Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dodgers trade

Let's see how another Padres rival did today in its trade.

"I thought the Dodgers did OK," said an MLB evaluator from another club.

As part of a three-way trade with the Mariners and Red Sox, the Dodgers came away with three minor leaguers headed by catcher Tim Federowitz and pitcher Stephen Fife for outfielder Trayvon Robinson.

"Federowitz is a good backup, a real good backup," the evaluator said. "He can really catch and throw. He's defense first, but he's better than a typical, defense-first guy. He's a quality backup guy. He'll spend six to 10 years in the big leagues.

"Fife is, at best, a possible back end of the rotation guy in the NL West," said the MLB man. "He's been little slow to develop."

The evaluator hadn't scouted Red Sox prospect Juan Rodriguez, who also went to Los Angeles in the trade.

Rockies trade

The Padres weren't the only NL West team that dealt for prospects before today's Trade Deadline.

The Rockies "made a good trade," said a talent evaluator with another club, by dealing ace Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians for four prospects. The MLB evaluator says Jimenez could go from being an ace pitcher to a salary liability--fast. He is guaranteed $5.2 million next year.

"For me it was a huge, huge risk deal for Cleveland," he said. "Ubaldo, it's not the cleanest arm action. You don't see many guys throw the ball with that deep stab, and just how he slings the ball."


Among the minor leaguers going to Colorado, Drew Pomeranz stands out. "Pomeranz is a stud," the MLB man said. "He's a big, power left-handed starter, a  good athlete. He's the kind of the match you want."


He said righty "Alex White is more of a bullpen guy for me, a pretty good bullpen guy," and righty Joe Gardner has a "heavy sinker." He described Matt McBride, a Double-A first baseman-outfielder, as a former offensive catcher who has a decent bat.

The Adams trade

Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland, the Double-A pitchers the Padres acquired today from the Rangers, represent a solid or better haul for reliever Mike Adams. At least, that's how one unbiased MLB man put it to this blog..

Saturday, July 30, 2011

History lesson

If the Padres trade Heath Bell or Mike Adams to the Rangers this weekend, it'll be the first major league trade between Texas and San Diego since the Adrian Gonzalez deal in January 2006. At that time, Jon Daniels was 28 year old and four months into his job as Rangers general manager. (At the GM meetings a few months earlier, when the teams laid groundwork for the trade, two Padres operatives referred to Daniels as The Virgin.) Daniels has evolved into a pretty good GM, and it was Rangers manager Buck Showalter who didn't cotton to young pitcher Chris Young, making the trade talks dicier for Daniels. But if you traded a young Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for mostly dead money -- dressed up as pitcher Adam Eaton -- you probably would be extra vigilant about the next deal you make with same club. Gunslinger or no Gunslinger.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spin it so good

The game with Atlanta was an hour done when a Braves pitcher, unprompted, singled out a Padres rookie for praise.

"That kid reliever, the lefty, he must have the biggest balls in the major leagues," the vet told this blog last month. "To go out there with that stuff against major league hitters -- he's gotta have big balls."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cap or no cap?

With the NFL on the verge of labor peace and baseball working toward a new labor pact, it's a good time to look at our old pal, the salary cap.

A big piece in the NFL's economic puzzle, the cap is also good fodder for sports debate, more so in San Diego, where some fans and folks in the press see it as a tool to help the Padres. "Look at football and basketball," they say. "Baseball needs a cap, too, so teams like the Padres can have a chance. Without a cap on spending, the rich teams will rule the sport."


Maybe the cap crowd has a good point, but it seems one should look first at how each sport shares its revenues, and once one does that, the cap talk seems beside the point.

In the NFL, all the TV deals are national in scope, with TV money going into the NFL pot and then out to each club in equal shares. TV rights fees being the No. 1 source of cash by far in both sports, football clubs thus have similar revenues across the board relative to baseball clubs.

Bear in mind that the NFL has a spending floor, which goes with having a salary cap. Based on the new deal, each NFL team must spend at least 90 percent of the $120 million cap.

Now, let's look closer at how baseball shares its revenues.

Baseball lets its teams do their own TV deals and keep most of the money from those deals. The spread in those sums is vast -- the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, for example, generate (and keep) far more local TV money than do the Padres, Royals and Pirates.

Baseball does redistribute some of its revenues, but without a TV structure similar to football's to further level revenues, teams like the Padres may not want a cap-and-floor. (Without a floor, there can be no cap, as the union and the big market clubs would never OK a deal without it.)

A quick look at the new NFL deal: The salary cap drops to $120 million per team, while players salaries  fall to about 47 percent of gross revenues.

 Baseball doesn't have a cap, yet its players salaries over the last few decades has been somewhere in the 50-52 percent range. The Padres have revenues of about $150 million, including the help they get from major league baseball. Assuming, then, a cap at 50 percent of revenues and a floor of 90 percent of cap, the Padres would have a payroll of $68 million to $75 million. The Yankees, with revenues of $500 million, would have a franchise-record payroll of $250 million, assuming they spent to the cap.

Exactly how are the Padres coming out ahead if there's a cap? Under Jeff Moorad, the three player payrolls have averaged about $43 million. With a cap (and the floor that comes with it), the Padres would have to spend another $30 million on major league players. Just a guess here, but Moorad would agree to shave his beard and also club president Tom Garfinkel's head sooner than he'd agree to a new labor pact that makes him add some $30 million in player payroll. The Yankees, meantime, would be allowed to spend as much or more as they spend now.

