The Prestige of Small Payroll Baseball – San Diego Padres 2010

This is the 3rd in a series of articles examining how small payroll teams have found success in recent years.  The goal is to try and determine what methods were successful in an attempt for the Pirates to emulate them.  The Minnesota Twins were the first team studied and the Texas Rangers were the second team , in case you want to see the methodology of these articles.

The Pledge

The story of the 2010 Padres is one about Pitching and Divorce.  Pitching and divorce are not typically two words that one associates together, but if you think about it both are settled by an independent arbiter and someone is usually unhappy about the resolution.

It was a divorce that forced previous owner John Moores to sell the team to current owner Jeff Moorad’s ownership group in April 2009 for approximately $500M.  Immediately, Moorad took a page from Arte Moreno of the LA Angels and slashed ticket and concession prices to make things more fan-friendly.  The deal allows Moorad’s group 5 years to complete the terms of the sale.  (In case you are getting Moores and Moorad mixed up….don’t worry.  I’ve been researching and writing this off and on for a week and I still get them mixed up.)  Moores and his now-ex-wife owned 80% of the team, with Moores’ daughter and son owning 15%, and a local San Diego businessman Glenn Doshay owning the remaining 5%.  All of them will remain as minority partners until Moorad’s group completes the sale.  Jeff Moorad, a former sports agent, is the CEO of the Padres and is the public face of his ownership conglomerate comprised of 12 investors, one of which is Troy Aikman.

Unfortunately, the team payroll had already been slashed in preparation for the impending sale of the team.  In 2008, the team payroll was $73.7M; by 2010, it was half that amount.  Not many people expected the San Diego Padres to do much in 2010.  Sure, Petco Park is the best pitcher’s park in Major League Baseball, but the Padres had traded their one-time ace, Jake Peavy, to the White Sox in 2009.  Adrian Gonzalez had 2 years left on a very friendly contract and was one of the most desirable players on the market.  His trade could help replenish a moribund farm system.

And then 2010 happened.

The Turn

New GM Jed Hoyer, hired in October 2009, walked into a situation where the expectations were low.  Entering 2010, the Padres had a payroll of $37.8M, ranked 29th in MLB.  The 2009 season saw the Padres finish 75-87 and score 638 runs while allowing 769 runs (-131 run differential).  Because of financial constraints, very few additions were made between the 2009 offseason and the start of 2010.  Yet in 2010, the Padres led the NL West for much of the year before fading down the stretch to the San Francisco Giants.  The Padres scored 665 runs, while allowing only 581 runs (+84 run differential).

So what happened?

In 2009, the Padres had the following rotation.  The number in parentheses is that player’s age during the 2009 season and the method in which he was obtained.

Kevin Correia (28, free agent) 12-11, 3.91 ERA, 198 IP, 194 H, 2.9 BB/9, 6.5 K/9

Chad Gaudin (26, free agent) 4-10, 5.13 ERA, 105 IP, 105 H, 4.8 BB/9, 9.0 K/9

Josh Geer (26, draft 3rd round 2005) 1-7, 5.96 ERA, 102 IP, 116 H, 2.0 BB/9, 4.7 K/9

Jake Peavy (28, draft 15th round 1999) 6-6, 3.97 ERA, 81 IP, 69 H, 3.1 BB/9, 10.1 K/9

Chris Young (30, trade with TEX 2006) 4-6, 5.21 ERA, 76 IP, 70 H, 4.7 BB/9, 5.9 K/9

Tim Stauffer (27, draft 1st round 2003) 4-7, 3.58 ERA, 73 IP, 71 H, 4.2 BB/9, 6.5 K/9

As you can see, after Correia eating 198 innings, it was a pretty patchwork rotation.  Chris Young was injured, which accounts for his low innings total.  Jake Peavy was traded in July 2009 to the White Sox for Clayton Richard, Dexter Carter, Aaron Poreda, and Adam Russell.  Clayton Richard in 2009 would make 12 starts for the Padres and finish 5-2, 4.08 ERA, 64 IP, 60 H, 4.8 BB/9, 6.8 K/9 as a 25 year old.

The most important part of the Peavy trade was the salary relief.  New owner Jeff Moorad needed to keep the payroll down as he was working with limited re-investment capital.  Jake Peavy was scheduled to make $15M in 2010, $16M in 2011, $17M in 2012, and $22M (or $4M buyout) in 2013, as per an extension signed under previous ownership in 2007.

At this point, the only viable piece of the trade is Clayton Richard.  Aaron Poreda and Dexter Carter are both battling severe control problems and are one season away from sharing a condo with Jason Neighborgall and Shooter Hunt.  Adam Russell got some time with the Padres in 2010 as a middle reliever, but that’s about all he will be.  Richard is a #3/#4 type of pitcher and will be making the league minimum in 2011 before being arb-eligible in 2012.

The Padres also promoted their #1 prospect, 21 year old Mat Latos, and he went 4-5, 4.62 ERA, 50 IP, 43 H, 4.1 BB/9, 6.9 K/9 in 10 starts.

