Monday, January 31, 2011

Thank you Trevor!

Monday January 31, 2011

I had to wait to write this column about Trevor Hoffman's retirement until I wasn't so emotional. The problem is every time I saw the man play it was an emotional experience. Those emotions are indelibly etched in my memory and its near impossible to talk (or type) about Trevor Hoffman without replaying in my mind so many thrilling moments and a very few deflating moments I experienced while watching him pitch.

Its hard to explain to non San Diegans how emotional it was to experience Trevor Time.

The lights dimming in the stadium, the crowd coming to their feet as if drawn up by some invisible force, the strains of Hells Bells starting, the roar as one of the crowd as he began his jog from the bullpen, the signs flashing Trevor Time ...

It was an all encompassing emotional experience whether he saved the game or, god forbid, he blew the save and the Padres lost. It was elation or devastation. No in between. No "well its just another game". And it was a shared emotion. 30-40-even 60+ thousand other people were feeling the same way.

You could tell they felt the same as I did. You could see it in their faces, hear it in their voices and feel it hanging palpably in the post event air.

Watching Trevor pitch was emotional and that is how I have been since hearing of his retirement.

So now that some time has passed I wanted to express my heartfelt gratitude that I had the opportunity to watch this man play the game of baseball.

I experienced much joy and a little devastation watching him play.

The joy of watching Trevor close the game to give the Padres the Padres NL title in Atlanta in 1998. The joy of watching Trevor notch his 300th save, 400th save, 479th save and 500th save. All in a Padres uniform.

The devastation of watching Trevor blow the save in game 162 to the junior Gwynn. Then watching him blow his 2nd straight save to the Rockies (No, Holliday never touched the plate, but that is another story).

Over the years the elation far exceeded the downs as Trevor saved 89% of the games he came into with a save on the line.

Mariano Rivera may eventually pass Trevor for the most saves, but no one will ever pass Trevor for the excitement he brought to Padres fans. No one will ever be the first to record 500 and then 600 saves. There is also a good chance that no one will ever have 9 seasons of 40 or more saves or 14 seasons of 30 or more saves.

If not for the 2003 season lost to injury, there would be no serious argument or doubt that Trevor was the best ever as he would likely be an unsurmountable 80 ++ saves ahead of Rivera and undoubtedly would have recorded 15 straight seasons with 30 or more saves.

Regardless of any debate, in my heart and mind Trevor Hoffman will remain the greatest reliever I have seen pitch since Goose Gossage retired and arguably the greatest closer ever.

Thank you Trevor for all you did to make the game more enjoyable for me and for baseball fans everywhere.

- Web

Monday, January 10, 2011

What does Bartlett & Hudson contracts mean for Bell?

Monday January 10, 2011

If the multi-year contracts of Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett are any indication, Jed Hoyer is putting together a Padres team for a 2 year run at the playoffs. That would be a real good sign for Heath Bell signing a multi-year contract too.

Bell is reportedly asking for a 3 year deal in the $20-21 million range. Like the contracts for Hudson and Bartlett that deal would probably be structured as a 2 year deal with a mutual option or vesting option for a 3rd year.

If the Padres can get Bell to agree to a below market 1st year as they did with Bartlett and Hudson, then the Padres would have further payroll flexibility to go out and spend on another starter or left handed bat off the bench or whatever Hoyer feels the team needs.

Even at the $7 million he is expected to receive in arbitration, Bell is a good value.

For the past two seasons Bell has been an elite closer recording the most saves in baseball. His FIP is the lowest in the game amongst relievers with 120+ IP over that period, his xFIP & ERA are 5th in baseball and only Carlos Marmol gave up less HR per 9.

In 2010 Bell gave up just 1 home run in 70+ innings. He had a 2.05 FIP and a 1.93 ERA. In other words his ballpark & defense had little effect on his effectiveness as a pitcher.

Keeping Bell in the fold for 2 years gives the young pitchers on the staff an incredible boost of confidence. They don't HAVE to go 9 perfect innings to win the game. All they have to do is give 6-7 good innings every time out and the bullpen will do the rest.

Bell could probably be signed for a similar amount to the contracts we are seeing handed out for setup men.

Comparatively Bell is a bargain.

Add to that the fact that if the Padres do sign Bell to a team friendly multi-year deal that is being tossed around (3yrs/$20-$21 million) it actually makes him MORE valuable as a trade piece at the deadline if the Padres are not in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Signing Bell, an elite closer, to a multi-year deal is a no lose proposition for the Padres.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Who will be backing up behind the plate in Padreville?

