Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Ownership Roller Coaster

As the 2012 season winds along, the unsettled ownership issue percolates in the background. Yesterday, as Padres fans everywhere turned their energy to winning the Vedder Cup, the story broke that Thomas Tull has withdrawn his bid to buy the franchise.

The 'it doesn't economically make sense' comment caught my attention.  Just how much is John Moores asking for to buy this team?  Forbes valued the franchise at $458 million back in March, and although I would not be surprised to learn he's trying to sell the team for more than that how much more does he want?  Is the team asking $750 Mil?  $1 Billion?  Some other amount even more obnoxious?

The Dodgers could fetch $2 billion because they have cachet.  They are the team of Robinson, Koufax, Drysdale, and Scully.  They have a storied, successful history.  The Padres?  We have Gwynn, Hoffman, Jones, and Joe Randa.  They've been to 2 World Series in their history and won one game.  Sorry -  no one is going to pay an exorbitant price for a team that's been a doormat for most of its existence.

The other variable in this equation, the wild card, and the one that prompted this post, is the Jeff Moorad question.  Near as I can tell his ownership group still controls 49% of the team.  What do they plan to do with their shares?  I see two options:
  1. They sell their stock in the Padres along with Moores and get completely out, recouping whatever money they can.
  2. They don't sell any of their stock in the Padres and remain as a minority owner.
What makes this fascinating to me is my belief that Moorad got played.  Having someone get denied form buying a major sports franchise is not without precedent in North America but it certainly is rare in baseball.  Baseball is much more likely to force an owner to sell (see McCourt, Frank; Schott, Marge; and Veeck, Bill) than to prevent a group from buying.  Even though all the reports state it was because of questions about his finances I can't help but think Jeff Moorad doesn't own the Padres today because people didn't like him (fairly or unfairly).  Either way it was a stinging rebuke for a powerful man.

He has absolutely no requirement to work with Moores to finalize the sale.  It also makes you wonder if his side of the aisle is the one driving the price way up.
Moores only controls 51% of the team.  Fifty-one percent of $500M is $255M.  Heck, Phil Mickelson could buy the team himself for that price.  Yet the Tull group left the bidding because the asking price doesn't economically make sense to them.  That tells me Moorad's shares are for sale, and that the total asking price for the entire team is way up from what Moores agreed to sell it at in 2009, thanks to the $2B price the Dodgers sold for this spring.

This morning the Dave & Jeff show relayed a report from Ken Rosenthal that MLB expects to be ready to announce a winner by next Friday, which would finally bring this whole soap opera to a close.  I prefer to spend my time looking at the product on the field, but I am looking forward to seeing who wins the bidding and how much they pay for this franchise.

Then, I'm looking forward to how they go about making the San Diego Padres the franchise we all want it to be:  Competitive.  Savvy.  Successful.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How Bad is Alonso's Defense?

Yonder Alonso has been one of the few bright spots this season for the San Diego Padres.  Acquired in the Mat Latos trade, he currently sits fourth on the club in OPS+ among those players with 140 PA or more.  Yet if you look at his Fangraphs page, his 2012 season so far grades out at -0.3 WAR.  Why?  Two reasons:  he's a bad baserunner, and he's not so good defensively.

So just how bad is Alonso's defense?  Well, his UZR as of this morning is -2.4, and his UZR/150 is -6.4.  Numbers in a vacuum don't mean anything, so I looked at first baseman with at least 400 innings played this year (Alonso has played 483 innings).  On that list, the best defensive 1B so far in 2012 is James Loney.  Alonso is not the worst defensive first basemen  - that honor belongs to Kansas City's Eric Hosmer - but he's in the bottom half of the league.

Not surprisingly Prince Fielder shows up at the bottom as well.  Suprisingly so does Casey Kotchman.

