Some advice for the new Padres owners
On Thursday, the Padres officially changed hands, as major league owners unanimously approved the sale of the franchise from John Moores to a group headed by San Diego businessman Ron Fowler, one that includes former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, his son Kevin and nephew Tom Seidler, and golfer Phil Mickelson.
The sale brings an end to a four-and-a-half-year saga that began when Moores’ wife, Becky, filed for divorce, requiring the franchise to be sold under California’s community property law. Moores struck an agreement with former agent Jeff Moorad to purchase the club back in 2009, but the sale never closed, as Moorad was unable to muster the votes from other owners necessary to approve the deal.
At 52-67, the Padres are out of contention this year, and en route to their fourth losing season out of their last five. In fact, they’re in the midst of a rebuilding process under general manager Josh Byrnes, one prolonged by the drawn-out ownership change.
Moorad ousted longtime GM Kevin Towers at the end of the 2009 season as part of his reorganization effort, installing Jed Hoyer, a former protege of Theo Epstein in Boston. When Epstein left the Red Sox to become president of the Cubs this past winter, he was able to reunite with Hoyer. Byrnes, another Epstein protege who served as Diamondbacks GM from late 2005 through mid-2010 and then joined the Padres front office after being fired, was handed the reins upon Hoyer’s departure. The Padres began the year with a $55.6 million payroll that ranked 28th in the majors, ahead of only the A’s and Pirates; it’s the fourth year in a row the team has ranked among the majors’ bottom five.
How should the new owners proceed? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Trade Chase Headley this winter
Few hitters drew as much interest leading up to the July 31 trade deadline as Headley, with the Yankees, Dodgers and A’s among those who explored the possibility of trading for him. The 28-year-old third baseman’s numbers have been suppressed to a huge extent byplaying at Petco Park (career .236/.324/.347 at home, .298/.368/.455 on the road), but he’s in the midst of a breakout season (.272/.366/.458 with a career-high 19 home runs) nonetheless. Because he was a Super Two who reached arbitration eligibility early, Headley still has two remaining years of cost control before he can become a free agent. That puts him in something of a sweet spot as far as the package he could bring back via trade, since his interest should extend beyond teams in “win-now” mode.
The Padres have 23-year-old prospect Jedd Gyorko, a 2010 second-round pick, tearing up Triple-A Tucson at a .333/.381/.574 clip. “Gyorko can flat-out rake,” wrote Baseball Prospectus prospect expert Kevin Goldstein at the outset of the season, more recently adding “[I'm] not sure what the Padres are waiting for” in noting his Triple-A performance.
Gyorko has been switching between third base and second at Tucson, but at the major league level, rookies Logan Forsythe and Alexi Amarista have shown enough promise at the keystone not to be crowded out. Trading Headley would clear a spot for Gyorko while providing additional resources that can be used at positions with less depth.
2. Finish the television deal
Earlier this year, the Padres signed a 30-year, $1.2 billion television deal with Fox to create Fox Sports San Diego, a regional sports network in which the team has a 20 percent stake. According to Forbes, that’s the fifth-largest TV deal among teams, behind the Dodgers, Astros, Rangers and Angels, an outsized one for a team that plays in the fifth-smallest major league market. That deal is the main reason why the Fowler group’s purchase price of $800 million is over 50 percent higher than the $525 million price to which Moorad had agreed.
Alas, thus far Fox Sports San Diego has been unable to come to an agreement with Time Warner Cable and various satellite providers in order to carry the Padres locally; only Cox Cable and DirecTV viewers have been able to watch, leaving some 40 percent of San Diego County in the dark regarding the home team since the beginning of the season. Between that, and the trades that have taken big names such as Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez and Mat Latos out of town in recent years, local interest in the team is flagging; the Padres are second-to-last in the NL in attendance, down from 11th in each of the past two seasons. The team needs to step in and make sure that fans have access to their team in order to rebuild interest.
