If Padres can’t treat Adrian Gonzalez right, they can’t treat their fans right
The San Diego Padres play at Petco Park, located at 19 Tony Gwynn Drive. In the park beyond center field, within Tony Gwynn Plaza, the Padres installed a bronze statue of Tony Gwynn.
Gwynn owns this town, and not because of his Hall of Fame bust or his eight batting titles. Gwynn owns this town because he never left.
“I invented the San Diego discount,” he said.
That brings us to Adrian Gonzalez, who should own this town. Gonzalez grew up here, on both sides of the border. He speaks both languages, he represents his community with distinction and he swings with power Gwynn could only dream about.
He is the best first baseman in baseball not named Albert Pujols. If the Minnesota Twins could keep Joe Mauer at home, the Padres should be able to keep Gonzalez at home.
The Twins agreed to pay Mauer $23 million a year. The Padres say they can’t afford that. Gonzalez says he won’t grant his hometown team a hometown discount, the kind Gwynn took year after year.
The Padres already have descended to the bottom of the National League West, two weeks into what could be a dreary and demoralizing season. If the Padres don’t rebound — and few baseball executives suggest they will — then summer at Petco Park will be dominated by this depressing question: When will Gonzalez leave town?
“He doesn’t talk about it very much,” Gwynn said. “I used to say, ‘Hey, this is where I want to be.’ There wasn’t a question about whether I wanted to stay.
“I think, deep down, he does. But, if you’re one of the best, your salary deserves to be at a certain level. Whether the Padres try to do that, we’ll see.”
They won’t. Jeff Moorad, the new owner and former agent, likes to speak in long and nuanced sentences. But ask him whether the Padres would spend $20 million on one player, and the answer is neither long nor nuanced.
“No,” he said.
That’s not fair to the fans of San Diego, the taxpayers who paid for Petco Park, falling for the pitch Bud Selig throws all across America: Build your team a new ballpark, and it can afford to keep its players.
Trevor Hoffman is gone. Jake Peavy is gone. Heath Bell could be gone this year, and so could Gonzalez.
The Twins got Target Field, and they got to keep Mauer, not that Moorad wants to hear about it.
“We don’t make the mistake of assuming Minnesota is a comp of ours,” Moorad said, with “comp” as shorthand for “comparable franchise.”
The Twins can generate much more media revenue, Moorad said, and they play in a much larger market. (San Diego is the fourth-smallest market in the majors, according to Nielsen Media Research, ahead of Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.)
Even with the welfare of revenue sharing, the Padres lost $8 million last season, Moorad said. They took their payroll down to $40 million this season — only the Pittsburgh Pirates are spending less — and directed new General Manager Jed Hoyer to get on with rebuilding.
“I would expect to compete consistently in the future on a payroll in the $70-$80 million range,” Moorad said. “I believe it’s possible to compete — and win — in the National League West.”
That’s true, until the Dodgers start exploiting the financial advantage of playing in Los Angeles. But what might be possible in San Diego is reality in Minnesota.
The Twins have won the American League Central five times in the last eight years. The Padres have won the NL West five times in their 41-year history.
“Staying in Minnesota and playing in front of family and friends, that was big for me,” Mauer said. “And, obviously, the chance of winning.
“Ultimately, all I want to do is win the World Series. I feel we can do that.”
On that score, the interests of the Padres and the interests of Gonzalez might well be aligned: Gonzalez could get to the World Series quicker if the Padres traded him for a handful of young players, and so could the Padres.
He cannot file for free agency until after next season. The Dodgers never would give him the Mark Teixeira money his agent seeks, and their pitching is horribly suspect, but they could take two shots at slugging their way to the World Series by trading James Loney for two prospects and throwing in two of their own prospects in a four-for-one trade for Gonzalez. They could take their chances this year with Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez, in whatever order.
The Angels might give Gonzalez the money — he is not represented by Scott Boras — and they could address their aging outfield by moving Kendry Morales to left field. We love Torii Hunter, but he should not be batting third on a World Series contender.
Hoyer won’t tip his hand, other than to say he would trade within the division.
However, prospects are valued so highly these days that the Philadelphia Phillies traded for Cliff Lee last summer and Roy Halladay last winter without surrendering their top prospect, outfielder Domonic Brown. Perhaps the Padres keep Gonzalez until free agency and hope for a competitive showing, and a few more fans.
“I believe we can win the division this year,” Gonzalez said.
To Gonzalez, that would be a good start, not a reason to forgo free agency.
“I love it here. This is a great place to play,” he said. “But the reason I put on the uniform year in and year out is to try to win the World Series. That’s my No. 1 priority: to be with a team that has a chance to win the World Series year in and year out.
“If it ever came down to signing a long-term deal, I would have to see if the organization was in the frame of mind to put us in a position to win the World Series year in and year out.
“Money, stats, all that other stuff, it’s not as important as winning.”
It would not be prudent, Moorad says, for the Padres to invest 25% of their payroll — or more — on one player. If Gonzalez buys into what Hoyer says is a plan in which the Padres can compete for the World Series in three to five years, would he take a discount if he could stay home and win?
“I’m not saying I would take a discount,” Gonzalez said.
He already has. He signed a club-friendly contract in 2007, so friendly that he is making $4.75 million this year, as Prince Fielder makes $10.5 million.
None of this is good news for the Padres, for their fans, or ultimately for Selig. With labor negotiations looming after the season, Selig must persuade owners that his revenue-sharing system is working to provide hope, faith and money for markets large and small. If Gonzalez is not playing in San Diego, good luck.