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October 5, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

San Diego Padres

by John Perrotto, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade— whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the San Diego Padres—the last team to be eliminated from playoff contention—goodbye.

The overview

The Padres' fragile equation for success completely collapsed at season's end. San Diego blew a 6½ game lead over the San Francisco Giants because its light-hitting lineup stopped producing. The Padres averaged fewer than three runs per game during their last month of play, and their National League West edge evaporated. Everybody from Ryan Ludwick to Adrian Gonzalez stopped mashing down the stretch, especially with runners on base. Mat Latos, who had been a Cy Young Award candidate for much of the season, finished terribly with a 10.12 ERA in four September starts.

The Padres' bullpen performance was historic. Luke Gregerson set a single-season record for holds with 40, and fellow setup man Mike Adams was dominant as well. Latos pitched spectacularly for four months after shifting from one side of the rubber to the other. Before Gonzalez's late-season slide, he was an MVP candidate, holding up a lineup that finished in the bottom 10 in the majors in runs scored. Bud Black had a remarkable season managing this team and should finish in the top three for National League Manager of the Year.

The Padres were one of the best stories in the majors in 2010, but they now face very difficult personnel decisions regarding what to do with their most expensive players, Heath Bell and Gonzalez, who will be eligible for free agency after next season. Rival executives expect Padres GM Jed Hoyer to seriously weigh offers for Bell, given that Adams appears ready to take over as closer, but they also think that Hoyer is likely to hang on to Gonzalez until next summer before trading him. The slugger is in line to ask for a Mark Teixeira-like $180 million contract, so unless Gonzalez feels generous and is willing to take about half that, San Diego would seem to have no chance of re-signing him. Sadly for the Padres, they probably will not get much of an attendance bounce in 2011 from their great run in 2010 because the fan base seems skeptical about whether the team can contend annually.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: The pitching was absolutely brilliant; the Padres allowed the fewest runs in the major leagues, an average of 3.60 a game. Latos developed into an ace in his first full major league season, and the Padres locked down games from the seventh inning on behind the trio of closer Bell and setup men Gregerson and Adams. Gonzalez carried the offense once again, as his team-high 58.8 value over replacement player (VORP) was more than three times that of the Padres' second-best hitter, Chase Headley (17.2).

The key number: .689.  The Padres' OPS, which ranked 27th in the major leagues ahead of just the Pirates, Astros and Mariners. Two of those squads lost 100 games.

What went wrong: Latos and fellow starters Wade LeBlanc and Kevin Correia ran out of gas in September and were generally unavailable or ineffective. The offense was a train wreck.

What won't happen again: Bell and Gonzalez both representing the Padres at a third straight All-Star Game when the 2011 Midsummer Classic is played in Phoenix. The Padres play in one of baseball's smallest markets and have a tight budget, so they won't be able to afford to keep both high-profile players. One certainly will be traded during the winter.—John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Sweet sorrow: Hoyer told The Associated Press on Monday that the Padres are "a better team with [Gonzalez and Bell] than without them." Now—on to trading them away! Well, not so fast. In the case of Bell, as Buster Olney recently told us, "If San Diego is looking to restructure its payroll, one possible way would be to insert Mike Adams at closer"—and he certainly seems capable of filling that role. Bell could then be moved, most likely for a bat. One possibility would be trying to acquire that bat from within the NL West. Arizona's bullpen is still more noxious than the Springfield tire fire, so Bell would be an upgrade, plus the D-backs have some bats to unload. (Although if you get a bat from Arizona, expect your team strikeout total to spike.) As for Gonzalez, his $6.2 million option will be exercised, and he could be dealt anytime, but don't downplay the idea of his moving in the winter in particular. Why? Well, in December, every team is a contender, and the Padres will be able to drive a massive price for the slugger. It could be too much to pass up, knowing that, even after April, some contenders for A-Gon's services will begin to fade. Don't discount the idea of a team landing Gonzalez this winter, then flipping him, such as the way the Mariners operated with Cliff Lee.

To have and to hold? Miguel Tejada's arrival in San Diego raised a lot of eyebrows, and his performance was often lauded, but people seem to overlook the heinous splits. Namely, the guy hit .205 with an equally depressing .262 on-base percentage at Petco Park. If he stays, it'll be for far less than the $6 million he pulled down this year. Chris Young's $8.5 million option is also a no-go. Here's the utterly insane figure: $1.1 million. That's the entirety of salary obligations the Padres have for next season as of this writing, and that's with (at most) seven arbitration cases pending. Regardless, this roster will look different next year, but it still will be heavy with young pitching and mere hope that better bats will arrive.—Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

After Simon Castro pitched in the Low-A Midwest League in 2009, Double-A seemed like an aggressive assignment for him this year, but all the 22-year-old Dominican did was lead the Texas League in WHIP (1.10) and batting average against (.223) while finishing second with a 2.92 ERA. Like the Padres' major league starters, Castro throws a lot of strikes. However, unlike most in the San Diego rotation, he brings the heat, with a fastball the gets into the mid-90s. His secondary pitches still need some refinement, but he's the kind of prospect who could make a difference in the second half of 2011.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  San Diego Padres,  Padres

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