Friday, April 9, 2010

Will the Padres Keep Adrian Gonzalez? 2011 Free Agency and the Padres' Payroll

It's become a fait acompli among some baseball minds that the Padres will deal Adrian Gonzalez as a part of their efforts to rebuild for the future.  Gonzalez is an All Star first baseman in the prime of his career and will make a very reasonable $11M total in 2010 and 2011.  He's widely expected to score a mammoth contract if he hits free agency, with Mark Teixeira's 8 year, $180M deal being used most frequently as a comparison.  While it's obvious that the Red Sox or White Sox would be obvious suitors if the Padres decided to deal him, I'm wondering if it's actually possible that the Padres keep Gonzalez, and still continue their rebuilding process. 

The answer to this question obviously centers on the San Diego Padres payroll, which has fallen considerably from its $73M high-water mark in 2008 when they employed players like Randy Wolf, Greg Maddux and Trevor Hoffman.  Their Opening Day payroll in 2010 is a scant $31.6M and it's scheduled to go lower.  In fact, and this is really quite stunning, the Padres only technically have $1.1M committed to their payroll in 2011.  This $1.1M won't even guarantee them any players, as it comprises the buyout cost for declining the options on Yorvit Torrealba and Jon Garland.  Now, that number is artificially low.  The Padres have a bevy of players that are pre-arbitration eligible and only have 1 year of service time in 2010.  They will get very modest raises, provided the Padres don't lock them up.  Additionally, three of their players (Gallagher, Mujica and Gwynn) will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this year. Mike Adams is due for this second year of arbitration eligibility, and Scott Hairston and Heath Bell will all be due for significant raises in their third year of eligibility.  Finally, if they don't deal Adrian Gonzalez before the end of this year, they will certainly exercise his 2011 option.

By my estimation, their payroll could come in under $25M before they make any free agent signings.  In August 2009 CEO Jeff Moorad stated that dealing Jake Peavy would allow them to build the payroll past $43M (their 2008 number) in the future. 
"Next season will now have to be re-evaluated given the Peavy deal," Moorad said. "I'm ultimately comfortable with a payroll in the $70-80 million [range], but it's likely that it will take us a couple years to get back to that level.
If 2010 marks the low point for the Padres payroll, and there is no reason why it shouldn't, then we might expect the Padres to become bigger players in the 2010-2011 free agency market than they have been in the past few years.  Looking at their depth chart, we see the following for 2011: 

C - Nick Hundley and replacement for Torrealba: $1.5M
1B - Adrian Gonzalez: $5.5M
2B - free agent 
SS - Everth Cabrera: $0.4M
3B - Chase Headley: $0.4M
LF - Kyle Blanks: $0.4M
CF - Tony Gwynn: $1.0M
RF - Will Venable: $0.4M 
SP 1- Clayton Richard: $0.4M
SP 2 - Mat Latos: $0.4M
Closer and BP: Heath Bell ($6M), Mike Adams ($3M), Luke Gregerson

The Padres have a mutual option with Torrealba for 2011 for $3.5M with a $0.5M buyout.  I would put the chances of him returning at that price at 5-10% at best. They can get a similar replacement for around $1M.  I'm also going to wager that the Padres deal Heath Bell at the deadline this year, freeing them of his 2011 salary and giving their other capable arms a chance at the closer spot.  As Baseball Prospectus noted, there are worthy in-house replacements. Accordingly, the Padres will need to target starting pitching, second base and possibly center field, should they decide that Gwynn's mediocre production is no longer worth his rising cost. This leaves them with a commitment of around $15M for the main roster spots.  As we noted above, we need to budget around $10M for the other spots on the roster and arbitration raises. Remember this. 

The pitching market will be ripe with bargains for the Padres.  Javier Vazquez and PETCO Park were made for each other.  He's a pitcher that induces tons of fly balls when he's not striking batters out.  However, Vazquez has made his desire to be on the East Coast very well known, and so I don't expect the Padres to be able to lure him out West.  Ted Lilly fits the mold, though. Among qualifying pitchers, he led the league in fly ball rate in 2009, and so pitching in the cavernous PETCO might result in incredible numbers.  Of course, this isn't to say that the Padres should simply pursue fly ball pitchers because fly ball pitchers would fare better in their park than others, just simply that Lilly is a very good and underrated pitcher that might enjoy pitching in a park that will certainly make him look like a top 10 pitcher.  Lilly is coming off a 4 year, 40M deal with the Cubs, and could be due for a salary reduction.  Would 3 years and $24M be enough to lure him out to anchor a young, up and coming Padres staff?  Let's say that it is, and let's also say that the Chris Young is rejuvenated and has another solid year for the Padres and they exercise his option.  Now the Padres have four quality, relatively inexpensive pitchers, and would be able to pursue someone like Correia, who won't net more than $5M AAV in the coming market, or use a pitcher like Aaron Poreda, the blue-chip prospect they received in exchange for Peavy in that fifth starter spot.  

The second baseman market is weak in 2010-2011, and so I expect the Padres to attempt to resign the incredibly white David Eckstein or pursue someone like Akinori Iwamura.  I hate Eckstein, so I'll fantasize that they snag Iwamura for $3M.  All of a sudden, the roster doesn't look so bad: 

C - Hundley/replacement: $1.5M
1B - Gonzalez - $5.5M
2B - Iwamura - $3M
SS - Cabrera $0.4M
3B - Headley $0.4M

LF - Blanks $0.4M
CF - Gwynn $1.0M
RF - Venable $0.4M 
SP 1- Young $8.5M
SP 2 - Lilly $8M
SP 3 - Latos $0.4M
SP 4 - Richard $0.4M
SP 5 - Poreda $0.4M
Closer - Adams $3M

This is a commitment of around $35M to the 2011 payroll, and as I noted above we need to budget in around $10M for other roster spots and raises which leaves the Padres close to $45M.  This number could be in the mid-30s if they pursued someone like Correia and/or another bargain SP instead of Young and Lilly.  

So this gets us to our main question: can the Padres keep Gonzalez? 

I'll be honest, I think they can.  Even making a relatively big free agent splash with Ted Lilly and reupping with Chris Young, the Padres are well shy of the stated goal of a $70-80M payroll.  I know they don't want to reach that goal in 2011.  They need to factor in the rising costs of their young guys like Latos, Richards, Poreda and Blanks in 2012-2015.  But even signing Gonzalez to a Mark Teixeira type deal ($20M AAV), would only bump their payroll up to around $65M, including all my wild-eyed free agent signings above. Would an offer of 7 years, $120M be enough to lure the hometown boy to stay in San Diego? 

What happens to this team if they let Gonzalez walk?  Blanks can play first base, sure, but how will they score runs?  How will they attract fans?  Attendance at PETCO has been on a decline since the inaugural season, and its hard to see it rebounding until the front office fields a competitive team.  Unless the Padres can get a monster, "Mark Teixeira to the Braves"-type package of ML ready prospects from Boston or another team, I can't see how they can afford to deal him and I don't see how it fits into the goal of moving the payroll back up into the more competitive $70-80M range.  It's not the answer for this team, and as much as Boston fans may want to see him dealt, I think the Padres will hang on to their incredibly valuable franchise first baseman.  So, I'm with you Moorad.  Save Adrian!


  1. With Youk at 1st, why would the Red Sox be obvious suitors?

  2. Same reason that they tried to sign MT. They want a power bat at 1B and they want to move Youkilis to 3B.