The point seems to be that baseball can't have a cap formula that works unless it also changes how it generates and shares TV money, given that its clubs' revenues are so disparate. The genius of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was that he got owners from New York and Chicago and Los Angeles to give up the chance to do local TV deals and also got them to let the NFL dole out the TV money equally among all the clubs. The notion that baseball will do the same, leaving, say, Kansas City with  the same amount of TV money as the Yankees, seems beyond farfetched. More likely, even if baseball finds other ways to distribute its revenues, its only caps will be those worn by players, coaches, managers and fans.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Different game here

When his team faced the Giants, who are in first place and won a trophy last fall, Bud Black brought squirt guns to the fray. Not just the glut of past-their-prime vets and 4A types in Black's cast. We mean the young squirts whose swings, scouts say, need work.

Scene: Late in the last game, Anthony Rizzo was due to bat off Giants lefty Javier Lopez. Rizzo had looked like Brad Hawpe on this day -- Hawpe at his worst this year -- and his line read .149/.286/.277 with 36 whiffs in 94 at-bats.

Black sat Rizzo and sent up righty Logan Forsythe, who also toted a starved stat line (.163/.208/.204).

Forsythe got a walk, which counts as a big win these days, for either him or Rizzo, two rookies whose hacks have lack.

Scouts say Rizzo needs to trim his swing. He does some things well but the whole is too long. Hence the late fouls on pitches clocked at 90-92 mph. As his woes got worse so did his swing, say some scouts, but not all. Forsythe's swing has a flaw like the "cast move" of a golf hacker. For their part, Black and his coaches must know about these things (plus much else 'tween the ears of these lads) and do what they can, but the game is fast here. It's not a good place to fix things. At times, it can be a bad place to try to fix big things.

At 21, Rizzo is well past many his age. Just last month, some of his age peers were drafted. Grown big leaguers envy his brute strength. It may not be a long stretch to say he's playing with house money.  Long hack aside, scouts aren't backing off their talk that he can become an average big leaguer (or better).

Last month when Rizzo rose to the Padres, two scouts said his swing was like that of big league vet Adam LaRoche, also a lefty who plays first. Too bad for Rizzo that his stats now look like those of this year's LaRoche, who was at .172/.282/.258 with the Nats when he got hurt in late May. Last year, when pitchers reclaimed turf throughout the majors, LaRoche piled up 172 whiffs -- but in all he is a .267 hitter who has four years with at least 25 home runs. (The parks that LaRoche has called home, though, suit all hitters more than San Diego's does.)

When did LaRoche, now 31, reach the bigs? At age 24, same as Forsythe.

Even though Forsythe put up big stats on their farm, the Padres worked with him to tweak his swing last year. He is strong, even reached the top deck in Petco last winter. Yet, his bat barrel goes up, just as he goes to hit the ball. The move lards his swing, scouts say.

Down there -- the minors -- such glitches matter less. Far less. Forsythe hit .326 in 46 games with Tucson and had eight home runs. In the Cal League he reached base 47 percent of his chances.

Causing Padres fans to pant, Rizzo hit .365 in 52 games with Tucson, totaling 16 home runs, 20 doubles and 63 RBI.

The old line you've seen here, that a pineapple can could hit .300 with power in Tucson, owes to the desert air that adds speed and length to drives, and the wind that blows balls over the fences there. What's more, the pitching in the Pacific Coast League stinks extra bad this year, so it's anyone's guess what good it does a prospect to wail away there for six months. Up here at Petco National Park, at a time when pitchers rule the majors, it's a whole new game. The finding out can be harsh, but it's needed. The trick is to learn from it and not let it be a weeding out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trade market snapshot

Generally speaking, baseball teams are valuing their better prospects and young big leaguers more highly now than a veteran National League executive can recall. "Seems like the big-market teams have caught on," the man told this blog.

Two decades ago, the better prospects below Double-A were mysteries to most fans and media. Now they're celebrities, their every deed publicized by a variety of media and MLB itself.

Clubs today are more likely to cling to prospects of many flavors, another major league exec tells this blog, "even if the player has (only) a 10 percent chance" of becoming an average big leaguer.

In this youth-obsessed environment, the Padres are looking to acquire impact prospects or young big leaguers leading up to the July 31st Trade Deadline.

The Phillies, according to a major league source from outside the West, are willing to give up Single-A first baseman/left fielder Jonathan Singleton for Padres setup ace Mike Adams. Entering this season, Baseball America ranked Singleton as Philadelphia's No. 2 prospect and the farm system's best power hitter and its top hitter in strikezone judgment. A lefty whose long-term path in Philly appears blocked by Ryan Howard, Singleton, 19, is batting .282 with seven home runs and 41 RBI this year in 81 games at the advanced Single A level.

From the looks of it here, Singleton alone would not be enough to put Adams in a Phillies uniform. A conversation starter, perhaps. And the Phillies also are potential suitors for Padres closer Heath Bell and left fielder Ryan Ludwick.

Over the last four games at Petco Park, scouts from the Yankees, Reds,  Rangers and Phillies were on hand. This blog expects all five NL West clubs to make trades this month, with the Giants and Diamondbacks adding veteran major leaguers and the other three selling them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

San Francisco South

You won't see more black and orange on Halloween than what appeared at Petco Park the last four games.