Can we see what specifically Alonso struggles with?  For that we have to go to Dewan Plus/Minus.  According to those numbers, Alonso is -2 on balls to his right, -4 to his left, and +1 on balls hit right at him.  Overall it's a -5.  Balls in the air haven't given him any trouble.  Looking at the Runs Saved statistics, his defense has allowed two more runs to score than the average first baseman, and places him 28th in the league.

Being left-handed, it makes a little bit of sense that he'd be weaker trying to field balls hit down the line than otherwise, but it can't be used as an excuse.  Adrian Gonzalez is left-handed as well and by the same metrics is actually BETTER fielding balls hit to his left than to his right. Of course he's also the second-best defensive 1B according to that list I linked to above, so feel free to scream into a pillow or punch a Red Sox fan in frustration.

The good news is Alonso's only 25.  Defensive is something that can be improved as players get older; being a lousy defender now is not a death sentence.  As the Padres coaching staff works with him he will improve, but these things take time.  He can improve his value dramatically if he'd quit getting doubled off first base on fly balls to the outfield, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Spruce up your Desktop

Here's something to take your mind of last night's 9-5 drubbing at the hands of the Brewers....

The good folks at Brand Thunder have created an official browser theme for the San Diego Padres.  No, this isn't a case of a random guy selling the 'official' Calvin and Hobbes SDSU Basketball T-shirt through your dorm or College Area neighborhood back in the day; Brand Thunder's products are licensed by Major League Baseball.  They actually are official.

Better yet, the theme provides scores, breaking news and trades affecting the Padres, as well as ticket links to upcoming games.  Kind of 'one-stop-shopping' for mainstream Padres news.  The kits are free to download and there are versions to support IE, Mozilla, or Google Chrome.  It also has the new Petco Park logo as the background, which I think is the best of the new logos the team rolled out this season.

Click on the photo below to check it out.

*I have received no compensation for posting this story and links to this product. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2012 Padres First Round

The 2012 MLB draft got underway yesterday.  There won't be a lot of draft coverage at the Trail.  Lots of people get paid a lot of money to prognosticate, predict, and pull apart the players major league teams draft every year.  I am not one of them.

For a small-market team like San Diego, however, the draft is the main way the club can improve.  Some would say the only way.  So even I can't completely ignore it.

Last year the Padres had 2 first round and 3 compensatory picks, and they used those selections to take 2 college infielders (Cory Spangenberg/Jace Peterson), 2 high school pitchers (Joe Ross and Michael Kelly) and a high school catcher (Brett Austin, who ultimately didn't sign).  This year, the Padres had one first round pick and 3 compensatory picks.  They again focused the majority of their picks at the HS level, taking 3 pitchers.  The other pick was for a college OF.

Max Fried is the Padres #1 pick (seventh overall) for 2012.  A lot of folks thought they would get the kid Correa, a shortstop from Puerto Rico, but Houston took him first overall and kind of blew that plan up.  Fried was rated the #1 left-handed pitcher in the entire draft by Baseball America.  I would think he's got to be estatic on a number of levels, not the least of which is the future opportunity to make half his starts in the best pitcher's park the NL has to offer.  He's from Encino, CA, and played at Harvard-Westlake HS, which I only mention because my father taught there for the better part of 30 years (he semi-retired and moved out of the state in 2002) so I have a small affinity for the school.

He's committed to play for UCLA in the fall.  With the new slotting rules in effect this year it will be interesting to see if San Diego can throw enough money at him to lure him into the organization.  Would that we all had such problems at 18.

Zach Eflin is not a Disney Channel teen show character name, he's the Padres #2 pick (#33 overall), a 6-5, 200 pound RHP out of Haglin HS in Florida.  A quick google search reveals he has 3 solid pitches (fastball/curveball/change), hits 92 on the gun with the fastball, and has improved dramatically over the past 12 months.  Eflin appears to be a bit of a project - my opinion entirely, and only based on the radical change in his mechanics over the past year - but he also appears to be a guy with a ton of upside, much like Fried.  These are exactly the types of kids San Diego should be taking now given the current state of their minor league system (read:  stacked), guys they probably would not have willing to touch even 2 years ago.

