The 2007 San Diego Padres are Marcus and Brianís Padres. If you donít believe me, read this article, which is one of the funniest I read during the offseason. Among the highlights:
The Giles boys can be, well, a little different.
Ask him what their father does for a living, Brian deadpans: "He's a pimp." And their mother? "She's a stripper."
They filmed a series of commercials Monday night that was supposed to last no more than 30 minutes. It took nearly two hours. It began with Marcus, a second baseman, saying it was cool having makeup applied to their faces. ("I haven't done this since I was 5," Marcus says, "back when I wanted to be a girl.") It ended with Brian dropping his pants and jumping on Marcus, with the two giggling uncontrollably until the cameras stopped.
The boys attribute most of their zany humor to their mom, Monica, a housewife, who sat in the news conference announcing Marcus' signing during the winter and said, "This is great; you guys get to shower again together."
Their dad, Bill, a Coors Light supervisor, has his quirks too. The Giles boys remember the time when Brian was 15, Marcus was 7, and they found themselves in a karaoke contest at a Black Angus restaurant singing, We are Family.
"I think we won when my mom started dancing," Brian says, "and her left breast fell out."
Besides, how can you separate them now? They will hit back-to-back in the lineup, Padres manager Bud Black says, somewhere in the top three spots. The back of the jerseys will even read the same: "Giles" with no initials, 24 for Brian and 22 for Marcus.
"There's no reason to have initials on the back," Marcus says. "Come on, he's almost 50 pounds heavier, throws from the wrong side and bats funny.
There was temporary optimism when the Braves non-tendered Marcus that the Jays could solve their middle infield woes by signing Giles and moving Hill to SS. However, as I speculated here and as the article makes clear, as soon as he became a free agent Giles had his agent phone the Padres. He said he never wanted to play anywhere else and turned down a three-year deal from the Devil Rays and interest from Boston and Texas to sign a one-year deal with San Diego. This is a dream come true for the brothers who, with Brian being seven years older than Marcus, have never played on the same team before and Marcus has already spoken about wanting to resign with the Padres.
In 2006 the Padres won their division with 88 wins, solidly outperforming my expectation of 78 and my optimistic guess of 85. So, what was the reason for this? Or, what were the 3 most important reasons for this? Can we expect those trends to continue in 2007?
1. Reversing the Mistake
In last yearís preview I criticized Padres GM Kevin Towers for trading Mark Loretta for Doug Mirabelli. I questioned why Towers didnít just scour the waiver wire for players like Miguel Olivo or Jason Phillips instead of trading a starting second baseman to get a catcher who wasnít much better than freely available talent. I also asked why Towers would trade a starting position player for Mirabelli and then sign Mike Piazza, relegating Mirabelli to a part-time player, at most. Loretta had a worse year than I thought, but the principle behind the decision remains the same.
Similarly, Mirabelli went out and stunk worse than I thought. In 22 at-bats he hit .182/.308/.227 and Towers traded him back to Boston when they had a panic attack about a few passed balls during a Wakefield start (if you didnít know, Mirabelli is Wakefieldís personal catcher), where he barely fared any better. Dougie finished the season with a .191/.261/.342 line in 183 at-bats. What is important about this trade is that Towers was quick to realize his mistake and was able to reverse it, instead of stubbornly holding to his prior beliefs. Towers may not regard the trade for Mirabelli as a mistake, but if not he was still able to capitalize quickly on an opportunity to improve his team.
Towers was able to land reliever Cla Meredith, catcher Josh Bard and cash to San Diego for Mirabelli. If you donít follow the National League you may be asking "who?" Meredith was a 6th round pick in 2004 from VCU (how excited was he a couple of Thursdays ago?) who had a career 5.59 ERA in 48.1 Triple-A innings. Bard was Clevelandís backup catcher in 2005, which meant he warmed up Bob Wickman six days a week, and hit .193/.266/.277 in 83 at-bats. In 303 big league at-bats in 2004 he hit .244/.293/.373.
So what happened? Josh Bard served as Piazzaís backup but got a fair amount of playing time with Piazzaís defensive difficulties and age-related fatigue. He hit an unexpected .338/.406/.537 in 231 at-bats for a 147 OPS+. Meanwhile, in 50.2 innings Meredith put up a 1.07 ERA and was the Padres best reliever on the year and formed a fine 7-8-9 combo with Scott Linebrink and Hoffman. Meredith didn't allow a run over 28 consecutive appearances from July 18-Sept. 12. The streak eclipsed Randy Jones' 30-inning scoreless streak in 1980.
