4H Club, Part 2

Yesterday, we discussed the signings of Aaron Harang and Orlando Hudson. Today, we turn our attention to Brad Hawpe and Jed Hoyer.

Brad Hawpe

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.

Jed Hoyer

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.

* * *

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.

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9 Responses »

  1. Interesting. I love my Padres, win or lose. Of note, all the free agents of the Padres (Gwynn, Tejada, Torrealba, Garland) were snapped up except the three that we really should keep (Eckstein, Hairston, and Young)… or should we?

    Young is a fierce competitor and surely rubs off on mediocre pitchers… say Harang/Moseley… Eckstein is a poster boy for bulldog and that is always a good thing on an underdog team. I don’t really have a problem with the new team but can’t help wondering/wishing the Pads would explore Troy Glaus.

    Also, where are Garry Templeton/Mark Belanger? Couldn’t one of these guys be hired to specifically train Cabrera?

    And why does it seem so magical for a guy to blossom into a monster? Why can’t they just build one. Take “so and so rookie slugger” and say you’re gonna be our guy and work with him every day til he is Ken Griffey Jr. I understand $$$ is always a problem but why have minor leagues/instructional leagues if they aren’t giving us the specific stuff we need?

    I say trade Bell — our minors have been great at getting us pitching (I blame/credit TOWERS), so replacing Bell shouldn’t be a headache — and get teachers. Walt Hriniak and Merv Rettenmund were two of the most respected and credited batting instructors in MLB at one time; where are they?

    Anyway, had to VENT. I needed to talk baseball; other sports just don’t do it. THANKS.

  2. Derrek Lee was not offered arbitration by the Atlanta Braves, so he wouldn’t be costing any team their pick. The situation kind of mirrors Greg Maddux’s after the ’02 season for the Braves. They got stuck* with him for 1 more year, which they weren’t looking to do, and by accepting arbitration he got a raise over his 13.1m salary he was coming off of. Lee earned 13.25m last year and wasn’t worth the risk of being stuck paying him anything close to that figure.

    * His most expensive season was also his worst

    Regarding Hoyer, I really like how he has positioned the team for next year and beyond. I’m in the boat that liked getting talent for Adrian now versus settling for less later. With all of the offensive changes (upgrades) at numerous spots in the lineup, I expect the team to score a similar amount of runs with this one having some upside after seeing how last year’s story played out.

    Bartlett vs. ’10 SS: + 1
    Hudson vs. Eckstein: + 2-3
    Ludwick vs. ’10 LF: + 2-3
    Maybin vs. Gwynn: + 2-3
    Hawpe vs. Gonzalez: – 4

    The downgrade from Gonzalez to Hawpe might prove to be bigger then the upgrade from any other player, but I think the sums points in the Padres favor. If the team gets some good breaks, it’s definitely not out of the question for the ’11 squad to outscore last year’s mediocre offense. The number of spots we got around a .650 ops from is mind boggling. Plenty of room for optimism.

    I’m liking the way Hoyer operates/thinks a lot better than the one before. I’m glad Moorad had the foresight to see the team in better hands under someone else’s guidance. I was a huge Towers fan, but now I feel like a boy all confused.

  3. @Mitch: I wouldn’t mind seeing CY back here, and I kind of liked the Glaus idea. Both of those guys come with significant injury risk, although this could also reduce their cost. And I’m hoping that Cabrera gets the instruction he needs at Triple-A. I haven’t given up on him yet.

    As for working with a kid until he becomes the next Griffey… Well, that is what every team is trying to do. Unfortunately, procuring and developing Hall of Fame talent isn’t easy.

    @Chase: Thanks for the info on Lee. I threw the bit about his being a Type A free agent in at the last minute and forgot to check whether he had been offered arbitration. I still think he is too expensive (Padres supposedly offered him $8M) and am okay with their missing on him.

    I haven’t run numbers, but considering the upgrades elsewhere, I’m beginning to wonder if the loss of Adrian is going to make as much of a difference as folks think it will. 2B and LF were complete offensive black holes last year, and CF wasn’t much better. The Padres have improved themselves at each of those positions.

    At the very least, this should be a fun team to watch.

  4. What impresses me the most about what Hoyer has done so far is that he kept to the long-range goals — building up the farm system, loading up on draft picks — and still managed to put together a team for 2011 that figures to be competitive. You never know what you’ve got until the games are played, but the fear that 2011 would be a lost year seems to have been premature.

    If you told me back in early November that our double play combination for 2011 would be two guys who were regulars for division winners last year, I would have questioned your sanity. How he managed to do that without giving up any major parts of the 2010 team is beyond me.

  5. I agree on Derrek Lee’s price. I was hoping they’d finish off their infield (post Bartlett trade) with him and Hudson. Hawpe looks like a better fit financially and I like the flexibility that he offers come mid-season if Blanks is ready to step into the lineup. They could deal the right-handed Ludwick and keep Hawpe’s lefty bat in the lineup in LF, or even deal him. If the team is competing like last year, Hawpe could split time between the two positions, giving us potentially more offense from 1B & LF than we got last year. Definitely a black hole that the team will eagerly try to fill in.

    I think the biggest thing I’m looking forward to next year (aside from Maybin taking over in CF and Hudson at 2B) is Stauffer/Harang/Luebke taking the spots that Correia, Garland, and LeBlanc held last year. None were terrible — they combined for a 4.58 FIP in 482 innings of work — but I think the trio next year can beat those marks with relative ease.

  6. @Mitch,
    FWIW, Templeton is the manager of the Chico Outlaws, according to Wikipedia.
    Sadly, Mark Belanger died of cancer in 1998 at age 54.

  7. Happy New Year!

    We’re another day closer to pitchers & catchers reporting … and Opening Day :-)

  8. I like all the moves Hoyer made, but I would have rather signed Adam LaRoche to play first, considering he’s basically better at everything than Hawpe. I know he would have cost more, but I think he could’ve been the difference between the 2011 being a contender, and what it is, which is probably around a .500 team. I REALLY like the moves to improve the middle infield and CF, but will anyone on this team clear the 20 home run plateau?

  9. @Adan

    Hawpe has a slightly better OPS+ and WRC+ for his career than LaRoche, with a bigger advantage in wOBA. Hawpe’s WAR has always been wrecked by being terrible in the outfield, but that’s not an issue for us. LaRoche is probably the better defender at 1b, neither of them run well, but offensively the edge goes to Hawpe.

    They’re very similar players except for 2010. Even then, the difference isn’t all that great. LaRoche was slightly more than a league-average hitter (106 OPS+) and Hawpe was slightly less, at least while in Colorado (96 OPS+). LaRoche’s 2010 wOBA advantage was only .009, in what was easily the worst year of Hawpe’s career. They’re almost the same age, too. It comes down to whether Hawpe is healthy. If he is, he should hit.