3. Don’t spend that television windfall all at once.
Thanks to their TV revenue, the Rangers’ current payroll of $127.3 million is more than double what it was two years ago, as they’ve been able to sign Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish to pricey long-term deals, extend Ian Kinsler and Derek Holland through their cost-controlled years, and add payroll at the trading deadline in order to chase that elusive championship. The Angels spent big this offseason, signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, while the Dodgers have been able to add payroll in-season, limiting them to surrendering just two of their top 10 prospects in order to obtain Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton to aid their bid for a playoff spot.
The Padres will be able to open their checkbooks in due time, but given their current state, now isn’t that time. Better to look down the road, knowing they’ll be able to lock up promising youngsters such as Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso if they choose to keep them, or to chase after the occasional big-money free agent who fits into their plans at the point when they’re more competitive.
4. Resist the temptation to move the Petco Park fences.
Since it opened in 2004, Petco has been the anti-Coors Field, a ballpark that reduces offense to an extreme extent. The park factors at Baseball-Reference.com show that Petco has reduced scoring by 8 to 12 percent, depending upon the year, with the Giants’ AT&T Park and the Mariners’ Safeco Field the only ones to challenge its suppressive supremacy. Understandably, hitters hate the park, with the likes of Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko and Ryan Ludwick griping about its dimensions over the years. This year, while batting .255/.319/.407 overall, major league hitters have hit .230/.303/.347 at Petco; last year, the numbers were .255/.321/.399 overall, and .228/.298/.345 at Petco. Just 65 homers have been hit at Petco this year, 0.57 per team per game, compared to 1.03 per game in the other 29 parks.
The Padres are considering moving the outfield fences closer for 2013 in order to make the park less extreme, though they say it will still play as a pitchers’ park. At least one study has shown that more extreme parks — either towards the hitting or pitching sides — tend to favor the home team more than less extreme parks, but for one reason or another, the Padres haven’t reaped as much of an advantage. From 2004-2011, their gap between home wins and road wins was the third-lowest in the majors, ahead of only the Marlins and Phillies. Oddly, the team has ranked ninth in the majors in road record (310-339, .478 winning percentage) but just 23rd in home record (335-313, .517), though their Pythagorean winning percentages would suggest the opposite (.489 at home, .502 on the road). As the Mets have shown this year at Citi Field, moving the fences in may increase offense, but it’s no guarantee the change will work to the team’s advantage.
5. Use the park’s dimensions to the team’s benefit
Building a successful bullpen is one of the toughest tasks in baseball, but it was an area that Towers excelled in as a GM. The forgiving dimensions of Petco made life easier for pitchers such as Mike Adams, Heath Bell, Edward Mujica and Cla Meredith who had struggled to establish themselves elsewhere, many of them because they were flyball-oriented hurlers who needed the extra depth of the outfield to do their work. That trend also applied to starters who were on their last legs, and it has continued under Towers’ successors, with the Pads able to get mileage out of pitchers such as Dustin Moseley, Aaron Harang and Jason Marquis whose performances elsewhere had deteriorated.
Not that the Padres won’t be able to afford better pitchers with their new deal, but the ability to reap value from scrapheap finds is an important element of roster construction — even the Yankees, who rode Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon heavily last year, have to do so once in awhile. So too is the ability to inflate the value of players and trade them to fill other areas; Hoyer used Mujica as a key piece to acquire centerfielder Cameron Maybin from the Marlins in November 2010, while trading Adams to the Rangers last July netted the Padres pitching prospect Joe Wieland, who came into the year ranked 74th on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 Prospects list.
With new owners and new TV money headed their way, the Padres’ future looks brighter than their present, perhaps even moreso given the strength of their farm system, which ranked first according to Baseball Prospectus coming into the year, and eighth according to Baseball America. They’re in fourth place now, but they may yet become one of the powerhouses of the NL West.