Hot Stove: 2006 Padres

To contend next year, and in the years ahead, the team needs to get younger, improve its defense to take advantage of their spacious home at PETCO park, while most importantly improving a stagnant offense.

The off-season analysis can be divided into four categories, which free agents to keep, what the potential starting lineup should be for 2006, who needs to be moved from last year's team and players that may help the Padres next year in their farm system.

Free Agents

Who will stay:

Contrary to public perception the first potential free agent that the team will retain is Trevor Hoffman, not Brian Giles. Hoffman has been the public face of the Padres for over ten years and to not sign him after he is coming off of one of his better seasons would be a negative publicity blow the Padres and John Moores can ill afford. It's likely he will ask for a two-year deal with a raise, which could be easily done after some posturing from both sides.

Giles was the Padres best position player in 2005, the only player with a .900 OPS on the team and of the big three which started the season - Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko - the only one that even comes close to justifying his contract. If his deal is in the three-year range, and there isn't some outrageous offer on the table from someone else, look for Giles to be roaming around left field next year (if Ben Johnson starts next year, he will probably be in right field).

Three valuable bench players, Mark Sweeney, Robert Fick and Damian Jackson are also likely to return. Sweeney is one of the best pinch hitters in the game, Fick provides a valuable left handed hitting option off the bench and can play several positions including catcher. DJ can play nearly any position on the field, and gives the Padres a backup centerfielder/shortstop.

Who will go:

Although Ramon Hernandez played very well down the stretch, there are just several unique circumstances, which virtually assure his departure. Its been reported that the Mets, with his old pitching coach Rick Peterson leading the cheering section, are prepared to offer Hernandez a four-year deal, which is longer and for more money than the Padres are willing to or should play. Throw in the late season performance of Miguel Olivio and the talent the Padres have in the minor leagues at catcher, particularly George Kottaras, and Ramon is by far the most likely to leave.

Third baseman Joe Randa was a nice midseason pickup, but if you look past his stats that he put up a hitter-friendly Cinergy Field, giving a thirty-six year old a multi-million dollar deal for a .698 OPS doesn't appear to be the best move. He will be allowed to walk away quietly and was not a big improvement over Burroughs.

Finally, the Padres have an $850,000 option on utility man Eric Young, who will probably be allowed to walk since Sweeney, Fick and Jackson do everything that he can. Look for the team to try to find a right-handed option off of the bench, unless one of the aforementioned players does not end up staying.

Starting lineup for 2006:

CF – Roberts
3b- Burroughs
1b - Nady
LF - Giles
SS - Greene
RF - Ben Johnson
C - Miguel Olivio
2b - Josh Barfield
SP Peavy
SP Eaton
SP Hensley
SP Stauffer
SP Park

Ryan Klesko. Under nearly any scenario, Klesko is going to be out of left field. The position should go to either Ben Johnson or Xavier Nady, with Giles moving over to left field.

Josh Barfield. Forget what you have read in the San Diego Union or Baseball America being still a year away from the major leagues, Barfield is ready now.

First, we have seen Josh play several times, a distinct advantage. Two, a quick review of his overall statistics at Portland, where he hit .310/.370/.450 15 home runs, 72 RBIs and 20 stolen bases and only 13 errors in 137 games, indicates that he has little left to prove in Triple-A. This point is further compounded when after June 1 Barfield hit .343 with 11 of his 15 home runs.

Any hesitation the Padres have about Barfield playing next year is only about a decision if he is better for the team than incumbent Mark Loretta, and has nothing to do with him being ready for the major leagues.

Xavier Nady. After a monster season in Portland in 2004, the Padres were unable to get him consistent playing time or find him a regular position. Nady was a very expensive draft pick and has performed at every level when given a chance at regular playing time. Nady can play several positions, and could even see time at third base next year. A right-handed hitter with plus power has simply too much upside for the Padres not to find out what he can do in a full season.

Sean Burroughs. The Padres sent Burroughs down to Portland in late July to rediscover his swing, and it seemed to have worked. Burroughs began hitting the ball hard to right field in Triple-A and seemed to return to the type of hitter the Padres thought he would be when they called him up in 2002, someone who could hit the ball hard in the gaps.

The biggest difference between Randa and Burroughs is their age difference, rather than any power numbers. Put Randa in PETCO Park for the whole season, and you'll have an old third baseman with .700 OPS. If the Padres move Loretta, put Burroughs in the #2 hole with instructions to hit the ball hard to right field, he'll be fine. Burroughs is a slightly better defensive player, has a little more speed and is still on the upside of his career.

Throw in the fact that he will probably cost about a third of what Randa will in 2006, and Sean should again be the starting third baseman next year.

Starting Pitching - After Jake Peavy and Adam Eaton, the Padres rotation was a mess this year. The first order of business will be to move Clay Hensley to the starting rotation, then make a decision between Brian Lawrence and Woody Williams.

Ideally, the Padres one big move this off-season move would be to look for a free agent pitcher or make a trade for a quality starting pitcher, a solid #2 or #3 starter. The fifth slot should go to either Tim Stauffer or Chan Ho Park, who has great stuff, but just can't put it together in a game. Carrillo will likely be a viable option by mid-year.

For tomorrow's final segment we take on the tough questions, Mark Loretta, who needs to be moved, what the farm system has to offer and our conclusions.

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