Giants fans populated most sections in the ballpark, bellowed at every Giants success and generally outshouted Padres fans. Chants of "Let's Go Giants" still lingered at the ballpark late Sunday afternoon, Giants fans celebrating the 4-3 victory that decided the series at San Francisco South.

If all credit was acknowledged for the series' financial success, the congratulations via Twitter that Padres president Tom Garfinkel directed to Padres fans for the attendance -- which at nearly 153,000 was Petco's most since 2005 for a four-game set -- should've included an #SFgiantsfans mention.

For the three nights and one day, a native San Franciscan watched and heard this Giants lovefest without surprise.

"As far as Giants fans are concerned," said Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman, a former batboy for the San Francisco Seals, "they're very knowledgeable and they're very ardent fans. They're the type of people who take nothing except for winning as an answer. Basically, they're great fans."

The enthusiasm of Giants fans impressed Bruce Bochy when Bochy played for Giants opponents in the 1980s and later when he managed the Padres, but Bochy said the World Series victory last fall, which was San Francisco's first, has raised the volume on "Let's Go Giants" chants in Los Angeles, San Diego and the team's other road cities this year.

"They love their boys out there," Bochy said. "Every ballpark we go to, we hear them. The support we are getting from these fans is unbelievable. But even before we won the World Series, it was great. It shows you what a great, storied franchise the San Francisco Giants are."

Without Giants fans spinning the turnstiles, the last-place Padres would've netted far less money over the four games. The windfall for Giants players?

"You have a little more motivation and confidence," pitcher Matt Cain said. "That's always nice to have. It was really cool to see so many of our fans here. It brings you energy."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Progress report

The Padres have made headway in negotiations with three prep players drafted before the third round -- Joe Ross (25th), Michael Kelly (48) and Brett Austin (54) -- and are confident they will sign all three by the Aug. 15 deadline, each for bonuses that exceed the commissioner office's recommendation for the slot. Austin, a switch-hitting catcher, took batting practice with the Padres before today's game against the Giants. The pitcher Kelly, too, was in a Padres uniform during pregame workouts.

Even with the $1.1-million signing of 16-year-old catcher Jose Ruiz and likely a similar commitment to Austin, the Padres still think they have a shot at signing Austin Hedges, the Scott Boras-advised catcher drafted 82nd who has a scholarship to UCLA and is rated by at least one other club as a top-10 talent. A deal with Hedges, an excellent defender, could cost well over $2 million and likely would come close to the deadline.

Kelly, a 6-foot-5 righty from Florida, went 9-1 with a 2.01 ERA and struck out 95 in 70.1 innings. He also batted .442 with six home runs. Austin, drafted more for his offense, batted .537 with 12 home runs for his Charlotte high school.


The Padres' first pick, Cory Spangenberg signed quickly and was promoted after batting .384 for the Eugene Emeralds. Out of the lineup today, Spangenberg is 0-for-11 with Fort Wayne, a low Single-A club. Also quick to sign was outfielder Jace Peterson, taken 58th with a compensation pick. Peterson, after 27 games with Eugene, has a .364 on-base percentage and 12 stolen bases.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Padres redux

Jim Riggleman, a teacher of good repute in his time with the Padres, as a manager in both the minor leagues and the majors, is in San Diego today to begin his new job as a special assignment scout with the Giants. Riggleman was the talk of the baseball world late last month when he resigned as manager of the Nationals despite the team's breakthrough first half. Asked by this blog if he wants to manage again, Riggleman said, "I really want to kind of stay away from that question. It just leaves me open to, 'Why did you resign?' I think everybody who knows me will read between the lines. I love managing." Riggleman and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the former Padres manager, are longtime friends, Riggleman having hired Bochy in 1993 as his Padres third base coach. But Bochy, who succeeded Riggleman here after the Cubs hired him, said it was Giants general manager Brian Sabean who hired the former Nats manager. "Sabes really respects Jimmy with his baseball knowledge," Bochy said. "He was excited he was available." Riggleman said he will scout other teams' big leaguers and prospects, and Giants minor leaguers. Riggleman also will supply dope on the Nats, "but that hasn't come up," he said. Riggleman said of the Giants, "I've heard such great things about this organization from the ownership down to Brian Sabean, then Boch and the coaches."


Relievers as currency

Might the Padres trade not one, not two but three relief pitchers this month -- closer Heath Bell, setup ace Mike Adams and middle man Chad Qualls?

The answer -- sorry to go Adam Smith on you here -- is that the marketplace will shape that outcome between now and Aug. 1. But if it does happen and surprises you, then you've not been paying attention.

Jed Hoyer flips relievers like IHOP flips pancakes. Late last fall alone, the Doogster dealt five relievers -- three to get his shortstop, two more to get his center fielder.

Hoyer, to be clear here, didn't come up with the idea that relievers are renewable currency for the Padres, anymore than you or I came up with the notion that San Diego is a sunny place.

'Twas obvious and likely still is.

As valuable and expensive as Bell is now -- an All-Star three times running on the cusp of free agency that will command him, say, $36 million guaranteed over the next three years -- any team  could've acquired the Loveable Kook for not a lot five summers ago. Adams, same thing, the Padres getting him by sending Brian Sikorski to the Indians in July 2006. How did the Indians get Adams? Eleven days earlier, they claimed him off waivers from the Mets, the same club that was eager to give away Bell.

