or beyond. Cla Meredith and Heath Bell could be contributors. The rest of the roster is too old or not good enough, or in some cases, both. The farm system has little in the way of short-term help; Matt Antonelli has been eaten alive by Triple-A, batting .190/.315/.271. Wade LeBlanc has been just as unsuccessful on the mound. Cesar Carrillo is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. As you go deeper, you see some reasons for optimism-Kyle Blanks is raking at Double-A, but he and Adrian Gonzalez are redundant, so that's suboptimal. Blanks' teammate Will Inman has pitched well also, and projects as a mid-rotation starter or good reliever; Steve Garrison, also part of the Scott Linebrink trade, is a similar case. You can look at Drew Cumberland, Matt Latos, Cedric Hunter, and Mitch Canham, and see 2011 being a good year, so there is a future to project.

That makes it all the more important to strip down the current team for parts. With little help on the way in 2009 and two very much stronger rosters likely to be found on the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, the Padres have to take the tack the Rangers did a year ago and convert value. That means leveraging Randy Wolf's park-assisted "bounceback" (2.54 ERA at home; 6.66 away) for whatever you can get. It means flipping Tadahito Iguchi and Greg Maddux and Brian Giles, none of whom will be Padres in 2010, and getting anything for them. Maddux and Giles are exactly the kind of consistent veterans contending teams go crazy for. They simply can't be here on August 1.

Those are the easy calls, of course. The Padres have to make harder calls, though, like seeing if there's a market for Khalil Greene's glove. The 28-year-old is popular, but he's also running a .266 OBP, the third time in four years he's been under .300. His problems making contact have eaten up his production, and he can walk after 2009. This is the time to move him. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 26, seems like he should be a building block. When you consider that he has drawn 46 unintentional walks in 964 PA in his career and doesn't play great defense, you realize he isn't. He's a right-handed Russell Branyan with fewer walks. He's also inexpensive for another year and has power that could be attractive to many. Headley can't play left field and he's a much more valuable property than Kouzmanoff; screwing with him to let a .320 OBP guy play third base is a mistake.

It would be helpful if Chris Young would come back and pitch well enough to restore his trade value. Young can't be blamed for the line drive that broke his nose and put him on the DL, but has nevertheless established himself as someone who's just a 180-inning guy due to nagging injuries associated with his size. His best seasons are behind him, but the perceived value is higher than his actual value because of the low ERAs he put up the last few years. He peaked a season ago-right around now, actually-but the Padres can still get out from under him. He won't be good when this team is. I love Heath Bell, but he's 30 and the Padres have some organizational skill at finding guys just like him. The burn rate on quality middle relievers is pretty fast, so it may be time to flip Bell the way the team did Linebrink a year ago.

The toughest decision is on Gonzalez, a 26-year-old with an insanely good contract-$14 million total through 2011-who plays both ways and whose numbers would be more impressive if he wasn't playing home games in double gravity. He's comparable to Derrek Lee, and that's a player to build around. On the other hand, Blanks is on the way, and with every level he succeeds at, he makes it more likely that he is a major league player. Neither can move to left field-one problem the Padres face is the need for a strong defensive outfield because of their deep gaps-so one of them has to be traded. I do not think the Padres will deal Gonzalez this year, and since he's locked in contractually through 2011 (on a club option for an are-you-kidding-me $5.5 million), I don't even know that it's necessary. He will be 28 in '10 and 29 in '11, and that's young enough to be a middle-of-the-lineup force on a contender. The Brewers have shown this week that a glut of hitters can be leveraged, so having Blanks coming up behind Gonzalez could just leave the Padres with an asset they can move for a comparable prospect-such as a center fielder-a year down the road.

The Padres are in a spot they haven't been in for a few years. The last time they were, Kevin Towers acquired Gonzalez and Young for a song for veterans Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka, so it's not like he doesn't have this club in his bag. With help coming from the low minors, it's imperative the Padres recognize that 2008 and 2009 are washes and build with a focus on '10 and beyond. They have enough trade value on the roster to make that team not just a contender, but the first in a stretch of many.

--

If you haven't made your plans to come to Petco tonight, you still can. Paul DePodesta is speaking and Jake Peavy is pitching, so it'll be a great night at the park. The game is at 7 p.m. Pacific, so really, if you're in Southern California, or one of the Southwest cities an hour away, cut out of work early and come down to San Diego. See you tonight!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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