Many teams did an excellent job of improving their October chances on the last day of July. But, one team stands out from the rest of the pack as much for what the team did not do as for what it actually accomplished. The San Diego Padres, thought to be cellar dwellers coming into the season, are traditionally sellers at the trade deadline. More to the point, the team sells or it does nothing.
But 2010 is clearly a different season for the Padres. Thought to be considering major changes at the season’s outset, like the potential trade of the team’s only offensive All-Star, Adrian Gonzalez, the team decided it was time to commit to a newfound strategy – adding pieces of a championship puzzle for a run in October.
The hallmark of a good team – and good management in both sports and business – is the ability to refuse denial. When a team is already leading its division, as the Padres are currently doing by a game and a half (at this writing), the inclination is to stand pat. The team is leading, so let’s not upset the apple cart. But the Padres refused to maintain a division leading status quo. Perhaps the hard-charging San Francisco Giants had something to do with that. The Giants have won 18 of the last 23 games, and a once comfortable gap for the Padres has slowly been shrinking.
The Padres needed to add power and experience to a still young(ish) roster. The team clearly did not need pitching, with one of MLB’s best pitching staffs and its best relievers. But, offense is always a struggle in San Diego, so the team added some pieces that will be a big help.
The first helpful piece is veteran infielder Miguel Tejada. Sure, Tejada has a murky and potentially sordid history with performance-enhancing drugs. But those transgressions appear to be behind the slugger. He is certainly not the offensive threat he once was, but he did hit .313 last season in Houston. His .269 average at third base for Baltimore was not that impressive, but getting out of the A.L. East will likely be a boost to the hitter’s bat. He is a smart, savvy player who will be able to make effective use of the gaps in San Diego. All the team had to give up was a reliever prospect named Wynn Pelzer. It is clear the team has relief prospects to spare.
What makes the Padres the winners of the trade deadline is not just the quality of the talent added, it is the ability to add talent with a minimal price tag by taking advantage of other contending teams’ desperation. The St. Louis Cardinals were in desperate need of an upgrade to the starting pitching staff. The team targeted, and got, Cleveland Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook. But, the Cards would never have been able to secure Westbrook’s services if not for the inclusion of Padres’ farmhand Corey Kluber in the deal. With all of those factors in play, the Padres managed to get a premium outfield talent to add a big right-handed bat to the lineup in Ryan Ludwick.
Ludwick is not an afterthought talent. Once believed to a top prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, he has blossomed after getting released by the Tribe and signed by the Cardinals. In fact, Ludwick’s plate production has been consistent, routinely hitting .266 or higher, including a .299 batting average in 2008. His 2010 batting average thus far is nothing to scoff at either, with another steady .281. Ludwick can hit home runs – he hit 37 of them, driving in 113 runs a couple of seasons ago – but he probably will not hit quite as many in the expansive layout of Petco Park. The good news is that he is also a great doubles hitter, already with 20 this season, and he has a pair of triples. Ludwick can cover a lot of ground in the field, and is fast enough on the base paths. The combination of right handed power and speed will be a big help to the Padres’ lineup.
It has long been a prevailing thought in baseball ownership that if the team wins, fans will attend. The ratio of wins to filled seats still is not in the team’s favor in San Diego, but it is probably too soon to judge. The good news is that the team took aggressive steps to get better at the deadline, proving to fans that this season is worth spending some money on. It is likely that fans will respond by paying for tickets, and the team will continue to win in a division thought to be lost to the Dodgers or Rockies way back in April. It is amazing what a few months – and a couple of shrewd trades – can do for the prospects of a team and its fans.