Travis Jankowski is the lone position player taken by the Padres in the first round (#3 pick, #44 overall), a 6-3 CF from Stony Brook U in New York.  He was named a Louisville Slugger second-team All-American this year and is the current American East player of the year.  He's just finished his junior year of college and I would imagine will turn pro now that he's a first round draft pick.  Based on his college numbers he looks like a kid with gap-to-gap power, and he has speed on the basepaths.  I'll assume he's a good defensive OF, which he'll have to be in order to play at Petco.  San Diego has a lot of OF on the major league roster, but those who know think the organization suffers from a lack of OF depth.  Good pick, then, this one is.

The team's last first round pick (#55 overall) is Walker Weickel, another tall (6-6) RHP out of Florida (Olympia HS).  He reportedly also features fastball/curveball/change up, and his fastball can reach 94.  He's only 195 pounds - a big skinny guy - which means he still has room to grow, put on muscle, and possibly throw harder than that before he's done.  Yet another guy with a ton of potential as a pitcher.

Given the lack of an impact bat on the major league roster, many thought the Padres would focus on getting hitters in this draft; after all, they have stockpiled good pitching prospects over the past few drafts and traded for others.  However it appears they took the best talent available when it was their turn, and I for one am totally OK with that.  Of course, if they don't sign all these guys it's for naught, so let's see how that plays out over the upcoming weeks.

Some information in this post is courtesy the San Diego Padres Media Relations department.

Caveat:  As I do every year, I'll tell you up front - I am not a draft expert. If you've come here looking for in-depth analysis on these 4 men you'll want to look elsewhere.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Yasmani Yo-Yo and no more Soup for You

As San Diego endures a skid that's reached 11 losses in their last 13 games, the roster moves have started.  Some of the movement is because guys are starting to get healthy, but some of it is due to poor play.

The Padres had been carrying 13 pitchers and 12 bench players but decided to shift the mix back in favor of the hitters last Friday.  Prized prospect Yasmani Grandal, who it turned out was the main guy San Diego targeted to get back when they sent Mat Latos to Cincinnati (per AJ Hinch's Friday radio interview with Darren Smith), was called up before Friday's game.  Grandal, the #2 rated prospect in the San Diego system (which is a bit of a misnomer; Yonder Alonso was ranked #1 but he's spent the entire year playing 1B for the Padres, so he's no longer a prospect) and the #40 ranked prospect by Fangraphs' Mark Hulet, could be the kind of impact bat San Diego so desperately needs.

Well he still could be.  We have no idea yet, since he was up for only 2 games.  Grandal was sent back down to AAA before Sunday's game in favor of Mark Kotsay.  Grandal did get into one game, as we talked about in our last post, so at least his trip to SD wasn't completely for naught.  He's got #12 if you keep track of those things.

As Grandal came up, someone had to move out.  Turns out that someone was Jeff Suppan.  Soup pitched pretty darn well in his first 3 games with the club, throwing 5 shut out innings in his first start and allowing only 1 run in his second.  Really he pitched good enough to win in his third, played in that noted band-box of Philadelphia's Citizens Bank park; he might have left the game tied at 2 if not for Chase Headley's throwing error in the third inning.

His last 3 starts, well, they were pretty bad.  The Angels hung 4 on him in 5 innings enroute to a 7-2 loss.  Staked to a 3-0 lead in the first inning of the last game in STL, he couldn't hold the lead for 3 outs.  Beltran's HR in the fifth ultimately chased him before the inning ended.  He was staked to 1-0 and 4-3 leads in his final start, in Chicago against the Cubs, but left the game after 5 tied 6-6.

