Today’s letter comes from Brian C., who writes:
Just read that the Dodgers signed Tony Gwynn Jr. to a contract and it made me barf a bit in my mouth. Your reaction?
Well, that could be a medical condition. You might want to see a doctor.
Oh, the signing… my bad. Of course, why would you be asking me about the barf in your mouth? It’s obvious now; I feel so foolish.
As it happens, I do have some thoughts on Gwynn…
- You may recall that I hated the trade that sent Jody Gerut to Milwaukee for that son-of-a-hitter:
My fear is that Kevin Towers either has lost his touch or is acting on orders he’d rather not follow. It’s almost as though the ghost of Johnnie Cochrane is working through him: “If you cannot win, you must acquire a Gwynn.”
As often was the case when I questioned a Towers trade (see Mark Phillips or Dave Roberts), he was right and I was wrong. Turns out Gerut’s brilliant 2008 campaign was a fluke and Gwynn’s presence did appease a certain segment of the fan base that longed for a connection to better days. I have no head for marketing and completely underestimated the impact that Gwynn would have on those fans. Bringing him here was a savvy business move. And although it is true that such fans will mourn the loss of that connection, it is also true that a statue of Gwynn’s father remains. We are free to enjoy the statue whenever we like. It is beautiful and it doesn’t ground out to second base four times a night.
- The trouble with Gwynn the Younger is that, except in rare circumstances (say, against a future Hall-of-Fame closer with a postseason berth on the line), he cannot hit big-league pitching. His track record in the minors suggests as much, so such offensive futility should come as no surprise to anyone not blinded by the name on the back of his jersey. It sucks, and it’s a cruel bit of irony that Gwynn can’t hit… but at least he’ll have more of a career than Bobby Bonds Jr. or Pete Rose Jr. ever did. Genes only get a guy so far in life.
- Speaking of genes, the one thing I will say on Gwynn’s behalf — and I cannot stress this enough — is that he has worked hard to improve his game. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When I saw him at SDSU, the notion that he might ever achieve any measure of big-league success seemed laughable. But while with the Padres, Gwynn turned himself into a legitimate fourth or fifth outfielder. He learned how to use his speed on the bases, he got better reads in the outfield, and he no longer struggles to reach the infield on the fly with his throws (Mark Simon reminds me that Gwynn made a great throw against the Phillies in 2010, which I distinctly remember because it shocked the bejeezus out of me). Given the right role, Gwynn has a place in the big leagues.
- The right role is not starting center fielder for the Padres. With the acquisition of Cameron Maybin (and now Reymond Fuentes), as well as the presence of Donavan Tate (to say nothing of Luis Durango, Cedric Hunter, and Blake Tekotte), the team finds itself with multiple short- and long-term options at the position. These guys might not pan out (most probably won’t), but all — with the possible exceptions of Durango and Hunter — have higher upside than Gwynn. Maybin already is Gwynn’s equal as a big-league hitter, and Maybin’s youth and minor-league track record suggest that he is capable of better than what he has shown thus far.
- Gwynn wasn’t a great fit for a reserve role on the Padres either. Maybin, a reportedly good glove man, reduced the team’s need for the one skill that Gwynn provided. With defense less of a priority, the Padres can employ better offensive players, such as Mike Baxter, Aaron Cunningham, and Chris Denorfia, as backup outfielders.
- There is talk that the Dodgers could start Gwynn in left field. I hope they do. This would minimize his defensive utility while allowing him to make a boatload of outs and suffocate their lineup. Might I suggest batting him first or second?
Bottom line: I enjoyed watching Gwynn play more than I thought I would. He showed that he belongs in the big leagues in some capacity, which I did not expect. It’s great for him and San Diego that he got to play here. But with his inability to do anything on offense other than foul off pitches and draw the occasional walk, and with more promising long-term options available, Gwynn had become unnecessary. I’m happy that he gets to continue his career, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that he’ll do it with the Dodgers because I don’t think he’ll help them much — especially if they stick him in left field most nights.
Thanks, Brian, for the question. I do love questions…