Mat Latos

Springtime Storylines: Is there life after Adrian Gonzalez for the San Diego Padres?


Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season.  The latest: 2010’s biggest surprise, the San Diego Padres.

The Big Question: Is there life after Adrian Gonzalez?: My brother lives in San Diego and, over the past 15 years there, he has come to generally like the Padres. He’s an extremely casual fan of the game these days, however, so when he was in town visiting me last week it was no surprise that the biggest question he had for me was whether the Padres will continue to exist without Adrian Gonzalez. I think he asked me the same thing about Ken Caminiti in 1999 too.  Extremely casual fans in San Diego tend to really identify with a big slugging  superstar, probably because such beasts are rare in the 619.

Not that it’s a bad question. My brother will understandably look at a league leaders page in the Union-Tribune once or twice this spring and see that Brad Hawpe isn’t setting the world afire, and he will ask whether the Padres did the right thing in trading away their best player since Tony Gwynn walked the Earth.  The casual fans like him won’t be given much comfort by the addition of competent role players like Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson. They’re certainly not going to buy into the notion that the haul the Padres got for Gonzalez — Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes — was worth it, because they won’t appear before their eyes in 2011.  The astute Padres fan knows that some things in life are necessary when your club doesn’t have an unlimited payroll, and one of those things is parting ways with a superstar a year away from free agency.

Yes, there’s life in San Diego after Adrian Gonzalez. I believe that Jed Hoyer made the best trade he could under the circumstances and that his approach to rebuilding the Padres is the right one.  I believe, however, that 2010’s unexpectedly good year — which won’t be repeated — and the loss of their best player will kind of crush the mood of Padres fans who have to be cajoled into showing up to that beautiful ballpark even when the team is winning.  The mood, in other words, won’t line up with the team’s competitive trajectory, with the former taking a sharp dive and the latter leveling out compared to last year, but still trending upward.

So what else is going on?

  • For all of the fretting about Gonzalez, the Padres did not contend on the power of their offense last season. Indeed, they were near the bottom of the NL in runs scored. Their 90 wins came by virtue of allowing the fewest runs in the league. Their pitching staff is back mostly intact this year and how it goes is how the Padres will go.  I’m a Mat Latos fan, but I fear that the other guys — Richard, Stauffer, LeBlanc — are Petco creations. Sure, they’re still pitching in Petco, but I could see them backsliding.
  • That said, the Padres have a nice little starting pitcher juvenation machine going. Jon Garland came in last year to the friendly (for pitchers) confines of Petco Park, regained some confidence and took his show up to L.A. This year Aaron Harang is in town to, presumably, do the same thing.  If Harang is effective for the Padres it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see this pattern repeated over and over again, with the Padres benefiting from down-on-their-luck pitchers treating them like a Hollywood starlet treats the Betty Ford Clinic, and doing so on the cheap.
  • Heath Bell may be the biggest name on the team and, like Gonzalez was, he’s poised for free agency after this year. Do the Padres keep him?  On the one hand, Bell is an excellent closer who wants to stay in San Diego and said he’d take a hometown discount to do it.  On the other hand, an excellent closer on a multi-year deal is one luxury a rebuilding team with the Padres’ payroll constraints does not need. Frankly I’d be shocked if Bell was wearing Padres colors in 2012. If the Padres stink this year, they trade him. If they compete, they let him walk.
  • Is there anyone here to lead these guys? In addition to Gonzalez, the Padres lost David Eckstein, Chris Young, Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Stairs. Your mileage on the value of “veteran presence” may vary, but is there anyone on this club who can tell someone else to cut it out when they’re being a jackwagon? Is there anyone who — on a really bad night — can stand in front of reporters and let the other players skulk out of the clubhouse?  Put differently: can Ryan Ludwick truly lead this team?  [dramatic music swells].

So how are they gonna do?

I picked the Padres last in 2010 and they fought for the division until the last day of the season, so what the hell do I know?  Still, I don’t see them pulling that trick a second time. It’s a team that had trouble scoring runs with Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup, so they may be downright horrific without him.  The staff is still good, but I have a hunch that they’ll experience some growing pains and, in some cases, will be exposed.  I also think they’ll be playing to a lot of empty houses this year, and that kind of saps a guy after a while.

