Padres shopping early

It has been a busy winter for San Diego and winter doesn't officially begin until December 21. Let's catch up on what has happened since the end of the season.

Trades/Additions

1) Starting Pitcher Brian Lawrence for Third Baseman Vinny Castilla
This trade was simply a case of redistributing sunken money, and where it could better benefit the team. The Padres decided that they had pitchers within the organization that were better than Brian Lawrence, namely Clay Hensley, and that Vinny Castilla was a better option at third base than either Joe Randa or Sean Burroughs.

According to the Washington Post, the Padres agreed to pay the $250,000 difference in salaries for this year, and $425,00 of the $550,000 buyout if the Nationals exercise it in 2007.

Scorecard: Padres.

The team wouldn't have traded or taken Castilla alone, but if you are limited to third base options of Castilla, Burroughs and Randa, Castilla is the better choice. Obviously, Lawrence's value had plummeted if the best deal the team could find was to take an aging overpaid third baseman off of the Washington Nationals and potentially pay the team $675,000.

Some credit should go to the Padres for realizing that they overpaid Lawrence and making the best out of a bad situation.

2) Center fielder Mike Cameron for 1b/OF Xavier Nady
The first really big move of the off-season saw the Padres acquire center fielder Mike Cameron, the type of outfielder that Kevin Towers has always coveted. In order to get Cameron, San Diego had to take on an additional $5 million and give up Xavier Nady, a highly touted prospect out of Cal whom never really had an opportunity to play for a variety of reasons.

The Padres have always believed that they needed an elite centerfielder that can "go get it"; acquiring one seemed to be on top of this year's agenda. No one doubts Cameron's defensive ability, but his ability to contain his strikeouts and hit in cavernous PETCO is somewhat uncertain. Also, the Padres took a pretty big hit to sign him, one they weren't previously willing to do a few years ago during free agency. Nady wasn't going to play in San Diego on a consistent basis - no matter how much I, or other minor league junkies, was intrigued by him. The Padres had seemingly little interest in finding a place to play for someone whom they spent a lot of money on to draft and sign and had demonstrated so much promise in the minor leagues and college.

There were several rumors that Nady and Bochy just didn't see eye to eye, and the situation didn't look to resolve itself. For more on the Nady situation, please read Geoff Young's interview on Ducksnorts, an excellent and fun source of information on the Padres, with Tim Powers of SportsTicker.

Scorecard: Draw.

Nady should get to play everyday in right field, and with that lineup around him if he doesn't put up numbers it's on him. If Cameron is the offensive and defensive player he was last year with the Mets, it will be a good deal for the Padres.

3) Mark Loretta for Doug Mirabelli
A horrible trade, if you're talking value for value, but it will benefit the Padres.

Before everyone goes ballistic on why it was such a bad trade, you have to look at all the factors that the team was involved in doing the deal, not just the two players that were moved. For example, many Padres' fans would simply wonder why the team didn't trade Mark Loretta for pitcher David Wells? The quick answer is with the re-signing of Giles and Hoffman, the acquisition of Cameron, and both Chan Ho Park and Ryan Klesko's bloated contracts staying on the books, the team simply cannot afford to do that without something being subtracted.

Why was Loretta moved? The simple reason is that Josh Barfield is ready now, and the Padres needed to either re-sign Loretta or trade Barfield, as we stated in a previous column.

Barfield is eleven years younger than Loretta, has nearly 2500 at bats in the minor leagues, has become a quality second baseman defensively and in the last three months hit over .343 with power in Portland. There is simply nothing left for him to prove in the minors and to keep Loretta around without signing him to an extension is foolish.

If you believe that Loretta needed to be moved to make room for Barfield, then the obvious question is couldn't the Padres get something more for him than a backup catcher? Yes, and no. Again, it's more about the constraints the team than the players involved. The Padres needed to save some of the money that has already been spent on other players and to try to get help with starting pitching or catching. There were quite a few second baseman on the market that could either be had very cheaply in trades, Luis Castillo, Aaron Miles or were affordable free agents, Mark Grudzielank and Brett Boone, so it wasn't exactly a seller's market for Mark Loretta, a thirty-four year old player coming off of an injury plagued year.

Could the Padres have gotten a better player? Sure, but then there probably wouldn't be any salary savings, and in all probability more salary added than subtracted, and everyone in baseball is out there looking for quality pitching. In the end getting Doug Mirabelli, a competent backup catcher and saving $2 million dollars is a good deal.

Scorecard: Padres.

Opening up a spot for Barfield, acquiring a good backup catcher, and saving nearly two million dollars is a good move for the Padres.

4) Sean Burroughs for Dewon Brazleton
The trade of Vinny Castilla for Brian Lawrence put an end of the Sean Burroughs era in San Diego. Burroughs, who at his best is a player that can put the ball in play in the gaps, never developed the power that the Padres had envisioned. The Padres exacerbated the situation by wanting him to hit for more power in 2003, followed by a bad year as a leadoff hitter in 2004. In 2005, they wanted him to be the player that he was coming up, a doubles machine that hits for high average and on-base percentage, and he fell on his face. Despite a shift in philosophy which seemed to turnaround in Portland, Burroughs days were numbered in San Diego.

