Yesterday, we discussed the signings of Aaron Harang and Orlando Hudson. Today, we turn our attention to Brad Hawpe and Jed Hoyer.
As of this writing, the signing of Brad Hawpe to “replace” Adrian Gonzalez at first base hasn’t been officially announced, but reports indicate that it will happen. No details have been released, but I’m tired of waiting and much of the following analysis applies to whomever ends up taking Gonzalez’s spot, so we’ll just plow ahead.
My general feeling about the Padres’ first base situation is this: The club chose (smartly, in my opinion) to spend its money up the middle on Jason Bartlett and Hudson. This left relatively little for first base. My preference would have been to sign Russell Branyan, mainly because I am a huge Branyan fan, but it probably doesn’t make much difference.
In any scenario, the Padres were looking at a one-year solution to buy time for youngsters Kyle Blanks (whose agent maintains lofty expectations for his client) and Anthony Rizzo (part of the Gonzalez trade). Any such solution wasn’t going to produce like Gonzalez, nor was he going to remain in San Diego beyond 2011.
With this understood, the only questions worth answering are these: Can he catch baseballs, can he hit a little, is he cheap?
Hawpe has played the outfield for most of his big-league career but was a first baseman at Louisiana State. That was a decade ago, and folks understandably are questioning his ability to return to the position he played in college. It’s worth noting here that in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2004, his ability to play the outfield was questioned.
Although Hawpe’s defense in the outfield wasn’t good, it never became a sticking point because of the answer to our second question. He can hit a little. The left-handed batter is coming off a down season but he doesn’t turn 32 until June and his three-year totals are solid:
Years PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR 2008-2010 1503 .275 .373 .488 117 0.4*
*The low WAR is due entirely to Hawpe’s poor defensive numbers in right field.
These offensive totals are similar to the career numbers of Mike Sweeney. Given that Hawpe is still in what should be his physical prime, a return to these levels (less the difference between Coors Field and Petco Park) seems reasonable. Hawpe’s three-year totals are not that far off from those of another first baseman the Padres were rumored to be interested in signing, Derrek Lee:
Player PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR oWAR* Hawpe 1503 .275 .373 .488 117 0.4 5.7 Lee 1939 .286 .367 .488 119 8.3 7.1
*This is WAR with defense excluded.
Bear in mind that Lee is three years older than Hawpe, is likely to command more money than Hawpe, and as a Type A free agent would cost the Padres their first-round pick in 2011. Is Lee the better player? Well, he has received more playing time, hit about the same, and played a good first base (while Hawpe was playing a lousy right field). So, probably yes.
Is Lee enough better than Hawpe to justify the additional money? How much value does Lee’s glove really add? These are tough questions to answer, but if you accept that the two players are in the same general ballpark in terms of what they should be expected to produce, the small-market move is to buy the generic equivalent. Lee is the brand name, Hawpe is the generic. Neither will make a huge impact on the 2010 Padres. Go for the cheap option, hang onto those draft picks, and hope that at least one of Blanks or Rizzo develops.
Hawpe isn’t part of the long-term plan, so don’t stress over it. Duct tape isn’t supposed to look pretty, it’s just supposed to hold stuff together until you come up with a more permanent fix. Hawpe as duct tape works for me.
I don’t know what Jed Hoyer is doing, but it looks like he’s serious about trying to improve the Padres for 2011. Impossible without Adrian Gonzalez? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Then I remembered the Seattle Mariners, who made a habit of improving while shedding superstars at the turn of the millenium:
Year W-L Left After Season 1999 79-83 Ken Griffey Jr. 2000 91-71 Alex Rodriguez 2001 116-46 -
Such anecdotal evidence does not guarantee a similar fate for the Padres — in fact, I’d guess the odds are long — but it does present a compelling counterexample to the argument (and my own knee-jerk reaction) that Gonzalez’s departure must weaken the team. If losing two Hall-of-Famers in their prime in consecutive off-seasons didn’t condemn an organization to years of mediocrity, it hardly seems fait accompli that losing one All-Star will do so.
Returning to Hoyer, when I say that I don’t know what he is doing, this should not be taken as a lack of confidence in him on my part. It appears that he knows what he is doing, which is good enough for me.
The thing about Hoyer is that he doesn’t telegraph his moves the way Kevin Towers did when he was GM. As an analyst, I loved Towers’ candor because it allowed me to figure out where he was headed next. As a fan, though, it drove me crazy when he would inform the world that, say, he intended to trade Jake Peavy. (I needn’t have worried, because as Towers demonstrated when he finally traded Peavy, he is one of those rare individuals who has no apparent use for leverage. Must be nice.)
Hoyer is tougher to read. We knew that the critical decision this winter would be what to do with Gonzalez and that whatever choice Hoyer made would have a domino effect on all subsequent moves. Beyond that, the possibilities were limitless… well, as limitless as they can be with that budget.
I never saw the Orlando Hudson signing coming. Hudson was a marquee free agent (ESPN ranked him 14th in this year’s class) at a thin position. The Padres don’t make plays for guys like that, but nobody told Hoyer.
On the heels of a 90-win season, fourth-best total in franchise history, Hoyer has been aggressive in shaping the 2011 Padres. He strengthened the club up the middle, replacing Tony Gwynn Jr., Miguel Tejada, and David Eckstein with Cameron Maybin, Bartlett, and Hudson, respectively. He made the decision to turn Gonzalez into prospects with pro experience now rather than wait for draft picks a year later.
Hoyer signed Harang and right-hander Dustin Moseley to club-friendly contracts. Harang could be a decent no. 4 starter or better if healthy. Moseley is nothing special, but someone has to soak up those low-leverage innings now that Edward Mujica is gone. There is value in having a guy on the staff who can work in a variety of roles and help save the best arms for meaningful situations.
Rob Johnson is the new backup catcher, replacing Yorvit Torrealba, who signed with Texas (and in so doing added to Hoyer’s collection of draft picks). And although Johnson hasn’t shown much at any level, he does serve the useful purpose of not being a veteran who will take playing time away from Nick Hundley.
The Padres have been conservative in their development of Hundley, perhaps justifiably so, but now it is time to see what he is capable of in a more expanded role. Johnson’s presence opens the door for Hundley to show whether he can hold down the position for a while or whether it might be time to explore other options.
In short, Hoyer was dealt a team that despite having minimal payroll and minimal expectations came within a game of reaching the playoffs in 2010. This winter, he faced numerous challenges in aligning this team to be competitive again in 2011 without sacrificing the future. We won’t know until the games are played, but so far, it looks like he has succeeded in doing what it is he set out to do… whatever that was.
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On another note, that’s a wrap for 2010. Thanks, as always, for your support. Have a safe and happy New Year, and I’ll see you on the flip side.