Padres Must be Smart in Free Agent Market


Anyone who watched the San Diego Padres for even a few games last year quickly understood why the club struggled to a 91-loss season. The offense was anemic.

Only two clubs in baseball scored fewer runs than the Padres, and none hit fewer home runs.

But playing in Petco Park doesn’t afford you the opportunity to sit back and wait on the three-run homer; it’s just not coming. Now, this isn’t news to the Padres or their fans, but if you aren’t going to drive the ball out of the park, you’d better find other ways to create runs. San Diego didn’t do that very often last year and that, in large part, is why Randy Ready was let go following the season.

New Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier and his yet-to-be-named assistant hitting coach will have their work cut out for them in 2012. While the long ball has been a problem (Ryan Ludwick lead the club with 11 and he was traded in July), that doesn’t figure to get markedly better anytime soon. If you aren’t going to hit home runs, you’d better at least have runners on base and drive the ball into the gaps.

The Padres didn’t do much of either in 2011, ranking 27th in baseball in both doubles and on base percentage.

Of the eight Padres who played in at least 100 games, only Chase Headley and Chris Denorfia managed an OBP of at least .337, with Headley’s .374 mark being the only one that could be considered “good”. Jesus Guzman (.369) and Nick Hundley (.347) both turned in fine seasons in that regard, but were limited to 158 games between them.

Identifying the problem is the easy part, but fixing it is another story. Even in a healthy season, you can’t expect much more than 115 or so starts by Hundley behind the plate and expecting him to get even that many is a real stretch considering he’s never played in more than 85 games in a season during his big league career. Having a capable back-up, or better yet, a platoon partner, would certainly be a good place to start this Fall.

Guzman’s situation is a bit more cloudy. A career-minor leaguer, Guzman excelled when finally given his shot with the big club last year. But with Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Blanks both potentially big-time hitting threats, will Guzman even see the field in 2012? On a club that doesn’t figure to contend, probably not.

The Padres don’t figure to have a ton of money to spend (what else is new), especially with the odds being good that Heath Bell will accept an arbitration offer from the club. Without Bell, there would be maybe as much as $15 million available this off-season. With him, the Padres will be thrilled if they have half that number.

While back-up catchers don’t usually cost all that much on the open market, you have to wonder how much the Petco effect will factor into those decisions. Will the Padres be able to attract an offensive-minded player (at any position) without paying a premium? For a club with a poor hitter’s park and a small budget, this is a major problem.

The good news is that new GM Josh Byrnes has worked with small-budget clubs before and had success. His relationship with Jeff Moorad can only help, one would think, but Moorad doesn’t exactly have the financial resources that most owners have. It’s not as if Byrnes can “sell” the CEO on finding money for a given player or players because the money just isn’t there to be found.

Like any small market club, scouting and development will be crucial going forward and the brain trust assembled in San Diego certainly understand that. The money isn’t there to make mistakes in free agency, so the Padres will have to target only a select few, and hope like hell that they don’t miss.

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