Puttering Padres: St. Louis at San Diego

Entertaining the St. Louis Cardinals this week, a struggling Padres unit in San Diego knows that change may be inevitable.

Perhaps the Padres, a team that made the playoffs in each of the previous two years and controlled its playoff destiny right down to the season's last game, were just one player away. With centerfielder Mike Cameron leaving via free agency, a gap opened up for GM Kevin Towers, the Walt Jocketty of the West Coast, to make one of his patented veteran acquisitions.

Unfortunately, the veteran he chose was the lead-limbed husk of Jim Edmonds. That experiment is already over, and with the majors' worst record of 16-29 and the league's most punchless offense, it is time for the GM to take stock of what he has, and consider moving anything and anyone that hasn't been nailed down in an effort to retool, or rebuild.

Towers built this Padre squad almost entirely by trade, more often than not sending away his own prospects before their abilities had caught up with their hype. Such deals in the classic Jocketty mold include:

• Acquiring 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff from the Indians for the now-benched 2B Josh Barfield

• Acquiring Milton Bradley from Texas for a lowly-regarded AAA righthander...

• ... then providing backup for Bradley's inevitable injury with Scott Hairston, giving up a 27-year-old minor leaguer.

• Filling the bullpen with usable arms in Heath Bell and Cla Meredith at relatively low cost.

• Acquiring two offensive-minded catchers in Michael Barrett and Josh Bard for the combined cost of a backup catcher – Doug Mirabelli – and two low-ceiling minor leaguers.

• Helping his flyball-oriented staff prior to the 2006 season by dealing the not-yet-established Xavier Nady for Mike Cameron, now departed via free agency.

• Signing fifth starter Justin Germano, a first-half surprise last season, off the waiver wire last spring.

However, he is not a man to pass up a mini-blockbuster if the opportunity presents itself:

• In 2006, the Padres acquired two left-handed breakout stars from Texas, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and #2 pitcher Chris Young, giving up star reliever Akinori Otsuka and one-time talent Adam Eaton. (Neither is with the Rangers this season.)

• In 2003, Towers packaged Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, both high-ceiling minor league prospects, in return for a premier National League slugger in Brian Giles.

This is Towers' modus operandi, and always has been since his rising through the ranks as a Padres scout. His surprise entrant into the 1998 World Series was built around a single home-grown superstar – Tony Gwynn – and a collection of trade acquisitions such as Ken Caminiti, Kevin Brown, and Steve Finley.

His more recent playoff contender was built on yet another generational star, 15-year Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, and a surprise late-round draft pick that proved to be too good to trade away.

Jake Peavy (right), a wisp lacking in what scouts like to call a "projectable" frame, was chosen out of high school in the 15th round of the 1999 draft. His new employers sank from a World Series thrashing at the hands of the mighty Yankees to a 74-win season and a fourth-place finish, but Peavy proceeded to tear up rookie ball that season, and every level of the minors he saw thereafter.

The Padres' star hurler has known no enemy greater than his own body, as nearly every season has seen him take time out for aches and pains. This week, the team was forced to announce that Peavy would miss at least his next start, and get an MRI on a sore pitching elbow.

For the Padres, choosing to rebuild rather than retool could take quite awhile. The team's consensus top position prospects, 3B Chase Headley and 2B Matt Antonelli, are just beginning their first tours of AAA baseball, and neither is showing that they belong on a major league roster just yet. Top pitching prospect Will Inman, acquired from the Brewers as part of a rare experience-for-youth deal (sending Scott Linebrink away at the trade deadline), is perhaps AAA-ready, dominating AA so far this season.

However, Towers is not known for his patience with youngsters, particularly if it appears that other teams might value them more than he does. Either way, each of these three might soon find themselves in new uniforms.

Perhaps the most intriguing trading chip under Towers' control is the callow, 28-year-old defensive wizard Khalil Greene. While he has never put together a full season that fulfilled his offensive prowess, a glance at his career batting splits shows that he might have, had he been playing his home games anywhere but Petco Park.

As more teams are signing their young foundation players to long-term deals well before their arbitration years – witness this season's contracts awarded to Hanley Ramirez in his third year, Ryan Braun in his second, and Evan Longoria in his first – Greene with his two-year contract looks like a rarer commodity.

Before the Cardinals settled on Cesar Izturis to man the middle of the infield this year, a number of armchair GMs posted Greene on their wish lists. With Pete Kozma still years away in his development, and few other prospects as intriguing, perhaps Mozeliak will be tempted to kick the tires on the young Padre.

After all, the last shortstop that the Cardinals got from San Diego, a severely offensively-challenged 26-year-old at the time, turned out pretty well.



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