Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Five Padre Stories of 2009

As we get ready to roll the calendar over, let's take a look back at the biggest Padre stories of 2009. I've ranked them from smallest to biggest:

5. Jake Peavy traded.
I realize this saga started in 2008, but it actually happened in 2009. The Padres had made no secret of their desire to trade Jake away, repeatedly saying they couldn't meet the contract terms they had agreed to in Dec 2007 (as a refresher, that extension meant Peavy would make $15M in 2010, $16M in 2011, $17M in 2012, and an option for $22M in 2013 (with a $4M club buyout)).

Jake was supposedly traded to the Braves in Nov 08, but that deal fell through when the two clubs couldn't agree on the players going back to San Diego.

How the trade played out makes it a top 5 story this year. Although widely reported as traded to the White Sox in May, Jake invoked his no-trade clause and rejected the trade. Something about wanting to pitch in the NL and liking San Diego. I remember thinking 'That's AWESOME!' at the time. Why would a player negotiate a no-trade clause and not use it if he's happy where he was?

Alas, the reprieve was short-lived. Jake was eventually traded at the deadline, for ostensibly the same players the Padres would have gotten had the May deal gone through. Back in May, this story had the money quote which explains why Peavy ultimately went to Chicago:

Linebrink talked to Peavy Wednesday and revealed Thursday morning that he thought the likelihood of the deal being completed was "50-50" but added, "[Peavy's] running out of spots to go to."

Linebrink said Peavy was very pointed in his questions but realized the White Sox might be the best chance for him to leave San Diego, which is rebuilding.

Whether this was a good trade for San Diego won't be known for a couple of years. Of the four players obtained - Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell, and Dexter Carter - Richard spent the rest of the year in San Diego, Russell was activated 24 August, Poreda was a September call-up, and Carter is still in the minors. Richard looked promising in the rotation, and Poreda received hype as a "can't miss prospect" a la Rick Porcello in Detroit.

4. Anthony Gwynn Jr acquired.
Perhaps more of a big deal because of his name, but the trade bringing Tony Gwynn Jr to San Diego sent ripples through the community. He was in AAA when acquired, and the Padres immediately brought him up to the big club where he spent the rest of the season.

Tony fought the allegations he was brought in merely as a publicity stunt by putting up a .348/.439/.467 slash line in his first 27 games with the club. However, following the 22 June off-day he cooled significantly (.248/.322/.306). His lousy SLG is more amazing considering he hit both his home runs during that 92 game stretch.

Tony Gwynn Jr probably doesn't hit enough to remain the long-term answer in CF. Plus, the club reportedly continues to look for a right-handed hitting outfielder to play center. But for a day, and perhaps almost a month, we remembered how good a ballplayer his old man was, and smiled whenever his name reverberated through the stadium.

3. Everth Cabrera stolen.
When Kevin Towers selected Cabrera during the 2008 Rule V draft, no one really noticed. Cabrera played with the Colorado Rockies Class A affiliate (Asheville) in 2008, and was not on their 40 man roster. Who would protect a Class A player anyway, when Rule V draftees must spend the year on the ML roster or be returned to their former organization? The Padres thought they saw something at a position they had no real organizational depth. Remember, they signed David Eckstein to play short before the '09 season.

Cabrera was set back almost 2 months with a broken left hand, but upon his return he immediately had an impact. His showed off a cannon for an arm, and gave the Padre lineup something in short supply around here - speed. His 25 for 32 in steals isn't great, but the 25 thefts represented almost a third of the teams' 82 steals last season. He looks like the lead-off hitter of the future for this club (his .342 OBP isn't great, but it isn't awful). Not bad for a Rule V guy who'd never played above A-ball.

2. Dick Enberg hired.
Hey, whenever you hire a 75 year-old legend of a broadcaster, that's big news in my book.

It is, however, a curious hiring. For one, Enberg hasn't been the primary play-by-play guy for a baseball team since 1978. For another, he hasn't called baseball at all since 1985. Next, he hasn't even been associated with a baseball broadcast/production since 1989 (the last year he was the NBC studio host for the Game of the Week).

So why hire him? Is it a publicity stunt? Or does it signal a major re-shuffling of the broadcast talent covering the Padres? Fans remain confused, and somewhat angry, especially at the conspiracy-theory thoughts regarding this hiring and the amount of air time the Baseball HOF broadcaster San Diego already employs will get in 2010.

Dick Enberg is a professional. I'm quite sure he's doing all the necessary research now to not sound like an idiot on the air. It will be nice to hear someone with a clue on the TV feed (that's not a shot at Mark Neely, but at his predecessor).

I'll hold out hope that, at some point next season, Dick and Jerry Coleman will call a few innings together. That would be fun.

1. Kevin Towers fired.
Twenty years in the organization. Fourteen years as the General Manager. Four Division Titles (1996, 1998, 2005, 2006). Just missed the playoffs as the Wild Card in 2004 and 2007. One NL Pennant (1998). By any measure, the most successful General Manager in franchise history.

Following a disastrous 2008, and a .400 start to 2009, he remolded the roster to make the Padres competitive down the stretch. Hey 39-35 isn't a bad finish when you start 36-52. There is some measured excitement going into 2010 based on how the 2009 team finished, and who's on the current roster. However, despite John Moores still being the Chairman of the club, and all Kevin Towers' past efforts, it wasn't enough to save his job with the new leadership. Towers was 'let go' the last weekend of the season.

New leadership bringing in new personnel surprises no one. The fact that no indications/rumors existed on this firing until like 24 hours before it was announced made it a surprise, and why it is the top Padre story in 2009.

Jed Hoyer has just begun writing his name in the Padre history book. He has some large shoes to fill.

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