Bard earned himself a job as San Diegoís starting catcher this year and while the front office isnít foolish enough to expect a repeat performance, they are probably hoping for a 105 OPS+. His performance last year was worth about 50 runs for the Padres and if Mirabelli had amassed the same number of at-bats he would have maybe created 20 runs for the Padres. When you combine his and Meredithís performance, they alone probably lifted San Diego from 82-84 win territory (which wouldnít have got them to the playoffs) to 88. Meredith only allowed 30 hits in his 50.2 innings, which he wonít repeat in 2007. However, he only surrendered 3 home runs and struck out 37 while walking only 6.
Meredith wonít be as good in 2007, but he should be an above-average reliever in spacious PETCO. He struggled in spring training, but the coaching staff attributed it to the altitude. Bard should be an average catcher this year. On the whole, both will regress, but should still be at least average performers.
2. Adrian Gonzalez Developing
I called the Texas-San Diego trade of last offseason a ďswindlingĒ of Jon Daniels in my season preview last year. It was, but this was the consensus on the trade. If you donít remember, San Diego acquired Chris Young, Termel Sledge and Gonzalez for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and minor-league catcher Billy Killian. Killianís not a prospect of note and Otsuka had a good year in relief. For $4.5 million the Rangers got 68 innings of 92 ERA+ ball from Eaton before he got hurt.
Chris Young was coming off a fine season in Texas. He was young, cheap, tall and still developing, but Texas wanted a potential free agent who was better in no conceivable way. I predicted a sub-4 ERA for Young and he beat those expectations with a 3.46 ERA and 11 wins in 179.1 innings. Young is a good candidate for regression as he only allowed 134 hits in that span, but his performance last year was a huge reason for San Diegoís success. I touted Sledge as a third/fourth-outfielder type and instead he put up a .665 OPS in 70 at-bats. While his performance left a lot to be desired, I still believe Sledge has some potential to develop into a good fourth-outfielder or half of a slightly weak corner outfield platoon. Sledge should get the chance to platoon with Jose Cruz this year and hopes to show that his performance for Washington in 2004 wasnít a fluke.
However, the surprise of the trade was Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .304/.362/.500 and showed the potential that made the Marlins draft him first overall in 2000, even if it widely acknowledged to be an overdraft at the time. Gonzalez, a San Diego native, quickly established himself as the Padres everyday first baseman and never looked back. At only 25 he should be coming into his prime and the Padres have him under their control for the next four years. I expect a mid-high 800ís OPS next year, which would be even better than it looks considering San Diegoís park factors. For the next three-four years (or more) the Padres have found a #2/3 starter and their starting first baseman (and possibly a backup outfielder) for a good reliever, one year of an injury prone starter and a non-prospect catcher. All in all, a very good haul for a to-be free agent and a good Japanese reliever in his 30ís. I expect a small drop from Young, Gonzalez to be at least as good and Sledge to be better, although he may not get more than part-time duty.
3. Trevor Hoffman Enters the Record Books
Trevor Hoffman became the all time MLB saves leader on September 24, 2006, saving his 479th game in a 2-1 San Diego victory over the Pirates. He saved three more games over the course of the season and now has 482 career saves. Hoffman also set a second record in 2006 when he became the MLB record holder for relief appearances with one club. On August 20 he made his 776th appearance for the Padres, breaking Elroy Faceís record of 775 appearances for the Pirates.
I was glad to see Hoffman get the record. Perhaps itís because he seems like a record holder and Lee Smith doesnít. Thatís probably because I grew up with the Lee Smith who went from team to team each year and wasnít that effective, as opposed to the Lee Smith of the Cubs in the 1980ís. Perhaps itís because I have a lot of respect for a good changeup. Perhaps itís because I enjoy players who spend their (nearly) whole career with one team. Perhaps itís because I like the Padres. In any case, I enjoyed the sight of Hoffman getting the record and Iím sure itís a memorable moment for all Padres fans.
In terms of his performance, Hoffman had another Hoffman-esque year. His strikeout totals arenít what they used to be, but Hoffmanís a crafty pitcher and heís been around long enough to make adjustments. I think heís the sort of pitcher who will decline gradually and will retire when he and the Padres feel the time is right. Heís not a guy whoís going to bounce in his early-to-mid 40ís in an attempt to stay in the majors. I donít think Hoffman will fall far this year.