The acquisition of Brazleton is a good move for the Padres because he is a power arm in an organization with little depth for starting pitching. Brazleton will be given every opportunity to turn it around and the change of venue could do him good.

Scorecard: Padres.

Burroughs was done in San Diego. Brazleton has a chance to help the organization and if he doesn't, Burroughs probably wasn't even in the Padres' plan as a reserve this year. Burroughs, like Nady in New York, could thrive on Tampa's synthetic grass and could turn into a younger version of Wade Boggs. He seemed to turn the corner in Portland in August, and if the Padres had been able to dump Brian Lawrence for prospects, he may have been given a chance. However, the team decided cutting their losses with Lawrence now was more important than giving Burroughs an umpteenth chance again.

Free Agents: Brian Giles, Trevor Hoffman and Ramon Hernandez

The Padres had hoped to re-sign two of the three free agents, and it was pretty obvious which two were the most important. The Padres were able to keep Giles for around $9 million a year, with a $3 million buyout option for the fourth, which is an affordable out if Giles turns into Ryan Klesko. While Giles is not going to hit 30 home runs in PETCO, he was the Padres best offensive player and is still one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball.

After nearly blowing negotiations with Closer and San Diego Icon Trevor Hoffman, the Padres made a last push and were able to get Hoffman. The hard ball seems to have paid off if the terms of the salary as reported in the Union Tribune are correct. The Padres will pay Hoffman $5 million for 2006, the same as he made last year and $6.5 million for 2007. The key is that if Hoffman finishes 45 games in the last year of his deal, or 90 games total, it kicks in for $7.5 million for 2008, which would still be a bargain. If not the team is forced to pay a $2 million buyout, which still averages less than $7 million a year, far below his agents' initial demands of $10 million a year for three years.

Thursday's column by Tim Sullivan of the Union Tribune gave some insight into why the Padres are reluctant to sign Ramon Hernandez, who according to the Baltimore Sun is on the verge of signing a four year deal with the Orioles.

According to Sullivan, and reported in the Baltimore Sun, the Padres don't have any problem bringing back Hernandez for another year, but believe minor league catcher George Kottaras is only a year away from being ready for the majors. As Towers said in the Baltimore Sun, "The worst-case scenario is [he returns to the Padres on] a one-year deal and he's a pretty good catcher. And if he does do a deal with another club, you get a couple of draft picks."

Towers statement is about as close as the team will come to saying that they no interest in signing Hernandez to a multi-year deal when they have a top prospect for a significantly cheaper amount that will be ready in little over a year.

Scorecard: Padres.

As the signings of BJ Ryan and Billy Wagner indicate, closers are at a premium this year and the Padres got a bargain with Hoffman. The Giles deal is also prudent, with Giles taking slightly less money than he could get elsewhere.

Non-Tenders: Free Agents who were not offered salary arbitration: 1b/C/OF Robert Fick, 3B Joe Randa, P Rudy Seanez, 1B Mark Sweeney

The big surprises on this list were Robert Fick and Rudy Seanez. Both of them filled the roles they were asked to capably, and Fick's value should have been really increased with the departure of Sweeney. Sweeney did everything he was asked to do, but the Giants simply paid him more than his position with the team warranted. Randa's was gone as soon as Castilla arrived.

Scorecard: Negative.

I can understand Randa and Sweeney, but am surprised by Fick and Seanez.

Future Moves:

Look for Dave Roberts to be moved next for several reasons. One, he is going to make more money next year in salary arbitration than the Padres are willing to pay. Two, with Cameron in centerfield his value to the Padres significantly decreases. Three, Eric Young can do as many things and more than Roberts and finally he is taking playing time away from Ben Johnson, whom I believe will be one of the Padres starting three outfielders in 2006.

The Padres are still the best, and really only team that the Red Sox can trade David Wells too. According to both San Diego and Boston media, the Red Sox have apparently agreed to take Woody Williams as a part of the David Wells swap, but want Scott Linebrink or another relief pitcher included in any deal. The Padres are unlikely to give up Linebrink, but may be amenable to move Akinori Otsuka to get David Wells. Expect to see Wells to the Padres sometime after the new year.

The team is still saddled with the expensive and unproductive contracts of Ryan Klesko and Chan Ho Park, and it appears there is little they can do to get out of them. The good news is in 2007 $21 million dollars of unproductive payroll comes off of the books (the Rangers are paying part of Park's salary to balance the difference between Phil Nevin's).

I'm still not sure why the team decided to let Fick and Seanez go, but the general direction has been positive. The team has improved its defense (Cameron, Castilla and getting Klesko out of the outfield), gotten younger Barfield and hopefully Johnson and upgraded its starting pitching (Hensley for Brian Lawrence), not bad for the first half of the Hot Stove League.


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