Fourth place is really the best I can see for the Padres this year.  And if they surprise? Well, I have a whole other year to explain why I was wrong. Again.

Video: Javier Baez hits go-ahead three-run bomb in NLDS Game 4

Javier Baez
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Cardinals starter John Lackey had a clean first inning in Game 4 of the NLDS on Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but Anthony Rizzo opened the bottom of the second a shift-beating single to the left side of the infield and then Starlin Castro reached on a fielder’s choice grounder to short. Kyle Schwarber came through with a single and Jason Hammel followed a Miguel Montero strikeout with a two-out, run-scoring liner up the middle.

Enter young shortstop prospect Javier Baez, who’s filling in for the injured Addison Russell in Game 4 as the Cubs try to advance to the NLCS …

Opposite field. Wind-aided, sure, but it probably didn’t need the wind anyway. What a shot.

Chicago leads the visiting Cardinals 4-2 as the sixth inning gets underway at Wrigley.

Juan Uribe not close to being available for the Mets

Juan Uribe
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Mets infielder Juan Uribe has been sidelined since late September with a chest injury and it sounds like he won’t be available for the NLCS if New York advances.

Mets manager Terry Collins told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York that Uribe has yet to resume baseball activities and continues to experience discomfort.

Uribe was a useful late-July pickup for the Mets and hit .253 with 14 homers and a .737 OPS in 119 total games for three different teams this season, but his postseason role would be pretty limited even if he were healthy.

Rob Manfred wants a new, unnecessary rule to protect middle infielders


Commissioner Rob Manfred is at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon and the sporting press just spoke with him about the fallout from the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play from the other night. Not surprising.

Also not surprising? Manfred’s desire to implement a new rule in an effort to prevent such a play from happening again. Or, at the very least, to allow for clear-cut punishment for someone who breaks it:

Which is ridiculous, as we already have Rule 6.05(m) on the books. That rule — which is as clear as Crystal Pepsi — says a baserunner is out when . . .

(m)A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:

Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.

That rule totally and completely covers the Utley-Tejada situation. The umpires were wrong for not enforcing it both then and in the past, but that’s the rule, just as good as any other rule in that book and in no way in need of replacement.

Why not just enforce that rule? What rule would “better protect” infielders than that one? What would do so in a more straightforward a manner? What could baseball possibly add to it which would make plays at second base less confusing rather than more so?

I suspect what Manfred is interested in here is some means to change this from a judgment call to a clear-cut rule. It was that impulse that led to the implementation of clocks for pitchers and batters and innings breaks rather than giving umpires the discretion to enforce existing pace-of-play rules. It was that impulse which led to a tripartite (or is it quadpartite?) means of determining whether a catcher impermissibly blocks the plate or a runner barrels him over rather than simply enforce existing base-blocking rules.

But taking rules out of the subjective realm and into the objective is difficult or downright impossible in many cases, both in law and in baseball. It’s almost totally impossible when intent is an element of the thing, as it is here. It’s likewise the case that, were there a clear and easy bright line to be established in service of a judgment-free rule on this matter, someone may have stumbled upon it once in the past, oh, 150 years. And maybe even tried to implement it. They haven’t, of course. Probably because there was no need, what with Rule 6.05(m) sitting up there all nice and tidy and an army of judgment-armed umpires standing ready to enforce it should they be asked to.

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided that eschewing set rules in favor of new ones is better. Rules about the time batters and pitchers should take. Rules about blocking bases. Rules about how long someone should be suspended for a first time drug offense. Late Selig and Manfred-era Major League Baseball has decided, it seems, that anything 150 years of baseball can do, it can do better. Or at least newer and without the input of people in the judgment-passing business like umpires and arbitrators and the like.

Why can’t baseball send a memo to the umpires and the players over the winter saying the following:

Listen up:

That rule about running into fielders that you all have already agreed to abide by in your respective Collective Bargaining Agreements? We’re serious about it now and WILL be enforcing it. If you break it, players, you’re going to be in trouble. If you refuse to enforce it, umpires, you’re going to be in trouble. Understood? Good.


Bobby M.

If players complain, they complain. They don’t have a say about established rules. If, on the other hand, your process of making new rules is easier than your process of simply enforcing rules you already have, your system is messed up and we should be having a whole other conversation.