The Padres' Phil Nevin apparently will miss the entire 2003 season after shoulder surgery. This comes after a year in which he missed a good third of the season due to injury and saw his production drop off considerably. He was also moving to left field this spring, meaning that he has created two holes on the team this spring.
Rookie Sean Burroughs will attempt to fill the one left at third base. Unfortunately last season's left fielders, Ray Lankford and Ron Gant, are both gone. That means that the replacements in camp are resoled (re-souled?) journeymen Bobby Kelly and Brady Anderson (really), role player Brian Buchanan and an untried rookie, Xavier Nady.
Surely, the Pod People will trade for a spare Yankee outfielder or a leftover free agent (Kenny Lofton?) to replace Phil Nevin, right? Well, that's not the plan so far according to GM Kevin Towers:
"The first people we are going to look to are the people we currently are looking at in our camp," Towers said.
It's a bit surprising when one considers the huge windfall that the Hoffman and Nevin injuries ensure the Padres:
As it was, the Padres were projecting a payroll of about $43 million, which likely would've ranked among the smallest five in the big leagues. Hoffman ($9 million) and Nevin ($4.5 million) account for about 30 percent of the team's payroll, but because both Hoffman and Nevin were protected by disability policies, the Padres stand to recoup seven-figure sums on each player.
One official said the club could recoup $5 million or more on Hoffman - who had shoulder surgery on Feb. 28 - but that it might take several years to settle a claim.
If you subtract Hoffman's and Nevin's contracts from San Diego's project payroll, you will get about $30.5 M. This would be lower than any team salary in 2002 (Tampa Bay's was the lowest at $34.38 M according to the AP). Given that a) they should be able to recoup most if not all of the $13.5 M devoted to the injured players via insurance, b) two of the Padres three stars-Klesko being the third-will most likely miss 2003, and c) the Padres move into a new stadium in 2004, there appears to be good incentive for them to open the coffers for a starting major-league left fielder.
However, when one considers that they have budding star Mark Kotsay in center field, Burroughs at third, second-year man Ramon Vazquez at short, and a young group of starting pitchers, the Padres appear committed to their youth movement.
The brass seems set to spin Nady as the heir apparent:
"Nady is one of our young players we're awful excited about," Towers said.
"He has the mental toughness you are looking for," Bochy said.
He started and played well yesterday (2-for-4) and will continue to get playing time in left. Nady did hit 23 home runs last year in Single- and Triple-A and batted around .280. However, Baseball Prospectus projects that to around .225 at the major-league level. Nady himself (like Nevin) just moved from third base to the outfield last year and spent much of 2002 in Single-A after recuperating his surgically reconstructed throwing arm. The Padres have extra incentive to give Nady a try given that he was "[s]igned to the largest guarantee ($2.95 million) the club has ever given an amateur".
So what's the best option? Given that the Padres are probably not going anywhere this year anyway, why not give the kid a chance if they feel he has potential as a major-leaguer?
That said, I would also sign Lofton, too. He can be had for about a million dollars, is still a decent major-league hitter, and provides a left-handed bat. The Pirates are said to be interested in Lofton but appear to be in no hurry to sign him-besides which team would you rather play for?
I would platoon Lofton and Nady or at least split their time until Nady becomes accustomed to major-league pitching. After that, if Nady is ready to play at the major-league level, Lofton would be a valuable fourth outfielder especially given Mark Kotsay is the only other left-handed hitter in the outfield and their weakness in rightfield with Bubba Trammell being the best option. If Nady does not work out then Lofton is a cheap solution. Either way, the move works.
This team has the potential to be a big flop this year and for years to come. If their young staff does not mesh, if Burroughs does not develop, if Klesko starts to show his age, if Kotsay does not become the next Bobby Abreu this team could give the Devil Rays a run for their money and then move into a cavernously empty, new stadium in 2004. Do I think all of those things will happen? No, but for each there is a good possibility that the scenario will not play out in the Padres' favor. Will signing Lofton cure all of these evils? No, but he's cheap and should not hurt them.
This is a pivotal year for the Padres with all of the youngsters being relied on so heavily, even more so with the key injuries. If the Padres do turn it around, then their fans may look back fondly at 2003 as the start of it all. I know that the new paradigm-outside of Arizona and the Bronx-is to have a young lineup that reduces the team liability and can be sold to the fans as the beginning of a new era.
However, young teams that have done well (the early Nineties' Braves, the mid-Nineties Indians, etc.) have had a veteran network to support the youth (remember Charlie Leibrandt). The idea of plugging in a player who was happy to be in Single-A and not in the trainer's room at this time last year and saying, "Good luck," is ludicrous. It's like handing your kid the car keys at 16 and expecting him to become a good driver on his own.
The resulting car wreck may be a good analogy for this team's season if the management continues its neglect. They at least need another major-league outfielder. Jay Witasick can't fill in for all their injured players.