Don't twist this as some Animal Farm message that all the barnyard animals are equal when we all know they aren't. Time and time again, however, the Padres have gathered soon-to-be good or even great relievers, cheaply -- whether it was Scott Linebrink off waivers; or Akinori Otsuka after 29 teams declined to bid for him; or Red Sox minor leaguer Cla Meredith as a throw-in for the redoubtable Doug Mirabelli. Let us not forget, too, the late Rod Beck, who signed with the Padres during the 2003 season and promptly cashed all 20 of his save chances. The Shooter begged the Cubs to let him come here, and the Cubs didn't even ask for a case of Gatorade from the Padres.

Isn't it reasonable to assume the Padres can continue to find good cheap help for their bullpen? And if a reliever has the arm for the job but needs some confidence, wouldn't Petco National Park and the National League be inviting places for him?

Past performance at bullpen building doesn't guarantee future success, of course, in part because the industry isn't static. Teams may now be valuing and evaluating relievers better than they did in, say, 2006. Take the Mets, who didn't appreciate that Bell's actual ERA was less indicative of his worth than his true ERA. Under the Alderson Gang, the Mets will know the difference. (It was Paul DePodesta who pushed for the Padres to get Adams, not to say that DePo batted 1.000 in his talent evaluations.)

In truth, the Doogster has some proving to do at bullpen construction. It was the Gunslinger who acquired the aforementioned relievers. The National League-best bullpen here in 2010 was his doing, too, plus the bulk of San Diego's current bullpen; and the Gunslinger's additions last offseason for the back of Arizona's bullpen are a big part of why the Garden Snakes are vastly improved. But it's not like the Padres started building good bullpens when the Gunslinger took over in late 1995, or that he always got it right. Thanks to Randy Smith, many of the relievers were in place for the '96 bullpen that led the NL in ERA and win probability added.

Putting it another way, while it shouldn't be assumed the Padres can whip up good bullpens on the cheap whenever they wish, other jobs more difficult are confronting them, and will confront them.


.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cuddly Phans

When Heath Bell was asked to name his wife's favorite road ballpark, his recent reply on Twitter surprised like a slide into pitcher's mound. "Philly," he Tweeted, "because they were really nice there and gave her sushi after the game.''

Phillies fans have been described in many ways; the Loveable Kook may be the first to depict them as kindly sushi sharers.

Whether Nicole Bell returns to her road ballpark of choice this summer will hinge on whether her husband is traded to the National League East leaders, who've been linked to Bell in published trade speculation for several weeks. Scouting with an eye toward October, the Phillies have appraised Bell and Padres setup man Mike Adams for three years now, and another team's scout familiar with their thinking says the Phillies believe each reliever would survive leaving the Petco cocoon. For trade this year, the Phillies also have considered Padres left fielder Ryan Ludwick, notwithstanding his career .143 batting average in their cozy ballpark, because their lineup tilts left.

"I think the Phillies need a right-handed bat more myself," Paul Hagen, a longtime baseball writer with the Philadelphia Daily News, told this blog today. "But clearly Bell would help."

Typically the Phillies are armed with prospects and cash when trolling the trade market, but they've spent most of their best trade chips in recent years and claim they can't raise payroll this summer because it might trigger the luxury tax. Then again, they are a revenue giant, and their farm system isn't barren despite three trades for star pitchers in recent years. "They've got prospects on the mound -- a lot of power arms," a scout said. Most of those pitchers, however, are below Double-A.

The Phillies have a knack for surprising industry experts with their moves, so Hagen wouldn't rule out most any swap. Disclaimer noted, he doesn't expect them to part with corner outfielder Domonic Brown. Another Phils big leaguer, pitcher Vance Worley may be needed as insurance for Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt, who is on the disabled list. Worley, a starter and a reliever with a 2.21 ERA, doesn't have Bell's high-speed fastball, but the 23-year-old Californian might offset some of the personality loss if Bell is dealt. He refers to himself as "Van-imal," and during a game in San Diego spit at a single as it sped into center field.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Redbirds redux?

A trade between the Padres and Cardinals this month would be the second between the two general managers, who partnered last summer on the three-team deadline deal that brought Ryan Ludwick to San Diego and enabled St. Louis to land Indians starting pitcher Jake Westbrook. If GMs Jed Hoyer and John Mozeliak dance together again, it is closer Heath Bell who likely would pack his bags for St. Louis, but a National League executive from outside the West says he "wouldn't get overly excited about" that happening.


"The Cardinals have two stud pitchers in their system -- Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller -- and I don't see any scenario in which the Cardinals trade them," the exec said. "Then, there's a huge dropoff (in prospects) after that."

The exec said Cardinals pitching prospect Joe Kelly "is an interesting arm" and that Oscar Taveras, a Single-A outfielder with a .401 on-base percentage, "is an interesting guy who may be a fit."

Rick Hummel, longtime Cardinals writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, told this blog in May that Bell would excite the Redbirds, whose closer, Ryan Franklin, had lost the job. "I'd heard that they had interest but they couldn't match up on the players -- but that doesn't mean they've given up," Hummel said today. Young closer Fernando Salas, 16-for-17 in save attempts to go with a 2.25 ERA, could allow the Cardinals to spend their trade chips elsewhere, and their starting rotation, Hummel said, may be a greater need than the bullpen.

