The Baseball Notebook

February 27, 2010 12:12 PM

San Diego Padres Preview

It wasn’t long ago that the San Diego Padres won the NL West in back-to-back years, 2005-06. And in 2007 there were one inning from the playoffs before a miracle rally by the Colorado Rockies took them out. Today they are the latest small-market team who is in perpetual fire-sale mode. The jewel of this franchise is first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the best at his position of anyone not named Albert Pujols, and one of the elite hitters in the entire sport. But it’s considered a virtual certainty that Gonzalez will not be in San Diego by the time August arrives. For a town thirsting for its first-ever pro sports championship, and dealing with lingering hurts from the Chargers’ upset loss in the NFL playoffs, baseball is not going to be a time for renewed hope.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some potentially nice young players on the Padre roster. Left fielder Kyle Banks is the most likely to provide some support to Gonzalez. Banks had a .355 OBP and .514 slugging in 148 at-bats a year ago, and will get a chance to play every day this year. On the left side of the infielder, shortstop Everth Cabrera and shortstop Chase Headley posted respectable OBPs a year ago. And centerfield is patrolled by a man whose name needs introduction to the good people of SoCal—it’s Tony Gwynn Jr., whose father is this franchise’s greatest player and a 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, a ceremony I was fortunate enough to present for.

The problem is there are not nearly enough of these rays of hope. Furthermore, second baseman David Eckstein is on the downside of his career, his numbers in a tailspin ever since his own high point of being MVP of the 2006 World Series for the Cardinals. Catcher Yorvit Torrelba was productive last season, but that was an aberration, the best year of his career. Counting on a duplicate is too much to expect.

Pitching is so-so. The numbers will look halfway decent because of Petco Park’s dimensions, but there’s no real stopper. San Diego is counting on Jon Garland to find the form he flashed just once in his career, as a part of the Chicago White Sox run to a title in 2005. They also need Chris Young to return to health. Kevin Correia at #3 is a classic Padre pitcher—not bad, but a 3.91 ERA in this park isn’t the same as doing it in Yankee Stadium against American League lineups.

Health Bell is solid as the closer, but Trevor Hoffman’s departure that moved Bell up from the setup role, hurt the bullpen. This unit was once the best in baseball and now is merely functionable.

On balance, San Diego isn’t awful. They won 75 games a year ago and on paper they could do that again. But once Gonzalez’ seemingly inevitable departure happens before the trade deadline, it’s all downhill from there. And we haven’t even discussed the intangible effect the rumor mill surrounding him will take on this team prior to any trade. If you’re looking for hope in San Diego, think football. It isn’t happening on the diamond.

Up Tomorrow: Toronto Blue Jays
Final NL West Picks & Preview: March 29

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