So, now that we know what went right, what went wrong
for San Diego
1. Third Base
I called Vinny Castilla ďhorrible offensivelyĒ in last yearís season preview. Well, the Padres wished he was only horrible offensively. He hit .232/.260/.319 as the everyday third baseman before being released in mid-July and taking a farewell tour with the Rockies. The Padres used four other players at third base (not counting a couple of apperanaces by Manny Alexander), but unfortunately the two who could hit couldnít field and the two that could field canít hit. Todd Walker came over from the Cubs on July 31st and hit .282/.366/.419, but struggled defensively, his WebGem diving stop and throw from his ass notwithstanding. Russell Branyan put up an even better line over 72 at-bats, hitting .292/.416/.556. However, the majority of the playing time went to the primary infield reserves: Geoff Blum (.254/.293/.366) and Mark Bellhorn (.190/.285/.344).
Not confident in a full year of Blumís bat or Branyanís glove, the Padres traded starting second baseman Josh Barfield to the Cleveland Indians for minor league pitcher Andrew Brown and Triple-A third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who they hope will become a regular for them this year Kouzmanoff had 56 at-bats with Cleveland last year and put up a .690 OPS. Heís turning 26 in July.
So, why would you trade an up-and-coming second baseman for him? The answer is probably best described in 11 numbers: 992 (A+), 1109 (AA), 1056 (AAA). Those are his OPSes at each level during 2005, the first half of 2006 and the latter half of 2006, respectively. It was only 102 at-bats, but when someone hits .353/.409/.647 at AAA at a position where the incumbent is Geoff Blum, I take a look, especially if he just hit .389/.449/.660 at AA. Kouzmanoffís big problem is defense, but reportedly he has impressed the Padres throughout the spring with his glove. His other negative is his injury history, which Baseball America summarizes:
ďAll Kouzmanoff has done at every minor league stop is
hit--when he's been healthy enough to play every day. The 25-year-old infielder
finished second in the minor leagues with a .379 average between Double-A Akron
and Triple-A Buffalo in 2006, but was hampered by hamstring and back issues
that caused him to miss three weeks.
The back injury stems from a stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2004, when he was going after a foul ball along the third base dugout when he slipped and fell, hitting his back on every concrete step on the way down.Ē
Josh Barfieldís a solid player with a nice bloodline and Kouzmanoff is a long way from turning into a Travis Hafner, but I donít think Towers has got enough credit for this swap. Maybe he got lucky that Atlanta non-tendered Giles, but I think he saw that the Braves were leaning towards getting rid of him and he realized the natural advantage he possessed in signing Giles. Thus, he traded Barfield for a legitimate major league starter at the one hole the Padres had, with the foresight to believe he could convince Marcus to sign with San Diego to play with his brother, which he did. Barfieldís good, but Giles and Kouzmanoff is noticeably better than Barfield and Blum. Third base wonít be a problem for San Diego anymore.
2. Brian Gilesís Bat
Lost in the above hoopla about his zany personality is the fact that Brian Giles severely underperformed expectations for him and his $10million per year contract. In 2005 Giles had a fantastic year, hitting .302/.423/.483 in PETCO Park, finishing 9th in NL MVP voting and looking every bit the player who would age well into his late 30ís. A number of teams went hard after him in the offseason, but the California native returned to San Diego, where he had grown comfortable. However, Giles had a very subpar year by his standard (.263/.374/.397). His OPS+ of 105 was his worst since he became an everyday player following an offseason trade from Cleveland to Pittsburgh after the 1998 season. It was only the second time he didnít break 145 in the span, too. His one triple marked the first time since 1999 that he didnít hit at least five triples and that drop, more than a drop in doubles or home runs, explains the decreased power.
I donít think Giles is done. I donít see anything about him that screams a player who ages poorly. He might lose some speed, but he still went 9 for 13 in stolen base attempts last year and nobody loses enough speed in one offseason to justify their triples total going from 7-7-5-6-7-8 to 1. Giles should hit some triples in 2007, just as he should see his batting average creep up into the .280ís. Heís not going to slug .500 again, but thereís nothing to stop Giles from going .285/.390/.460 and settling in as .850 OPS with an OPS+ in the 120ís for the next couple of years. Whether thatís worth his salary is one question, but thatís a valuable player for sure. Heís going to bounce back.
3. The Wells Panic
The Padres front office must view George Kottaras differently than I do, but in my books you donít trade a ďBĒ catching prospect in a weak system for a one month rental of an above-average pitcher. I wouldnít do it with a deep system, either. Thatís how a deep system becomes shallow. I might do it for a good to very good pitcher, but not for David Wells. He had a 4.98 ERA in Boston and didnít look anything more than an average pitcher. San Diego wanted a number three starter to slot behind Peavy and Young and Wells wanted out of Boston badly. So, San Diego traded Kottaras to Boston for what amounted to 5 regular season starts and one postseason start. (Sure, Wells resigned with San Diego and that means something, but he pitched there in 2004 and has an offseason home in the area. I think he was coming home in 2007 if the Padres wanted him.)