Hummel also suggested that former Cardinals shortstop Tyler Greene, now in Triple-A, might interest potential traders as a change-of-scenery value, given that Greene and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa appear incompatible. Greene has excellent footspeed, a strong arm and decent power. He also has played second base and third.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Orange County connection

The Angels would suit Heath Bell in terms of family stability if the Padres decide to trade their All-Star closer. Bell, who grew up in Orange County, would remain close to his wife and four children, and also his father, who has cancer.

In a baseball sense, "the Angels could be a fit for Bell -- the bullpen is still a fairly shaky area for them," said a National League executive outside the West. "The Angels are always in go-for-it mode. Their financial situation is unknown."

The Angels, who are a game behind the first-place Rangers, don't appear as stocked with prospects as potential suitors such as the Rangers, but the executive said pitching prospects such as Fabio Martinez (recently on the disabled list) and Garrett Richards would interest many clubs. Angels reserve catcher Hank Conger, a first-round draft pick in 2006, "might be an interesting guy because he struggled recently and he might be expendable," the exec said. For what it's worth, the Padres scouted Conger, a switch-hitter with power, in 2006 and considered him for their first-round pick that was used for Wake Forest infielder Matt Antonelli.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Trade market snapshot

With the Trade Deadline looming on July 31st, this blog recently chatted with a National League executive outside the Western Division to get his read on the general market and what the Padres might do.

"The market is slower than normal," he said. "The over-riding sentiment right now is, nobody wants to take on money. The teams that can absorb money are at a big advantage. That may lead to less activity in July and more in August when a lot more contracts -- bigger contracts, may clear."

Regarding the Padres:

"I think the Padres trade (Heath) Bell,"  said the exec, whose club isn't involved in trade talks with San Diego. "I'm guessing they value (Mike) Adams more than Bell, unless they have concerns about Adams' health. I'm not sure who the industry values more. I would think the asking price from the Padres would be less for Bell than Adams. I could see a team absorbing Bell's money and giving less of a prospect (unless the Padres pay some of the remaining salary in return for a better prospect)."

The Padres control Adams through next season. His salary is $2.54 million. Bell, who has a $7.5 million salary and is first-time eligible for free agency in November, has said he would give the Padres a discount as a free agent. The executive doubts it would come to that because "if you have a $40 million to $50 million payroll, how do you make it work? Even if he signs for $10 million a year, how do the Padres make that work? And Bell's agent will be saying,  'You're leaving four or five million on the table.' "

Told that Bell has shown himself to be an independent thinker, the exec said: "He may an independent thinker, but so many times the agents and the players' union get involved. His agents are fairly aggressive, and they have (Red Sox closer Jonathan) Papelbon too."

Seven months ago, the Red Sox signed Papelbon to a $12 million salary to avoid arbitration.

The exec said the Padres' return on Bell "has to be comparable to two picks in the (2012) draft, maybe not the same but two guys that you like."

As for left-fielder Ryan Ludwick, another Padre eligible for free agency in November and drawing a $6.8 million salary: "He has right-handed power and that is hard to come by. And the ballpark there hurts him -- but I can't see a great return," the exec said. "He's an overpaid, average corner outfielder. They might have to pay some salary on him to get a decent prospect."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Last July

It may seem like a mirage now, but the Padres did indeed go into the All-Star break last year on top of the National League West with a 51-37 record, second in the National League only to the Braves. San Diego scored 72 runs more than it allowed, whereas this year's team, which today takes a 40-51 record into its final game before the break, has scored 31 fewer than it has given up. Lurking four games back in 2010 were the Giants, who for all their great pitching, which would carry them to the playoffs and the World Series victory, had allowed 26 runs more than the Padres.

Chase Headley remembers those fun, not so distant days. The third baseman spoke of them recently to this blog.

"Last year, obviously we would have liked to win one more game and get into the (163rd game) and the playoffs," he said. "But that was one of the most rewarding teams I've ever been on, if not the most rewarding team, because it was completely comprised of selfless people. Nobody cared about anything but winning games. And when the expectations were so low and you just heard people keep chirping from the outside, saying, 'This is going to fall apart, they're not any good,' it was very satisfying to play that type of baseball for an entire year, even though we fell a little short. You win 90 games, it's a pretty good season. So I looked at that as a really good experience."


Headley, who is having his best season, said he "learned a lot" from several veteran teammates last year, mentioning fellow infielders David Eckstein and Adrian Gonzalez. "I think that's what I've been most thankful for, getting to play with those guys, trying to pick their brains and model not really my game after them, but their approach to the game, how they prepared, how hard they played the game, and the consistent mental approach," he said.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Smart move

That wasn't the Bridge Over the River Kwai that Bud Black asked Mat Latos to build last night at Dodger Stadium in the eighth inning. Awaiting were three Dodgers who'd hit as many home runs this year as the team's batboy. The weather was pleasant and Latos in good form. It didn't work out, the Dodgers pecking out the run that they turned into the 1-0 victory, but Pepe Negro's decision to stay with his would-be hoss made great sense. Even more, the decision to trust and test the Tattoed One was the best part of the game.

(You won't get an argument here if you found something else more interesting; West Coast Bias, truth to tell, found this diamond version of Friday Night Lights tedious, despite the close score.  In fact, he doesn't recall most of it, choosing to save his memory capacity for episodes of The Wire and football's Friday Night Lights.)

The thinking on Latos: Sometime in his career in a game of  great importance, he may have to master fatigue and stress late in a similar tightrope walk. He'll know better how to do it, thanks in part to the eighth inning last night. More, please.

