Monday, April 6, 2009

The Bleakest of Seasons?

Recently Chris Ello wrote that he could not remember a year in which less was expected of the hometown nine, our San Diego Padres.  Between the payroll slash, the departure of Trevor Hoffman, trade of Khalil Greene, and the assemblage of rag arms cobbled together from the waiver wire, there's a lot to get unexcited about with the 2009 Pads.  But is it really the bleakest of years?  I wanted to go back to the year I remembered as one in which, on Opening Day, I knew the team had NO CHANCE of winning.  The final year at Qualcomm Stadium, 2003.  Let's compare, shall we?

Look back at the 2003 Padres roster, by following this link through to Baseball Reference.  The first thing you may notice is the pure quantity of names on the roster.  The Padres used 27 different pitchers that season, with the back end of their pitching staff in a near-constant state of flux.  Sound familiar?  With Trevor Hoffman sidelined by surgery, Brandon Villafuerte and Jaret Wright got the first cracks at the closer job, and both failed miserably.  The bottom two slots in the rotation amounted to an open tryout, with Kevin Jarvis spending most of the year on the DL, and castoffs like Brian Tollberg, Mike Bynum, Clay Condrey and Roger Deago alternately trying and failing to stick in the big leagues.  

On offense, for the 2nd straight year, Phil Nevin got injured in spring training, this time falling while trying to learn the outfield (man, that's funny thinking back, how the Pads actually were going to put Nev in the outfield and try to get away with it).  Nevin had been moved to make way for uber-prospect Sean Burroughs at third base.  Burroughs and Xavier Nady were the exciting young hitters in the lineup, and veterans Rondell White and Mark Loretta were there for support.  Ryan Klesko was the star batter for San Diego.  

Now, let's look at 2009 for the Padres.  There are a number of similarities, certainly on the pitching staff.  While the 2009 team has two established starters in Peavy and Young, the 2003 team had more young, exciting arms in Peavy, Oliver Perez, and Adam Eaton.  They were going to take their lumps in 2003 but offered promise for the future.  There is little promise for the 2009 group, however, because we know Peavy is as likely to be traded as anything else this year.  Beyond Chris Young, you can take Shawn Hill, Kevin Correia and Walter Silva and put them in the same bag as Carlton Loewer, Kevin Jarvis and Clay Condrey.  Shake 'em up, pour 'em out, none of them are going to deliver positive results on the mound.  

Offensively the '09 Padres have a rock to lean on in Adrian Gonzalez, who is better than any Padre hitter in 2003.  Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff still have the possibility of improving to the point where they become solid performers, so you can put them in the Burroughs/Nady mold.  I would rate the '09 prospects ahead of the '03 guys on offense, just because we know in retrospect that Burroughs was a bust.  Then, you're into a group of marginal talent.  Jody Gerut in '09 vs. Mark Kotsay in '03.  David Eckstein vs. Mark Loretta.  Gary Bennett vs. Henry Blanco.  Not much to choose from or to distinguish one group from the other.  

And here's one more similarity between the two years: in 2003, the Padres were working toward something, namely the closing of Qualcomm and the opening of Petco Park.  There was the promise that something better was on the horizon, and that fans would just have to suffer through a lousy year in the meantime.  In 2009, it's a little more hazy of a target, but the Padres are working toward a time when Jeff Moorad takes full control as owner, and the team can start to rebuild its place in the NL West.  In the interim, it's 5-for-$5 food deals and value pricing, in the middle of an economy that's WAY worse off now than it was 6 years ago.  

In 2003, the Padres made it to June as the WORST team in baseball.  They quite famously lost two out of three to the Tigers in early June to fall to 18-43, the worst record in baseball.  Remember, that was the year the Tigers finished 43-119, one loss away from the all-time MLB record.  Then, Rod Beck came out from a trailer outside the Cubs' AAA Iowa ballpark and resurrected his career for the final time, sweating his way to a 20-for-20 saves performance down the stretch.  "Shooter" helped rescue the Pads from 100 losses, as they finished 64-98.  

What will 2009 offer?  Just about the same, I'd expect.  There won't be any Rod Beck sightings, and there is no new ballpark to get excited about.  The Padres' offense will depend on the development of Headley and Kouzmanoff, but their pitching staff is a lost cause beyond the few holdovers from better times.  So to answer Chris's open question, I'll say that while this may not be the least anticipated year in Padres' history, it's on the list.  

619 Sports will be at Petco Park today for Opening Day coverage, so look for my reports from the ballpark later today.  


  1. I think the offense might actually be fun to watch this year (assuming they are injury free). Giles and Eckstein will be great table setters for AGon and he should be provided with some protection from an improving Kouz, Head, and Hund...A healthy Gerut should produce.

    The pitching is what will do this team in. Games will rarely even get to Heath Bell with an unproven bullpen receiving the baton from a shaky middle relief corp.


    Development of younger players like Head and Hund and hopefully the advancement of some more of the younger players. The #3 pick in the draft (maybe we won't blow it). If Jake gets traded it won't be a dump but more likely a robbery of a team who thinks he's the missing piece.

    If you're a baseball fan you have to roll with it. This is the year that you get to prove your devotion to the Padres.

    We're not New York. And I'm glad about that because I'd be more pissed if the Padres were spending $200 million a year and couldn't find their di#ks in the dark. I also wouldn't be too happy about showing up at the new Yankee yard and being asked to pay $9 for a tall boy of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yes, PBR! At least if we shell out $9 we can get a nice cold Stone Ale....a local brew.

    I'll be at Tivoli's in 48 minutes to begin preparation for, amazingly, my first opening day ever.

    Maybe we'll run in to each other.

    Beat LA! Beat LA! Beat LA!

  2. "The pitching is what will do this team in. Games will rarely even get to Heath Bell with an unproven bullpen receiving the baton from a shaky middle relief corp."

    ...that should have read,"from a shaky #s 3,4,5 in the rotation."

    Beat LA, Beat LA, Beat LA

  3. I retract all previous optimism based on yesterday's Opening Day.