This is the second of a three-part interview (Part 1 is here) with San Diego Padres CEO Sandy Alderson. Big thanks to Mr. Alderson for taking time out of his busy schedule to make himself available, and also to his assistant, Dayle Tedrow, for her indispensable assistance in making this happen.
Ducksnorts: What exactly are the daily responsibilities of your current position, and is there an off-season for you?
Alderson: No, there’s really not an off-season. During the season we have a game virtually every day… so there are always things going on. My job during the season is to oversee day-to-day activity and be responsive to people who need some direction, and provide a public face for the team and be able to deal with whatever positives or negatives [laughs] eventuate from time to time… I view the regular season sort of as a maintenance period… you build the house in the off-season, you maintain it during the season.
In the off-season we do budgets, we do all of our player analysis, and we try to put things together both on the field and on the financial side, the business side — marketing, that sort of thing. [There are] a lot of meetings in the off-season, but there are meetings during the year, so it’s pretty much a year-round responsibility. People used to think that it was a nine-month [job]… and I realized it was a 12-month proposition when some of the beat writers started taking their vacations during the season because there was so much going on in the off-season and they didn’t want to miss anything.
Ducksnorts: Baseball is obviously your professional life. How hard is it at the end of the workday — assuming that is the end of the workday and you’re not working into the night — for you to just sit back and relax, and watch a game?
Alderson: [laughs] I don’t sit back and relax, and watch a game. That’s one of the things that I began to miss in New York but hadn’t missed for the first couple years I was there because of the tension, the anxiety, the dealing with the game on a day-to-day basis, where the outcome is so determinative of lots of things that you just can’t sit there and enjoy a game. If you’ve got a 15-game winning streak and there’s a possibility you’re going to lose that night, yeah, it’s a little less tense, a little less angst-ridden, but people who know me, who watch games with me, they know — and it’s true with anybody involved… we’re all sort of in the same boat.
Ducksnorts: I kind of guessed as much. I’ve been immersed in baseball full time for about 18 months now, and it’s staggering the difference between being a casual fan and having it be your life and really never letting go…
In the past you were pretty critical of some of the free-agent signings that have been going on — Kevin Brown, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Hampton. What have you seen in the way that markets have evolved since then — if they have — and do you think there will be any kinds of shifts in the near future?
Alderson: I think those signings, of which I was critical at the time, proved to be disastrous for the teams involved. There are very few — even at the high end, top markets — of these contracts that have actually turned out well. Some have, but you could probably list very few as having been successful. As a result, what could have become more than just a trend, but commonplace, has not.
Barry Zito is another example, a recent example. There are very few teams that can succeed on that basis. The Texas Rangers are still paying Alex Rodriguez; it’s unbelievable. I don’t know that the San Diego market is different than most markets in the sense that you’ve got to be careful about who you sign long term and make sure that you have alternatives. Jake Peavy was maybe an exception for us because of his youth and his track record.
We want to be active in free agency, we want to keep our own players primarily, but our activity in free agency has to be measured, it has to be circumspect. I said the other day on the radio, when we do target players, we need to get them. This year we missed on Milton Bradley, we missed on [Kosuke] Fukudome — and I think for legitimate reasons. I don’t think, in Fukudome’s case, he wanted to play center field.
In Bradley’s case, he had the knee and I think DHing and playing the outfield was a nice combination that was attractive. Plus he had a close friend in the manager there [Ron Washington, who coached for the A's while Bradley played in Oakland]. I don’t fault us for not getting those players, but when we target players, we have to get them. We did get Randy Wolf, and he’s turned out very well — Greg Maddux a couple of years ago. We need to be active in that market, but we have to be careful and make sure that we’re right in the players that we target.
Ducksnorts: It seems tricky with two or three teams skewing the market consistently.
Alderson: Well, that’s why we have to take advantage of the things that are unique to us. Randy Wolf’s a good example, Greg Maddux. They wanted to pitch in San Diego — they liked the ballpark, they liked the city, the geography. Our draft this year is kind of a reflection of what we’ve experienced and the strengths we have, the appeal that we have in certain respects and the lack of appeal we have in others. It shouldn’t be surprising that we went after a lot of position players. We have trouble attracting position players to San Diego because of the ballpark, in part. But we have more success in attracting pitchers. That’s not the only reason that we drafted a lot of position players, but it was a consideration.
Ducksnorts: That makes sense… One thing that [I imagine] would be difficult in your position is how do you balance the need to exercise fiscal responsibility with the simultaneous need to appease fans that aren’t really interested in the bottom line? If you explain to them what you’re doing, they don’t really care, because they just want to know how it affects the on-field product, or the price of beer, or whatever. Their concerns are different from your concerns. What are some of the challenges in marrying those two?
Alderson: What we really have to do is create confidence in the organization. People have to have confidence in what we’re doing — if we don’t sign a free agent, they give us the benefit of the doubt; if we do sign a free agent, they give us the benefit of the doubt. Until the last couple of months, I think we were on the road toward instilling that kind of confidence.
