The San Diego Padres’ acquisition of Brian Giles was not aimed directly at the Dodgers, but make no mistake: It was a shot across their bow, the ultimate wake-up call.
With Petco Park opening next year, the dog days are over and the Padres are back in business.
Banking on that improved revenue, the Padres will make other acquisitions, and we know that they can beat the Dodgers even if they’re starting the staff at Sea World.
“I want to play in October next year and I know our fans want that; they’ve had a long wait,” General Manager Kevin Towers said. “We’re not going to go crazy, but we’re going to try and make it happen.
“We’ve finished last [in the National League West] four of the last five years, so we have some big strides to make, but if we can keep our guys healthy and on the field, if we can add a front-line starter and an offensive catcher, I don’t see any reason we can’t compete, especially offensively. It’s a tough division, but I don’t see doom and gloom.”
What he sees is a lot of financial retrenchment or status quo just as the Padres have some dollars to spend and might even find bargains in a buyer’s market expected to be tougher on free agents and other released or non-tendered players than last year’s was.
The players’ union wasn’t able to prove collusion after obtaining management documents related to the 2002-2003 market, but the union will maintain a wary and suspicious eye again this winter.
“I probably realize this is one of the most important winters I’ve ever had as a general manager,” Towers said. “It was stressful in ’97 because I knew we had to have a winning ballclub to get the ballpark vote through [the Padres won the vote and the NL pennant in 1998], but now we’re going into the new park, we have some resources we haven’t had in a long time and I have to make sure the trades we make or the free-agent signings are good ones that will allow us to remain competitive over a three- or four-year run.”
Well, the Dodgers have to make sure they got the wake-up call.
No matter how September plays out, they can’t ignore the rumbling to the south or their inept offense.
They can’t continue to hide behind the luxury-tax threshold as if it were a salary cap.
We don’t know who the owner will be, or if they will even have a new owner, and we don’t know if Dan Evans and/or Jim Tracy will be back, but we do know they will have about $20 million freed up through the expected departures of Brian Jordan, Andy Ashby, Fred McGriff and Daryle Ward.
And we know they have to plug the power gap at first base and at least one outfield position.
None of that is to suggest that Evans was wrong for refusing to include Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller, the two hottest pitching prospects in a rebuilding farm system, in his own proposed deal for Giles, although some industry sources insist Pittsburgh was asking for only one of the two young pitchers in a package with Odalis Perez.
The point is, Kevin Brown will be 39 next year, Hideo Nomo will turn 36 and at some point the Dodgers have to be able to replace some of their assets from within.
Jackson and Miller don’t have to go. The Dodgers will have the dollars available to fill their needs in a buyer’s market and can’t afford not to buy, considering the quality pitching they have wasted this year and that they will be paying Brown and Nomo $23 million in what might be a last hurrah for each in Los Angeles.
For the Padres, meanwhile, parting with outfield prospect Jason Bay and 22-year-old left-hander Oliver Perez in the deal for Giles was difficult, Towers said.
He recalled, however, that his ’98 pennant winner was built in part by including first-base prospect Derrek Lee in a trade for Kevin Brown and by including pitching prospect Dustin Hermanson in a trade for second baseman-leadoff man Quilvio Veras.
“Sometimes you’ve got to use your farm system to improve your big league club,” Towers said. “Although [Bay and Perez] have a chance to be very good, I think they’re still three or four years away from their peak, and we’re going to get more of an immediate return on Giles.
“We didn’t do it to try and send a message, but hopefully it’s an indication to our fans that the days of unloading contracts and paring payroll are over and it’s just the start of showing our fans that we’re going to go out and acquire the players who can get us back to where we were in ’96 and ’98.”
It’s not an easy or automatic process. The Padres could lose 100 games this year, although they have been close to a .500 team during the second half.
Now, the lineup definitely has punch with Giles joining Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Mark Kotsay and the maturing Sean Burroughs. The rapid development of Khalil Greene, who was their No. 1 draft choice from Clemson two years ago, has Towers thinking he will be ready to fill the hole at shortstop in 2004. That leaves the primary vacancies at catcher, the top of the rotation and in the bullpen, where Trevor Hoffman, who has been sidelined because of shoulder problems, hopes to rejoin closing partner Rod Beck for the final month of the season.
As for catchers, the free-agent market is expected to include Javier Lopez, Ivan Rodriguez and Brad Ausmus, among others. Towers acknowledges that he also could go back to Pittsburgh in an attempt to regenerate a trade for Jason Kendall that he labels “more dormant than dead.”
As for a front-line pitcher, the free-agent market is expected to include the enticing Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, Andy Pettitte and Bartolo Colon, among others. The Padres might also be one of several clubs knocking on Montreal’s door in pursuit of arbitration-eligible Javier Vazquez.
“I still say that after we do what we need to do this winter, we’ll still have the lowest payroll in the division,” Towers said, “and I imagine we always will.
“We’ll certainly have added revenue in Petco Park but our market size is not going to change. It’s going to be difficult for us to spend like Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
If the Dodgers don’t already know they will have to spend, they certainly should by the time Towers is through.