Kottaras is no Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez, but heís a solid enough prospect who looks like heíll turn into a good backup at worst and perhaps a starter if he can develop his defence further. He split time last year between AA and AAA and before the season was listed at San Diegoís 2nd best prospect by Baseball America and I believe was rated as a ďBĒ by John Sickels. You donít trade that sort of prospect for six starts by David Wells, especially not if you have a farm system still trying to recover from the Matt Bush debacle. This was a panic move to find a third starter and instead of holding strong, Towers gave into Epsteinís threat that he would pull Wells, admittedly the best available pitcher at the August trade deadline, off the market if he didnít get Kottaras. It didnít hurt them in 2006 and might not in 2007, but itíd be nice to have Kottaras in the catching picture in 2008. Although, maybe I should lay off criticizing Towers, because heís on the mend from an injury.
So, to reiterate that exercise, Chris Young, Cla Meredith and Josh Bard should be worse to various degrees. Kevin Kouzmanoff will be better than a four-headed monster and Termel Sledge and Brian Giles should both be better. Itíd be fun to speculate about the effects of losing Bruce Bochy and naming a former pitcher as the teamís manager, but I donít have the knowledge or time to talk about that. Plus, it leaves me something to write about in 2008.
Keeping with the theme of threes, what three returning position players should we look at before we go?
1. The 3 and 4 Starters
Alright, this is slightly cheating because itís two players, not one. Last year the Padres got good production in the 3 and 4 spot from Woody Williams and Clay Hensley, the former of whom has departed for Houston. The 5 starters were Chan Ho Park and Mike Thompson, who both struggled. Despite my earlier comments, Wells should be good for a 108-110 ERA+ in that park, a number which free agent signing Greg Maddux should be able to match. By the way, I still havenít gotten used to seeing an ERA in the 4ís next to Madduxís name. Heís not a detriment to his team by any stretch, but itís still a long way from the pitcher who was the first or second in the NL in ERA from 1994-1998 and who, between 1993-2002, only had one year where he wasnít in the top 4. Anyhow, Hensleyís returning and San Diego actually has a very solid rotation, 1 through 5.
Bud Black is likely to go with 12 pitchers and the seven relievers who break camp are likely to be Hoffman, Meredith, Heath Bell, Doug Brocail, rule-5 pick Kevin Cameron, Scott Linebrink, and Thompson. Scott Strickland and Scott Cassidy are also in the mix. Thereís no lefty there, but Blackís used to that, coming from Anaheim, and he said he thinks Linebrink, Meredith and Cameron can all get lefties out. Despite a number of unfamiliar names, I think Hoffman-Linebrink-Meredith is a solid back core and Bell, who Iím glad is going to finally get a chance in the majors, and Brocail are decent middle men. Cameronís going to get some low-pressure innings and Thompson will be the long man. Itís not the NLís best pen, but itís not the worst. Itís going to suffer a bit in 2007, as in 2006 the eight relievers with the most innings pitched for the Padres all had ERA+s of over 100.
2. Up the Middle (the rest)
This one will be much shorter, as I got carried away above.
People donít appreciate how good Mike Cameron was last year, playing strong
defence in center field with a 119 OPS+. He wonít do that again, but heís
above-average in the field and at the plate and is a very reliable player.
Khalil Greeneís also got a strong defensive reputation, but heís never hit with
the potential he showed in college. Well, I think this year is when things
change. Iím going to predict Greene approaches or exceeds the .795 OPS he
posted in 2004. Heís been a disappointment with the bat the last two years, but
thatís about to change. If Cameron can split the difference between being league average and 2006 (or be even better) and if Greene improves back his 2004 performance, San Diego will be in good shape.
3. Jake Peavy
So far, all of this discussion has ignored San Diegoís ace and one of my favourite players in baseball, Jake Peavy. In 2005 he posted a 2.88 ERA and in 2006 it was 4.09. He had 216 Kís and 50 walks in 203 innings in í05 and he lost one strikeout and added 12 walks in 202.1 innings in 2006. That doesnít add up to an additional run and a quarter on oneís ERA and I don't know of any underlying reason to explain Peavy's struggles. In 2006 he allowed 20 additional hits and 5 more homers, which explains a lot of the increase. Heís going to come back with an ERA in the low 3ís, heís going to win 17 games and propel the Padres to the postseason, where heíll win his first postseason game.
87-75. First place in the NL West.