Tuesday January 4, 2011

Backup catcher has been a strength for the San Diego Padres the past two seasons with Henry Blanco and Yorvit Torrealba pulling on the tools of ignorance every other day.

For 2011 the Padres do not have a veteran defensive catcher on the roster at this point. They traded away a PTBNL & cash to get catcher Rob Johnson from the Seattle Mariners, but according to Corey Brock of in recent tweets, it is far from a certainty that Johnson will be handed the backup job at seasons start.

Rob Johnson is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
Catcher Rob Johnson
Johnson was the Opening Day starter for the Mariners in 2010, but hit only .191 and lost his starting job before the All Star break.

He has thrown out better than 35% of baserunners for his career (minors + majors) which is outstanding, but has always been considered to have problems with passed balls. Johnson only had two more than Yorvit Torrealba in 2010 and Torrey is considered exceptional defensively, so what to think of his real defensive prowess is hard to figure out.

Johnson has a .271 BA in the minors including .297/.403 over 17 starts in 2010, but seems to try too hard in the majors and doesn't get the job done at the plate hitting only .200 over parts of 4 seasons.

He is still only 26 years old so he is far from too old, but he doesn't seem to have progressed at the plate with extended playing time over the past two seasons.

26-27 is the age that most players see a bump in performance, but for Johnson does that mean hitting at a .270 clip like he has in the minors or just a little bump to .220-.230?

Looks like we will have to wait until spring training to see how he is playing and whether the Padres hand him the backup job.

My guess is the Padres sign someone like Max Ramirez to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training to give them organizational depth at catcher in case Johnson can't get the job done.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Padres lineup taking shape

Monday January 3, 2011

With the confirmation of the signing of former Rockie/Ray Brad Hawpe to play 1st base, the 2011 Padres starting line up has finally taken shape.

And it has a completely different look and feel from the 2010 version w/only 3 opening day starters from 2010 returning - Headley, Hundley and Venable.

So without further ado, your 2011 San Diego Padres starting 8:
SS Jason Bartlett
2B Orlando Hudson
1B Brad Hawpe
LF Ryan Ludwick
RF Will Venable
3B Chase Headley
C Nick Hundley
CF Cameron Maybin

The projected opening day starting lineup has aged significantly (4 players over 30 vs 1 on opening day 2010) and improved offensively even with the departure of Adrian Gonzalez.
Bartlett > Cabrera
Hudson > Eckstein
Maybin > Gwynn
Ludwick > Blanks (at least the 2010 version of Blanks)

And we can expect/hope that the 2011 versions of Headley, Hundley & Venable will be better than the 2010 versions as well.

What we will continue to see is a focus on speed and defense.

The only positions with a significant decline on defense are CF, which had the NL best defender Tony Gwynn in 2010, and 1B, which sees Gold glove defender Gonzalez replaced by Hawpe, who only has 72 innings at 1B in 7 season as a major leaguer.

Team speed may have actually increased a little with the additions of Bartlett and Hudson, who stole a few more bases than their 2010 Padres opening day counterparts. Maybin also has significant speed, swiping 14 bases in 115 games between AAA and the Marlins in 2010.

The Padres bench will also be very different in 2011 with only Oscar Salazar returning from the 2010 opening day roster. Likely it will include as many as 4 players who saw playing time in 2010 - Salazar, Chris Denorfia, Aaron Cunningham and Everth Cabrera.

UT Oscar Salazar
OF Chris Denorfia
OF Aaron Cunningham
Catcher - Rob Johnson
Middle Infield - Everth Cabrera/Jarrett Hoffpauir/Eric Patterson

Gone is the Hockey Coach and his power bat off the bench. Gone are the Hairston brothers. Kyle Blanks is recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely to start 2011 in AAA to regain his batting stroke. Gone is team spark plug and coach on the field David Eckstein. Hopefully what remains is a fire for the game we saw in all the young players in 2010.

What absolutely remains the same is the Padres having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

With 39 players on the 40 man roster and only a few possiblities for signings or trades remaining (a backup middle infielder, a #4-5 starting pitcher - Chris Young?, and a veteran reliever - Joe Biemel?), a realistic estimate for the Padres 2011 payroll including signing all their rbitration eligible players stands at $42.0 - $42.5 million.

So can the Padres catch lightning in a bottle a second straight season with this very inexpensive and very different lineup?

IMO it depends on the arms. If the performance of the 2011 Padres pitching staff can come close to the 2010 staff and the veteran players can stay healthy, then this Padres club can contend in a largely unimproved NL West.

I've had my say. Now what do you think?