There are always going to be people who are critical of John Moores regardless of what happens. There are always people who will be critical of the Padres unless we win the World Series. There are people of that sort, and I understand that. On the other hand, nothing we can do is going to guarantee a World Series championship; what we have to do is make sure that we are as successful as we possibly can be from year to year. What we’re trying to avoid is major fluctuations; at the same time, we want to win.
In ’06 we were favored over the Cardinals going into that playoff. [laughs] The Cardinals ended up winning the World Series. Some people think that we’re interested in just doing enough. Anybody who is in this as a full-time proposition, anybody who lives and dies with every game, that’s not what we’re in it for…
There are realities that we have to face and there are constraints that are imposed by Major League Baseball in terms of debt-service rule and a host of things of that sort, but on the other hand, by the reality of our revenues. What I hope is that in the next two or three years those revenues can go up pretty substantially. At the same time, we can’t just raise ticket prices and concession prices without regard to what’s going on around us in the economy and so forth.
I’ve always felt in all my time, certainly in Oakland — the reason baseball survived in Oakland was because of good management. That’s a little self-serving, but if you go all the way back to Charlie Finley and bring it all the way through to the management team that they have now, the only reason there is still baseball in Oakland is because of good managment, so I’m firmly convinced — and you can look from the time the team moved there under Charlie Finley until now, with the kind of success that they’ve had without the resources that are available to the Bostons and the New Yorks — there’s no reason why we can’t do the same or better with what we have.
It’s not just about money, it’s how you spend it. Sure, we’d like to have more to spend, but it’s how you spend it. In our division, there’s maybe one team that can really outspend us — maybe two; otherwise we have to do as well in managing our player development and our team as the other teams in our division that don’t have any other advantages over us — the Arizonas, the Colorados. We have to do as well as they [do] in player development areas, without regard to who’s got what for major free agents… We’re getting there.
Ducksnorts: Certainly the Padres have come a long way in terms of the farm system over the past couple of years.
Alderson: If we can do more in Latin America, then we’re off and running.
Ducksnorts: Do you have any idea of what the timetable is [for seeing results from the Padres' new Dominican Academy]? I know it’s such a huge undertaking and it’s just getting started, and there’s so much more to it than just the baseball aspect — the whole embedding it in the culture down in the Dominican Republic — but do you have any expectations for when you would start to see some benefits from that?
Alderson: The signing date for Latin players is July 2. If we can sign some players this year that we think are a cut above what we’ve been able to sign in previous years, that will be the first illustration, the first manifestation of the academy and its importance.
The kids that we brought through there — basically recruiting — were in awe of the facility. Anybody who goes there is [laughs] in comparison to what else exists there… not just by comparison — you could go down there and spend a week and be happy as long as there was a satellite TV with the Extra Innings package. We’ll see, this summer, the first fruits of that, I believe. Now, how long till they get to the big leagues? You’re talking about a 17-year-old kid. It could be four years, five years…
That’s one of the issues with Chase Headley, with our farm system in general. We keep saying the farm system is improved, and Baseball America and people agree — it’s a vast improvement over the last couple years — but people want to see players [pounds fist on desk], they want to see guys come out of the system: “Don’t tell me about what’s coming, I want to see Chase Headley.” And I understand that. It can’t just be this conceptual improvement. It can’t be something that’s invisible. We’ve got to have some tangible results, and we’re about to see some of that.
Interestingly, we continue to get — if you just look at the last two or three weeks, and who knows how long this will last; [it's] like watching the tide go in and go out — you’ve got to stand there for a couple hours to know whether it’s coming in or going out — but we continue to get pretty good results. The bullpen has kind of been remade in the last three weeks, again, not necessarily with guys out of our farm system.
Every club has its strengths, and once we get our farm system providing players, we are going to be something to be reckoned with. The other thing to keep in mind is that there’s always an opportunity cost… Look at the Chase Headley situation right now: [Scott] Hairston, [Paul] McAnulty, and [Jody] Gerut are all making big contributions right now. If we bring a guy in like Headley and say he’s going to play every day, now we’re taking at-bats away from those three.
Last year we gave [Kevin] Kouzmanoff a whole year to prove that he could [succeed]. If we brought up a guy like Headley right now, is that best for the short-term? Is it best for the long-term? If Hairston turns out to be a .275 hitter with a .350 on-base percentage — the way the ball jumps off his bat… If Gerut turns out to be a .375 on-base guy playing center field… If McAnulty can come off the bench and get a base hit here and there…
There are always opportunity costs and so at this point, with Headley, probably the lowest opportunity cost is leaving him right where he is. Let’s see what happens — now that we’ve kind of turned things around, at least for the moment — let’s see where that takes us. [Ed note: Headley will be recalled today, reminding us again that conditions constantly change.] But people, I think — it’s not just Headley, it’s “when is the farm system going to really show us something? I don’t want to hear about it, I want to see it” — and that’s fair.
In Part 3 of our discussion, Mr. Alderson talks about Paul DePodesta’s blog, the Padres’ draft strategy, reassessing the current season against spring training expectations, and what baseball has meant to him over the years.