Adrian Gonzalez

NL West Preview: San Diego Padres

Since the San Francisco Giants were gracious enough to invite me to Media Day, there’s no better time than now two weeks later to preview what the Giants will be up against in 2011.

The rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers suffers from two fundamental flaws: the hidden fact that the two teams have played each other surprisingly few times when the game meant a lot to both teams in the past 30 years, and 75% of the vitriol comes from one side. It’s changed slightly since the Giants finally won a World Series after moving out west, but overall the rivalry has consisted of Giants fans hating with all the fierceness they can summon from their souls, with Dodgers fans repeatedly uttering the phrase, “inferiority complex.”

Until the last few years, the Giants and Padres were downright friendly. They had similar uniforms in the late ’80’s (besides the Padres going with pinstripes and brown as the color to pair with orange, both teams’ uniforms were pretty much the same), and even helped the Giants with the NL West in 1987 with the Mitchell/Dravecky/Lefferts trade. In the 1990’s, neither team did much of anything until 1997 (when the Giants made the playoffs for the first time in 8 years) and 1996-98 (when the Padres finally surrounded Tony Gwynn with some hitters, but in return had to secretly pray that Ken Caminiti wouldn’t spontaneously combust during a game due to a violent chemical reaction in his bloodstream*).

(*Yes, I know Barry Bonds played for the Giants. But Caminiti was downright nuclear, especially back then.)

Enough history. That’s Giants/Dodgers. Giants/Padres is about two fanbases with equal disdain for one another. It’s become largely about Mat Latos, simultaneously fearless and uber-sensitive (his reactions when things go wrong are truly awesome to behold, like a ridiculously talented but emotionally unstable teenager). It’s about a bunch of fans of the visiting team taking over a ballpark after an opposite-field homer by Buster Posey off Latos. It’s about twitter fights (featuring Latos’ wife, whose Twitter feed is probably the bane of the San Diego Padres’ PR department — she stood up for her husband when #MatLatosComplaints started trending when Latos complained about the Giants during the season and this past week’s special autographed balls) causing lots of blog-fighting and hurt feelings. Following blog battles is a great way to kill time. You get to read all the comments, click links to see how fights started, and find out who doesn’t like who (that day). I’m easily amused.

(I have to say, I really do love blog-gossip, or “Blossip.” I’m telling you, if I was motivated enough I’d pitch a Deadspin-based show to HBO called “Blossip” (not really, but if none of my real title choices appealed them I’d probably throw “Blossip” out there and they’d love it), about ribald, hard-partying 20/30-somethings in New York who travel in stories about athlete dong and the Jets. (What am I thinking, you know Daulerio is writing scripts about his life as you read this.)

This rivalry was set to be awesome, and then the Padres decided to postpone it until Latos either hits free agency or demands a trade to the Dodgers by trading the best position player in the division from 2006-10, and it’s all because the Padres fans don’t sell out their ballpark. Seriously, what’s wrong with San Diego? Petco looks awesome (from the outside; I’ve only been in San Diego a few times and the Padres were always out of town). The Chargers don’t have a new stadium, but they’re always pretty decent at least — and they get blacked out all the time. The Chargers about five years away from playing in Farmer’s Field next to Staples.

Will the lastest rebuilding effort inspire folks to start coming to Petco?

Adrian Gonzalez
Jon Garland
Chris Young
David Eckstein
Kevin Correia
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Matt Stairs
Miguel Tejada
Yorvit Torrealba
Ryan Webb
Edward Mujica

Cameron Maybin
Orlando Hudson
Aaron Harang
Jason Bartlett
Brad Hawpe
Chad Qualls
Jorge Cantu
Rob Johnson

They let a lot of dead weight go — Garland/Young/Correia are three names you won’t be talking about in 2013; the pitching won’t get ESPN drooling but the bullpen is still full of arms the NL West won’t hit; the Latos’s have a bunch of expensive tattoos on their wish list, so Mat has plenty of incentive to succeed (and yes, his stuff is filthy); Harang may revive his career in a much better park for pitchers; Ludwick can’t be any worse than he was after he was traded to San Diego last season.

When you copy the Giants, you probably shouldn’t replicate their lineups from 2008-09, too; Ludwick really was terrible after being traded to San Diego, and anchoring the Padres 2011 lineup is different than hitting in the same lineup as Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus; fan support; Hawpe is half the hitter Gonzalez is, and now he’s going from Coors to Petco; Bell has a good chance of getting traded if things go south early.

Besides Maybin, those look like a lot of Sabeanian acquisitions, don’t they? O-Dawg was practically begging for the Giants to give him a shot as a guest analyst for MLB Network during the playoffs, and then the Padres gave him the same deal Sabean would have: 2 years, $11.5 million (oh, who am I kidding … Sabean would have gone 2yr/$18M); the Giants were rumored to be in the running for Bartlett, who’s actually only four months younger than Hawpe (who Sabean probably also wouldn’t mind adding if circumstances were different); rumors of the Giants’ interest in Cantu have been floating around for years; Qualls would be tempting for Sabean if they didn’t trade for Javier Lopez last year.

The Padres weren’t considered a very good team before last season, and they nearly won the NL West. However, they also had the best power hitter in the division and enjoyed a surprisingly good year from Garland. Letting Garland go was a smart move. Letting Gonzalez go might end up being the smart move when we look back on it three years from now, but in 2011 the Padres are looking at a lot of games where they score fewer than three runs.

Then there’s the Padres fans, who include many rabid supporters but not enough paying customers to entice the front office to consistently spend money. Besides Latos, this team isn’t exactly full of charismatic superstars that drive fans to buy tickets. Not that the fans really loved Gonzalez, but if this team starts slowly then attendance figures will dwindle. Not even the extra seats sold when the Giants are in town will be enough to keep Padres ownership from going into sell mode by July.

Predicted Record: 72-90 (5th in NL West)

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