The San Diego Padres have signed back their 4th place team from last season but have done little else to compete in 2013.
In 1981, Tracy Kidder wrote and published a Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Soul Of A New Machine, about a group of engineers - young and old - with the now-defunct Data General that raced to catch up with 32-bit technology and semi-succeeded by introducing the Eclipse computer. It was an excellent book and well-deserving of the Pulitzer, except that the machine they ingeniously invented wasn't true 32-bit technology but rather a compromise of a side-by-side 16-bit sync pretend nouveau which was markedly inferior to its competition but still managed to sell enough to keep the company fluid for years.
The nouveau San Diego Padres are much like the old Data General in Kidder's book. The reinvention is a lot like the old invention. The question is how this is going to sell to potential fans of the San Diego Padres.
Everyone is back, all of the good guys in that clubhouse, save for Clayton Richard who will apparently go through the arbitration process. But regardless, he'll be back as well and the rest have all signed deals to avoid arbitration.
Chase Headley was the biggest nugget to deal with but the Padres didn't come even a little bit close to signing a long-term deal with the Headley camp. Multiple sources say that there was only one meeting between the team and Chase's people and the numbers for anything more than a year were so far off that the meeting ended abruptly and was never revisited. Instead, Headley and the Padres recently agreed to one year at around $8.6 million, which was right about in the center from what Chase was asking and the Padres were offering.
This is normally how such talks go prior to arbitration. Clubs low-ball the player and the player and his agent high-ball the club. When the two communicate well, the middle is generally reached.
By not signing a free agent (Freddy Garcia doesn't really count, he's 36 and his fastball can't even reach 90 MPH and it's technically a minor league contract anyway), the new (nouveau) ownership doesn't seem any different than what the Jeff Moorad group offered. Team payroll? Multiple sources have offered that it starts with a "7", meaning around $70 million.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will likely exceed $200 million this coming season (even ahead of the New York Yankees) and the San Francisco Giants will probably approach $150 million. So, how can the small-market Padres compete with that?
It depends. One fact that Padres fans might take solace in is that none of the lovely prospects in the minor leagues have been traded for some overage has-been slugger to plug up right field or second base. That would be a critical mistake, should the club decide to follow in the footsteps of other more successful small market clubs like Tampa Bay or Oakland.
In Kidder's wonderful book, the young upstart Data General was competing with DEC, Data Electronics Corporation and their powerhouse VAX computer. Davey and Goliath. This is what happens. Data General didn't win that battle but they survived, until they were acquired in 1999 by EMC, so it goes.
And the Padres have been bought and sold many times. The days of Ray Kroc are over, the benevolent owner that would shove money into a baseball team to make them competitive is no more. It's a business now, and there is no owner, but an ownership group and it's an investment, and so on.
Are the Padres the Data General of the National League West? It seems that way, at least for the moment. The inability to sign Chase Headley long-term is akin to syncing two 16-bit processors side-by-side and pretending that it was true 32-bit technology. And signing Headley for only a year is like applying a bandage to a broken leg.
But we shall see. Pitchers and catchers report next week, and so we begin anew, another machine to compete with the other machines. Anything can happen.
Fanfest is this Saturday, February 9th, and it's for free. There are a lot of great features, including a highly recommended tour of the Clubhouse (either early or late is the best bet to avoid long lines). There will be players signing autographs so if you want one, be sure and get your pass early for whichever player you might be interested in. And bring the kids, it's a great family atmosphere.
Clayton Richard is the only player not signed by the Padres to avoid arbitration. He'll get his hearing this week. Richard has been stellar in terms of avoiding injury and the Padres will certainly count on his contributions since other starting pitchers (Cory Leubke, Joe Wieland, and Andrew Cashner come to mind) will not be able to start the regular season in the rotation. Stay tuned.