Spring Postcard: Gonzalez-centric Padres still rebuilding on the fly
When asked the obligatory question about the possibility the Padres could soon trade All-Star first baseman
In Gonzalez, the Padres have a legitimate slugger coveted by any team looking for an offensive upgrade -- which is to say, almost every team in the majors. His salary demands are likely to be too steep to keep him in San Diego much longer, but no matter how inevitable his departure may be, it has already begun ruffling feathers here. Gonzalez grew tired of being asked about it when camp was barely two weeks old. By the time the trade deadline rolls around, there's no telling how the relentless inquiries may affect his performance, or the team's. If it's anything like last July, when his name first began being tossed about in trade rumors, it may not be pretty. Gonzalez batted just .198/.328/.385 that month, by far his worst performance of any month last year, while the Padres had their worst month of the season, going 8-20.
That rough stretch didn't last. In fact, over the final two months of the season, they actually played some of the best ball in the majors, going 37-25 over their final 62 games, second-best in the NL to the Rockies. They played the role of spoiler, too, winning all five September series against division foes Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado as those clubs jockeyed for playoff position. "We feel we can play with anybody," says Black. "And," he notes proudly, "We pretty much have all the same people back." Indeed, the Padres entered camp with very little competition for open jobs.
The most-watched newcomer in Padres camp never took a swing in a cage and never had to take part in PFP, despite the fact that he's old enough to still be doing either of those things. Yes,
Garland, 30, is a workhorse and an innings-eater who has made at least 32 starts in each of his nine full seasons. It's little wonder then, that he was an ideal choice for a small-market team with an uncertain ownership situation to target in the offseason, particularly with a gaping hole at the front of the rotation. Garland, already the Padres' Opening Day starter, had his sights set on San Diego as much as they had their sights on him. "The stadium attracted me the most" he said of spacious PETCO Park. "That's a pitcher's park and I pitch to contact. For the way I pitch I don't feel like I have to make any changes in that park, and it plays even bigger at night with the heavy air. It takes weight off your shoulders because you know you don't have to be so perfect with your pitch." Garland hasn't had great success there before, but it's a small sample size: 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA in four career starts for a pitcher who has a respectable .534 career winning percentage and 4.42 ERA. For now, he holds no illusions about trying to replace
Of all the many reasons Padres fans want Gonzalez to stay, the biggest one may be the most obvious: He's San Diego's only consistent offensive threat. Even with him smashing 40 home runs and driving in 99 runs, the Padres still managed fewer than four runs per game, and ranked last in the majors in that category for the second straight season. The next highest home run total by a returning player? Twelve, by Headley and
"There's no doubt when teams look at us they look right at him," says Black. "We have to have guys get on base in front of him and we have to have guys who can hit behind him. Everybody here has to lessen the load."
Among the four players brought over from the White Sox in the Peavy deal, perhaps none is more intriguing than Poreda, a 23-year-old lefty who was