The 2011 San Diego Padres (71-91) finished in last place in the NL West, just one year after winning 90 games, and coming within 1 game of the playoffs. But, it wasn’t a huge surprise, as they traded their primary offensive player (Adrian Gonzalez), which led to them ranking in the bottom 3 in all of baseball in runs scored, batting average, OPS, home runs, hits, and more than I have time to list. There are two tough things about trying to figure out what San Diego should do next year to be competitive: 1. Nearly the entire payroll in 2011 consisted of 1-year contracts, so they have almost no money tied up for 2012, which means a LOT of decisions to make; and 2. Their payroll is expected to be $53-55 million, according to their ownership.
Yes, San Diego is the 4th smallest market in the league, but I’m not convinced their payroll shouldn’t be closer to $70-75 million. I think some executives are more interested in writing their own paychecks than they are in putting together a winning team. Back in ’05 & ’06, when they won back-to-back NL West division crowns, their payroll was $63 & $69 million. And, they were filling their stadium to an average of well over 30,000 at every game, so spending the money obviously paid off. If you want to go back as far as ’98, the last time they were in the World Series, you’ll see that they spent practically the same amount on payroll that year as they did in 2011! So, unless ticket prices are the same in San Diego today as they were 13 years ago, someone’s making some extra money that should be spent on the team instead.
All that being said, there’s really nothing that can be done about it. But, let’s assume that the ownership is willing to stretch to $60 million, when push comes to shove. That should give us some reasonable wiggle-room, in order to put together a good team. The best news regarding payroll is the fact that San Diego has a handful of young talent that could be ready for the majors in 2012. This includes: 1. 2008 first-round draft pick Casey Kelly (#14 prospect in all of baseball – and the primary piece in the Adrian Gonzalez trade), a right-handed starter that went 11-6 with a 3.98 ERA in the minors in 2011; 2. Anthony Rizzo (another piece of the A-gon trade – the #1 1B prospect in baseball), a left-handed power hitter who finished the season playing 49 games in San Diego; 3. Jaff Decker, a left-handed outfielder who hits for power and average; 4. Joe Wieland, a RHP that went a combined 13-4 with a 1.97 ERA in the minors in 2011 (though he was at the AA level, he’s certainly worth a look in spring training – and may be one of those guys that starts the season at AAA, but is brought up in May); and 5. Simon Castro, a RHP they thought would be ready in 2011, but had some struggles at higher levels – but, he could be good to go as a #4 starter in 2012. They also have 2 or 3 guys that look like they’ll need about one more year in the minors before they’ll be ready (one of which is an excellent CF prospect that was yet another piece in the Gonzalez trade).
The starting rotation could be cheap and young if you had Latos, Luebke, Kelly, Stauffer, and Wieland. Even if you didn’t want to have 2 rookies on the starting staff (and it wouldn’t hurt Castro and Wieland to both spend another year in the minors), you could throw in an Aaron Harang at #2 (especially since the team has a $5 million option for 2012), and it’s Latos, Harang, Luebke, Kelly, and Stauffer. Either way you’ve got your 5-man rotation (and a potentially very good one) for under $10 million. This allows you to spend more of your payroll on relievers – which obviously begins and ends with Heath Bell. If you’re the Padres, there’s only one solution: pay Heath Bell! It doesn’t really matter what he wants – you want to shorten the game, and he’s step one. He’s worth $6-8 million per year when he’s getting you 40+ saves every year. Sign him now to a 3-4 year deal in the $20-25 million range, and you have your closer set. Luke Gregerson and Josh Spence are both good set-up men that pitched well in 2011 – and they have the added bonus of being fairly cheap options. If Ernesto Frieri can keep his WHIP down, he’s definitely worth keeping around, especially for the price. San Diego may also find that this is the place to put Simon Castro and/or Joe Wieland in 2011 – a long-reliever that could step into a starter role if someone were injured. Throw in one or two more fairly cheap, but valuable options (Tim Byrdak, Jamey Wright, Dennys Reyes, Sergio Mitre, etc.), and your entire pitching staff isn’t going to cost you any more than $20 million at most.
So, you have ought to have at least $35 million to build your offense with. First thing you do is pay Brad Hawpe his $1 million buyout, and say “so long.” He’s not worth the $6 million option, even at his best (which it doesn’t look like you can get in a stadium like Petco). So, that leaves you with Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett who will take up the middle of your infield in 2012, for $11 million. Jesus Guzman played very well down the stretch in 2011, and between him and Rizzo, you’ve got 1B definitely covered, and possibly one of your corner outfield spots as well, for no more than $1 million between the two of them. And, you would expect them to retain Chase Headley who played well at 3B, and will be worth the $2-3 million price tag. Jaff Decker could easily be ready for an outfield spot in the majors in 2012, and the brightest light for the future of San Diego in 2011 was Cameron Maybin in CF, who played great in the field, and stole 40 bases.
But, that’s a lot of youth to rely on in the outfield, and San Diego could really use a veteran leader in the middle of the lineup, that could play any of the outfield spots. You may know where this is going: Carlos Beltran! If ever there was a high-end slugger that’s suited for the cavernous Petco Park, it’s Beltran. He doesn’t have to hit home runs to be effective – he’s a gap-to-gap hitter who will hit lots of doubles, and also get you 20+ home runs, and drive in 100+, if given the opportunity. San Diego could probably get him for 4 years and around $60-70 million. He would be a great addition to a young lineup that could use some veteran leadership in the middle, and he still plays a very good outfield (usually CF, but Maybin’s legs are a lot fresher, so some pressure could be taken off of Beltran by letting him play one of the corner outfield spots). And, on top of all that – signing a guy like Beltran sells tickets. It shows you’re trying to win. And, for the price he is likely to be – it definitely would fit within San Diego’s budget. Let me know what you think, Padres fans.