Spring Postcard: Gonzalez-centric Padres still rebuilding on the fly
The Padres' biggest question this summer: Re-sign or trade Adrian Gonzalez?
San Diego is still riding high from a 37-25 stretch to finish the 2009 season
Aaron Poreda (acquired from the White Sox) could become the Padres' next ace
This spring, SI.com's baseball writers will be filing postcards from all 30 camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. Going, going Gonzo
When asked the obligatory question about the possibility the Padres could soon trade All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, manager Bud Black temporarily abandoned his nice guy persona and said, "I need you guys to stop writing about it." Black grinned, indicating he was only half-serious, but this, in fact, has been the most pressing issue of an otherwise drama-free Padres camp.
In Gonzalez, the Padres have a legitimate slugger coveted by any team looking for an offensive upgrade -- which is to say, almost every team in the majors. His salary demands are likely to be too steep to keep him in San Diego much longer, but no matter how inevitable his departure may be, it has already begun ruffling feathers here. Gonzalez grew tired of being asked about it when camp was barely two weeks old. By the time the trade deadline rolls around, there's no telling how the relentless inquiries may affect his performance, or the team's. If it's anything like last July, when his name first began being tossed about in trade rumors, it may not be pretty. Gonzalez batted just .198/.328/.385 that month, by far his worst performance of any month last year, while the Padres had their worst month of the season, going 8-20.
2. Better than you think
That rough stretch didn't last. In fact, over the final two months of the season, they actually played some of the best ball in the majors, going 37-25 over their final 62 games, second-best in the NL to the Rockies. They played the role of spoiler, too, winning all five September series against division foes Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado as those clubs jockeyed for playoff position. "We feel we can play with anybody," says Black. "And," he notes proudly, "We pretty much have all the same people back." Indeed, the Padres entered camp with very little competition for open jobs. Chase Headley will move from left field to third base -- where he's more comfortable -- but that is about the only notable move. The challenge now for the Padres is parlaying two good months into one very good season.
3. Rookie of the year?
The most-watched newcomer in Padres camp never took a swing in a cage and never had to take part in PFP, despite the fact that he's old enough to still be doing either of those things. Yes, Jed Hoyer is young -- at 36 he's one of the youngest general managers in baseball -- but he arrives in San Diego with a championship pedigree, having helped build two World Series winners with the Boston Red Sox. Even Hoyer had some eye-opening moments in his first spring at the helm. "Until all the minor leaguers are in camp, you definitely don't get a feel for the size of camp," he said. Hoyer imported more than just Jason McLeod to be his assistant GM and oversee the Padres' scouting department. He also brought over the same philosophy and process that worked so well in Boston under his old boss, Theo Epstein. "He didn't give me any specific advice or any nugget of wisdom," says Hoyer. "I just saw how he built his team" and intends to follow the same blueprint 3,000 miles away.
New Face, New Place
Garland, 30, is a workhorse and an innings-eater who has made at least 32 starts in each of his nine full seasons. It's little wonder then, that he was an ideal choice for a small-market team with an uncertain ownership situation to target in the offseason, particularly with a gaping hole at the front of the rotation. Garland, already the Padres' Opening Day starter, had his sights set on San Diego as much as they had their sights on him. "The stadium attracted me the most" he said of spacious PETCO Park. "That's a pitcher's park and I pitch to contact. For the way I pitch I don't feel like I have to make any changes in that park, and it plays even bigger at night with the heavy air. It takes weight off your shoulders because you know you don't have to be so perfect with your pitch." Garland hasn't had great success there before, but it's a small sample size: 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA in four career starts for a pitcher who has a respectable .534 career winning percentage and 4.42 ERA. For now, he holds no illusions about trying to replace Jake Peavy, the Cy Young-winning ace whom the Padres dealt to the White Sox last summer. His goals are more modest. "If I get to 200 innings, that means I've done my job, my manager trusts me and he feels I'm giving us a good enough chance to win a ballgame," he says.
Of all the many reasons Padres fans want Gonzalez to stay, the biggest one may be the most obvious: He's San Diego's only consistent offensive threat. Even with him smashing 40 home runs and driving in 99 runs, the Padres still managed fewer than four runs per game, and ranked last in the majors in that category for the second straight season. The next highest home run total by a returning player? Twelve, by Headley and Will Venable.
"There's no doubt when teams look at us they look right at him," says Black. "We have to have guys get on base in front of him and we have to have guys who can hit behind him. Everybody here has to lessen the load."
Among the four players brought over from the White Sox in the Peavy deal, perhaps none is more intriguing than Poreda, a 23-year-old lefty who was Baseball America's No. 63 prospect in 2009, going 5-7 with a 3.95 ERA in the minors and before pitching in 14 games in the majors, just four with San Diego after the July 31 trade. All that bouncing around had an effect on him. He arrived in camp with quality pitches but still had some mechanical difficulties that Black, a former longtime major league pitcher and pitching coach, has been trying to clean up. "He has a big arm," says Black. "You can't deny the stuff he has. We just need to get him doing things from a fundamental side more consistently."