The Prestige

Fast forward to 2010 and take a look at the Padres rotation:

Clayton Richard (26, trade with CWS 2009) 14-9, 3.75 ERA, 201 IP, 206 H, 3.5 BB/9, 6.8 K/9

Jon Garland (30, free agent) 14-12, 3.47 ERA, 200 IP, 176 H, 3.9 BB/9, 6.1 K/9

Mat Latos (22, draft 11th round 2006) 14-10, 2.92 ERA, 184 IP, 150 H, 2.4 BB/9, 9.2 K/9

Wade Leblanc (25, draft 2nd round 2006) 8-12, 4.25 ERA, 146 IP, 157 H, 3.1 BB/9, 6.8 K/9

Kevin Correia (29, free agent) 10-10, 5.40 ERA, 145 ERA, 152 H, 4.0 BB/9, 7.1 K/9

Quite a difference from 2009 in terms of innings consumed by the rotation.  In fact, only 3 other pitchers started a game for the Padres besides these five.  The emergence of Latos was a huge development.  All indications are that he will be the “ace”/Jake Peavy-type for the Padres going forward.

Not only was the starting pitching hardy, but the bullpen was hale.  Each member of the bullpen was better than the next.  Aside from Heath Bell, all of the bullpen were acquired in small under-the-radar deals and paid the league minimum (except for Mike Adams being paid $1M).

Bell was acquired in a trade with the Mets in 2006 with a minor degree of notoriety attached, but the other main players of the bullpen were acquired in small side deals or were afterthoughts in trades.  Luke Gregerson was the Player To Be Named Later in the Khalil Greene deal with the Cardinals in 2009.  Edward Mujica was part of a conditional deal with the Indians in 2009.  Mike Adams was acquired from the Indians in 2006.  Joe Thatcher came over from the Brewers in the Scott Linebrink deal in 2007.

On offense, the Padres were led by Adrian Gonzalez (28, trade with TEX in 2006) .298/.393/.511 (904 OPS, 152 OPS+)

He was surrounded by a cast of, at best, league average players such as the catching tandem of Yorvit Torreabla (103 OPS+) and Nick Hundley (102 OPS+), Chase Headley (97 OPS+), and Will Venable (104 OPS+).  The other starters were fairly awful, offensively, such as David Eckstein (83 OPS+), Scott Hairston (80 OPS+), and Tony Gwynn, Jr. (68 OPS+).  Of these players mentioned, only Hundley (2nd round, 2005), Headley (2nd round, 2005), and Venable (7th round, 2005) are homegrown.  The others are either trade pickups or low-cost free agent signings.  However, it sure looks like the 2005 draft was at least productive for the Padres with 3 starters being produced from it.  As shown in The Turn, the 2010 Padres only scored 27 more runs than the 2009 team.  The offense in 2009 could similarly be termed Adrian Gonzalez and His Band of Bland Men At the Plate.

It appears to me that the Padres of 2010 were an unsustainable mirage.  Apparently the team is in quite a frugal state of affairs in terms of payroll, as there was this article  about the team sweating the fact that Chase Headley is arb-eligible as a Super 2.  Considering that he is a league-average bat, but supposedly good on defense, he may be looking at a 2011 salary of around $1.5M instead of his assumed $450,000.  If the Padres are worried about $1M, this team is in a lot of trouble.

Recently, the Padres completed a long-expected trade of Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.  With Jed Hoyer coming from the Red Sox and having intimate knowledge of the system from his time as Assistant GM (and co-GM with Ben Cherrington when Theo Epstein went on his “sabbatical”), it was inevitable that this match would happen.  The Padres received 2 assets that will be in AAA in 2011 (Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo), one asset in High A (Raymond Fuentes), and a player to be named later.  Clearly, this trade was for the future.  Rumors have it that Jacoby Ellsbury was pushed by the Red Sox, but the Padres didn’t want to deal with his arbitration this year and then risk losing him in 2 years.

Heath Bell will also be a free agent after 2011 and may have priced himself out of San Diego’s range.  He, too, will most likely be on the move during the 2011 season.  The good news on that front is that there are plenty of viable candidates in-house to step in and assume the closer duties.

But at least the Padres gave their fan base one magical season before tearing it down.  This team was successful this year because of the Adrian Gonzalez trade to get him to San Diego and the solid, if unspectacular, contributions by the 2005 and 2006 draft classes.  By my reasoning, it may be a very long time before they are in that winning position again.

Author: Kevin Creagh

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  • http://twitter.com/daveperek dave perek

    I am a Pirates fan who moved a block and a half from Petco Park a few weeks back. I have started monitoring the Padres as I will be going to a bunch of games this season. I agree that the Padres success last season was a bit of a mirage. I think the Padres know that as well which is why they acquired veterans like Tejada last season to make a run then dealt Gonzalez this season.

    However, I think ultimately the team has a vision of what they want to be. By getting Bartlett and Maybin for middle relief pitchers (which the Pirates would agree are somewhat interchangeable) and Hudson as a free agent, the Padres are building a team that plays to the their stadium. I don’t think they will be a playoff defensive team but they could be pretty tough at home.