Here’s how to improve the Padres

mark lorettaNormally, teams in last place don’t make big deals to acquire veterans before the July trade deadline. Usually, that’s an exercise reserved for contenders.

Enter the 2003 San Diego Padres (25-52). The Padres open Petco Park next year and want to build some momentum (they say) heading into 2004. Hence, the talk that the Padres will try to acquire somebody who can help them win this year.

It won’t be enough to have Phil Nevin return in July or August. The Padres need some pop in the lineup.

The question is, where will it go and who will it be.

For a longtime the rumor was that Kevin Towers would trade for Miguel Tejada. Tejada, last year’s AL MVP, could be an important addition to the team, but recently Towers is rumored to have taken less interest in Tejada. After seeing Khalil Greene (the Padress AAA franchise), Towers doesn’t want to acquire a shortstop who will block Green’s path to the major leagues. Tejada out, Luis Castillo in.

I’m even less thrilled about the possible acquistion of Castillo than Tejada.

Even though the Padres have more money to play with (thanks to insurance payments on Nevin, Trevor Hoffman and Randy Myers, and the move into a new stadium next year), they are still not a large market team, and they shouldn’t spend like one. Few big stars produce to the level of their free agent contracts (which is the kind of money it would take to retain either Tejada or Castillo).

Over his career, Tejada has a career OBP of .326, a slugging percentage of .455 and OPS of .781. These are not great numbers. Good for an SS, but as a former MVP, the market will give Tejada more than he’s worth, if you believe worth is measured in wins and not fan appeal or past glories. His strikeout to base on balls ratio is an abyssmal 254/508. He’s a free swinger, which is one reason the Oakland A’s are willing to let him go. Giving Billy Beane any sort of value for Tejada in a trade would be a gift, and the Padres are in no position to hand away young talent. He’s averaged about 20 eras per season and already has 13 this year.

Tejada would not be a good fit for the Padres, so what about Castillo?

Castillo currently has an OPS of .762, with a career OPS of .715. Of course, you might counter, Castillo is a spark plug. He gets on base, wrecks havoc, steals bases. First, SBs are that important in creating runs. Second, even though Castillo has slightly better than acceptable stolen base rates (72 percent), this year he’s hovering around 60 percent. That means he’s cost his team more runs than he’s creating.

But even if he were able to steal bases at a 70 percent plus rate for the Padres, he’s likely to demand a high salary, and SBs aren’t worth overpaying for. You might ask, then, what are the Padres’ alternative?

How about Mark Loretta?

Look at Lorretta’s current stats:

72 264 32 80 15 2 6 28 29 27 3 1 .303 .372 .443 .815

Now here’s Castillo’s numbers:

  72 288 42 89 7 3 4 19 25 21 13 9 .309 .366 .396 .762

So far this year, Loretta’s OPS is .815 compared to Castillo’s less impressive .762. When hitting in the number 1 spot, Castillo’s OPS is a horrible .523, while Loretta is at a not great but better .688.

Castillo is more of a free swinger, having hacked at twice as many first pitches as Loretta so far this year, with Loretta having an impressive OPS of 1.731 when he does chase the first toss. Loretta gets on base half the time when he swings at the first pitch, Castillo has an OBP of .387. That’s not bad, but easier on pitchers by swinging at so many first pitches. Meanwhile, when he’s on the verge of getting into a good hitters count (1-0), Castillo has put the ball in play 42 times this season and has an OBP of only .238, whereas Loretta is 11/.455.

In other words, Loretta is a much more efficient hitter, making the most of his opportunities and only bringing the bat around when he has a pitch to hit.

(I’ve gone into detail on this season, but the numbers don’t vary much looking at the last three seasons. Castillo’s improve slightly, and Loretta’s decline slightly, but the changes are not large enough to change the basic analysis.)

If you can afford to pay for speed, Castillo might be a good acquistion, but when you’re the Padres, Loretta is a much better bargain. He doesn’t hit for power, so he doesn’t get the respect he should (especially among fantasy players), but he creates runs, and it takes runs to win games. Yeah, I know the Padres aren’t winning many games these days, but put Loretta in a more experienced line up (like they’ll have next year and the year after), and his value goes up, but it’s not likely his salary ever will — at least not as much as Castillo’s and Tejada’s.

One last question: What about acquiring Castillo and moving Loretta to short. Well, defensively, Ramon Vazquez might be better than Loretta, but offense is the most important consideration. So far, Vazquez can’t match Loretta. Vazquez has an OPS of .717. He’s showing slightly better plate discipline than Castillo, but he’s not delivering the results. So moving Loretta is an option, but not neccessarily a good one, especially if you want to make room for Green some time next season.

If the Padres want to improve, I think the one place they can do it is center field. As much as I love Mark Kotsay personally, he’s the weakest link on the team right now. With a career .338 OBP and anemic numbers on 1-0 and 2-1 counts, Kotsay isn’t an efficient hitter.

Who might the Padres acquire? How about Carlos Beltran? The potential free agent is putting together his best year yet with a .412 OBP and .920 OPS. The price for Beltran will be high, both in dollars ($8 to $11 plus per season) and prospects the Padres would have to surrender, but he’s also a player would could anchor the Padres outfield for the next 10 years. Ken Griffey might be an attractive short term fix, but only if Beltran’s price is too high or the Royals decide he’s untouchable (not likely).

I think this is an attracive line up for the Padres, which could be in place by mid July:

  1. Ramon Vazquez, SS
  2. Mark Loretta, 2B
  3. Carlos Beltran, CF
  4. Ryan Klesko, 1B
  5. Phil Nevin, LF
  6. Xavier Nady, RF
  7. Sean Burroughs, 3B
  8. Gary Bennett, C

Swap in Griffey instead of Beltran, and it’s still impressive. I might switch Loretta and Burroughs in the order, but otherwise I think it makes a lot of sense, if the Padres can acquire one of these CFs.

The main point, however, is please, Mr. Towers, don’t waste our money on Tejada or Castillo.

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