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Posted: Thursday February 12, 2009 5:31PM; Updated: Thursday February 12, 2009 5:31PM
Lee Jenkins Lee Jenkins >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Former No. 1 pick Bush ends Padres tenure as epic bust

Story Highlights

The Padres drafted Matt Bush No. 1 overall in 2004 because he was affordable

Bush took on pitching after flopping as a shortstop, but his elbow gave out

After multiple run-ins with the police, Bush was traded to Toronto this week

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Matt Bush
Light-hitting Matt Bush almost immediately flared out as a position player.
John Cordes/Icon SMI

In the history of baseball's unpredictable amateur draft, only two players picked first overall have ever retired without reaching the major leagues. Catcher Steve Chilcott, drafted No. 1 by the Mets in 1966, made it no farther than Class AAA Tidewater. Pitcher Brien Taylor, drafted No. 1 by the Yankees in 1991, stopped at Class AA Albany-Colonie.

They are success stories compared to Matt Bush.

Drafted first overall by the Padres in 2004, Bush has never appeared in a game beyond Class A. He started out as a shortstop, playing one full season and batting .221 with two home runs. Then he became a pitcher, working seven games before tearing ligaments in his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery.

His career with the Padres began in the summer of '04, when he was arrested at a nightclub near the team's complex in Peoria, Ariz., for reportedly fighting with a bouncer who would not let him in. And his career with the Padres ended last week, when police in San Diego investigated allegations that he assaulted two lacrosse players at a local high school, throwing one and hitting another.

According to a witness quoted by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Bush left the scene in his Mercedes, but not before the injury prone shortstop-turned-pitcher-turned-suspect drove over a curb and yelled "I'm Matt (expletive) Bush."

With that, Ryan Leaf wiggled off the hook. Matt (expletive) Bush became the most embarrassing first-round pick San Diego has ever seen. The Padres designated him for assignment and traded him Tuesday to Toronto for either a player to be named later or cash. They could not hope to get an actual prospect in return.

In fairness, Bush did not ask for all the attention he has received, and he certainly did not deserve it. Leading up to the '04 draft, he was projected as a mid-to-late first-round draft pick, a slick-fielding, weak-hitting shortstop from San Diego's Mission Bay High School, one of the best baseball schools in one of the most fertile baseball cities.

The Padres, picking first, wanted Florida State infielder Stephen Drew or Long Beach State pitcher Jered Weaver. But they were both represented by Scott Boras, and Padres owner John Moores was reluctant to pay the price that Boras would inevitably demand. So the Padres picked Bush, not because their scouting department ever thought he was the best player on the board, but because they knew he would accept a relatively modest $3.15 million signing bonus.

Bush was the No. 1 pick in name only and he seemed to know it. When I interviewed him in Peoria in 2007, as he was making the transition from shortstop to pitcher, he said: "The draft is a weird thing. Sometimes, it's not about the best player. Sometimes, it's more about money."

Bush had to sit back and watch as peers who were drafted after him -- including Weaver, Drew and Justin Verlander -- made the major leagues, cracked the starting lineups, reached the playoffs. Bush became a symbol of the Moores' regime, easy evidence that the owner was unwilling to invest in impact players.

It was appropriate that last week, only two days after Moores signed a contract to sell the Padres to a group led by former Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad, the team finally cut ties with Bush. The events were purely coincidental. The Padres designated Bush because police were investigating him again, not because the team was sold.

But Moorad and Bush did not belong in the same organization. Moorad's tenure in Arizona was characterized by a dedication to the draft and a willingness to spend for top prospects. The Diamondbacks, after all, drafted Drew when the Padres passed on him. And even though Moorad was not with the D'backs when that pick was made, he was there when the contract was signed. Bush represented everything that Moorad is not.

Bush's career is not necessarily over. He can still throw upwards of 90 miles per hour, and despite all the criticism the Padres took when they tried to convert him from shortstop, many teams projected Bush as a pitcher all along. Because of his elbow injury, the Padres never really saw what he could do on the mound. The Blue Jays, with a lot less at stake, could mold him into a quality set-up man.

But the Padres had to move on. They pick third overall in this year's draft and they could not spend the next four months hearing about how they might pull another Bush. Although Moores will technically remain in control of the Padres for several years while the staggered sale is completed, Moorad is expected to be the CEO on Opening Day. His arrival, along with Bush's departure, signals a fresh start in San Diego.

During a conference call last week, Moorad did not reveal much about his partners in the ownership group, his plans for starting pitcher Jake Peavy, or his expectations for future payroll. But if Moorad's track record is any indication, the Padres can expect a significant departure from the John Moores/Matt Bush era.

They will, at last, draft the best player available.

 
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