The pitch count fascists don't have an argument. Latos had thrown 94 pitches and it was a pretty easy 94. Nor did Latos set off any alarms the inning before, clocking in at 93 mph and striking out one of the few decent Dodgers hitters, .316-batting Aaron Miles for the final out. With Latos in mid-season form -- maybe because it's mid-season -- the conditions were swell for Latos to pursue three more outs.

Sure, his fastball wasn't as hot as it was. That's part of the test -- at times, your better starting pitcher needs to know how to get outs with less fastball and the game on the line. It's pretty hard to win a division or a pennant, let alone a World Series, by removing your starter every time he faces such a test. Why not have Latos develop those skills now with the Padres going nowhere?

Next time he's that far along, he might manage the fatigue and stress better. Not that he made big mistakes in the eighth, but his 0-2 slider to the first hitter -- .222-batting A.J. Ellis -- was hittable enough that Ellis lined it past Jason Bartlett for a single. After a sacrifice bunt, Latos fell behind Tony Gwynn Jr. and threw a decent belt-high fastball, and Gwynn got enough of it for a single to right field. With men on the corners now, Latos could've escaped with a doubleplay groundball, and he nearly induced one with an 0-1 slider to Rafael Furcal but the three-hopper went to right field.

If Latos is ticked off that he didn't get through the eighth, so much the better. His pitch-count creep has discouraged Black from asking him to work deep more often than not. Once this year, he completed an eighth inning, keeping the score tied against the Cardinals, and the Padres rewarded him with two runs in the home eighth.

Latos should be able to work deep into games. The dross that passes for major league lineups these days is part of the sell, not to mention Petco National Park, National League rules and Latos having four pitches that can be above average. Great that the Padres have a bullpen that get the final six or nine or 12 outs -- but if Latos is to become a frontline pitcher, late-inning tests are part of the deal.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dick Williams

Dick Williams, who managed the Padres to their first World Series, viewed baseball statistics from a bare bones perspective, judged baseball talent with a sharp eye, intimidated several Padres players and San Diego press members and lived as hard off the field as he did on it. Without Williams, a Hall of Famer who died Thursday at age 82, a talented collection of Padres may not have won the franchise's first National League West title and the NL pennant in 1984.

"He kind of turned around the franchise, that's what I thought," said Bob Chandler, the team's public relations director when Williams arrived in 1982 and a full-time broadcaster in 1984. "He taught 'em how to win."

* Statistics. "Part of my job was to do the statistics," Chandler said. "Dick came by one day and said, 'The only stats that count to me are advancing a runner from second to third with nobody out and getting a guy in from third with less than two out, and if you can't do that, you can't play for me -- I've got a spot for you next me on the bench.' " (If Williams managed the 2011 Padres, the bench wouldn't be long enough).

* Talent evaluation. Williams approved moving Carmelo Martinez from first base to left field and Alan Wiggins from left field to second base because he figured the big puzzle would fit better, which it did. "He had a great eye for talent," Chandler said.

* Intimidation. "He's the only manager I've seen do this -- he'd stand at the end of the dugout with a rolled up program and he made notes on it during the game," Chandler said, adding that the players sensed that Williams was critiquing their work. "He was no-nonsense. He wasn't an easy guy to like, personally. He was tough, real tough." With the press, too, Williams could be curt and manipulative, especially during his postgame sessions. "He's sitting there in his drawers," Chandler said, "and he's got a big plate of Whitey Wietelmann' chili, and he opens up the bottom of his drawer and pulls out a plug of scotch -- and he's in his drawers, eating his chili, drinking his scotch, and just waiting for someone to ask him a question. He intimidated a lot of the media here." An exception was Padres beat writer Phil Collier (also a friend and mentor to this blog). "He didn't intimidate Phil Collier and he didn't try to intimidate Collier," Chandler said, adding that another veteran beat writer, Barry Bloom, now with mlb.com, also stood his ground.

* A taste for scotch. "There were times when we closed the bar at 2 o'clock," Chandler said, "and Dick would say the suite is open in his room -- he'd have a lot of goodies up there and he loved his scotch."

Blue bogeyman

If Larry Lucchino said it once, he said it dozens of times soon into his tenure as Padres president and CEO. First, however, came the geographic disclaimer from this Princeton and Yale man who maintained a law office in Washington D.C. and said he was still learning what it meant to be a San Diegan and a Padres fan.

"But," Lucchino would say next, pausing for effect, "I have found it easy to develop a hatred for the Dodgers."

The Smartest Man in Baseball understood better than many of his colleagues in the sports biz that rivalry is good for a club's financial statement. In his pre-Padres days with the Baltimore Orioles, Lucchino tweaked Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in public comments and often depicted his O's as scrappy upstarts compared to the haughty Yankees and all their money. The day Lucchino left San Diego for the Red Sox 10 years ago, this blog expected him to goose the Sox-Yankees rivalry, and Luchino did not disappoint. Speaking to the New York Times, he likened the Yankees to the Evil Empire.

The Dodgers, it could be said long ago, were the Yankees of the West.

As such, the Dodgers inspired not only disdain from Padres fans but also apprehension sown by their years of dominance.

Now look at them. The Dodgers are in bankruptcy court. Their owners are in divorce court. Their team occupies last place going into tonight's series opener with San Diego, and their grand but decaying ballpark grows emptier by the day.

Yet, several Padres fans known by this blog still obsess over the blue bogeyman.