Soup has to keep the ball down to be successful, and has to not only get the low strike, but get those pitches that barely clip the bottom of the knee called strikes too.  He never could overwhelm hitters with power, and now at 37 truly has to rely on guile and control to compete.  He struggled to do that his last 3 games.  Although he didn't walk anyone in Chicago he walked 9 in his two outings before that.  Suppan was a stop-gap guy and the gap just simply swallowed him.  The upcoming Padres schedule has enough off-days that the club doesn't need a fifth starter until 9 June.  By then maybe another former Cardinal - names bandied about recently are Kip Wells and Jason Marquis - will step into the #5 slot.

Suppan still wants to pitch but this might be the end of the line for him in the majors.  It's hard to imagine him getting another shot at this level.  At least the Padres decided to DFA the man; there's a chance he could return to AAA Tuscon if he clears waivers, but that will play out over the next week or so.

To close the thought on roster moves - Sunday the Padres activated Logan Forsythe as well as Kotsay; to make room they placed Andy Parrino on the 15-day DL.  Forsythe was on-track to make the club out of spring training until suffering the broken foot that cost him 2 months.

The roster moves will continue to come.  Players will continue to get healthy (we should see the return of Huston Street this week).  But also, as San Diego appears to be headed to another All-Star break with one of the three worst records in the NL (third time in the last 4 years), the evaluation period for next may start early.  I'm sure there are players in AAA (and maybe AA) the team would like to take a long look at.

Update:  Gaslamp Ball is reporting Huston Street will be activated today, with Matt Palmar DFA'd.  No official press release yet from the Padres.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Random Thoughts on Game 54 (vs Diamondbacks)

Well, Daniel Hudson beat the Padres again, improving to 5-1 lifetime against San Diego, although his ERA ballooned to 1.86.  The winning run scored thanks to a Joe Thatcher balk; the insurance run scored courtesy of an Alex Hinshaw bases loaded walk.

Highlights of the game for me:

1.  The bottom of the fourth was the most fun I've had watching the Padres this year.  Will Venable executed a perfect drag bunt to start the inning, then stole second. Cameron Maybin lined a single to right, and an excellent slide by Venable just beat Manny Parra's throw to the plate.  Maybin, who had taken second on the throw home, then scored standing up on Yonder Alonso's soft single to center.  Alonso then defied the Fates by stealing second.

Sadly that was the end of the fun.  Carlos Quentin flied to Parra, who threw out Alonso trying to tag and go to third.  Parra had also thrown out Cabrera in the third trying to stretch a double into a triple; the moral is, as always, don't run on Parra.

But that is the way the Padres should play the game.  The team doesn't have a lot of power, and doesn't have an offensively charged lineup like St Louis or Texas.  They need to press the action, and use the one asset - SPEED - they do possess.  Make the opposing team's defense turn the perfect relay or play to stop the madness.

2.  Back in December, Quentin told XX 1090's Darren Smith he didn't have any walk-up music and didn't want any.  I've been waiting for 2 months to see if he meant it.  He did.  Quentin is rapidly becoming my favorite Padre.

3.  Thru three plate appearanes, Arizona's Montero and Young had the exact same line - 2 walks, and a strikeout looking.  Odd.

4.  Cabrera made a very heads-up play to snuff an Arizona rally in the second.  He gloved Josh Bell's sharp grounder while moving into the hole; with no play at first, he threw to third to force Montero.  Nicely done.

5.  Goldschmidt's HR was crushed, measuring 425' by the Padres PR staff.  it was what - 7 rows back in the LF upper deck?  Wow.

6.  Parra forced the balk by Thatcher by bluffing coming down the line at third to steal home.  Thatcher had started his wind-up, then froze.  Oops.  Parra had a huge game.

7.  Finally, we got to see the ML debut of Yasmani Grandal.  He hit a 3-1 pitch to the track in LF.  He was fooled on the pitch, and hit it off his front foot, so don't read' Warning Track Power' into that swing.  As a friend of mine said, 'he's got swagger'. Welcome to the big leagues Yasmani.

SD tries to win the series tomorrow afternoon.