Alderson was brought was in response to owner John Moores growing dissatisfaction with many aspects of the Padres' general direction the past few years under Kevin Towers.
Few homegrown players, a minor league system that is constantly ranked near the bottom in baseball, no significant operations or success to speak off in Latin America, and a badly handled draft in 2004 – and that is just on the minor league side.
The 2004 draft seemed to be the tipping point for John Moores' patience. Not only did the drafting of Matt Bush last year quickly turn into a public relations nightmare from its initial hometown boy makes good angle because of Bush's performance on and off the field, it also brought up far too many disquieting questions about who was really benefiting from the publicly financed PETCO park, the Padres or John Moores.
Sandy Alderson will be evaluated by Moores not only on his ability to bring a winner to San Diego, but to do so within the financial constraints of team that, despite the growing size of San Diego county, is hemmed in by a very small media market, the primary source of revenue for baseball teams.
In order for Alderson to have any type of success in San Diego, he has to transform the Padres from a major league team, with far too much money tied up in unproductive players such as Ryan Klesko, Chan Ho Park and others, into a major league organization that drafts and develops its own major league talent.
Why is the development of homegrown talent so important?
In the first three years a major league player's salary is fixed, with small increases in subsequent year. In the second three-year period, a player is eligible for arbitration with his own team, but that team is still able to get players at a lower rate as opposed to competing with 29 other teams.
With the exception of a few big-market teams such as the New York Yankees and New York Mets, this is the way in which small and medium market teams, particularly the Oakland A's as chronicled in ‘Moneyball' by Michael Lewis, compete and succeed.
So how can Alderson transform the Padres, a team with several underperforming big contracts on the books for next year and a poor farm system into the "Oakland A's south"?
While on the surface this appears to be a rather impossible task, a few minor trades, a couple contracts that will expire at the end of 2006 and the implementation of talent already in the minor league system, in essence cooking with what is in your kitchen, Alderson should reach his goal by opening day 2007.
In an earlier lengthy series of articles, we wrote about the different options that the Padres could have just from within their system:
As noted in these articles, a big part of the team's future success will be in Alderson's ability to remove Ryan Klesko from the team for 2006. A bit of luck appears to have come the Padres way in the disastrous signing of Steve Finley by the Angels. Despite the fact that Klesko has a full no-trade clause, he may be willing to entertain a trade to the Los Angeles Angels to become a full time DH. Finley would replace Dave Roberts, who was not the lead-off hitter or defensive centerfielder the Padres envisioned.
While Finley would not be a substantial upgrade over Roberts, he would open space for both Xavier Nady and Ben Johnson to play everyday at first base and in left field. Additionally, Finley would give the Padres the extra year they need to see which one of their centerfield prospects, Freddy Guzman, Kennard Jones or Johnson, emerges for 2007.
Replacing Joe Randa with Sean Burroughs, and exploring trades for Mark Loretta to open up playing time for Josh Barfield could also be in the works. If Loretta is not traded in the off-season, look for a potential deal during the season. There has been little, if any talk, of extending his contract past 2006.
Finally, although the Padres's system is not loaded by any stretch of the imagination, Alderson still has three quality minor league prospects in 1b/Of Paul McAnulty, catcher George Kottaras and starting pitcher Cesar Carrillo.
McAnulty saw limited time this year in San Diego as a pinch hitter, but is one of the better, if not the best hitter in the system. P-Mac had a .968 OPS in Portland this past season, and will in all probability put up some very good offensive numbers again. His bat will dictate him being given an opportunity in San Diego. Kottaras wore down a bit as the season went on, but has improved significantly every year he has been with the organization.
In 2007, we could see this lineup for opening day:
1b - Nady
2b - Barfield
SS - Greene
3b - Burroughs
LF - McAnulty
CF - Johnson
RF - Giles
C – Kottaras
SP - Peavy
SP – Eaton
SP – Hensley
SP – Carrillo
SP - Stauffer
All of the position players are developed from within, with the exception of Brian Giles, and all five starting pitchers are products of the Padres farm system.
The Padres will have right-handed power in Nady, Johnson, Barfield and Greene, four left-handed hitters in Giles, Kottaras, McAnulty and Burroughs, the last three having gap power to right field (I am hoping Burroughs will continue to try the pull the ball which he did after being sent down to Portland). It is the type of left-handed hitting that the team needs to take advantage with the right-field gap in PETCO.
The team will roll out five good young pitchers, all under 30, with the first four having a chance to be very good.
Alderson will be feted by the local and national media for this amazing transformation, but essentially he will not have made an amazing deals, or spent great sums of money. This "transformation" will have taken place by allowing bad contracts to run out, and using the talent that is already in the system.
Will this team win the World Series? Probably not. Some players will not live up to expectations, some will exceed, but it does have a chance. What this type of change does is establish a base for the team, an efficient use of resources which enables the Padres to go out and trade for the high-priced player who is entering into his free agent year or sign the occasional free agent, to put the team over the top.
Think about how much of the team's payroll for 2005 was tied up in four players, Ryan Klesko, Chan Ho Park and Jeff Cirrillo, who wasn't even with the team. The removal of either Klesko or Park, or both, not even for another major league player, would have improved the Padres by allowing other more talented players to perform.
The money saved may have even allowed the Padres to go out and acquire a pitcher such as A.J. Burnett, who would have been a tremendous help down the stretch.
Most importantly, from a pure public relations angle, it takes John Moores off the hook, by making it appear that he is spending big money on bringing a winner to San Diego, when in reality he is just maintaining a realistic payroll and not being hamstrung by inefficient contracts.
It's really not a complicated plan, but it should be fun having a front row seat during the winter that Sandy Alderson saved the Padres.