At Padres home games, my friend Phil watches the out-of-town scoreboard as intently as he does the Padres themselves; whenever the Dodgers' opponent claims a lead, Phil blurts out the news.

Another friend of this blog -- Steve -- checks the standings to see if his hopeless Padres are ahead of the hopeless Dodgers. If they are, Steve feels better about Padresdom.

A blood relative of mine refuses to allow any Dodgers on his Fantasy League team, implying that even if some dummy offered him Clayton Kershaw for Wade LeBlanc he would decline out of anti-Dodger principle.

More fascinating even is the recurring Dodgers-as-sleeping-giant specter. Even as the Dodgers' World Series drought ran into a third decade, Padres personnel and officials throughout the National League West continue to speak of L.A.'s potential dominance. Of late, the mere whisper that Mark Cuban might buy the Dodgers inspired fretting from two of the aforementioned Padres fans.

West Coast Bias, conversely, long has looked at the underachieving Dodgers and thought of two words -- opportunity cost. Dodgers stagnation over the last two decades-plus cost baseball a ripe chance to better grow its revenue pie at a time when King Football had abandoned Los Angeles.

WCB also doubts that what's bad for the Dodgers is always good for the Padres and other NL West teams.

If the Dodgers raised the competitive bar for the Padres and other rivals, could that not further compel them to do the same?

The Tampa Bay Rays bring in far less revenue than the Padres and are confronted by not one but two superpowers in their own division. Responding to the challenges, the Rays became super efficient at growing their own players, reached a World Series and won the American League East last year. When the Red Sox prepared for the draft this year, one of the spurs for them to do better, a Red Sox man told this blog, was that Tampa had collected so many extra draft picks.

Competition is supposed to be a good thing in American businesses and sports. The view here is that a smart, sound and aggressive Dodgers franchise would be good good for baseball, the West region notably -- and yes, in some ways, good for the Padres, who would have more cause to sign the best amateurs and raise their payroll. They also might enjoy a bigger slice from a bigger revenue pie to which the Dodgers contribute.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bullpens, Bochy, Black

In his first 162-game season managing the Padres, a haggard Bruce Bochy walked the streets of north Chicago one night in 1996, chewing on yet another defeat and questioning whether he was long for the job. Bochy knew he had a team that should've been playing better than it was. He also knew that his boss, Larry Lucchino, the club's CEO, wasn't sold on him. Lucchino had inherited Bochy after coming over from the Baltimore Orioles in December 1994. Bochy sensed Lucchino wanted someone more theatrical, an Earl Weaver personality who would color up disputes with umpires and quotes with the press. Bochy didn't like his chances of surviving a mediocre season. As it turned out, Bochy had a powerful if anonymous ally: a bullpen that was the National League's best. Not every bullpen makes or breaks a manager, but a lot of them do and San Diego's bullpen helped to make Bochy. Without such ballast, a good managerial career to come may have been derailed. Padres relievers in '96 led by young closer Trevor Hoffman ended up first in the NL in ERA and win probability added -- a cool stat that accounts for relief situations -- and the Padres won their first NL West title since 1984, Hoffman closing out the final three victories at Dodger Stadium. Bochy, for his part, showed a knack for managing a bullpen. As Hoffman went on to become an All-Star perennial and the all-time save leader, he often said it was Bochy's handling of him that eased his journey. "He doesn't get greedy," Hoffman said. By that he meant that Bochy managed with an eye toward the pennant stretch and didn't burn out his closer and other key pitchers. Whatever the cause and effect, a bookend trend had begun. Two years later, the Padres again would win the NL West with a bullpen that led the NL in win probability added (WPA); in 2005-06, the last two of Bochy's Padres teams won the NL West and had bullpens that ranked second in league WPA.

Bochy's replacement in San Diego, Bud Black shares not only the same initials but a reputation for knowing how to run a bullpen and an awareness that if the bullpen stinks, the manager looks like a dummy. As the Angels' pitching coach from 2000-06, Black enjoyed a smooth ride thanks largely to  bullpens that ranked second overall in WPA in that span (source: FanGraphs.com). With the Padres, Black presided over the transition from Hoffman to Heath Bell, which couldn't have gone better for both Bell and Black. A strong bullpen led by Hoffman, Bell and Doug Brocail nearly carried Black to a playoff berth in his first season of managing, but in the 163rd game Hoffman had nothing on his fastball and the Rockies went rat-a-tat-tat to grab the wild-card berth. Hoffman, then on the verge of his 40th birthday, had bone chips and spurs removed from his elbow once the team returned to San Diego. 

Black and his pitching coaches, including the veteran bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds, nurtured an even stronger bullpen in 2010, one whose WPA (8.42) led the majors. This time the Padres were eliminated in the 162nd game at San Francisco. Their opponent: Bochy's Giants, who had pitched historically well down the stretch and would pitch their way to a World Series championship, closer Brian Wilson getting the final out with a high-speed fastball in Arlington, Texas.

West Coast Bias covered all of Bochy's Padres teams and saw Bochy in the clubhouse as the Giants passed around the World Series trophy. Bochy had sailed past cloud nine well before his third or fourth champagne bath.

As the Padres and Giants finish a series in San Francisco today, once again each team's bullpen is adding IQ points to the two managers. WCB doubted this Giants bullpen would be as good as last year's; so far, it's been better. The Giants lead the majors in bullpen WPA (5.11). Led by a bullpen that seemed bottomless, Bochy's club outlasted the Padres in 14 innings Wednesday. The Padres can hold serve behind a bullpen that ranks sixth (3.22).











Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Enberg and Padres

Dick Enberg rejoins 4SD tonight after broadcasting from Wimbledon one last time. By next year his repertoire of sports will have been pared to one -- Padres play-by-play on telecasts -- and that suits Enberg, 76. "I'll do the U.S.Open and that'll be it, so that next year I can concentrate full time on the Padres, and that's really what I want to do," Enberg told West Coast Bias before heading to England.

Enberg praised ESPN and the Padres for allowing him to work this final Wimbledon. Upshot: ESPN has a soul.

"There's the reputation that the networks have earned that it's big business and maybe less and less personal than when way back when I started, but a nice thing happened on the way to not going to Wimbledon," he said. "At the (U.S.) Open last year, I was talking to some of the folks with ESPN. My contract with ESPN concluded with the Australian Open this year, and I was just saying we'll see you at the Australian Open, and I said, 'I've been thinking about Wimbledon. It'd be nice to back one last time just to have some kind of closure.' And I said, 'Romantically, it's been since '79 that I've been going to Wimbledon, and as an event it's right there at the top of my list of all the things I've done.' 

"It was just kind of a casual conversation. Then a couple of months later I got a call and they said, 'You know, we've been thinking about it, and it would be a good idea for you to be able to have a goodbye Wimbledon.' "

Enberg said he "kind of hinted" to the Padres that his final Wimbledon would be in 2010. "The Padres were generous in saying that this is the right thing to do, for you to go back," he said. "The support all around has really been heartwarming. And if didn't work out, it's not as if I would have been sitting around moping that I'm doing baseball. It would've been OK. In fact, last year doing Wimbledon, I'm staying up late at night with my IPad listening to the games saying, "They're still in first place, I should be with the Padres.' "

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Closing time

Talking to this blog two months ago, Padres closer Heath Bell gave setup man Mike Adams an unusually strong endorsement. Consider it a clip-and-save quote in the event that the Padres trade either Bell or Adams this month. "Mike would be awesome as a closer," Bell said. "He's definitely got the demeanor for it. He knows how to pitch. You can put him into any situation, and he can get out of it. He has the best stuff of anybody in the bullpen. The only reason I'm closing and he's not is because I got here first."  It's typical for one teammate to praise another teammate, at least in public comments. But when pressed on the opinion that Adams has better "stuff" than him, the Loveable Kook laughed and said it wasn't close. "Mike's stuff is dirty," Bell said.

Obviously Adams knows how to succeed under late-inning duress. What's unknown about him as a potential closer is how he would respond to blowing a few saves. No one was better at nipping failure in the bud than Trevor Hoffman, who went nearly a decade without blowing consecutive save attempts. For what it's worth, manager Bud Black and Bell, impressed by his comebacks from shoulder and knee surgeries, said Adams would handle that just fine.

A former setup star, Bell  revealed a dimension to closing that he didn't foresee when he got the job.  "The hitters on your team ask you, 'Are you ready to go today? Can you give us another one?' even if you've pitched the last three days," Bell said, smiling. As a standout setup man, Bell didn't hear that as often. When a team is on a hot streak, players want to squeeze out as many victories as possible, and it's the closer who nails downs those victories. On top of everything else he's done well for the Padres, Bell has shown he can push through fatigue and grab that extra save or two.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching up

All at once, the Padres are as keen on hot-shot amateur catchers as the Duke brothers were keen on frozen-juice contracts. "The Strategic Thinkers are cornering the market!" Last month, the Padres invested the 54th and 82nd picks of the draft in two prep catchers -- switch-hitter Brett Austin and catch-and-throw wizard Austin Hedges -- with the expectation that each would cost a seven-figure sum. Now the Padres have signed catcher Jose Ruiz, 16, from Venezuela for $1.1 million.  Ruiz may be six years away from the big leagues, so his signing probably will not not affect pending negotiations with Austin and Hedges. "Ruiz is absolutely a pure catcher," Randy Smith, Padres V-P for International Operations, told this blog. "Easily the best defensive catcher in this year's international class and the best that I can recall in recent years."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Role reversal

The Padres enjoyed having the toothpick-swinging Mariners as their "natural rivals" last year. This time around, it was Padres hitters who re-enacted the Dead Ball era. The Padres scored a total of four runs in the six games, batted .162, hit nary a home run or a triple and amassed 56 strikeouts. Their only victory was by a 1-0 score.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Newsstand

What are stirrups? The 1984 uniforms worn by the Padres and Mariners prompted that question Friday, Larry LaRue reports in the Tacoma News Tribune.  Tony Gwynn takes West Coast Bias on a guided tour of the All-Star Game, including his rookie appearance, also in the year of Orwell. For those of you who missed this blog's story on Cory Luebke last week, here it is.

Summer intrigue

West Coast Bias hesitated to write this story, and not only because it's way too long. It's a story about the grand slam the Padres might have hit this summer in the amateur draft. In other words, blah, blah, blah. "Haven't we heard that before?" a Padres fan might say. Yes we have. And yes, skepticism is in order. Every baseball draft is strewn with monkey wrenches, for starters. Nor is this the first time your little baseball team had several extra picks high in the June draft. So, italics apply here -- potential grand slam.  If a double comes from it, the Padres will not complain.